Thursday, September 26, 2013

Honduran Presidential Polling Shows Race Tightening

Honduran news media today published reports based on the latest CID Gallup poll, of a sample of 1220 voters surveyed between September 6 and 12. Reuters reported only that Xiomara Castro of the LIBRE party is in the lead at 29%, with Juan Orlando Hernández of the currently ruling Partido Nacional in second place at 27%-- a statistical dead heat, given the margin of error of +/-2%.

From May to the present in CID Gallup polling, Hernández has gained 9% in his support.

Where are those additional voters coming from?

Coverage of the poll in La Prensa provides information on all the major candidates, that we can use to show how CID Gallup polling looks over time (click for a larger image):

This suggests that the added voters for Juan Orlando Hernández could be members of the Partido Nacional who supported their party's candidate back in January, when he polled 23%, but fell away so that by May he polled only 18%, and now are back in the fold.

They could also include former supporters of Salvador Nasralla. The Anti-Corruption party candidate saw his support in the same series of CID Gallup polls rise from 18% to 21% from January to May, then fall to 11% in September.

It is also possible, as we have suggested previously, that something was odd about those May polling numbers from CID Gallup, which stand out when you look at all the polling over time (click for larger image; for clarity, does not include no reply/none of the above):


La Prensa repored that "Xiomara Castro is the public figure with the most favorable opinion among those measured in this poll". She has significant support from other parties, holding the loyalty of 93% of LIBRE voters while also drawing 15% of the Liberal Party vote, 3% of the Anti-Corruption party vote, and even 7% of the Partido Nacional voters.

The Partido Nacional and Partido Liberal, the two traditional dominant parties, face fractured party loyalty that most benefits LIBRE's candidate.

Only 71% of  Partido Nacional voters say they would vote for their party's candidate today. An astonishing 14% either decline to state their preference or are not in favor of any of the candidates running now. The remainder of the Partido Nacional members support Xiomara Castro (7%), Mauricio Villeda (4%), or Salvador Nasralla (4%).

Things are worse for the Liberal Party. Only 62% of its members would vote for Mauricio Villeda today. Hernández and Nasralla would receive 6% and 7% of the Liberal Party vote, and Xiomara Castro would get 15%. Another 11% of Liberal Party voters simply do not like their options, or are not prepared to express affiliation with any of the candidates.

The CID Gallup poll also assessed the candidate preference of voters who either have no party affiliation, or were affiliated with some other party.

Of these voters, 55% express no preference. Castro receives support from 20%; Hernández (10%), Nasralla (8%) and Villeda (5%) are far behind.

With the Partido Nacional base split, we still see the same race it has been all along: one new party (LIBRE) that has run in the lead throughout the campaign, and a close second (Partido Nacional).

So it is noteworthy that CID Gallup found that 33% of those polled expect Juan Orlando Hernández to be the next president, while Xiomara Castro is expected to be the next president by 28%. 

That political calculus may reflect another of the CID Gallup poll's findings: "reported doubts about the capacity of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral to organize and execute honest and transparent elections".

Friday, September 20, 2013

Indigenous Leader Berta Caceres Ordered Jailed

"I will keep myself with my head held high and will all dignity: I say to them that those businessmen are mistaken if they think that the Lenca people will stop their historic fight in defense of the common property.... My crime is to carry blankets with the name of COPINH, to yell slogans and to create poems in defense of the Río Blanco..."

Honduras' progressive online news source, El Libertador reported these statements, made on Radio Globo by Berta Cáceres, Lenca activist and leader of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras: COPINH).

They came in response to a judge in Intibucá, Alicia Lizeth Naigh Reyes, ordering what El Libertador called "prisión preventiva" (preventive detention) for Cáceres. Preventive detention precedes trial.

In fact, as the notice posted by La Prensa late Friday made clear, this was the final sentencing for Cáceres' participation in Lenca mobilization against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in Río Blanco, Intibucá, by a Honduran-Chinese collaboration, DESA-SINOHYDRO

The lawyer for the three indigenous activists, Victor Fernández, said that the two other Lenca activists accused, Aureliano Molina and Tomás Membreño, were released under his parole, required to check in every 15 days.

Berta Cáceres was given a more severe sentence, to be served in the Centro Penal of La Esperanza, in the Department of Intibucá.

What Honduran media did not report is the full militarization of the scene, described by the Mexican news site Vanguardia:
The sentence was delivered... surrounded by some 700 police and military, including some inside the place, among them anti-riot police, who carried metal shields, tear gas bombs, and front of the court house, some 2000 Lenca supporting Cáceres with signs were present, while inside were Nora Cortina, one of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo of Argentina; Carlos H Reyes, Honduran labor leader; and Berta Oliva, director of the Comité de Familiares de Detenidos y Desaparecidos (COFADEH).

Not present at the sentencing was Berta Cáceres herself, who was represented by her legal counsel.

Proceso Digital published a story about the protest at the courthouse, claiming the indigenous protestors took over the building, but this detail does not appear in other coverage. They described the charges against the three Lenca leaders as
inciting the population of the western area of the country to cause damage to a business that is developing a hydroelectric project in the area.

It is apparently on these grounds, of inciting others, that Berta Cáceres was deemed a "subversive" and sentenced to jail.

The coverage of the sentencing, and the mass protest outside the courthouse, should call into question news reports that purported to show that the Lenca were in favor of the dam. El Heraldo, for example, headlined its September 7 story Lencas de acuerdo con construcción de represa, and wrote that
More than 100 residents, representing ten Lenca community organizations [patronatos] on the Río Blanco, north of Intibucá and south of Santa Barbará, signed an agreement of cooperation and mutual understanding with President Porfirio Lobo Sosa with the company Desarrollos Energéticos Sociedad Anónima (DESA) [the Honduran partner in this Chinese-Honduran project], accepting the construction of the hydroelectric dam “Agua Zarca”.

The event publicized in these stories notably lacked any participation from COPINH, although representatives from two other Lenca organizations were involved. According to these press reports, the signatories of the agreement stated that they were satisfied with the consultation of their communities-- a legal requirement for the project to proceed-- and in return, the company developing the project promised financial compensation of various kinds.

Of course, what the carefully orchestrated event held in Tegucigalpa did not address were the concerns of the protestors at the site of the Agua Zarca dam. There, in July, protests were met by the wounding of one protestor, and the death of another, through gunshot from army engineering division. In May, the same army unit was busy evicting protestors from the area of the dam.

In June, Radio Progreso posted video and an article in which the protestors specifically stated that the government had not consulted appropriately with the communities affected, as called for:
free, previous, and informed consultation, under ILO Convention 169, ancient land titles, historic rights and agreements signed between the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones y Pueblos Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH, and the Estado de Honduras.
In this case, as in others, at issue is whether what the government did meets the standard of "free, previous, and informed" consultation.

The government stresses obtaining signatures from representatives of some groups, but does not address the wider question of whether these signatories are representing the actual position of the people.

The signing, taking place while three Lenca leaders were under trial for protesting, and after others had been wounded, killed, or kidnapped, arguably doesn't meet the criterion of being "free".

And getting signatures on documents on September 7, months after construction efforts and protests against them began, clearly does not qualify as "prior" consultation.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Landaverde Murder Update

When is attempted murder not a crime?

Why, in the Unified Courts of the department of Francisco Morazan, of course.

What passes for legal opinions from supposedly qualified judges in Honduras is sometimes surreal.

Marvin Noé Andino Mascareño stood accused of attempted homicide against Hilda Caldera, for wounding her while murdering her husband, Alfredo Landaverde, on September 7, 2011.  Landaverde was driving, and his wife was a passenger, in their car when at least four gunmen openend fire on them at an intersection as they stopped for a red light.

Andino was found innocent by Judge Ivan Castelar yesterday because, according to him, the attack was not directed at Caldera, but rather at her husband who was driving the car at the time.  Stop and think about that for a minute.  Castelar found Andino  innocent because Caldera was just in the way of his bullets, which really were aimed at Landaverde. So it wasn't attempted murder according to the Judge.

The Honduran Penal Code disagrees with Castelar about the need for a determination that there needs to be a demonstration that he intended to kill Caldera for Andino to have committed attempted murder.  That is a requirement of charging someone with the crime of murder.  But attempted murder is defined in article 15, which states that:
A crime is attempted when with intent to commit a particular crime, a person commits unequivocal acts that are not beyond the control of the agent.

So it should be attempted murder if, in the attempt to commit murder, you accidentally shoot someone else.  You only need to show premeditation if the charge is "murder".

Caldera, when asked to comment on the verdict, said
"They also shot at me, for a week I had a bullet in my shoulder....My God!  They shot me."

Caldera said that Judge Castelar has been obstructing the clarification of what actually happened, and who was responsible:
"I believe that this man (Castelar) is not for justice, he is not looking for any truth.  He does not want the case to go forward."

First, he refused to allow witness testimony during the preliminary hearing.  Second, he denied the witnesses' requests to testify in a closed court room in order to hide their identities from those they were implicating,  Now, he has cleared one of the shooters of trying to kill her. She also said:
"[They] killed my husband, they shot me, and he says that's not a crime.  He [the Judge] should explain that to the people of Honduras what is a crime in this country; we don't share his understanding."

Castelar has been involved in a number of high profile cases that put him in conflict with the Public Prosecutor's office.  In 2009 he dismissed charges against 24 college students for constructing or possessing molotov cocktails because the police had illegally raided university property with a prosecutor being present.  In 2011 he was summoned to give testimony for unnamed reasons which Castelar associated with his having given substitute punishments to a number of criminals instead of putting them in prison. At the time, Castelar told the press:
"I take it as an act of intimidation; they are putting pressure on us (the judges)." 

In 2013 he controversially gave house arrest to Marcello Chimirri, accused of embezzling from Hondutel.

His latest verdict, however, surpasses any of his previous actions: it would open the door for exonerating perpetrators of violent deaths of bystanders throughout Honduras, on the theory that if they didn't mean to do it, they aren't culpable.

Call it the "oops!" defense.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Massive defections from radical leftist party!

Or maybe not.

We recently wrote about the curious way Proceso Digital chooses to cover LIBRE and the candidacy of Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. Their item, which really should have been labeled an opinion piece, is hysterical. Not hysterical funny, mind you: hysterical standing in a parking lot and screaming hysterical.

The screaming starts below the digital fold, in paragraph 8 (all of the bold-faced type and italics that follow are in the original; no emphasis has been added):
Libre and its mini-competitor, the UD-Faper alliance, have in common their support for 21st century socialism, their position against the system, and their hatred of what they call the “poderes fácticos” [roughly, powers that be], promising to push for a constitutional assembly that will succeed in changing the present “state of things”.
They are also followers of the departed ex-president Hugo Chavéz and of his successor Nicolás Maduro and the rest of the governments of the Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas (Alba).

Oh my. 21st century socialism, bringing Chavez back from the dead, no less. Amazingly, the article gets more over-wrought. A final section headlined simply "Institutions" reads in full:
Polls underline that on the level of party membership, the National Party is the party with the most backing, followed by the Liberal and in a distant third place, Libre.

But that membership has to awaken partisan fervor of followers that must translate itself into an intention to vote.

In any case, the Honduran center right will participate in elections where for the first time its supremacy is endangered along with the future of the century-old political system of two parties and support for the system.

The division of the center right vote, as occurred in Venezuela and Nicaragua, could give place to the rise and consolidation of the left and of a hegemonic model that they will create afterward with the same tools of power.

The apocalypse is apparently coming, unless the forces of center right stability get motivated and turn out.

This would be funny if it weren't that it is acceptable as "news" in Honduras' most modern news medium.

The hysteria here would be merely curious if it were not part of a concerted reactionary press attempt to understate what the viability of the candidacy of Xiomara Castro-- and the less viable, but still much stronger than expected candidacy of Salvador Nasralla-- actually is telling us about the Honduran political landscape.

Yes, party membership is highest in the two traditional parties. But recent polling by the Honduran NGO CESPAD indicates that only 58% of Partido Nacional members, and only 50% of Liberal Party members, intend to vote for their party's nominee. CESPAD describes this as a "rupture" of traditional party loyalty, with only 31% of those polled in July saying they would not think of voting outside their declared party.

It isn't a mystery why things are changing, either. CESPAD July polling included two amazing responses to questions about what respondents feel needs to happen. Almost three quarters-- 72.9%-- responded that changes needed to be "radical and in all areas".

Seventy-five percent of respondents said they wanted to see a new Constitutional Assembly write a new Constitution for Honduras. CESPAD notes these respondents are not a uniform ideological block: rather, support for radical change, crystallized in the desire for a new constitution, crosses the spectrum of those they polled.

Will one of the two traditional parties win this election? Maybe. After all, there are pragmatics involved in getting out the vote, in poll watching, in making sure your voters are motivated and not intimidated. But it is not a sure thing, and that is legitimate news.

The least likely thing we would expect is any flight back to the traditional Liberal Party by LIBRE supporters, seeing their candidate in the lead. Yet making that claim is another of the strategies Proceso Digital is trying out in their advocacy against the electoral flow, masquerading as news.

Just before they broke out into bold face and italicized attempts to attach a corpse to Xiomara Castro, Proceso Digital's anonymous writer produced this extraordinary paragraph:
The polls support analysts in that the electoral tent of the traditional left, fused with those that abandoned the Partido Liberal, makes up approximately 25-30% [of the electorate]. A base that in recent days has moved, with massive returns of LIBRE supporters to the white-and-red hosts [a reference to the Liberal Party colors, vs. the red and black of LIBRE]. 

Talk about burying your lede! Massive defections from LIBRE to Mauricio Villeda's candidacy? please, tell me more! Starting with your source for this actual news item?

The same claim was published in an article on September 14 in El Heraldo. There, it has a source:  the Liberal Party, which says that between 500 and 1500 party activists will soon be announced as returning to the fold, having not found LIBRE congenial.

"Massive returns" is, obviously, not quantified. But even in the diminished Liberal Party, 1500 people is hardly "massive".

As we previously reported, 31% of the electorate is not registered with any party. The Partido Nacional reportedly was the choice of 32%, LIBRE of 14%, and the Partido Liberal, 15% of the electorate. During the last election cycle, the electorate was projected at about 4.3 million eligible voters (only 2.1 million actually cast votes). That would put Liberal Party membership somewhere upwards of 600,000. If 1500 party activists shift from LIBRE back to the Partido Liberal, that would be a net gain of around-- well, let's say rather less than 1%, at the expense of a similar minuscule percentage of LIBRE's membership.

But it sure sounds good, doesn't it? especially when Liberal Party officials explain that these returnees were distressed, not by their inability to achieve prominent leadership positions, but because they were shocked to realize that LIBRE had an "ideology of the extreme and radical left".

The real news here is and remains that a third party in Honduras has managed to equal the membership of one of the two traditional parties, and is currently polling in the lead of all parties. Whether LIBRE or the Anti-Corruption Party wins the election, the level of support they have gained is evidence that the dissatisfied Honduran electorate has found a new way to express its disenchantment-- not just refraining from voting, but aspiring to vote for insurgent candidates and parties.

Which is indeed a menace to the status quo.

Monday, September 16, 2013

How do you cover a new progressive party in Honduras?

With misleading critique masquerading as news, it would appear.

We previously commented on the relative lack of reporting in Honduran media of LIBRE's actual positions, and Xiomara's campaign events. We have hesitated to give more space to the odd way she is being covered, but it is time, now.

Proceso Digital, an online Honduran news outlet, published a piece on Friday about the fragmented voter landscape in Honduras. In the third paragraph, after noting that LIBRE is in the lead in all the presidential polls, they describe the presidential candidate as "keeping herself practically unknown, sheltered behind the figure of her husband, ex-president Manuel Zelaya". (We will return to some of the more outrageous parts of this "news article" in another post.)

What caught our attention was the phrase "casi anonimo" (practically unknown)-- an active link in the story. We followed it, and landed on a previous Proceso Digital story, published July 16, headlined "Xiomara Castro Newly Absent from Public Events".

The "public event" in July was the selection, by lottery, of places on the ballot for each party. Proceso Digital noted in passing that Salvador Nasralla also absented himself from this political show; but it was the LIBRE party candidate who came in for criticism for not being there. Both of the new parties sent delegates, so it wasn't a boycott of this step in the process. The story tried to make it seem like evidence of a pattern of hiding Xiomara to avoid public scrutiny, so that she remains "practically unknown".

Which is kind of amazing, when you think about it, since Xiomara became visible as a political actor through the most public political events of Honduras' recent history: the overthrow of the legally elected government of Honduras in 2009, and the sustained public protest that followed and was brutally suppressed by the de facto regime. Video footage shows her, in early July 2009, declaring that she couldn't stay safely in refuge while the people were giving their lives to the cause. By October 2009, public polling was showing Xiomara Castro de Zelaya with the highest approval rating of any public figure in Honduras.

So, she is hardly anonymous, unknown, or simply standing in the shadow of her husband. She is representing the positions of LIBRE, which are continuations (or extensions) of policy directions of the Zelaya administration. And despite the claim that she is not appearing in public, even with the Honduran press being less than fair and balanced, we can reconstruct a clear record of regular public events where she has announced or discussed LIBRE policy directions.

In fact, the same article complaining about her (scheduled) absence from a formal event (at which her party was suitably represented) reported that Xiomara Castro issued a position statement the same week: that she would send the military back to their quarters if elected. Cholusat Sur covered her statement on July 16:
in her government, the military would return to their quarters because their function is not to go out in the streets to patrol, their function is to protect national sovereignty, combat drug trafficking, and prevent contraband arms traffic, what should be done, asserted Xiomara, is to make it possible for the National Police to really dedicate themselves to the security of the people.

On August 4, Tiempo, in coverage of a campaign event in Tocoa in the Department of Colon, noted that she reiterated to supporters there her plan to demilitarize policing and send the armed forces to guard the border. At a campaign event in early September held in Siguatepeque, Department of Comayagua, she announced a plan to form a new national advisory body on culture, and received a formal statement in support of her campaign from a coalition of Honduran writers and artists.

In recent campaign appearances, Xiomara Castro has emphasized the need for support of the rural agrarian population. On September 9, she called for extension of credit at low interest to rural farmers and small businesses, while also restating her intent to remove the military from civilian policing. This was during a tour of small towns in the state dominated by San Pedro Sula, the Department of Cortes, Santa Cruz de Yojoa, San Francisco de Yojoa, San Antonio and Potrerillos.

What is notable in these campaign events is not just the kinds of audiences she is addressing: the venues are places outside the two major cities, including locations (Tocoa, Siguatepeque) that are centers of rural organizing.

So where is Xiomara anonymous and invisible, as Proceso Digital claims? In addition to the lottery for ballot position, the Honduran press reported her declining to attend events of the Chamber of Commerce in Tegucigalpa, and other events planned by the Consejo Hondureña de la Empresa Privada (COHEP).

The actual story here, then, is that a candidate running for president on a ticket emphasizing social justice and seeking popular support, who has no reason to think the business community will back her, is choosing events where her message may motivate voters. And she is using those appearances to publicize a consistent set of policy positions. Pretty outrageous, isn't it?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fiscal Irresponsibility and the Security Tax

Who would think it was OK to spend 1,800 million lempiras ($90 million dollars) from a fund whose balance is only 500 million lempiras ($25 million dollars)?

That's spending more than 3 times your current balance!

Juan Ferrera, head of the government commission that decides how to spend the income from the security tax, thinks it's OK.  Not only that, but he plans to borrow perhaps 600 million lempiras ($30 million dollars) to cover the shortfall from his commission's irresponsible spending, as short term loans from domestic Honduran banks which will be at high interest rates. He proposes to pay the loans back with the projected income from the security tax in 2014.

The security tax, new in 2012, is a tax on bank transactions intended to pay for additional security efforts in the country in general. After the tax was approved, it was modified by Congress so that in addition to reinforcing security, it could be used to "fortify the finances" of the government. It has been used as a candy jar for everyone's pet idea of how to spend government funds, and ultimately, they spent more than they will take in this year, by a lot.

Ferrera made the astounding admission that his commission, which was set up to make decisions about administering funds from the security tax, has made no decisions.  Instead, he says the decisions were made by the Secretary of Defense and Security (Arturo Corrales), the Supreme Court (Jorge Rivera Aviles), the Public Prosecutor's office (formerly Luis Rubi, now Oscar Fernando Chinchilla), and municipalities. 

Basically, if anyone proposed using funds from the security tax for any old project, it simply was done.  The commission headed by Ferrera totally abdicated its responsibility.

Naturally they overspent. There was no one accountable. 

The biggest winner by far has been the Secretary of Defense and Security, who assigned himself a whopping 716.7 million lempiras ($35.8 million dollars).  This includes paying for both the new Military Police (24.5 million lempiras), and a Police Special Operations Unit (los Tigres), both championed by Juan Orlando Hernandez and approved by the Honduran Congress.  While the Military police unit has started operations, with between 600 and 1000 troops chosen from existing soldiers, the Tigres unit has not even begun organizing itself, despite having been authorized last spring.

The latest proposed charge to the security tax:  800,000 lempiras to electrify the island of Isla Conejo, subject of a dispute with El Salvador.  Ferrera said
"There's no doubt that it's part of our territory and we need to exercise sovereignty in this place and because of that the petition [to electrify the island] was immediately approved....the money is already in the hands of the company that will carry out the project."

Has any of this spending spree made a significant change in the security of the Honduran people?

Not significantly by any of the measures that matter.  The government predicts that the murder rate will be around 80 per 100,000 population, while the National University's Observatory of Violence sees the rate continuing at 85 per 100,000 for the rest of the year, off slightly from its observed rate of 91 per 100,000 in 2012.

More militarization of policing, and intensifying a border dispute with a neighbor over an uninhabited island hardly seems like enough to justify the over-spending and lack of accountability demonstrated.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Where are undecided voters likely to move?

Honduran presidential election polling has settled into a pretty clear pattern.

That has LIBRE candidate Xiomara Castro in the lead, with National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández close, but always behind.

Meanwhile, voters disinterested in any of the candidates running form anywhere from 22% to 31%. If you add decline to state to none of the above in the poll with the largest none of the above totals-- a July poll by Paradigma-- almost half of those polled (48.9%) are not saying they have committed to any of the candidates running.

And that brings the question: can we predict who probably will benefit from movement by those voters?

Our answer: no, we cannot. Paradigma and CESPAD, two of the polling sources, have no previous track record in Honduras for us to use to assess how it might do. Even if there was a wealth of prior polling, none of it would come from the first election after a coup d'etat that tore apart one of the traditional parties, and ushered in two new, and apparently reasonably popular, new parties.

But there are others who do think they can predict what will happen in the coming election. The Economist Intelligence Unit posted a note on the election September 12 (h/t Bloggings by Boz, who has his own post on the way the polling is shaping up, for bringing this to our attention).

The Economist/Intelligence Unit doesn't discuss all the polls we have summarized. We continue to caution that there are clear differences between polling agencies which suggest the best way to assess poll data is across time by an individual pollster.

But the thing we find most surprising is that despite the low level of absolute support for individual candidates, the tightness of the race between the top two candidates, and the large block declaring no preference or absolutely not in favor of any of the existing candidates, The Economist/Intelligence Unit analysis projects a final winner:
We maintain our forecast that Mr Hernández will win the November election as the PN Is likely to gain a larger share of the undecided vote on polling day. However, a low turnout could still result in a LIBRE victory.

Without any explanation of why they think more voters currently registered as undecided will turn to the Partido Nacional, we find ourselves troubled by this projection. We have discussed privately a number of scenarios that we can see happening-- but predicting how the undecideds will break seems, to us at any rate, without basis.

CESPAD-- the latest source of polling data to become available-- provides an illustrative example of how complicated such prediction is in Honduras, this year.

Let's start with how voters polled feel about the Partido Nacional-- which currently controls the presidency (under Porfirio Lobo Sosa) and the Congress (for much of the Lobo Sosa presidency, led by Juan Orlando Hernández). In a word: the people are not satisfied. Since February 2012, CESPAD has found that a majority of the people say that the current president is making things worse (47%) or has no effect on the country's problems (38%). Less than 10% said his administration was helping improve conditions.

Is it unfair of us, then, to doubt that the Partido Nacional is going to attract undecided voters?

CESPAD actually gives us a fascinating look at which voters are still undecided (or uninterested in any of the actual candidates) by party affiliation. (We will spend another post just on this topic. For now, though, we simply want to trace who might be expected to shift to Juan Orlando Hernández.)

About 17% of the Liberal Party members; about 21% of the Partido Nacional members; 11% of Anti-Corruption party members; and only 4% of LIBRE members, report being undecided. So where would the undecided voters that might go Partido Nacional come from?

Liberal Party voters not supporting their own party's candidate are overwhelmingly planning to vote LIBRE (about half of these rogue voters). Unless we assume that the undecided voters represent a much more conservative group within the Liberal Party, it is hard to imagine that 17% of voters breaking for Juan Orlando Hernández. The actual candidate of the Liberal Party represents the more conservative wing of that party, so we think it is unlikely these undecideds feel the Liberal candidate is not conservative enough, which would be the motivation to vote PN. If they cannot find it possible to vote LIBRE, there are other somewhat progressive options available. Or they can reject the entire system and vote Anti-Corruption Party-- as over 6% of Liberal Party Members are already planning to do.

The tiny percentage of LIBRE members who are not saying they will vote for Xiomara Castro indicate preferences either for the Liberal Party, or for an even more progressive minority party. Even if we thought all the undecided LIBRE voters were closet law-and-order pro-business conservatives, that would be a minuscule addition to Partido Nacional rolls.

Salvador Nasralla has support from 82% of the party he founded. Only 1% of the party members plan to vote Partido Nacional-- against about 3% each for the Liberal Party and LIBRE. Again, it seems highly unlikely that the 11% undecided/no preference party members think the Partido Nacional is their best choice-- the whole basis of the Anti-Corruption Party is that present politicians are too corrupt-- and the present politics of Honduras is dominated by the PN, and until recently, had as its most effective leader, Juan Orlando Hernández, as head of Congress.

That leaves us with undecided/no preference voters who said they were members of the Partido Nacional itself. This is a substantial number of potential voters-- 21% of party members. Presumably, what The Economist/Intelligence Unit is expecting is that these voters will settle for their party candidate in the end. Yet if we assume their reluctance to state a preference stems from a lack of enthusiasm for their party's candidate, we might consider whether they will follow the lead of the more than 20% of their fellow party members who have decided to vote for someone else. Here, the main beneficiary has been Nasralla, who has support from about 9% of PN members. Nasralla's Anti-Corruption Party is not particularly progressive/liberal in its politics; it is pro-business and solidly Honduran in its identity. The anti-crime theme of Nasralla's campaign is familiar PN policy. It is worth noting that rogue PN voters support Xiomara Castro in almost as high numbers-- suggesting some of the dissatisfied PN voters may be more progressive.

To sum up, we would echo what CESPAD analysts wrote:
The weakening of the traditional party loyalty, is tending to modify the historic balance of political forces. In the presidential candidacies there exists a clear migration of the vote of the Partido Liberal (PL) and of the Partido Nacional (PN) toward the new political movements. Xiomara Castro is the one that most attracts the vote from other parties: 23% of the Liberal vote and 8% of the Nationalist vote.

CESPAD doesn't offer much support for a claim that the Partido Nacional has support to gain:
Effectively, the electoral preferences for Xiomara Castro and Juan Orlando Hernández have grown since February of 2012 until July of 2013. Nonetheless, the pace of the growth has been greater for Xiomara Castro. Simultaneously there has been registered a growth in electoral sympathies for the LIBRE party (8 points) and a deterioration of the electoral preference for the Partido Nacional (PN) (falling 4 points). [emphasis added]

That seems to us to caution against assuming that the PN has some elasticity to count on. We won't be surprised if Juan Orlando Hernández is declared the winner come election day; but we don't think the data allow for anyone to actually say this is an evident outcome to expect.

Miskito Land Councils Receive Land titles

English language news sources reported this week that five Miskito federations received collective land titles through the Instituto Nacional Agrario.

The titles cover 970,000 hectares (approx. 1.6 million acres) of land in the eastern part of Honduras, along the Caribbean coast and the border with Nicaragua.  This constitutes almost 7% of the land area of Honduras.  The latest land titles add to titles for other lands allocated in 2012 and May, 2013.

The recipients of these titles are territorial councils. Twelve Miskito and Pech Federations are organized in territorial councils:
Rayaka - located in Belen,
Diunat - Brus Laguna,
Finzmos - Morocon - Segovia
Katainasta - Laguna Caratasca
Auhya Yari - Puerto Lempira
Lainasta - Laka
Wamakliscinasta - Auka
Watiasta - Eastern Mosquitia, along the Caribbean coast adjacent to Nicaragua
Bamiasta - Ahuas, Rio Patuca, Biosfera Río Plátano
Bakinasta - Wampusirpi, Río Patuca, Reserva TawakaAsagni
Batiasta - Barra Patuca
Truksinasta - Tipi

The councils and their territories are contiguous zones in far northeast Honduras:

 (Click to enlarge.  Map taken from page 16 of this source.)

Honduras acquired title to the land that has now been titled from Great Britain through the Cruz-Wyke treaty of 1859.  This treaty ceded British control of the Bay Islands of Utila, Guanaja, Roatan, Morat, Elena, and Barbarete to Honduras. It required Honduras to recognize existing land titles on those islands, and for Honduras to observe freedom of religion and worship for their residents.

Article II of the treaty recognized ownership by Honduras of  the land occupied by the Miskito, except for land that might be claimed by the government of Nicaragua. Otherwise, the treaty was non-specific about the boundaries involved.

Article III of the treaty is what underlies the new land titles. It reads:
The Misquito Indians in the district recognized by Article II of this Treaty as belonging to and under the sovereignty of the Republic of Honduras shall be at liberty to remove, with their property, from the territory of the Republic, and to proceed withersoever they may desire; and such of the Mosquito Indians who remain within the said district shall not be disturbed in the possession on any lands or other property which they may hold or occupy, and shall enjoy, as natives of the Republic of Honduras, all rights and privileges enjoyed generally by the natives of the Republic.

Article III went on to called for an annual fund to be established for educating the Miskito over a ten year period, the fund to be guaranteed by income from the logging rights to any state-owned land in the Bay Islands and Miskito territory.  That means the Treaty recognized that not all the land in the ceded territory was privately held.

Only some of the present-day territorial councils have received title to the lands they occupy, as prescribed by the treaty.  On August 30, 2012, the council of Katainaska received title to the lands around Laguna Caratasca, where the US is building a military base for the Honduran Navy.

In May, 2013, the council of Auhya Yari received title to lands around Puerto Lempira.

Five councils received land grants together totaling 970,000 hectares in the latest phase of complying with the treaty.  The council of Finzamos (26 communities, 1340 families) received title to lands around Morocon - Segovia.  The council of Truksinasta (26 communities, 840 families) received title to lands round Tipi.  The council of Wamakliscinasta (19 communities, 790 families) received title to lands around Auka.  The council of Lainasta (39 communities, 1800 families) received title to lands around Laka.   The council of Waitasta (18 communities, 1200 families) received title to lands along Honduras's eastern border with Nicaragua.

These titles are corporate, indivisible, and non-transferable.

Sounds great, right?

The Consejo Coordinador de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH) suggests, through its spokesperson, Bertha Caceres, that the Lobo Sosa government has an ulterior motive in granting these land titles at this particular time.  She said:
"What a coincidence.  They authorize land titles just as they are to begin asking the Misquito people to approve oil and gas exploration by the English company British Gas Group."

In May this year, at the same time as the second set of Miskito land titles were being issued, the Lobo Sosa government announced it had granted British Gas Group a license to explore for off-shore oil and gas all along the coast of Honduras, from Tela east to Nicaragua.

Honduras has had at least one test well yield oil in the sea off the Moskito lands, and the area around Tela contains suspected gas reserves.

The grant to British Gas Group will bring in a substantial sum for the government, whether or not the company finds gas or oil.  However, to get their environmental license, they must get the consent of the Miskito peoples, through a series of public meetings that are just about to take place.

So maybe the timing on these land titles is coincidental. Or maybe it is meant to influence local attitude toward the environmental license for British Gas Group, in the hope of avoiding the kind of conflict that is happening everywhere else the Lobo Sosa government has authorized exploitation of natural resources near indigenous communities.

Either way, titling this land is long over due, a treaty right, not a gesture the government should be credited with taking out of the goodness of its heart.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The American Pedigree of Honduran Drug Planes

It started off simply enough.

A private jet made an unplanned stop at Goloson Airport in La Ceiba, Honduras on Sunday evening.  But it was suspicious.  The jet had not filed a flight plan with Goloson as its destination.  In fact, it had not filed a flight plan at all.  Yet its two Mexican pilots claimed Goloson was its destination, and that it was there to pick up cargo, but could not identify what cargo, or say who would provide it.  They identified the plane as belonging to a Mexican firm, but could not name it, and told Honduran authorities the plane was arriving from Toluca, Mexico. 

These authorities quickly became suspicious.  They noticed dirt on the tires of the plane, suggesting it had previously landed on a dirt airstrip, like the clandestine strips used for drug flights.  Mexican pilots have a history of showing up in Honduras on board an empty plane, leaving it parked at an airport, and flying out on a commercial flight the next day, so Mexican pilots, especially pilots who don't know what cargo they expect or who they expect it from, are suspicious.

The Honduran authorities detained the pilots and examined the jet.  All of the seats had been removed, and drug sniffing dogs reacted, suggesting that the plane had recently had a cargo of cocaine on board.

Residue from the plane later tested positive for cocaine.

But by then, the local prosecutor had released the Mexican pilots, who had flown home to Mexico the next day on a commercial flight.  She reportedly told her boss she saw no reason to hold them.

This sounds like a Mexican drug plane, right?

It did to the Honduran press, who identified the plane as Mexican, largely on the basis of who was flying it and what the pilots told them. 

But the identification number of the plane shown in pictures and reported in the news stories is N125DH.  Mexican registrations begin with the letters XA, XB, or XC. "N" begins an American registration number. Looking it up in the FAA N-number registry online shows this is officially an American-owned plane.

N125DH is registered to Aero Investments LLC, and the address on the registration is of an LLC clearinghouse in Cheyenne, Wyoming. According to the Wyoming Secretary of State's website, this LLC was founded in 2010 with the filing done by Wyoming Corporate Services, Inc..  The FAA registration indicates this plane was purchased in 2011. 

The filing address for the registration, 2710 Thomes Ave, Cheyenne, WY, was featured in this Reuters report about Wyoming Corporate Services. Reuters described the office on Thomes Street as "a little Cayman Island on the Great Plains", and described Wyoming Corporate Services as
a business-incorporation specialist that establishes firms which can be used as "shell" companies, paper entities able to hide assets.

At the time of the Reuters investigation in 2011, more than 2000 companies used 2710 Thomes Ave. as their official address.

This is not the only plane owned by Aero Investments LLC.  They also own a GulfStream 21 seat corporate jet, registration N366JA. In 2008, prior to when Aero Investments bought N366JA, it had been used by then-Senator Obama and Secret Service agents to fly from Chicago to Afghanistan. Until July, they also owned an AeroCommander 685 9 seat prop plane, N74CP, which they sold after it crashed and suffered significant damage in Texas in June.  The investigation noted that the flight was operating as a business charter at the time. 

Because the FAA database is only up to date as of August 6, we cannot know if Aero Investments LLC still owns the aircraft that landed in La Ceiba, or recently sold it to someone in Mexico.  Aero Investments could have sold the plane since then to someone in Mexico, with the paperwork waiting to get updated in the FAA backlog. The plane can be seen listed as for sale with an aircraft broker supporting the idea that it might recently have been sold to new owners.

The last entry for this aircraft in Flight Aware, which tracks flight plans, shows the plane flying from Ontario, California to Tijuana, Mexico on August 8.  After that, nothing.  This might also point to the plane having been recently sold. 

Under FAA regulations, "the seller is responsible for removing the N numbers from his/her exported aircraft when the aircraft is deregistered."  That apparently didn't happen here.

Murky ownership of drug planes is common. Several other narco-aircraft captured in Honduras have had alleged temporary or even expired Mexican registration, while their pictures showed clear N-numbers indicating American ownership.

Like the guns used in the drug trade, the aircraft used often have an American pedigree.  Aircraft confiscated in Honduras for allegedly having carried cocaine are overwhelmingly small corporate jets and twin prop planes that can carry 10 to 20 passengers and are nearing the end of their commercial lives. These planes are worth less than the drugs they can carry, and so frequently are treated as expendable.

N125DH is no exception. It was manufactured in 1971. So one last sale to a Mexican owner with a lucrative business that didn't require the plane to continue in service for very long would be profitable.

And if such a plane lands in Honduras, it might not actually be expendable. The director of the OABI, the government agency that controls confiscated planes in Honduras, recently told the press that the Public Prosecutor's office frequently returns the planes to whoever comes to reclaim them, even if there is proof the planes were used to haul drugs.

While small corporate jets predominate in Latin America, the drug trade frugally takes advantage of other aged planes. A 2008 article in the New York Daily News outlined the purchase and use of older large jets, such as DC-8s and 727s, to haul drugs between South America, especially Colombia, and Africa and Europe. Older passenger jets like this can be purchased for as little as $250,000, less than similar vintage corporate jets.

Like the US side of narco-weapons, the US side of drug planes remains largely uninvestigated by law enforcement, and largely unreported on by the US press.

One question that springs to mind that an investigative reporter might want to ask: why does the FAA have such a loose approach to transferring title on planes, and (apparently) no effective follow through when planes that were sold by US brokers to drug traffickers still carry their US registration numbers?

Monday, September 9, 2013

What would Libre Policy Look Like?

A number of readers have remarked-- as have we-- on the lack of coverage of Xiomara Castro's positions and campaign in the Honduran (and international) press. As the candidate in the lead for the Honduran presidency according to all polls, you would expect to hear something about what she is advocating.

So it is noteworthy that Monday September 9, La Tribuna covered a campaign event held in Siguatepeque.

Xiomara Castro's message was a mixture of pragmatic criticism of the present government, envisioning something new in Honduran politics, and recalling the initiatives of the government led by her husband that were for the benefit of the people.

Showing a pragmatic side, she commented on Honduras' slide in international measures of competitiveness, saying that
"it isn't [just] that we fell from 90 to 111, because in the government of Ricardo Maduro we were in position 96, in 2009 during the government of Manuel Zelaya we arrived at position 82, indicating that we had risen 17 points, in 2012 [down] to position 90 and we have arrived at position 111, or that is since the Liberal government of Zelaya we have lost 29 points”.

This is a reference to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014, reported widely in Honduras this past week. The report identified the top problems for doing business in Honduras as crime and theft, corruption, inefficient government bureaucracy, and policy instability. Decrying these factors, and advocating for greater business competitiveness, is a fairly pro-business position, reminding us that despite being painted as a leftist, Castro de Zelaya's husband came from old Honduran land-owning, ranching, and logging stock.

But the main point of the LIBRE campaign event in Siguatepeque, what made headlines, was Xiomara Castro gaining support from the cultural sector in Honduras. El Libertador reported that more than 100 artists and writers signed a declaration, read by Helen Umaña, that stated that the artists and writers gave  “our confidence, vote and solidarity... with the aim that culture will be the ideological and pragmatic axis” of the government they hope will be elected.

The cultural sector of Honduras has suffered enormous problems under the current administration, many of which began with the de facto regime installed by the 2009 coup. The statement, called the Declaration of Siguatepeque, states that in a century of the collective project of making a more just society, they found that LIBRE and the original Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular established to oppose the de facto regime is the most "truthful, promising, and authentic".

"With the shared certainty that her government will nourish itself from the ubiquitous creativity of we who believe in this country", the artists go on to say
We ratify, beyond any immediate circumstance, that the re-founding that will occur with the art and culture of our nations, will lead Honduras toward its transformation into an equitable and inclusive, fair and free country.

During the announcement in Siguatepeque, Xiomara Castro, for her part, discussed the potential to create a "Consejo Nacional de Cultura", described by La Tribuna as
 an autonomous organization that would be composed of all the indigenous groups, workers in the culture sector, and in consensus the policies concerning culture would be formed.

In effect, this would be the next step beyond what President Zelaya implemented during his term in office, when the Ministry of Culture undertook extensive collaboration with indigenous groups, local historians, and people who never before had been part of shaping cultural policy. This is the kind of social inclusion that made traditional business and political elites uncomfortable.

In this limited sense, the tendency of Honduran (and perhaps even more, international) media to characterize Xiomara Castro as a candidate who would extend the policies of her husband does help envisage what LIBRE might attempt to do, if she were elected.

Castro de Zelaya has a unique campaign advantage in that relationship: she can claim the successful policies, or even just progressive intentions, that her husband had as part of her political capital. La Tribuna reported her response to a question during the Siguatepeque event that seems way off message, about the lack of a local hospital, that the candidate turned to her advantage neatly:
she responded that in the government of Manuel Zelaya everything was set for the construction of five hospitals across the country with funds from Spain, for the benefit of Siguatepeque, Roatán, Catacamas, Santa Bárbara and Choluteca, but owing to the coup d'etat they were not brought to fruition.

LIBRE was created to carry forward with very specific social policies, some of which will meet fierce political opposition. It is worth recalling what Castro de Zelaya said on August 27, at the launch of the campaign season:
when they place the presidential banner on me, my first words will be: I convene a National Constitutional Assembly, lets go for that new Constitution.

That promise plays a very large part in her appeal to supporters. It is what the artists who signed on to support her see as the potential for transformation unlike any seen in a century.

New July Polling in the Presidential Race

A friend dropped the 5th CESPAD survey of public opinion in Honduras in our in box, this one for July, 2013.  CESPAD is the Centro de Estudios para la Democracia, and came into existence in 2010.  Since then they've been performing polling on Honduran public sentiment.

In this case we're talking about a survey of 1,440 individuals over 18 years of age in a probabilistic, stratified, multi-stage sample between July 21 and July 31 of 2013.  They report margin of error of plus or minus 2.5%.

The survey focused on a number of topics.  This post will report on the sections about the November, 2013 elections; there will be more on other topics to come.

CESPAD found that these people plan to vote.

Overall, 80.3% of those surveyed said they intend to vote. Honduras typically has a voter turnout around 50-55%.

CESPAD asked respondents who planned to vote what party they would vote for in 2013.  Here's the results

     Libre           26.7%
     National      24.1%
     Liberal        16.6%
     PAC            10.2%
     Nobody       12.3%
     No Answer   8.6%

Every other party was less than one percent (Sorry Romeo!).

Over the last two years of polling, CESPAD found that the number of people who would vote for the National Party and Liberal Party has steadily declined. In the current election, the percentage who intend to vote for Libre and Partido Anti-Corrupción (PAC) take up the slack.

The popularity of each party's presidential candidate is similar to, but not the same as, the party popularity:

     Xiomara Castro (Libre)                     28.0%
     Juan Orlando Hernandez (National)   20.7%
     Mauricio Villeda (Liberal)                  13.7%
     Salvador Nasralla  (PAC)                  11.7%
     Undecided                                       17.8%
     Nobody                                             6.8%
     Romeo Vasquez (Alianza)                   0.7%
     Orles Anibal (Christian Democrat)       0.3%
     Andres Pavon (FAPER)                       0.2%
     Jorge Aguilar ( PINU)                         0.1%

Like other polling, CESPAD's numbers indicate that Hondurans could elect a president in November who receives far less than 50% of the vote. This could create serious complications for governing, depending on the composition of the Congress.

CESPAD notes that this is essentially a two-person race between Xiomara Castro and Juan Orlando Hernandez, both of whom have seen rising support over the last six months.  CESPAD concludes that the data suggest a reconfiguration of electoral politics is underway in Honduras, but the trends aren't yet definitive.

More interesting still is where each candidate's support comes from.

Slightly less than half of Liberal Party members surveyed said they would vote for the Party's candidate, Mauricio Villeda.  Xiomara Castro picks up support from 23.1% of them, and Undecided/Nobody a further 16.7%.  Nasralla and Hernandez pick up minor amounts of support here as well.

The National Party is a bit more cohesive, with 58.4% of National Party members saying they'd vote for Juan Orlando Hernandez, the party's candidate, and a further 20.8% Undecided or Nobody.  Villeda, Castro, and Nasralla pick up minor amounts of support among National Party members.

PAC is still more coherent than the National Party, with 81.9% of party members saying they will vote for their party's candidate, Salvador Nasralla, and a further 11% being either undecided or planning to vote for none of the above. Villeda, Hernandez, and Castro each pick up single digit support among PAC members.

Libre appears to be the most cohesive party, with 94% of its members going to vote for Xiomara Castro, the party candidate, and only 3.8% undecided. Villeda, Hernandez, and Vasquez each pick up support from less than one percent of Libre's members.

CESPAD concludes that a real effect of the 2009 coup has been to disrupt the two party system in Honduras.

Party fidelity appears to be the casualty, in line with party fidelity trends in other latin american countries. Only a third of respondents said they would never vote for a party they didn't belong to.  Over 50% said they might vote for the candidate of a party they didn't belong to, and nearly 20% said for sure they would be doing so this time.

The better educated the voter, the more likely they intend to vote for Castro or Nasralla.  The traditional parties do best with those with little or no education.

The take-away from this poll, as in others, is that the real race is between Libre's Xiomara Castro and Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party.  Villeda does not seem to be a viable candidate, and he loses a nearly a quarter of his party to Xiomara Castro.  Party loyalty suffered in the National Party as well, and Hernandez has less than 60% of his party behind him.  In order to win the presidential election, he will need stronger support from Nationalists.

Nasralla is running well with a consistent 11-15% of the electorate supporting him-- not enough to be elected, but enough to suggest his platform resonates.

These numbers bear no resemblance to those reported by Paradigma for July. Both polls show the candidates in the same order. The differences in absolute numbers may lie in how questions were asked, and the sampling strategy of each polling group.

Paradigma now reports the results of its August survey.  It shows Libre, the National Party, and the Liberal party numbers up, with Nasralla and none of the above falling:

     None of the Above  27.0%
     Xiomara Castro       22.9%
     J Orlando Hernandez 19.9%
     Salvador Nasralla    10.3%
     Mauricio Villeda       9.4%

Variations of 2-3% from the July poll results are within the margin of error of the poll, so none of these changes are significant.

Neither polling company has been through an election cycle in Honduras yet, so we don't know how they'll fare against actual election results.

All the polls, though, are telling the same story: a fractured electorate, a surging new party (Libre), and a sinking old one (Liberal).

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Isla Conejo: Why History Matters

As if there weren't enough serious issues for the Honduran government to deal with, now there is a territorial dispute over an unpopulated island in the Gulf of Fonseca.

Thursday, Porfirio Lobo Sosa made public statements that Isla Conejo (aka Rabbit Island in English) belongs to Honduras.

El Salvador disputes that.

Lobo Sosa said:
I don't understand, in reality, what's happening but in governing the country, always on the first of September we have a flag raising on Isla Conejo, and moreover, there's been a navy base there permanently since 1969.

Lobo Sosa is treading on thin ice when he adds that "Honduras's ownership of the island was established by the International Court of Justice in the Hague" because the ownership of isla Conejo has never been the subject of a dispute in that court.

First a geography lesson.  

Isla Conejo is a small island of less than a square kilometer in surface area, located less than a kilometer off the Honduran coast. 

The Gulf of Fonseca opens onto the Pacific ocean, and is bordered by El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The actual limits of the boundaries of all three countries, and who own different islands in the gulf, has been the subject of numerous legal battles in international courts. 

So who owns Isla Conejo?

Key to claims of ownership is the International Court of Justice's 1992 decision in the boundary dispute between El Salvador and Honduras. This case touched on, but did not directly address nor resolve, who owns Isla Conejo.  Instead it left open avenues for either country to claim the island.

When Lobo Sosa says Honduras has had a naval base on Isla Conejo since 1969, he is referring to Honduras's occupation of the island during the 1969 war with El Salvador.

Prior to 1969, Honduras had no established interest in or occupation of the island. Nor did it establish a permanent position there starting in 1969.

In its 1992 decision, the ICJ noted that Honduras's interest in and continuous occupation of the island began during the Salvadoran civil war (1980 - 1992), not in 1969 as Lobo Sosa claims.
Paragraph 314 in the ICJ decision contains the first mention of Isla Conejo. Honduras had introduced a colonial map, undated but said by Honduras to date to 1796, that summarizes observations made in 1794 by a Mexican expedition to survey the Gulf of Fonseca. 

Key to the boundary dispute between El Salvador and Honduras was the course of the Rio Goascoran during this period.  The map suggests, and the ICJ decision says it helped them conclude, that the current mouth of the Rio Guascoran is where it was in 1821, not, as El Salvador had claimed, in a different older channel. The map and expedition description make mention of Conejo point, part of the land in dispute, and the small Conejo island which lies less than a kilometer off that point.

Conejo Island also appears in paragraph 357 of the ICJ decision.  In this paragraph, which is largely concerned with establishing the ownership of another island, Meanguerra, the court took note of a Salvadoran exhibit, an entry from the official government journal (La Gaceta) of El Salvador from August of 1856, where the government of El Salvador asked the Surveyor of Vacant Lands in San Miguel (El Salvador) to survey the vacant lands on the islands of Zacate, Meanguera, and Conejo. 

Honduras offered no counter-claim about Isla Conejo as part of this case.

In Honduras' favor, the very same ICJ decision establishes that both Honduras and El Salvador have a right to claim the waters up to 3 kilometers off their coast, and since isla Conejo is less than a kilometer off Conejo point, it falls within that territorial limit. 

That is the only legal basis on record for Honduras to claim Isla Conejo, and it's not a conclusive claim.

The court used evidence of prior occupation and administration of islands in deciding the case of ownership of Meanguera and Meanguerita. The history of administrative engagement with an island weights heavily in the court's consideration of ownership. So far, Honduras has failed to show anything but a recent engagement with Isla Conejo.

It is far from "established" who owns isla Conejo, and if it were submitted by both parties to the International Court of Justice, its not clear how the court would rule.

There may have been a flag raising for the last 30 years. But that is a tiny fraction of the history of occupation that legally is considered in cases like these.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Honduras Wants A New Public Prosecutor In the Worst Way Possible

Here's how:

Back on June 25, the Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, and his deputy Public Prosecutor, Roy Urtecho, resigned from office, to avoid impeachment.  A committee appointed by Congress to investigate the Public Prosecutor's lack of progress on cases had found that prosecutors were complicit with organized crime, taking payoffs, and that a significant part of their budget was spent without accounting records.

The committee reorganized the Prosecutor's office and dismissed a handful of prosecutors. That created a situation where Honduras needed a new Public Prosecutor and deputy Public Prosecutor.

There was a procedure for this, a law spelling out the composition of a nominating committee that involved members of civil society representing churches, universities, and lawyers group.

A few odd things happened on the way to composing the committee. First, Congress hastily revised the composition of the committee, to include a new group, the Alianza por la Paz y Justicia. Then, Roy Urtecho, who had been forced to resign as deputy Public Prosecutor, was appointed by the Lawyer's Association (CAH) as their representative.

Urtecho's appointment gave some committee members pause, but they continued. Rather than debate names and select candidates proposed by members of the committee, they opened the process for self-nomination.  They established a procedure to review nominees that included a lie detector test and psychological evaluation, with failure of either test explicitly supposed to disqualify a candidate. In the end, fifty-one people nominated themselves for the two positions.

Things started to fall apart as soon as the nominations closed. Try to follow the timeline here:

The nominating committee met and disqualified candidates who were not licensed lawyers in Honduras, as well as those who lacked some legal qualification (such as age) to be considered, or whose application was incomplete.

With the announcement that candidates would have to submit to lie detector and psychological tests (the same being used to evaluate police), reportedly many candidates withdrew their names.

Oscar Fernando Chinchilla (Supreme Court Justice) was named as among those failing the psychological test, along with Doris Imelda Madrid, and Lino Tomás Mendoza.  Others signaled by the press as having failed one or the other of the tests include Manuuel Enrique Alvarado, Marco Antonio Zelaya, and Guillermo Escobar Montalván

Only 13 candidates passed both tests and the review of their application:

     1-Ivis Discua Barillas.
     2-María Antonia Navarro.
     3-Gina González.
     4-José Arturo Duarte.
     5-AnÍbal Izaguirre.
     6-Eugenio Edgardo Rivera.
     7-Rolando Argueta.
     8-Jair López.
     9-Mario Salinas.
    10-Rigoberto Cuéllar.
    11-Marcelino Vargas.
    12-Lisandro Sánchez.
    13-German Enamorado.

So the final candidates must be on this list, right?

Not so fast.

Julieta Castellanos, rector of the public university, complains that when Luis Evalin, representative of the private universities, came back after a week out of the country he sought to change the rules agreed to by the other six members of the committee. Evalin missed the meetings where candidates' education was being evaluated.  He also missed all the interviews

When the nominating committee reconvened last Tuesday, after the first round of tests had been administered, to see who had passed and who had failed, Evalin demanded a change in the way candidates were evaluated. He put forward a motion that called for  polygraph evaluations of the twenty candidates who had been eliminated either during review of their resumes, or by failing the psychological tests.

Roy Urtecho seconded the motion, and the nominating committee, perhaps overwhelmed by the small number of individuals remaining in the pool, agreed. Evalin's side prevailed, on a 4-3 vote.

So by Wednesday those who had failed one of the confidence tests were allowed to take the other test, rather than be eliminated. That put Oscar Fernando Chinchilla back into the running, despite having failed the psychological test.

Evalin later told the press, "I represent the 19 private universities, respect them."  Though Evalin was not present and therefore could not know what went on in his absence, he told the press that university faculty with international reputations had been rejected just for faults in their paperwork, and that there had been no interviews.  Evelin argued for using experience rather than the results of tests to evaluate the candidates.

Also on Wednesday, Mauricio Villeda, Liberal Party candidate for president, called on Liberal Party Congressmen to abstain from voting for any candidate coming out of the nominating committee, arguing that the election would be illegal, and should be held after the new Congress is seated next January. If the Liberal Party had followed him, it would have denied the National Party sufficient votes to approve any candidate.  PINU, another minority party in Congress, agreed with his position, as did Libre, which has no congress members currently.

Thursday the Alianza por la Paz y Justicia pulled out of the nominating committee.  Its representative, Carlos Hernandez, said that
"We are not going to participate in a process where they break the rules at the last minute, I don't know what their motivations are, but the rules were established and unfortunately they changed, and if this isn't undone, we won't participate."

Everything was transparent and agreed to up until Monday, according to Hernandez.

The same day, Ramon Custodio, Human Rights Ombudsman,  also pulled out, saying that he would not sully his good name.  Julieta Castellanos also withdrew, echoing Hernandez's call for transparency.  She continued:
"Everything that happened from Tuesday onward, that's the responsibility of four members...We cannot in conditions where there isn't a transparent explanation, of what has happened, continue the participation of the University"

So Thursday, the nominating committee met with three of its members missing (Hernandez, Custodio, and Castellanos).  Present were Jorge Rivera Aviles, Roy Urtecho, Luis Evalin, and Edith Maria Lopez Rivera. They agreed to consider 27 candidates and whittle the list down to 5 names.

Candidates began withdrawing their names from consideration.  Three candidates who had passed both tests withdrew early in the day: Jair Lopez, Jose Arturo Duarte, and Rigoberto Cuellar. Rivera Aviles later told the press that the nominating committee chose to ignore the withdrawal of candidates on Thursday.

By Friday morning, Rivera Aviles, as committee chairman, made it known that the nominating committee had settled on a list of five candidates, but was not releasing the names until later in the day in case any of the committee members who had withdrawn wished to vote their positions, possibly changing the outcome.

Nonetheless the list was leaked to the press from Rivera Aviles' Supreme Court staff:

     Oscar Fernando Chinchilla
     Maria Antonia Navarro
     Rigoberto Cuellar Cruz
     Ivan Discua Barillas
     Rafael Argueta

At that point it became obvious that Chinchilla, Rivera Avile's hand-picked candidate to control the Constitutional branch of the Supreme Court, was going to get the nomination.

The members of the committee who had withdrawn refused to legitimate the procedures used by the rest of the nominating committee. The five candidates selected by the remaining committee members were proposed to Congress on Friday night.  Interviews began the next day.

Saturday, while being presented to Congress for his inverview, Ivan Discua Barillas withdrew his candidacy, saying there was already a "fix" in for Chinchilla.  Addressing Congress, he said to their faces
"I don't have godfathers and I don't want them because I value my abilities; I want to tell you legislators that are here and don't bear the blame.  The decision over who will be Public Prosecutor was taken last night (Friday) at 9 pm by the [National] party leadership; and I tell you with conviction that to that class, Honduras isn't important."

Porfirio Lobo Sosa called Discua's reaction "logical" but dismissed it as political.

To the surprise of no one, Honduras awoke Sunday morning to the announcement that Oscar Fernando Chinchilla had been elected the new Public Prosecutor for a term of five years.

Rigoberto Cuellar was elected as deputy Public Prosecutor, despite having withdrawn his name from consideration on Thursday.

And we are sure that everyone who watched this sausage being made is reassured that the Public Prosecutor's office won't be corrupt this time around.