Friday, January 31, 2014

The Death of Culture

Honduras no longer has a Secretary of State in Culture, Art, and Sports. The carcass that the last two mismanaging Ministers of Culture left will be picked over for the bits that the Hernández government feels are effective and can be used to further its goals and missions, and the rest will be dumped.

It's not that this comes as a complete surprise.

We've been vocal about the rampant neglect of the last two Culture ministers under the Lobo Sosa administration. There was the one with the strange notion of what culture is, and the one for whom culture is to sponsor street fairs at which folk dancing and his beloved chess are taught.  Both let the ministry stagnate, and become irrelevant.

So when Jorge Ramon Hernandez Alcerro announced today that it would disappear, along with the Secretariates of Justice and Human Rights, Tourism, and Planning, few should have been surprised. 

The Hernández administration chose to model their government re-organization after the reorganization carried out by Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

But Ecuador still has a Ministry of Culture.  Honduras will not.

In not having a cabinet-level Minister of Culture, Honduras will become unique in Latin America.

In some countries this role is combined with the Ministry of Education; in others it is a stand alone Ministry; in still others it's paired with Tourism; but everyone else has one.

Not Honduras; not any more.

Hernandez Alcerro tells us not to worry about the abolished ministries, because this does not mean that their missions and functions necessarily will be going away.

Each will be picked apart, broken up, and the parts deemed effective will continue.  But they will be assigned to a lower level, headed by non-cabinet functionaries within the new super ministries.

The breakup of Culture will be the responsibility of Alden Rivera, Minister of Competitiveness and Employment, the place that the functions of this former ministry have been assigned in the new cabinet structure.

This decision will be even more consequential than the demotion in level of administration in changing the role of the remaining entities forming part of the former ministry of culture-- including the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia.

Rivera has said he has 21 institutions assigned to his ministry, and he will be reducing them to twelve over the next several weeks. Some, like Tourism, will become Institutes.

The mission of all twelve of the surviving institutions, according to Rivera, will be to
serve the Nation in terms of economic services and to stimulate the labor of the businesses and entrepreneurs to have a transforming effect for the country.

This mission is a far cry from the role of the now dissolved ministry, which during its earlier history worked to increase the appreciation of the Honduran people for their own history and culture, and supported non-governmental institutions and efforts to preserve, develop, and share knowledge about those topics nationally and internationally.

It is that role that has made cabinet-level offices of culture universal in Latin America.

But not in Honduras, now.

The Shape of the New Honduran Government

The Honduran government under Juan Orlando Hernández is on a slimming diet that hopes to save 4000 million lempiras (about $190 million). 

It will accomplish this slimming by radically restructuring the government and its bureaucracy.  As a first step, Honduras has already gone from having 38 cabinet level Ministers, to having only seven.  There will be a total of twelve Subsecretaries, all of them reporting to one of the seven ministers.

Here's the seven ministries, and what existing government institutions will be preserved under them:

0.  Executive Branch Administration (no official name announced)
          Minister - Reinaldo Sanchez
          Advisor - Ebal Diaz
          Communications and Strategy - Hilda Hernandez
          Coordinator - Jorge Ramon Hernandez Alcerro

*1.  Gabinete de Competitividad y Empleo  (Competiveness and Employment)
          Minister - Alden Rivera
          S. de Trabajo - Carlos Alberto Madero Erazo
          S. de Desarrollo Economico - Jorge Lobo
          SERNA (Secretaria de Recursos Naturales) - José Antonio Galdámez

*2. Gabinete de Economia y Finanzas (Economy and Finances)
          Minister - Wilfredo Cerrato
          BCH (Banco Central de Honduras) - Marlon Tabora
          DEI (equivalent of the IRS) - Miriam Guzman

*3.  Gabinete de Energia e Infraestructura (Energy and Infrastructure)
          Minister - Roberto Ordoñez
          SOPTRAVI (Secretaria de Obras Publicas) - Roberto Ordoñez

*4.  Gabinete de Gobernabilidad y Modernización (Government and Modernization)
          Minister - Ricardo Alvarez
          S. de Interior y Poblacion - Rigoberto Chang Castillo

*5.  Gabinete de Inclusion y Desarrollo Social (Participation and Social Development)
          Minister - Lisandro Rosales
          S. de Salud - Yolany Batres
          S. de Educación - Marlon Escoto

*6.  Gabinete de Seguridad (Security)
          Minister - Arturo Corrales
          Vice Minister - Alejandra Hernandez
          S. de Seguridad - Arturo Corrales
          S. de Defensa - Samuel Reyes

7.  Gabinete de Relaciones Exteriores
          Minister - Mireya Aguero de Corrales

While a lot of decisions remain to be made, the following Secretaries of State are abolished:

1. Secretaria de Cultura, Artes y Deportes
2. Secretaria de Planificacion y Cooperacion Externa
3. Secretaria de Turismo
4. Secretaria de Justicia y Derechos Humanos
5. Secretaria de Pueblos Indigenas y Afrodescendientes
6. Secretaria de la Juventud

"Abolished" here means that these are no longer Secretarias de Estado, cabinet-level offices. It is not that their functions will necessarily go away.

Those functions will be evaluated. Jorge Ramon Hernandez Alcerro, the Coordinator in the Presidential Ministry, has the responsibility for keeping each Ministry to its assigned goals, and for determining by Tuesday, February 4, how the functions of each secretaria that is not being continued get integrated into the existing structure.

As a hint at what may happen: Alden Rivera has explained that in his Ministry,  Competitividad y Empleo,  there are currently twenty-one institutions and those will be reduced to twelve.

 So stay tuned.  There will be more changes.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Political Promises in Honduras

They say you can tell when a lawyer is lying because his lips are moving.

Well, in Honduras, the same should be said of politicians.

Back on July 20, Congress passed a controversial law called the Ley de promoción del desarrollo y reconversion de deuda publica (Decreto 145-2013) by which Honduras seeks to monetize its income stream from its national resources.  We wrote about it, and the controversy surrounding the sudden introduction and passage of the law back on July 29, and you should reread it for details about the law.

The law was then sent to Porfirio Lobo Sosa for action on July 23.

Now in theory, Honduran law says Lobo Sosa had 10 days to either sign or veto the law.  He signs the law by writing an order that says "Por Tanto Ejecutese" or vetos it by writing "Vuelva al Congreso" with a letter explaining what he thinks is wrong with it.  If he takes no action, it enters limbo.  It becomes law, but it is not in effect or enforceable until its printed in La Gaceta.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa initially defended the law, saying :
To veto this law would be to go against the interests of the nation.

But the law provoked a lot of opposition, both from business( the Associacion Nacional de Industriales de Honduras (ANDI) and the Asociacion Nacional de Minería Metálica, and even COHEP), unions (like Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Industria de Bebidas y Similares), and campesino groups.

On August 15, 2013, after Lobo Sosa had to have acted one way or another, he announced he would not sign the law, not because he didn't believe in it, but rather because it might hurt Juan Orlando Hernandez's chances of getting elected:
I'm not going to convert this into a campaign issue.  When the new president arrives he can decide to approve it or not; it will stay in the desk for him.

Now he was very clear to say he's not going to veto the law, but just put it in his desk.  That meant the law was already law, just not in effect because it hadn't been published.

And the law wasn't a campaign issue.

Then the Presidential campaign concluded, with Juan Orlando Hernandez declared  President. When it could no longer influence the results of the election, Porfirio Lobo Sosa signed the law on December 18, and ordered its publication in La Gaceta where it appeared in the December 20, 2013 issue, which came out this week (they're slow to publish).

It is now in effect, and the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez, who championed the law, will have 90 days to implement the administrative structure and regulations that will govern the issuance  securities backed by  natural resources income streams.

Honduras wants to sell the net present value of its wind, its rivers, and its mineral rights.  Who will buy them?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

ENEE to be privatized

At the very end of its term, the out-going Congress in Honduras passed a law Monday mandating that no later than June, 2015, the Empresa Nacional de Energia Electrica must be taken private.

Well, semi-private.

The law has two main thrusts.  It first creates the Comision Reguladora de Energia Electrica (CREE) a commission to regulate the newly created electricity marketplace in Honduras.

CREE will be situated in the Superministry of Strategic Planning, but the law designs it to be semi-independent, with its own budget and technical resources.  It will be charged with setting up a free market electricity marketplace for Honduras.

The legislation enables private companies to build competing transmission and distribution systems.  Emil Hawit, current head of ENEE, says that this energy marketplace will result in lower electricity prices for Hondurans

The new law also mandates that the Empresa Nacional de Energia Electrica be broken up into three private companies:  one charged with competing in the power generation market, one charged with running the current power transmission system and electrical grid, and a third overseeing the distribution of power to customers.

Each company will be given its own shares, but the government will continue to own all the shares for at least the next 30 years.  Current ENEE employees will be assigned to one of the three companies based on their duties.

Much of Honduras's high electricity price is based on the ridiculous energy contracts ENEE signed with Honduran power generators, contracts that had ENEE buying all of the fuel oil used to generate power, and still paying a premium for the power generated with that oil.

Hawit did allow that Hondurans will have to pay the real price for electricity, suggesting that the new law might also end subsidies for light users: people with low energy consumption.

So on the macro-level, costs may come down; but with private companies and shareholders expecting profits, there may well be greater impact on the most vulnerable users of electricty.

Welcome to the world the Hernández administration wants to promote: the rush by the outgoing congress to pass legislation before the more diverse legislative body comes in is giving us a much more transparent view of his vision than anything he or his transition team has had to say.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Police Cleansing: Gone

The lame duck Honduran Congress was busy yesterday.

Among their "accomplishments" was the elimination of the Comision de la Reforma de Seguridad Publica, the group responsible for developing the current procedures for cleansing the police.

The Cominision de la Reforma de Seguridad Publica was created on 31 January 2012, given the responsibility to design, plan, and certify a process totally reforming the police, the Public Prosecutor's office, and the Judicial branch.  They were charged with reorganizing said governmental entities and proposing any needed legislation to back up the changes.

While they worked out procedures to detect and clear out some kinds of corruption in the police and Public Prosecutor's office, and drafted laws to back up their model of reforms to the public security aparatus in Honduras, the Lobo Sosa government never acted on those changes, effectively pocket vetoing them.

Juan Orlando Hernández, the incoming president, has a completely different idea of how the reforms should go, emphasizing building up military police rather than employing the community policing (based on a Japanese model) that the CSRP had proposed.

The lame duck Congress, ever so much in Hernández's pocket, lamented that the CSRP "never delivered the expected results" and so yesterday they voted the CSRP out of existence.


Monday, January 20, 2014

New Bajo Aguan Military Commander

Colonel German Alfaro Escalante, announced that the Chairman of the Honduran Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Freddy Santiago Diaz, has decided to replace him in his role as head of the Fuerza de Tarea Xatruch, running military operations in the Bajo Aguan.

His replacement will be Colonel René Martínez.  Alfaro said this was part of a larger shake-up of command around the country.

Tensions between campesinos and human rights activists and the military in the Bajo Aguan may have been eclipsed by the election, but they did not disappear.

Alfaro, a 1984 graduate of at least one School of the Americas course (Infantry Official Basic Training), was an outspoken critic of Rights Action co-director Annie Bird. On December 12, Alfaro, following up on dubious claims made by Ambassador Lisa Kubiske on December 10, accused Bird of inciting campesinos to invade African Palm plantations in the Bajo Aguan. He said that the military was investigating her for allegedly subversive action with the campesinos, and for supposedly filing false claims of human rights violations by the military in the Bajo Aguan.

It remains to be seen whether Alfaro's replacement signals any change in the posture of the Armed Forces, or just a change in the face of the military operation.

Denial, Anger, and Bargaining: The Liberal Party of Honduras and the Stages of Grief

The Kubler-Ross model of grief has five stages:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.  The Liberal Party in Honduras is somewhere between denial and anger after the November 24, 2013 elections. It seems poised to fragment more as it attempts to come to terms with its losses-- of party members, and of the offices of president and head of congress.

Let's start with denial. The Liberal Party wants to blame LIBRE (and to a lesser extent PAC) for all of the problems that beset Honduran society.  This despite the fact that the National Party has ruled Honduras for the last four years, and the Liberal Party ruled it for seven months after the coup of 2009, in which Liberal party members illegally removed from office the last Liberal Party president.

Which brings us to anger. The 2009 coup ripped apart the Liberal Party. A particularly conservative part of the party took control. The more liberal members of the party largely abandoned it and went on to form the Frente and LIBRE. As the election results from November 2013 show, about half of the supporting electorate left it as well. That has the remaining Liberal Party angry at others who it blames for its diminished position in Honduran politics.

If Kubler-Ross is right, the party needs to move on, and we can expect to see bargaining and depression before they finally reach acceptance.

Bargaining does seem to be the order of the day.

Since 2009 the Consejo Central Ejecutivo del Partido Liberal (CCEPL), which runs the party, has been in conservative hands, with Elvin Santos Lozano, and more recently Mauricio Villeda Bermudez, serving as President of the Executive council.

The Party leadership has not delivered a consistent message to its newly elected Congressional delegation about what it should be doing vis-a-vis the organization of the upcoming session of Congress.

Mauricio Villeda, the losing presidential candidate for the party, told congress members to wait and consult with the people, represented by the municipal mayors who were also elected in November. The municipal mayors have now spoken: they told the Congressional delegation to negotiate with the National Party for a Liberal president of Congress, in return for acting as allies (which would give back to the National Party the voting majority, but not the ability they have had to amend the constitution).

Today, another conservative member of the Party, Benjamin Bogran, who was its coordinator for the past election and is Secretary of the party, advised the party members in Congress to make no alliances, except with the people of Honduras.

Rumors have been flying suggesting that some Liberal Party Congressmen are following the mayor's wishes and talking with the National Party leadership about maybe having a Liberal Party president of Congress in exchange for an alliance between the two parties.

Other factions in the party, such as that represented by Yani Rosenthal, current head of its Congressional delegation, see that as death for the party.

However, the conservative faction that currently controls the Liberal Party blames LIBRE and PAC for all their problems, and sees this as a case of better the devil you know than the devil you don't know.  Bogran said that he could not support an alliance with LIBRE or PAC because "the two of them were conspiring to destroy the Liberal Party".

That's strong, and clearly angry language, but it is also misplaced anger. It is the current leadership of the Liberal Party with its swing to the right of the political spectrum that is responsible for its current loss of significance, but they cannot see it.  They're in denial.

As it struggles to stay significant, and remain a viable party that can attract voters, the best political strategy for the Liberal Party would probably be to not form any alliance, denying both the National Party, and the opposition block formed by LIBRE and PAC the required majority to pass legislation. That would allow the Liberal Party to effectively be the swing vote in policies from all sides.

Bogran seems to be suggesting that something like this actually is the leadership's position when he instructed the Congressional delegation to make no alliances except to do what is best for the Honduran people.  The party seems to be struggling to control its Congressional delegation, with Bogran's words an attempt to reign them back in and under party control.

Will it work?

It hasn't so far.  Almost half the Liberal Party delegation reportedly has had some kind of talks with Juan Orlando Hernández and the National Party directorate about leadership positions for Liberals in Congress.

Villeda seems to have lost control of the directorate of the Party. Vos El Soberano reports that Carlos Flores Facussé (ex-president, owner of La Tribuna)  has taken control of the party behind the scenes, comparing it to the coup Flores Facussé's father staged against Villeda Bermudez's father in 1963.  Reportedly, Flores Faccussé wants the party to be a viable platform from which to launch his daughter on a future presidential campaign. Villeda Bermudez has remained silent, and has been out of the country since before the New Year.

Congress meets to organize on Tuesday, January 21. The new Congress will be sworn in and elect a provisional directorate. That provisional directorate then will name the permanent directorship of Congress, those who will run the body for the next two years.  This must be done by Saturday, January 25.

It should be an interesting week.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Government Reorganization: Massive Centralization Proposed

We're beginning to see the pieces of how Juan Orlando Hernández's transition team wants to re-organize the Honduran government.  We've accumulated our description through press reports (notably this, and this) and sources in Honduras with knowledge of the planning.

The names of proposed units vary, but the shape is clear: massive centralization and an emphasis on economic development, subordinating many of the functions of the executive branch to new structures of authority.

But there's a hitch: on Friday, the emerging plans got slapped down when Congress refused to authorize changes to the Ley de Administración Pública that would be necessary to implement what one Honduran source described to us as massive centralization.

Here's what the transition team proposed:

Eight super Ministries whose heads would form Hernandez's cabinet:
  • Strategic Planning (Conducción Estrategica)
  • Interior and Decentralization (Gobernabilidad y Descentralización)
  • Economic Development (Desarrollo Economico)
  • Social Development and Inclusion (Desarrollo e Inclusión Social)
  • Defense and Security (Defensa y Seguridad)
  • Productive Infrastructure (Infraestructura Productiva)
  • Foreign Relations and International Cooperation (Relaciones Exteriores y Cooperación Internacional)
  • Economic Planning and Regulation (Conducción y Regulación Economica)

The new structure demotes many of the existing Secretariats (such as Gobernacion, Justicia y Derechos Humanos, Agricultura y Ganaderia) to a director level below a super Minister.  It folds all the existing Secretariats into the eight super Ministries, if not at the director level, then as part of merged portfolios.
 Each of the eight cabinet ministers will have a series of direct reports, many of them running institutions that under Lobo Sosa were represented at the cabinet level.

Thus, Economic Planning and Regulation would include the Banco Central de Honduras (BCH), the Comision de Bancos y Seguros (CNBS), and the former cabinet-level Secretaria de Finanzas (SEFIN), among others.

Interior and Decentralization encompasses the former Interior Ministry, immigration services, and the National Registry of People (RNP)

Economic Development incorporates the Secretaria de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente (SERNA), and the Secretaria de Agricultura y Ganaderia, each previously cabinet level on its own.

Productive Infrastructure takes over the former Secretaria de Obras Publicas, Transporte, y Vivienda (SOPTRAVI).

Defense and Security essentially remains as it did under Arturo Corrales, folding together the former Secretaria de Defensa and the Secretaria de Seguridad, combining cabinet-level responsibility for the military and police.

Foreign Relations and International Cooperation replaces and continues the existing Ministry of Foreign Relations.


Power would be concentrated in a very few individuals. 

The proposed shape of the government shows the neoliberal economic agenda that is the focus of this government.  For example, the affairs of the former cabinet-level Ministry of Culture would be rolled into the new ministry of economic development.

The goal was allegedly to reduce the size of the Honduran government, and reduce its budget by some 700 million lempiras (about $35 million). But it's not clear where the savings would come from. Each super Ministry must do what all the previous Secretariats incorporated in it did.

This led Congress to reject the entire thing this Friday.

At the same time Congress was given the proposed structure, and changes to the Ley de Administración Pública to implement it, it was also given the Hernández budget for 2014 based on doing that reorganization. The rough outline of spending reportedly is:
Strategic Planning - 2000 million lempiras ($100 million)
Interior and Decentralization - 7000 million lempiras ($350 million)
Economic Development - 5000 million lempiras ($250 million)
Social Development and Inclusion - 70,000 million lempiras ($3.5 billion)
Defense and Security - 8000 million lempiras ($400 million)
Productive Infrastructure - 40,000 million lempiras ($2 billion)
Foreign Relations and International Cooperation - 855 million lempiras ($42.7 million)
Economic Planning and Regulation- 45,000 million lempiras ($2.25 billion)

Congress members said that the plan they received, along with the budget above, doesn't appear to eliminate any part of the existing government and just tacks a bureaucracy for a super Ministry on top of it, bloating the budget by 18 to 20 million per super Ministry. 

An unnamed Congressman is quoted as saying "they think they invented hot water....they sent us a bunch of foolishness and clumsy structures".

Now Congress, not Hernandez's transition team, will have the final say on if and how the government will be re-organized when they take the question up again in the next few days.

Shooting Down Drug Planes 2

Oscar Alvarez, former Security Minister under Porfirio Lobo Sosa, introduced a bill in the lame duck Congress to permit the Honduran Armed Forces to shoot down suspected drug planes, among other rules. 

Yesterday, by a vote of 80 to 1, Congress passed the law.  This comes as Honduras prepares to install three radar systems it purchased from Israel after the US removed radars when the Honduran air force shot down two separate alleged drug flights in 2012, in violation of international treaties and an agreement with the US.

The new law creates an exclusion zone in the airspace over the departments of Gracias a Dios, Colon, and Olancho between the hours of 6 pm and 6 am.  The alleged goal is to prevent the arrival of narco-airplanes.  Only planes with legally filed flight plans would be allowed in the zone during those hours.  The law also establishes that no plane can fly under 18,000 feet, or slower than 300 knots during this time period in the exclusion zone.

Planes without flight plans that show up in the region or disobey the rules would be intercepted by the Honduran air force from La Ceiba (the nearest military airfield) and the interceptors would attempt contact.  If the plane fails to talk to, or obey the instructions of the interceptor, the protocol would permit shooting it down, but only with the explicit authorization of the Minister of Defense for this incident.

As we noted when Honduras originally proposed this, the country would have to repudiate its signature to several international air treaties to implement it, especially the Chicago Convention which prohibits the shooting down of civilian aircraft. 

Honduras signed the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) protocol documents in 1944, and portions of it became effective in 1945 while others took until 1953 to become in effect.  A specific clause (3bis) explicitly prohibiting the shooting down of civilian aircraft without a declaration of national emergency was added in the 1990s. 

Likewise Honduras signed, but apparently never ratified, the Montreal treaty on civilian air traffic which again does not allow for shooting down civilian aircraft.

Nor is it clear that this new law will have the effect that is intended.

The conditions proposed in the law affect overflight traffic unless the plane is flying above 18000 feet and traveling more than 300 knots.  Many civil aviation aircraft can do neither.

Many planes typically used to haul drugs have no problem flying at that altitude or speed.  They are typically executive jets or planes, capable of holding 8-12 passengers or equivalent in cargo. 

The kinds of aircraft interdicted here would be those used for air taxi service to small, legal airstrips in the region, as well as seaplane or pontoon plane air taxis.  These typically hold 2-6 passengers, typically fly at speeds well under 300 knots, and altitudes well under 18,000 feet (they lack pressurized cabins and sources of oxygen). 

Because planes crossing the no-fly zone would have to be sure to clear it before 6 pm, and the height and speed exceptions are impossible for air taxis and general aviation, this law has the potential to reduce useful air service in the region.

Nor does the history of other countries that have made similar attempts suggest it will stop illegal drug flights over Honduras

The Dominican Republic passed a law allowing their military to shoot down drug planes, and they proceeded to shoot several down.  What that did was temporarily cause the cartels to switch to water based shipping, and to move air flights out into international waters except for the last few minutes of the flight, which can be done at treetop levels.  Drug overflights have since rebounded in the Dominican Republic.

Venezuela began such a policy in October, 2013, and has shot down a few aircraft.  A Mexican executive jet was reportedly shot down, creating an international incident where Mexico is still looking for answers as to how the plane, and some of its citizens, were targeted and killed by the Venezuelan air force. The new policy has not resulted in a slowing of drug flights from Venezuela to Central America and the Dominican Republic.

In Peru, the same policy resulted in at least one civilian aircraft loaded with missionaries being shot down and some of the occupants killed (gun camera video here). It's notable that Peru followed the same "protocol" specified in the Honduran law.

All of these countries still have drug overflights in similar numbers to prior to the shift in policy. 

Why would anyone expect a different outcome in Honduras?

Then there's the question of why only part of the airspace is being targeted.

The region targeted seems mostly crafted to disrupt the Zetas, who are the primary users of airstrips in eastern Honduras, leaving other parts of Honduran airspace used by the Sinaloa cartel along the Guatemalan and Salvadoran border, unchanged. Is someone crafting policy to favor one cartel over the other? 

The new policy might have the effect of shifting the pattern of drug overflights, but planes can continue to land in Yoro and Atlantida, where they often use roads as landing strips.  This would match the experience of other countries that have tried this policy where it resulted in changes in the patterns of transshipment of drugs, but failed as an interdiction strategy.

Finally there's the question of the US response. 

While the Southern Command has been known to promote such a policy for countries that we support in the war in drugs, the United States also has a strict policy since 1994 to not share intelligence or data with countries that do so, lest information we supply lead to such a downing, which under US law would make the information providers accomplices to an illegal act. 

That's why the US packed up its radar and stopped sharing information with Honduras in 2012 when Honduras shot down two alleged drug planes using US provided information.

Instead of temporarily withdrawing support for Honduras, support could be permanently withdrawn under current US policy if Honduras adopts this law.

Shooting down planes is bad policy.

It hasn't worked elsewhere.  It won't work in Honduras.  It doesn't work.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Congressional Maneuvers

On the same day on which the National Party Congressional delegation announced it will let Juan Orlando Hernandez choose its Congressional leadership, the Congressional delegations of the Anti-Corruption Party, LIBRE, and PINU signed an accord to work together on certain projects in Congress.

Wilmer Velasquez, a National Party Member elected to Congress in November, told the Honduran press that the National Party Congressional Delegation had met and decided to let Juan Orlando Hernandez select its candidates for Congressional leadership. 

This is supposed to be a sign of unity, though he admitted there were several names being floated for president of Congress.  Velasquez told the press that Hernandez was in the best position to choose who was best for Honduras. 

Any nominees will still have to gain a majority of the votes of all Congress members.

At the same time, the Congressional delegations of the Partido Anticorrupción  (PAC), Libertad y Refundacion (LIBRE), and Partido Innovación y Unidad (PINU) came to a meeting organized by PAC's presidential candidate, Salvador Nasralla, and agreed to work together to achieve certain goals.  The full pact can be read here.

Election law changes are one of these goals. The allied parties will seek to mandate electronic voting to disrupt the traditional forms of election fraud. 

Also among the agreed-upon goals:
  • a rollback of the tax package the current Congress just put into effect
  • try to regulate the salaries of government employees 
  • work to democratize the Congressional rules and reform the election law
  • an overhaul the anti-corruption law

This does not mean they will always be working as a bloc with a combined roster of 51 members of Congress, but that they will work together on the specific issues agreed upon.  

Notably missing from either announcement was the Liberal Party, which declined to participate in the PAC sponsored meeting. 

Yani Rosenthal, current head of the Liberal Party Congressional Delegation (until January 20) said the party was between a rock and a hard place.  He faulted internal party decisions for the Liberal Party not having a clear position on the new Congressional leadership, citing Mauricio Villeda's call ordering Liberal Party Congressional Delegates not to participate in Congressional leadership discussions. 

Villeda's order came after twelve party members had held conversations with Juan Orlando Hernandez on the topic.  Rosenthal said that there were problems for the party no matter what it does.  If they ally with the National Party in Congress, for many that would be a death knell for the party.  An alliance that includes LIBRE would mean joining with a party that damaged the Liberal Party.  Another possibility would be to not ally with any party, but according to Rosenthal that, like all the other possibilities, would mean rejecting some of the current party values in order to maintain viability as a political party. 

Separately, Manuel Zelaya Rosales announced he was stepping down as coordinator of LIBRE as part of the separation of the Frente Nacional de Resistencia and LIBRE.  He has occupied this office since July 2010.  Zelaya will remain part of the Frente, and is part of LIBRE's new Congressional Delegation.

All of these moves are crystallizing the new political landscape in Honduras, against a background of furious legislative action by the current, National-party dominated, lame-duck congress, intended to give Juan Orlando Hernández as much as possible before he faces a Congress that will not automatically do what he wants.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Political Smokescreens

 Juan Orlando Hernández is still in campaign mode. And he's running against LIBRE.

How? by repeating a theme from the campaign trail: that LIBRE is allied with narco-traffickers.

LIBRE party leaders reacted strongly.

Enrique Reina, who was a candidate for LIBRE in the past election, said
It is dangerous that he links Libre with organized crime, we see it as a political theme of the president elect to generate a smoke screen and divert attention from the problems in health, security, and others.

Reina underlined  that Hernández, as head of the Congress during the Lobo Sosa administration, deserves blame for the current situation in Honduras:
He replaced the Justices on the Supreme Court, named all the lawyers in the Public Prosecutor's office.... He governed for the last four years and things remain the same or worse in the country.

In what was described as a confrontational manner, Hernández repeated the charge at a ceremony to honor the general in charge of the intelligence service:
The people who extort, the gangs, organized crime, they have few friends.  Among their few friends are some leaders of the Libre Party, which supports them.  They will not continue to do so, because if they do, they will be caught in collusion [with them].  The good Hondurans, those that wish to live in peace as God ordered.  We are more and I know that we will recover the peace of this country.

The new National party boss in Congress, Celine Discua, supported Hernández, saying
this is the time to assert the 'mano dura' and as he said he will do what he has to bring peace to the country.

Manuel Zelaya objected, and asked Hernández to name names. But it wasn't just LIBRE reacting skeptically to the latest airing of this accusation.

Lino Mendoza, a former member of the investigative committee that threw out the previous Public Prosecutor, Luis Rubi, and reorganized the Public Prosecutor's office last year, called on the Public Prosecutor to open an investigation.  He said of Hernández,
He better name names and once and for all end these signals that many times don't result in anything.

Omar Rivera of the Civil Society Group (which claims to represen  the poor of Honduras), reportedly said that
to launch such an accusation, the President-elect, the Public Prosecutor's office, and the police should initiate an investigation to confirm or deny the accusation.
Assistant Public Prosecutor Rigoberto Cuellar told the press,
We are not going to open an investigation based on the declarations of one person; we can't do that; everyone is in charge of their actions and you have to consider the context in which he [Hernández] said it, and for me, those factors are unknown.

Cuellar continued:
People are responsible for crimes, not a political party; whoever commits a crime, its not a political party but rather individuals.

Cuellar said that the Public Prosecutor's office was willing to investigate illicit acts committed by individuals, regardless of their party affiliation, religious beliefs, or ideology.

If the history of the campaign is any guide, though, Juan Orlando Hernández won't be accusing any specific people. As Enrique Reina said: this is a smokescreen, meant to divert attention.

From what? Maybe from the weaker position he faces in the incoming Congress, and the alliances that might form between the three other major parties.

And then there's the vocal public opposition to the tax package passed on his behalf by the lame duck congress dominated by the National Party.

It would be convenient for JOH if people would stop paying attention to how he's governing and get caught up in a witch-hunt.

Or a smokescreen.