Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Drug Testing of Police Command

Much has been made of Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP) not performing the confidence tests on the police high command in Honduras.

It is in part why Eduardo Villanueva has lost his job as director of DIECP. 

Much is now being made of the confidence tests for the police high command having finally been scheduled. 

But before everyone goes patting Porfirio Lobo Sosa on the back, consider these facts.

The drug test portion of the confidence tests is a standard test of urine for the metabolites of common drugs.  This is the same drug test that some US companies apply to potential employees and that the US military applies to recruits.  It does not directly test for the presence of the drug, but rather tests for metabolites, compounds produced by the body when it breaks down the drug, in the urine.  There are standards for how much metabolite must be present in order to constitute a positive test, and this number is set by the Honduran government.   The reason there's a threshold set is that some of the metabolites can occur in urine due to normal biological processes, but always at less than the threshold value.

There is a wide body of literature on the Internet about how long the metabolites can be detected in a urine test.  Answers abound to questions posed by anxious potential employees and military recruits. Marijuana metabolites last a long time in the body because they are stored in lipids (fats). If one is a regular user, a urine test can be positive for up to 100 days, though lab tests show that an individual regular user may test drug free in as few as 7 days.  PCP, like marijuana, is stored in fats in the body, and therefore can take 7 to 28 days to clear the body of a regular user.  Most drugs, however, fall below the testing threshold in 1-7 days.  This means drug tests are best done with no forewarning, unannounced, not scheduled.

Not for the police high command in Honduras, apparently, who have been given more than a week's notice.

The tests of the police high command are scheduled for May 6 -10.  That's 9 to 12 days after the schedule for the tests was publicly announced.  In the testing done so far on lower ranking police, 7% of those tested have been positive for drug use. The police high command has been given enough time to clear the traces of all but chronic drug use.

The only police high command likely to be caught by the pre-announced drug test are those who cannot quit for a few days. Which might help identify some obvious candidates for dismissal, but falls far short of any claim of purifying the police force.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Honduran Poll: None Of The Above Winning

Le Vote, a private market research firm has the results of an opinion poll they did on the presidential candidates for November's presidential election.  Here's what they report:

Xiomara Castro                  30%
Salvador Nasralla               28%
Juan O. Hernandez             26%
Mauricio Villeda                  16%

Le Vote says nothing about the size of the sample, the uncertainty, or the method used for obtaining the result. 
But there's an even larger problem with these numbers.  There are no undecideds or "decline to state". Reporting suggests that is significant.

According to El Heraldo, Le Vote said that 15% of the respondents didn't know or declined to state a preference, while 22.33% said "none of the above".  Further, El Heraldo reports that the real percentages reported by Le Vote differ from what's reported on Le Vote's own website, where apparently the results are rounded to the nearest integer. 

Le Vote is giving us a lesson in how to screw up reporting polling data.

Correcting using using El Heraldo's non-rounded percentages of those polled, totaling 66.77%, would look like this, organized by popularity:

None of the Above       22.3300 %
Xiomara Castro            19.8975 %
Salvador Nasralla         18.4686 %
Juan O. Hernandez       17.4003 %
Undecided/Not Stating  15.0000 %
Mauricio Villeda            11.0103 %

So, None of the Above would win if the election were held today, and by any normal polling margin of error, we cannot discriminate the placement of the next several candidates (Xiomara Castro, Salvador Nasralla, or Juan O. Hernandez). 

Undecided leads Villeda, the Liberal Party candidate, by a significant amount.  Villeda continues to show that the Liberals are definitely at the rear of the field for major political parties, but even he is leading over Romeo Vasquez Velasquez who failed to register in the poll.

Not even a majority of post coup Liberal Party supports their candidate according to Le Vote, which says Villeda has only has 39% support among Liberals.  Libre party candidate Xiomara Castro has 11% of the Liberal Party member's vote in the same poll.
This pattern is also true in the National Party, where less than a majority of those members surveyed supported Juan Orlando Hernandez, their own party's candidate for president, with 44% of the National Party members saying they support him. 

These weak levels of support for the two traditional party candidates contrast with 98% of Libre supporting its candidate, Xiomara Castro.

But the political parties are not of equal size.  The National Party forms about 32% of the electorate, according to Le Vote, while the post coup Liberal Party is less than half that size, at 15%.

Libre is slightly smaller, at 14%, while the Anti-Corruption Party of Salvador Nasralla is a tiny 6%. 

Le Vote reports that 31% of the electorate is not registered with any party.  The results reported by Le Vote show that Xiomara Castro and Salvador Nasralla are doing well among those independent voters, while Juan O. Hernandez is not.

The high "none of the above" value in the poll, though, indicates most Hondurans dissatisfaction with all of the candidates. The question is, will those citizens vote-- and if so, for whom?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Chepe Handal: "I Have Nothing To Hide" -- Literally

On April 9th, "Chepe" Handal (Juan Miguel Handal Perez) was identified in a press release from the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury as head of drug running organization in Honduras.

This banned US citizens from any financial transactions with him. 

Also named as part of the drug organization were his wife, Ena Elizabeth Hernandez Amaya, and his father, Jose Miguel Handal Larach.  The US Treasury department named all three as drug kingpins under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin act.  OFAC Director Adam Tzubin said of Handal:
"Chepe Handal plays a critical role in the transportation and distribution of drug shipments between South America and the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas."

Also added to the list were businesses importing Chinese car parts, Chinese motorcycles and parts, and a Peruvian horse breeding ranch belonging to the Handals (father and/or son).  OFAC released a chart of the businesses affected here

A Treasury Department press release noted that on March 3, 2011, Chepe Handal was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in the Southern District of Florida and charged with one count of "conspiracy to distribute cocaine with knowledge that it will be unlawfully imported into the United States."

This is the first time the US Department of the Treasury has named a Honduran as a drug kingpin.  Chepe Handal denied the accusations and told the AFP
"They fell on me like a bucket of water. We are trying to clarify the situation, as we do not know where they originate."

He went further with the Honduran press, and called on the Honduran government to investigate his businesses.  He said to an interviewer in Proceso Digital:
"We have said from the first moment this happened that the doors of our businesses are open, we will give them all the information that is needed because we have nothing to hide."

Handal's father said:
"We're going to sue the United States, neither my family nor myself are drug runners"

Chepe Handal is the brother of Esteban Handal, a failed presidential candidate for the Liberal Party in last November's primary election.  Chepe Handal himself ran to be a candidate for Congress in the same elections as a member of his brother's faction of the Liberal Party, and he also lost. 

On Chepe Handal's website from his failed campaign for congress, under the heading of security, he said he would
"promote laws that favor the people so that we can count on quality security in all the corners of the country, and also to support the police so that they can be treated with dignity in all senses of the word and so they can count on the support of the national government.....Your well being is my obligation."

After he and his brother failed in their election bids, Chepe Handal affiliated himself with Libre, the political party that arose from resistance to the coup of 2009, but not in a position of leadership or as a candidate for office.

Last week, the Honduran government, along with the Drug Enforcement Agency,  took Chepe up on his suggestion to investigate and moved to secure all of the houses and businesses owned in Honduras by Chepe Handal, his wife, and his father. The officers raiding the houses found them literally empty, except for "exotic animals in cages" in the father's house, and 22 horses on the ranch. 

Everything that belonged to the Handals had been removed from the houses in the intervening week so that quite literally they had "nothing to hide" because they left nothing behind. 

The Honduran daily paper Tiempo reported that Chepe Handal was notified a week ago via text message that the confiscation was going to happen, but even so, to pack up and clean out three houses and 10 businesses in a week is a monumental task.  Where are all their household goods located now?  Where are the three alleged drug kingpins themselves?  Why did no one notice all this activity?

The day afer the raid, the same Honduran government officials moved against the businesses of Chepe Handal and his father, seizing their books and inventory. Under Honduran law, they had 72 hours to protest the seizures in court.  In three months, the court that authorized the seizures will issue an opinion deciding whether or not these properties are forfeited because of criminal activity and therefore belong to the government.

The very same day that the Handal properties were seized, Honduras's most successful prosecutor for the Public Minister's Office of Money Laundering, Orlán Chávez,  was assassinated in Tegucigalpa.

He literally wrote Honduras's law on money laundering and the law that set up the government agency that holds properties seized under the law-- like the ones seized from the Handals.

The Public Prosecutor's office is reportedly investigating whether the assassination was "planned in the north", meaning in San Pedro Sula, where Chepe Handal and his father lived. 

Orlán Chávez was reportedly to travel to San Pedro Sula today to help in an organized crime case "involving the Mexicans".

To date, no criminal charges have been filed against Chepe Handal in Honduras. Nor has the US requested his extradition.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

First Heads Have Rolled, Sort Of....

Well, heads have rolled in Honduras, but no one has actually lost a lucrative government job-- so far. 

As we previously reported, the Honduran Congress passed a law giving itself remarkably broad powers to open an investigation of any member of the government. In response to that threat, the cabinet of Porfirio Lobo Sosa has undergone some major late term shifts.

First removed was Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla.  He was replaced immediately as Security Minister by the Foreign Minister, Arturo Corrales.  It's not that Corrales has any actual ideas about how to better the security situation in the country, but rather that Pompeyo Bonilla was so bad at doing it.

Among his failings:  sitting on the dismissal orders for 223 police officers who failed one or more of the confidence tests.  Only about 7% of those were failures of the drug testing.  The rest failed combinations of the psychological, lie detector, and financial history tests meant to point at unfit or corrupt police.

Bonilla admitted delaying their dismissal in Congressional hearings last week but failed to offer any explanation.  He also admitted promoting several of them, knowing that there were outstanding requests for their dismissal, again without explanation.

Another failing:  since he assumed the position of Security Minister in September, 2011, there have been 11, 199 murders, of which fewer than 20 percent were investigated.  He was in office both for the murders of two university students (including the son of Julieta Castellanos) by the police, and the assassination of Alfredo Landaverde.  No one has been tried for either case, and there are no suspects in the Landaverde case, where there are also indications the police were involved.

Not that Corrales was all that good at his last job of Foreign Minister.  He failed to reform the consular service, which is filled with unqualified political appointees who line their pockets charging Hondurans for services that are supposed to be supplied for free.  He presided over a consul who hired prostitutes for an official party.

So Corrales is in as Security Minister, and actually reportedly has expanded powers over other ministries, including Defense.

But Pompeyo Bonilla isn't exactly out on the street.  He will have a new title on May 1,  Private Secretary to the President, replacing Reynaldo Sanchez, who will depart to run full time for the Congress.

Corrales will be replaced as Foreign Minister by Mireya Aguero, the current Vice Chancellor in the Foreign Ministry.

Thee Honduras Congress also decided to intervene in the Public Prosecutor's office, effectively taking over control, removing the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubí, and his deputy Roy Utrecho from any decision making.  Luis Rubí admitted in his Congressional testimony that only about 20% of murders get any investigation.

These two are sidelined for the next 60 days while an appointed committee will make decisions about what the organization does, and how to reorganize the office to (it is hoped) be more effective.   In addition to making the office more effective, the committee was also charged with applying confidence tests to all prosecutors, similar to those used for the police.  To accomplish this, they will assume all the powers delegated to the Public Prosecutor and his deputy.  The US Embassy has previously offered to provide expert support in re-organizing the Public Prosecutor's office.

But Luis Rubí hasn't lost his job, and Marvin Ponce says that Rubí won't. Ponce says Rubí secured his job going forward by agreeing to throw many of his top prosecutors under the bus. For the duration of the commission's term, he'll have to sit on his hands and get paid to do nothing, watching what changes the commission implements and awaiting any recommendations the commission makes back to Congress for its action. 

The Association of Prosecutors of Honduras had a meeting scheduled for yesterday afternoon to discuss whether Congress acted within the law, and whether the Public Prosecutor's office (constitutionally supposed to be political independent) has to obey this order or not.

The legal secretary of the Public Prosecutor's office, Rigoberto Espinal, called Congress's action unconstitutional, pointing out that the Prosecutor's office is neither a part of the Executive, nor Legislative branch of the government, and therefore neither is allowed to mess with it.  Espinal asserted that Congress wants to remove Rubí for his involvement in the 2009 coup.

Edmundo Orellana of the Liberal Party and himself a former Public Prosecutor, said he was considering bringing a legal challenge to Congress's action before the Supreme Court.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Heads May Roll....

Juan Orlando Hernandez aspires to be president, and things he controls are changing in Honduras.

With Porfirio Lobo Sosa's help, he has re-instated the "voluntary" contribution every government employee makes to the ruling political party.  Both parties have been accustomed to collecting "voluntary" payments from government employees, with people who decline being marginalized in their positions. What is new here is that a specific level of "contributions" has been set up, to be deducted directly from the workers' salaries and deposited directly into bank accounts controlled by the National Party. In theory an employee could not agree, but what government employee is going to risk that?

Hernandez isn't limiting himself to political jostling for the benefit of his party. Under his leadership, the Congress has been asserting more power over the other branches of government. He now says he will put the judicial branch, the public prosecutor's office, and the police in order by "supporting the good judge, the good prosecutor, the good policeman."

We've written about Congress and the not-so-Supreme Court before. Analyst Raul Pineda Alvarado told the press this morning "now they have a Supreme Court in tune with their plans, and intimidated."  Pineda Alvarado went on to remark on the amount of power now centralized in Hernandez and Lobo Sosa, noting that they will remove anyone who gets in their way.

Hernandez' current target is the executive branch.  He has been holding hearings in Congress where each cabinet-level official has come to give a report on their progress towards providing a secure life for Hondurans.  According to Hernandez, only General Julian Pacheco has performed well.  Pacheco is head of the intelligence service, and is widely rumored to be using the position to listen in on the phone calls of politicians. Not the person you want lined up against you if you are an ambitious Honduran politician.

Hernandez is reportedly going to demand replacement of Eduardo Villanueva, head of the Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP). The DIECP was created to manage the police cleanup process. Villanueva volunteered for the post after the original director quit in disgust from waiting for Congress to allocate a budget for the unit.  Instead of managing the police cleanup, Villanueva gave control of the process to the Police command, the very group that should have been the first to undergo the confidence tests.  Of the over 200 police who have failed the confidence exams, several have since been promoted, and only seven have been dismissed by Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla.

Hernandez has also put in motion mechanisms to remove the Public Prosecutor Luis Rubí and several other top prosecutors.  After Rubí's Congressional testimony last week it was privately suggested Rubí resign. He chose not to, so now Congress is getting ready to formulate a "political trial" using the recently adopted law that gives Congress the power to review, and fire, without the right of appeal, any top government official, including the president, for anything Congress decides is negligent or incompetent or if there is an accusation of a serious crime or the person has worked against the constitution or national interest (Article 5 of the Ley de Juicio Politico).

Lobo Sosa has recently taken pot shots at Ramon Custodio, the Honduran Human Rights Ombudsman, calling him dishonored and unable to serve in international bodies.  Jimmy Dacaret of the right-wing UCD fears that Custodio is one of the people targeted by Lobo Sosa.  Dacaret supports Custodio because of Custodio's unwavering support of the pro-coup forces in Honduras.

German Leitzelar, a PINU party Congressman, is of the opinion that "no heads should roll because all of them would have to roll".  The failure he says, is one of not having a state security policy, and replacing a director here and there will not solve this.

Edmundo Orellana, a Liberal Party member, has said that what Hernandez desires is to place people loyal to him into positions of power. This is an opinion shared by Raul Pineda Alvarado, who said that Hernandez and Lobo Sosa are playing a political game.  Jimmy Dacaret, of the right wing UCD agrees that Lobo Sosa and Hernandez are playing political games in concentrating power in themselves.

This is the new face of the National Party, the candidate for next president of Honduras. Not a pretty picture.