Saturday, April 25, 2015

Re-Election a Done Deal

Former Presidents may now seek re-election in Honduras.

That is the effect of the Constitutional Branch decision having been published at 5 pm on Friday in La Gaceta, the official publication of the Honduran government.

How the publication of this decision happened is informative: someone fast-tracked the process.

As we previously noted, last Wednesday afternoon the Constitutional Branch debated and passed a resolution unanimously declaring that the portions of the Honduran constitution and penal code that prohibit re-election of Presidents were unconstitutional. All 5 justices signed that decision, which was then leaked to the press by someone employed by the court, an "official" leak. 

Overnight between Wednesday and Thursday the political clamor on both sides of the issue was intense.

Officially, only the National Party is in support of the decision, and it was a National Party ex-president and National Party Congressmen that had challenged the constitutional provision.

This fact becomes important when you realize that the Supreme Court, as constituted, was also selected while the National Party controlled the government, and that the Constitutional Branch contains current president Juan Orlando Hernández's hand picked candidates.  While president of Congress and campaigning for President, Hernández carried out a political purge of dubious legality, removing four of the five justices in the Constitutional Branch, replacing them with his own choices.  He has since replaced that fifth justice, promoting him to the position of Public Prosecutor.

The three other major parties-- the Liberal Party, Libre, and PAC-- have all come out against re-election.  After all, the post-hoc justification offered for the 2009 coup was that somehow through the opinion survey of the Cuarta Urna, Manuel Zelaya Rosales would be able to be re-elected.

Since joining Congress as a Libre Party member, Zelaya Rosales himself has come out against presidential re-election, as has the leader of PAC, Salvador Nasralla.

Thursday morning at 8 am, Justice Lizardo of the Constitutional Branch tried to rescind his signature on the decision.  Such an act, if upheld, would have made the decision not unanimous and would have forced the entire 15 justices of the court to hear the case and issue an opinion.  Lizardo based his recanting on the precarious legal theory that because the Constitutional Branch had not notified the legal representatives of the parties of a decision, he had room to act. This was where matters stood when we last blogged about this.

However, the Secretary of the Constitutional Branch chose to ignore Lizardo's letter notifying him of the change, and went ahead to disseminate the decision to the legal parties.

He also forwarded the decision to the Secretary of Congress, who then quickly forwarded it to ENAG, the government division that prints La Gaceta. Publishing congressional and executive decrees in La Gaceta is what puts them into effect.

The Honduran Congress and Supreme Court have a long-standing dispute about when judicial decisions are effective, with those opposed to some Supreme Court decisions refusing to publish them, to try to ignore them. The Honduran Congress has historically tried to assert control over the constitutional effects of Supreme Court decisions, normally reviews and can even publicly discuss decisions before deciding to forward them to ENAG for publication. No such review was allowed to happen this time, a decision taken by the National Party leaders of Congress.

Everyone agrees that once a judicial decision is published in La Gaceta it is in effect. Normally the publication process takes weeks. ENAG normally publishes things in the order they are received, and it usually has a large backlog of things to publish, so that bills can take a month or more to be published.

Yesterday at 5 pm this decision was officially published in La Gaceta. Someone clearly rushed this one into print.

The upshot: on Thursday Rafael Callejas, who brought the case, convened his campaign to regain the Presidency which he held as a National Party member from 1990 to 1994.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Being An Environmentalist Can Kill You

Global Witness, an NGO that exposes corruption and environmental abuse, released a report this week that called Honduras the most dangerous country to be an environmentalist. 

The numbers are heartbreaking.

Global Witness looked at the period 2002 - 2014 to accumulate statistics on the death of environmental activists around the world.  Brazil had the highest number of deaths, at 477, while Honduras had 111. Almost all of those deaths happened since 2010.  If you look at the rate of death of environmentalists over the last 5 years, it turns out Honduras leads, with 101 deaths.

Here's how the numbers work. 

From 2002 to 2009, Honduras had 0, 1, 2, or 3 deaths per year of environmentalists.  Starting with 2010, those numbers skyrocketed:  21 deaths in 2010, 33 deaths in 2011, 25 deaths in 2012, 10 deaths in 2013, and 12 deaths in 2014.  90% of the Honduran environmentalist deaths occurred in the last 5 years!

Global Witness found that mining and other extractive industries caused the largest number of deaths in 2014, with a tie for the second spot between Water and Dams, and Agribusiness.  These three accounted for 84% of the environmentalist deaths in 2014.

This violence has come down particularly hard on indigenous environmentalists.  Three Tolupan leaders were shot and killed during an anti-mining protest in 2014. 

The Global Witness report came out the same day that another Honduran indigenous environmentalist, Berta Cáceres, won the Goldman Prize:
The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions....The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.
Cáceres was honored for her grassroots organizing of opposition to the Agua Zarca dam project.  Agua Zarca was a joint project of the Honduran company Desarrollos Energeticos S. A. (DESA) and SinoHydro, the Chinese government owned company recognized as the largest dam builder in the world.  DESA received a $24 million loan from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Economico for the project. 

As the Goldman page for Cáceres notes, the project was promoted and approved in a corrupt and fraudulent fashion, failing to do the required consultation with the local Lenca communities that lived within the region slated for the reservoir, a violation of ILO 169 and other treaties to which Honduras is a signatory.

DESA was founded in 2008 and claims to be a Honduran pro-environment company:
DESA has always been concerned for the protection of the environment and because of this all its business practices and maintenance follow strict guidelines to be in harmony with nature.
Nature maybe, but not in harmony with the Honduran people, who they seems to despise. 
 DESA guards killed Tomas Garcia while he was protesting against the dam.  They attacked protesters with guns, clubs, and machetes over and over again during the protest, with impunity for all the wounds and the death inflicted.

DESA doesn't list its ownership or any company officers. DESA was able to employ and command Honduran military troops in the protection of of the dam site and equipment. DESA also arranged for trumped up arms charges to be filed against Berta Caceres, to try and jail her to stop the protests.

Ultimately they've failed.  SinoHydro has left Honduras and the dam project is halted.

And Berta Caceres has been honored with the Goldman Prize, which we can hope will help protect her from the fate of too many other Honduran environmental activists.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Presidential Re-Election?!

Yesterday afternoon, the Honduran Supreme Court's Constitutional branch, consisting of 5 justices, reported that they had reached a unanimous decision invalidating part of Article 239 of the Honduran constitution.  Such a decision would effectively permit Presidential re-election.  This morning at 8:34 am, Justice Lizardo of that branch rescinded his signature and vote of approval for the decision.  That should make the ruling invalid, and because the decision is no longer unanimous, throw the case to the full 15 Justices for a decision.

The decision, announced yesterday and scheduled to be released today, was in a court case brought by former president Rafael Callejas and several National Party Congressmen, who sought to invalidate part of Article 239 of the Honduran constitution.  Longtime readers will remember that Article 239 was used, after the fact, to justify the coup against President Manuel Zelaya Rosales in 2009.  Roberto Micheletti Bain claimed that the Cuarta Urna vote was to enable Zelaya Rosales to run again for President.

This morning, in a letter addressed to the Secretary of the Constitutional branch of the Supreme Court, Carlos Almedaren, Justice José Elmer Lizardo Carranza rescinded his vote of approval:
"By this letter I make known to you that I rescind my signature on the accumulated case 1343-2014 and 243-2015....Because there's been no official notification of the plaintiff's lawyers by the secretary at this hour, 8:40 AM, this makes the decision not final"

So, while it was announced that Presidential re-election was about to be come legal through a Supreme Court decision, the future is a bit more murky now.  Stay tuned.