Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Sad State of Culture in Honduras

We remind you that Honduras is not a petroleum producing country; that there are deficiencies, limitations, but we are doing all that's possible to resolve the problem because culture is a national priority.

So said the Minister of Culture, Tulio Mariano Gonzalez, when asked on Monday why his office was obstructing the transfer of funds to the National Gallery of Art.

The state of cultural institutions in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, several of which are dependencies of the Secretaria de Cultura, Artes, y Deportes (SCAD), suggests that culture is anything but a national priority.

Start with the budget. The 2012 budget allocates 234 million lempiras ($11.7 million dollars) as budget for the Secretaria de Cultura, Artes, y Deportes. Only 26 million ($1.3 million dollars)  are available for promoting culture in Honduras.  The rest of the money goes to sports promotion, and to paying the salaries of SCAD employees.  The 2012 budget also authorized a 1.5 million lempira ($75,000)  cut of SCAD's budget from the allocated amount to be put into a general fund for government social programs. 

The 2013 budget cut 3.8 million lempiras ($190,000) from the essentially static SCAD budget.

That leaves very little for cultural programming. And it is particularly hard for cultural institutions when the meager funding available is not transferred to them.

The big story in all the Honduran papers recently was that the National Gallery of Art closed for four days last week because the central government had failed to transfer its budget allocation to the entity, which in turn, had not been able to pay its employees for the last six months. 

SCAD has 2.7 million lempiras in its budget for the National Gallery of Art, yet has not given it any support this year.  According to the budget proposal approved by Congress, SCAD owes the National Gallery of Art 900,000 lempiras (about $45,000 dollars) from this year's budget allocation so far.

SCAD acknowledges it owes the Gallery that money, and had done the paperwork to authorize the transfer but then revoked it, leading Tulio Mariano Gonzalez to claim that culture is a national priority, no matter what it actually seems is happening.

On the basis of assurances that it would get its money, the National Gallery of Art reopened on Monday, with volunteers since it still lacks funds to pay the staff. 

But the money transfer didn't come. 

When contacted Monday by El Heraldo to find out why the transfer hadn't happened after all the promises, the National Treasurer, Luis Felipe Garcia, said that Minister Gonzalez had revoked the authorization to transfer the funds.  Gonzalez told El Heraldo it was just a technical problem that he hoped would be fixed in a few hours, but totally failed to explain the revocation of the authorization to pay the Gallery.  Instead he said that technical problems happen nearly daily in the moving of funds between SCAD and the central bank, and he hoped they'd be fixed soon.

And it's not just the National Gallery of Art that's being stiffed to the point of closing. 

The Casa Morazan, a new national museum opened last year, will close its doors to the public on July 31.  The 2012 budget cut 800,000 lempiras from its operating budget of 1.5 million: a 53% budget cut.  So, once the money runs out in July, the museum will close. 

Minister Gonzalez says they should remain open, but offers no more funding.  Instead he said:
Here in SCAD we have the lowest budget in history and the people are witness that we are doing the activities that most resonate in the last few years, which says that with enthusiasm and passion we can do better activities.

You can't keep a museum open with "enthusiasm" for very long.

Want more?

The National Conservatory of Music, homeless since 1998 when Hurricane Mitch destroyed its original home, has moved from rented space to rented space as SCAD seeks to reduce the rent it pays for space for the Conservatory.

The National Arts School lost all government support from this year's budget and was forced to close. 

The National Newspapers Library, another SCAD dependency,  has inadequate storage and space.

The Museo Villa Roy, which has been closed for a seismic retrofit since 2010, is a SCAD-owned museum in Tegucigalpa.  The government has yet to allocate any of the 13 million lempiras needed to do the work, so the building, a former President's home, remains both closed and at risk of collapsing.

The National Library needs significant infrastructure work and pest removal in order to remain open to the public.

It's not just the central government that's abdicating its responsibilities, either. The situation of cultural institutions in San Pedro Sula is also declining, due to defaults by the city government.

Both privately-run museums in San Pedro Sula, the Museo de Antropología e Historia and the Museo de la Naturaleza, have been operating without budgetary support promised by the San Pedro Sula City government, support that should make up about half of each of their budgets.  Both museums may close later this year. 

Marvin Fajardo, director of the Children's Museum in San Pedro said that the government was not interested in supporting these institutions and pointed to the closing of the National Arts School in Tegucigalpa as proof.

The City of San Pedro also backed out of its agreement to fund a visitor's center and the maintenance of the archaeological site of Currusté, effectively closing the site to what had been expected to be visitation by thousands of school kids every year.

So what is the budget of the Secretaria de Cultura Artes y Deportes being spent on, aside from salaries? 

If one views the posts on its Facebook page, one would be forced to conclude the mission of SCAD is to teach chess and host street-fairs featuring performances, sales, and sports in Tegucigalpa. 

This must be what the Minister thinks "resonates" with the Honduran people.

Culture is not a priority under the government of Lobo Sosa and his Minister Tulio Mariano Gonzalez. 

It's more like what Miguel Diaz, a businessman, said:
Here in Honduras, neither art nor culture have value and are not taken into account.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

More Presidential Polling: Bad News for Main Parties

The Honduran newspaper La Prensa commissioned a poll from CID/Gallup, their second of the voters of Honduras.  The previous poll was in January 2013 and we discussed it here.

The results of the latest poll are not good for the two traditional parties. 

In the Presidential election,  Xiomara Castro (Libre)  leads with 28%, Salvador Nasralla (Anti-Corruption) is second with 21%, Juan O. Hernandez (National)  is at 18%, and Mauricio Villeda (Liberal) had 14%.  No response/Decline to State was 19%.  This shows a net loss of support for Hernandez  (5%) and Villeda (2%) since the previous poll in January.  Poor Romeo Vasquez Velasquez again polled at less than 1%.

The poll, conducted between May 1 and May 8 of 1200 voters in 16 departments, has a margin of error of 5 percent.

Those are the raw numbers, but there's more here than that.

The article contains a chart showing party preference of the Honduran electorate from 2006 to the present.  It shows steady erosion of support for the National Party since Porfirio Lobo Sosa took office, from 38% to 32% of the electorate.  It shows fairly steady erosion of support for the Liberal Party as well, from a high of 43% in 2006, to 24% today (there's an error in the chart accompanying the article; the text makes it clear that in this survey the Liberal party has 24% support). 

La Prensa makes much of the fact that 24% is an increase over the previous result for the Liberal party, but the change is within the margin of error of the poll, so there's no trend evident here.  Likewise, La Prensa makes much of a small decline in support for Libre, from 21% to 18% over the last period, but again, this is within the margin of error, and not interpretable as a trend.  The Anti-Corruption Party also shows a 2% decline in support since the January survey, again within the margin of error.

So, if the traditionally dominant parties are losing support, where are those voters turning?

CID/Gallup split out the support for presidential candidates by party membership.  Xiomara Castro had high support among her own party respondents (87%) but also was supported by 25% of the Liberal Party members in the survey.  Salvador Nasralla draws support from his small party (87%), but also significant support from both National (20%) and Liberal party (13%) members.  Mauricio Villeda has support from 42% of Liberals, but lacks significant support in any other party.  Likewise, Juan O. Hernandez has support from 48% of National Party members, but lacks significant support among other party's members.

The majority of independents, those not part of any of the above parties, were not supporting any candidate (43%), though Nasralla picked up significant support among independents (27%) as did Castro, to a lesser extent (17%).

The big story here, though, is again the No Response, Decline to State faction.  25% of Liberals expressed no preference for a candidate.  Likewise, 17% of National Party members had no preference.  Even 4% of the members of the newly formed Anti-Corruption party reported no preference, when the only reason for the existence of the paper is the presidential run of Salvador Nasralla.

So will this influence the actual outcome of the presidential election? That is harder to predict. CID/Gallup is reported in La Prensa as saying that the two newly formed, and now leading parties, Libre and the Anti-Corruption Party
do not have the number of supporters that the National and Liberal Parties have, and that makes us ask if in the end, can these new organizations implement a get-out-the-vote plan the way the traditional parties do?
It takes money, organization, and logistics to carry out a get-out-the-vote plan, so this is a legitimate question.

We actually have no indication how any of these parties will perform in this election.  So far the two traditional parties have been trying to quiet infighting among factions. Villeda has complained about being poor, which might have an effect on the get out the vote efforts of the Liberal Party.

And then there's the 20% of the electorate that is just not interested in any of the candidates. This should be a very unusual election, well worth watching closely.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Where have all the voters gone?

Voters in Honduras are increasingly dissatisfied with the choices the political parties have given them for Presidential candidates.

That's the real conclusion of a new poll taken by Encuestadora Paradigma.  The poll, involving 2,292 interviews of voting age individuals in 16 departments in Honduras, carried out between the 14th and 23rd of April, has a 2.2% margin or error at the 95% confidence interval.

The poll, the third this year from Encuestadora Paradigma, asked "if the election of 2013 were today, who would you vote for among the candidates listed, for president?"

Here's the results:
Xiomara Castro                  19.7%
Juan O. Hernandez           13.3%
Mauricio Villeda                10.2%
Salvador Nasralla               9.9%
Not Stated/No Response   20.1%
None of the Above            26.4%

Support for everyone else, including Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, together accounted for a grand total of 0.4%. 

Assuming the sample is actually representative, this would tend to indicate Xiomara Castro, of the Libre party, is really leading all her competitors for president, since the difference between her and the next polled candidate is substantially more than the margin of error.

Other leading candidates aren't buying it.

Mauricio Villeda, candidate for the Liberal party, says his own internal polls, conducted by Borge & Asociados, show him in the lead over everyone else running.

Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National party says pretty much the same thing.

Ecuestadora Paradigma offers data from consecutive months of polling for February, March, and April of this year.

The trends in their results are interesting.  All of the candidates, with the exception of Nasralla, have lost popularity over this period. 

Hernandez has lost 4.7 points, falling from 18.6% in February to 13.3% in April, Castro has lost 5.3 points, going from 25% in February to 19.7% in April.  Villeda lost 2.7% going from 12.9% in February to 10.2% in April. Nasralla has gained 0.2% over the same interval, which is well within the range to simply be statistical noise.

So where have the voters gone?

The number of None of the Above, and No Response/Decline to State have increased in each monthly poll.  The percentage of people choosing No Response/Decline to State increased by 7.2%, while the percentage of people selecting None of the Above grew 7.8%. That means that 15% of the electorate decided to abandon their support for a defined candidate over the course of three months.

Encuestadora Paradigma gives the political party membership for respondents. These numbers should make Juan O. Hernandez and Mauricio Villeda afraid. Their constituencies, the Liberal and National party members, made up slightly more than 45% of the respondents, yet combined, only 23.5% of the respondents say they will vote for these candidates. Where are the other 21.5% of members of these traditional leading parties?

One answer: to the new alternative parties that formed in the wake of the 2009 coup.

Xiomara Castro's popularity extends beyond the 13% of the sample composed of Libre party members, as does Nasralla's popularity, which is clearly broader than the 3.2% of respondents who say they belong to his party. 

But the change in the political landscape may be more than this.  More than a third of voters polled by Encuestadora Paradigma, 38.2%, reported not belonging to any political party. 

The take away: Xiomara Castro is undisputably the front runner in this poll, as she has been in all three of Encuestadora Paradigma's polls.

So far, only two candidates are showing a broader appeal beyond their own party, both in newly formed parties. Castro and Nasralla have shown an ability to appeal to voters beyond their party.

Meanwhile the candidates of the traditional two leading parties, Hernandez and Villeda, are not managing to capture the support of all of their party members, let alone enough voters from outside to indicate one would win if the election were held today. 

Getting the support of the large block of independent voters, and getting them to vote, will be the challenge for whichever candidate wants to win the election in November. There is a long time between now and then-- but this is not how Honduran presidential politics used to work.