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...

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