Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Police Clean Up Law Appears Unconstitutional

The Constitutional Branch of the Honduran Supreme Court ruled 4 to 1 that the law defining procedures for cleaning up corruption in the police is unconstitutional; this on the same day that the Lobo Sosa government seeks to extend the bill enabling the cleanup for another six months.  Only justice Oscar Chinchilla voted to uphold the law.

The law which regulates the police cleanup calls for an examination of each and every police officer, requiring them to pass a confidence check that involves a psychological exam, a lie detector test, an examination of their finances, and a drug test.  The law modified the police code so that there was no due process right of appeal of any findings under this confidence check.  It stipulated that any failure to pass any of the steps of the confidence exam was automatically grounds for immediate dismissal.

Questions have been raised about the validity of the tests, and especially the evaluation of the results of the lie detector tests.  A fairly high level officer who had passed the lie detector test was recently arrested during an organized crime operation with over $200,000 in cash on him.  While his evaluation had not been finalized, he had, according to the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial, passed all but the financial checks.  This case is being seen by Hondurans as evidence that the confidence tests are not sufficiently rigorous to remove all police corruption, casting doubt on the entire process.

Of the 233 officers that failed the tests, so far, only 33 have been dismissed.  The rest remain part of the active police force, though some without any assigned duties, all collecting their salaries.

Back in August the Public Prosecutor's office submitted, at the court's request, an opinion that the law, decreto 89-2012, was unconstitutional because it removed the police officer's right to due process and their presumption of innocence.  The Constitutional Branch agreed with the Public Prosecutor's office by its 4-1 vote, but this decision carries no legal force because it was not unanimous.  It is now up the the entire Supreme Court to convene and consider the law and issue an opinion.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Final Showdown over the Honduran Institute of Anthropology

It is over a week since we reported that the union of workers employed by the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, or IHAH) was on strike to protest the mismanagement of Virgilio Paredes. In a statement dated November 10, the union notes this is the first time in sixty years that it has taken such a drastic action.

Paredes, we noted, has served as the person in charge of IHAH since being appointed by Myrna Castro, who played the role of head of the secretariat of Culture during the de facto regime ushered in by the June 2009 coup.

Now comes the news from sources in Honduras that they fully expect that a meeting of the Consejo Directivo of the IHAH called for tomorrow will result in the installation of Áfrico Madrid as head of the Consejo, self-designated, "in the name of Lobo".

Áfrico Madrid is the Secretario de Estado en los Despachos de Gobernación y Justicia, a cabinet minister in the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa. This is the second most powerful cabinet position, after that of external relations.

Virgilio Paredes is a low level bureaucrat with a history of relatively unimportant managerial or consulting positions, now head of a dependency of the Ministry of Culture.

Why would Madrid be mobilized-- apparently at the direct request of the president of Honduras-- to protect Paredes?

Before we answer that question-- and there is, rare for political stories, an answer-- let's start with an update on the controversy.

When the union went on strike, it issued a statement indicting Paredes for his mismanagement. Included was a complaint that he had avoided convening the Consejo Directivo, and thus had impeded the Consejo receiving the report of a special commission looking into his defects as manager.

On November 2, that special commission, composed of three members of the Consejo Directivo, one of them, Doctora Olga Joya, Professor of History at UNAH, a former director of the Institute herself, presented its report.

It is damning.

It upholds the accusations made by the workers of the Institute entirely, concluding that
On the analysis of the documentation provided by both sides it can be inferred that the management by the director was insufficient in many aspects or lacked the required diligence.
In some respects, the commission's report goes further than the complaints by the workers that we previously discussed: it notes that in addition to failing to call meetings of the Consejo Directivo at least monthly, as required by law, Sr. Paredes traveled abroad without permission of the Consejo (in violation of long practice, and they argue, best practice) and has exempted himself from accounting for the costs of these trips. This is the kind of thing normally considered evidence of administrative corruption, not the basis for a defense by the extremely powerful.

More worrisome to us, the commission also found merit in the complaints registered about a failure in carrying out the basic mission of the Institute, to manage, protect, and disseminate information about the cultural patrimony. After interviewing the employees in charge of management of Copan, El Puente, Los Naranjos, and Omoa-- four of the major cultural heritage sites open to the public in the nation-- and the fine anthropology museum in Comayagua, they confirmed through the testimony of those front line employees that Paredes has failed to provide the supplies and funding required for the sites to be properly managed.

The commission cites specific examples. The most egregious: Paredes apparently failed to carry out activities funded to strengthen Lenca traditional artisans, and as a result, had to return almost half a million dollars to a funding agency.

The commission found that Paredes had allowed an agreement to be signed in Copan that violate the fundamental laws governing the management of cultural heritage properties in Honduras. The special commission noted that Paredes had delegated his authority to Señora Erlinda Lanza (whose hiring itself was a subject of complaint, for not following established procedures) to sign the so-called Copan Ruinas 2012 Agreement.

They note "clear arbitrariness and illegalities" in the Copan document, among them the agreement to illegally fire the employee in charge of the Copan archaeological site; changing the law of national patrimony in order to grant to the government of the town direct vote and representation in the Consejo itself (or what seems to be the Consejo, described inaccurately); and a grant of a portion of the income from site visitors to the town, which would, they say, clearly be detrimental to the IHAH.

So now we return to the question we posed above: given that this commission found that Sr. Paredes has indeed failed in his position, why would the authority of the president of the country be mobilized to back him up?

Simple: cronyism.

Or to translate the comments of a Honduran source:
Sr Paredes is  the godson of Pepe (Porfirio Lobo Sosa)... no one in the cabinet is going to move away from the presidential decision to protect him.
What do you give your godchild as a present?

In Honduras, apparently, the entire Cultural Patrimony.

To quote someone calling himself "Zaqueo Alavista" (roughly, Looting Onview), commenting on an article reporting the continuation of the strike in El Heraldo November 5:
In the meeting today there was presented a report about the ominous work of Virgilio Paredes in the IHAH, but Áfrico Madrid threatened everyone with jail if they came to present the said report.
Who is Virgilio Paredes that Africo would make such threats, and who is Africo to go to the extremes of such actions. Why would he defend so much an useless piece of junk?
Whoah, here there should be in play thousands of millions because they are killing themselves to defend a gerentucho (minor league bureaucrat) from an institution of barely 200 employees; they dream of oil, they dream of the treasures from the seabed at Omoa, they dream...

Friday, November 2, 2012

ICOM Honduras Supports Anthropology Union

The attached statement has been widely circulated among international participants in cultural heritage research and practice related to Honduras.

It makes clear that the urgent complaints by the union of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History are reactions to a serious threat to the cultural patrimony of Honduras.

ICOMOS of Honduras is the country affiliate of ICOMOS, ICOM in English, the International Council of Museums.

Here's the statement, in full:
ICOMOS Honduras, by this means, publicly states its support for the mission and mandate of the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia, an entity that for 60 years has dedicated itself to the conservation, protection, investigation and dissemination of the cultural patrimony of Honduras, and whose commitment has merited the recognition of the scientific community at a national and international level.

The ICOMOS Honduras chapter has followed with concern the administration of the present directorship of the IHAH and stands with the justified petitions of its employees in favor of the return to professional leadership and management of the serious task that belongs to the IHAH. At the same time it calls on higher authorities to search for a solution that will respond exclusively to the interests of the cultural patrimony of all Hondurans.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Strike for Cultural Heritage!

SITRAIHAH, the union of employees of the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, announced yesterday that it is on strike
beginning Tuesday the 31 of october and for an indefinite period or until Virgilio Paredes Trapero, directly responsible for the institutional crisis of IHAH, is removed from his position as Gerente (Director).
Paredes is the controversial director of the key cultural heritage institute whose actions have included, among other things, agreeing to give the town of Copan Ruinas control over archaeological research at the site, and the management of the cultural heritage properties that emerge from that research; diverting financial resources necessary to the survival of the Institute; and engaging the institute's prestige, sponsorship, and resources in a laughable quest for a mythical city, run by a team lacking any of the legal requisites to undertake such work in Honduras.

As part of this strike action, El Heraldo reports, have
"posted themselves this morning at the access gates of museums and installations in the charge of [IHAH] in response to the failure of dialogue with the director, Virgilio Paredes."
Photos accompanying this article show locked gates in the route leading up to the main offices of IHAH in Tegucigalpa, also the site of a museum, and locked gates with posters on the former Presidential Palace, also in Tegucigalpa, today a major historical site and research center.

By law, the union notes, the advisory Council (Consejo Directivo) of the Institute is supposed to meet with at least 4 of its mandated members at least once a month. A circular from the IHAH union (available here as JPG images) states that
Beginning in the period of 2010 through 2012 the absence of sessions owing to the failure to convene them by the secretary of the Consejo Directivo, who is the Gerente of IHAH, has provoked profound damage to the Institution such as the signing of agreements that violate articles 2, 5, and 6 of the Ley Orgánica del Instituto, the total failure of the management, administrative negligence and abuse of authority on the part of the present Gerente, Ing. Virgilio Paredes Trapero.
Paredes was, as is described in many posts available online, appointed during the period of control by the de facto regime that took power in the coup of June 2009. The circumstances of his appointment have been questioned; he does not have the kind of degree called for in legislation governing the IHAH. While his patron, the more notorious Myrna Castro, who took over the power of the Minister of Culture during the de facto regime, moved on when Porfirio Lobo Sosa was inaugurated, Paredes, installed by Castro, has stayed in power.

We have written previously about the concerns raised by the union about Paredes' administrative actions. The new document emphasizes the same points.

The summary conclusion: Paredes is not interested in the survival of IHAH, and in fact wants to take it apart, to see it fail. While the present document is somewhat technical in its complaints, what the union has previously emphasized is a pattern of actions that either directly violate, or at least appear to violate, the law, and undermine the mission of the institute, which is to manage cultural heritage and increase public knowledge of it-- not, as Paredes has sometimes seemed to think, to increase tourism income in the country any way he can.

One new addition to the story in the present statement is the news that, following their previous complaints, a special commission was actually appointed in June of this year, including three members of the Consejo Directivo: UNAH representative, historian and professor Olga Joya, herself a former director of IHAH; and the representatives of COHEP, Jubal Valerio, and of SOPTRAVI Ángel Mariano Vásquez. The statement by the union says their report was not presented to the full Consejo, despite what they describe as numerous requests from the commission members themselves and the union.

The document describes an extraordinary pattern by Paredes of failing or even refusing to be part of meetings ordered by the Minister of Culture, to whom he in theory reports, intended to address the complaints raised. Other information we have received has described Paredes having a network of powerful patrons that give him a degree of impunity.

What will happen next? The union is obviously hoping that the government will act to rid itself of a troublesome bureaucrat who has brought unrest to governance, encouraged disruptive interventions by local politicians in national policy, and has, to say the least, not brought intellectual respectability to the Institute.

Which will win-- power and impunity, or prestige and embarrassment?