Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mediating The Status Quo

Yesterday John Biehl del Rio, the Chilean diplomat designated by the Organization of American States to be their representative to the National Dialogue in Honduras, with the title of "mediator", called the indignados and LIBRE "pig-headed" and "imbeciles".

That's not how you mediate a dialogue, that's how you end one.

The job of a facilitator or mediator is to listen to both sides of an issue and to try to bring them into conversation about their common ground.  It's not the role of a mediator to publicly insult one side in the process they are mediating.

By his words, Biehl has been showing all along that he isn't really a mediator.

Gentle readers will recall that in June, in response to the marchas de antorchas, with their demand for an international commission against impunity and corruption, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández unilaterally announced a Sistema Integral Contra la Impunidad (SICA, "Integrated System against Impunity") and called for a "National Dialogue" whose participants the government would designate.

The proposal, not immediately available to the Honduran press at the time, called for the establishment of several oversight committees for the Honduran judiciary, all of the committee members appointed by the Executive Branch.  It specified no procedures or reporting mechanisms by which the "National Dialogue" would provide any input or revision to the proposed SICA process or composition.

Hernández presided over the first few meetings himself, meeting with jurists and business, before turning the whole process over to a Congress member to organize and oversee.

Some parts of civil society saw the National Dialogue as a government show, with no stated objective, and refused to participate.

Those not participating include the indignados, who for the last 16 weeks have marched every Friday calling for a Comision Internacional Contra de la Impunidad (CICIH) and for President Hernandez to resign. The two opposition political parties that were first on the ballot this last election (LIBRE and PAC) have refused to participate for much the same reasons: the control of the process by the current government and the lack of any connection between the "dialogue" and possible reforms.

Hernández's proposal "reforms" the Judicial Branch by making it responsible to committees for judicial oversight and review established and appointed by the Executive Branch.  This further erodes judicial independence.

This was the official response of the government to the indignados, and it was hoped that it would weaken support for their calls for a CICIH, and silence their calls for Hernández's resignation.

When that didn't work, Hernández formally asked the OAS and UN for facilitators or mediators to help bring all of Honduran civil society to participate in the National Dialogue.  Enter John Biehl del Rio.

Biehl del Rio has a fairly long history of engagement with Honduras.

As a chief adviser to Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, he was the principal mediator for the San Jose Accords intended to return José Manuel Zelaya to office after the 2009 coup.  Before that he spent 4 years in and around Tocoa in the Bajo Aguan, teaching peasants about cooperatives.

It may be that in Honduras, Biehl del Rio sees similarities to how he described his native Chile in 2010:
"There is a political world that needs to go.  When the national task fundamentally consists in practicing the art of disagreeing to thereby gain power, there prevails a will and ambitions that destabilize the possibility of a good government.  The culture of confrontation which we inherit from the past, severely limits the ways to satisfy the necessities of the people.  To use and supply yourself with stereotypes from another historical epoch to exercise opposition or to govern is to deliberately damage the country....If the opposition looks for the failure of the government to rise to power, it is jointly responsible for restarting one of the worst nightmares of the country."

The nightmare Biehl del Rio was referring to in Chile was the rise of the military which overthrew Salvador Allende. While Biehl del Rio was not a supporter of Allende, he went into exile after Pinochet took power.

In Honduras, however, it seems the place of the military in his critique is taken by the indignados and political parties opposed to the current president. Much of what Biehl del Rio has said about the opposition in Honduras echos the sentiments about Chile quoted above.

Biehl told the Honduran press that
There are many people who have taken this hard time for Honduras as a kind of political pre-campaign, and this crisis as an opportunity to kill their possible rivals.  This I have noted in conversations. With these people it is very difficult to make advances because they only have one thing in mind.  Hondurans are very political, at least in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.  They give the impression that everyone wants to be president and as such their positions are very sharp and cutting because they see that this is a weak moment."

So for Biehl, the indignados are merely pre-campaign presidential politicking.

But Honduras isn't Chile, and there are indications that Biehl del Rio may not completely understand Honduran politics.

Among his other pronouncements he called the Honduran Congress "representative of the people (or Nation) and a transversal cut through society", suggesting it should play a leading role in the National Dialogue.

Now the Honduran Congress is many things, but it does not represent Honduran society, directly or indirectly.  Congress members are loyal and answerable to the political party that ensures their election, and do not represent a local constituency. There is really no way to consider these political insiders a "transversal cut" through society-- nothing in the Honduran political system works that way. This is part of the problem that has brought so many people out on the streets.

Biehl del Rio may see similarities to his Chile in 2010, but in the intervening years, he's lost his ability to say this diplomatically, and is reduced to calling the Honduran opposition names.

That means instead of mediating, he has adopted a side-- with a president elected by a minority of voters in an intensely split election, whose party is wrapped in a scandal over the financing of that very election, and who is trying to insist that he knew nothing of the money moving around. It's a bad side to be on, and it is unfortunate that it has led him to dismiss the largest show of public engagement in governance in modern Honduran history.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Who Pays for the Infrastructure Needs of ZEDEs?

Potential ZEDE developers seem to be risk-averse when it comes to developing the infrastructure needed for them to succeed.

Juan Orlando Hernandez recently traveled to Asia, picking up the slightly overdue feasibility report for a ZEDE in southern Honduras from the Korean International Cooperation Agency, (KOICA).  The project being studied is to develop a deep water port in the city of Amapala, on El Tigre island two km off the Honduran Pacific coast, as well as a logistics center in the municipality of Alianza on the adjacent mainland.

Why develop a port at Amapala?

For years the Panama Canal has been a bottleneck to shipping from Asia to the Atlantic coast ports of the US and Europe.  The largest ships today cannot fit in the locks, and the canal simply has insufficient capacity, even for existing ships which do fit in the locks. There's often a one to three day wait to go through.

The delay and size restrictions have prompted three projects along the Pacific coast of Central America.

The Panama Canal authority itself is building a new set of locks that can accept larger ships, but its overall capacity is limited by the amount of fresh water available in drought years, as at present.  Under current conditions only 17 cargo ships a day can transit the canal.

There is a separate Chinese project to build a new sea level canal across Nicaragua underway.

Honduras' southern ZEDE is yet another alternative, in which container ships would dock in Amapala and unload their cargo to be transported and sorted and stored in the logistics area. It would then get trucked over a new road from Nacaome to Puerto Cortés where it would be matched with container ships docked there for delivery to Atlantic ports.

Hernández says the feasibility report was entirely positive. Despite this, there was no announcement of the proposed ZEDE being formed.

Instead, Hernandez announced an agreement for cooperation between the port of Busan in South Korea and the port of Amapala to improve their training and port procedures.

At Hernández's very next stop, in Japan, he solicited something never before discussed as a Honduran government infrastructure project.  He asked the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to finance the building of a bridge from the island of Zacate Grande to Amapala.

Zacate Grande is itself connected via a bridge to the mainland, and houses many vacation ranches owned by wealthy Hondurans.

There's no reason to develop the port at Amapala without also connecting it to the mainland to take advantage of the port facilities.  Previous discussions of the Amapala port had always included development of the bridge as part of the ZEDE development.

Now the government of Honduras is seeking to get someone else to pay for the development of this critical piece of infrastructure for the ZEDE, rather than have the ZEDE itself fund it.  Was this change dictated by the feasibility report?  Did that report separate the bridge from the port development and say Honduras should provide it as part of the infrastructure?  JICA did not commit to building the bridge, but agreed to study the project.

On his return from his Asian trip, Hernández signed contracts with Mexican companies for development of two more sections of the new highway to connect the south coast of Honduras with the Caribbean coast port of Puerto Cortés. The funds for this construction are borrowed from Mexico.

This roadway is also a strategic piece of infrastructure to enable planned ZEDEs in the south of Honduras.  Without easy transport between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts there is no reason to develop the port of Amapala.  This new roadway is scheduled to open in 2017.

For all the hype of a ZEDE as a way to develop Honduras, the current proposal seems to be requiring a large outlay in infrastructure development from the host country before there is even a commitment  of ZEDE development.

Hernández promises ZEDE announcements soon...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Shake Up In Control of the Christian Democrat Party of Honduras

The Honduran Partido Democráta Cristiano (PDCH) has split into two factions with two different leadership councils. Now it's up to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) to decide which faction legitimately represents the party.

The PDCH was founded in 1968 but not recognized by the TSE until 1981.  It historically garnered between one and five Congressional Representatives in elections.

Since the coup in 2009 it has aligned itself with the ruling party.

In the last election, however, its presidential candidate received about 5000 votes or 0.17 % of the vote, and the party received only one Congressional seat. They gained a second Congressional representative in 2014 when Eduardo Coto joined the party, defecting from LIBRE.

By law, the TSE should have ceased to recognize the PDCH for failing to obtain enough votes to be considered a viable political party (set at 5%). Viability as a party has defined legal criteria because recognized parties receive funding from the TSE.

Other parties that received more presidential votes, such as Romeo Vasquez Velasquez's Partido Alianza Patriotica were disbanded by the TSE after their poor election showing in 2013. But that has not happened to the PDCH, perhaps because one of the three senior judges on its leadership panel, Saul Escobar, is a member. 

Coming out of the 2013 Elections, the PDCH, despite its small electoral constituency, had three factions attempting to gain power. One was controlled by Arturo Cruz Asensio, one by Nieves Fernando Perez and the third by Carlos Manzanares and Felicito Avila. This resulted in three different slates being nominated to compete for the party leadership, one headed by Cruz Asensio, a second by Carlos Manzanares, and a third by Nieves Fernando Perez.

Just before the party election, Manzanares and Fernando Perez stepped aside in the name of party unity.  Cruz Asensio was elected party President, and Manzanares Vice President. They replaced Felicito Avila and Lucas Aguilera in those posts. Cruz Asensio promised to be more questioning towards the ruling National Party, although there is no indication that he has been.

But all is not well.

A rift that developed between the current leadership and a faction led by Manzanares manifested in a violent meeting where people were throwing chairs and punches at each other. Disguised by rhetoric about old guard versus new guard, the attack on the party leadership turned out to be a long-planned attempt to co-opt this minor party in Honduras for personal gain, allegedly fomented by Arturo Corrales, the current Chancellor of the country.

Gissel Villanueva, an aide to Cruz Asensio said
“People paid by Arturo Corrales and his helpers, Felicito Avila, Carlos Romero and Jorge Bogran were the ones who started this fight and this they did because they are people who have already left the party but don't want to let go of power.....
The only thing that interests Arturo Corrales is power; what he wants is to have control over the three congressmen which this party has in the National Congress and which he doesn’t control; he wants these positions.”

Corrales has played a prominent role in both the Liberal Party and National Party governments that have ruled Honduras since the coup of 2009. He has held the cabinet posts of Security Minister and Head of Foreign Relations under both of the last two National Party Administrations. But his political career was made as a member of the minority Partido Democráta Cristiano, for which he was a presidential candidate in 1997.

On September 5th, a group claiming to be PDCH party leadership delegates met in Tegucigalpa and stripped Cruz Asensio of his party leadership role and elected Carlos Manzanares to that position.  In the very same meeting the disciplinary committee suspended the party membership of Arturo Corrales because of the attack at the youth meeting.  This appears to be a resurgence of the factionalism evident in 2014, with the Manzanares faction claiming control of the party leadership.

Cruz Asensio contests his demotion.  He called the meeting illegal because he neither convened it nor was present at it. He notes that the delegates who convened it were not the delegates registered with the TSE as the party's official delegates. David Aguilera, the party executive secretary called the suspension of Arturo Corrales illegal though he didn't state why. Luis Aguilera, who is part of the Manzanares faction, said that the 200 legal delegates were convened, conveying his position that the meeting was legal.

Now, the group that seized the leadership of the party has submitted to the TSE a leadership council headed by Manzanares with a replacement disciplinary committee, and with a new political committee headed by Arturo Corrales, and staffed by Felicito Avila, Ramon Velasquez Nazar, and Lucas Aguilera.

Augusto Cruz Asensio has submitted an appeal attempting to dismiss the other group's submission, arguing that the delegates that met were not those listed with the TSE as the law demands.

The TSE said that after combing its archives, it can find no filings listing the delegates for 2013, 2015, or 2015 for the PDCH. That greatly weakens Cruz Asensio's position, and the failure happened under this leadership.

At stake is more than control of a moribund electoral party: there is also the matter of control of votes for the upcoming selection of candidates for the Supreme Court.