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.

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