Tuesday, February 23, 2016

MACCIH Begins Amid Corruption Allegations.

The OAS's Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción en Honduras (MACCIH) will begin work in Honduras today with a working breakfast, and a meeting with President Hernandez.  It will do so without the required legal framework being in place in Honduras.

The OAS and the Government of Honduras had a showy signing of the MACCIH agreement in January in Washington DC.  Everyone acknowledged at the time that as a treaty, it still needed to be approved by the Honduran Congress to go into effect.  Yet the Office of the President of Honduras waited until last week to submit it to the Honduran Congress for approval, and Mauricio Oliva, the President of Congress, has just postponed the vote for a second time, to sometime next week, amid allegations that his party is offering a 12 million lempiras (about $5400 ) bribes to Congress members of opposition parties to vote for ratification of the agreement.

Outside of the National Party, none of the other political parties in Honduras have taken a stand on the approval of the agreement.  Many Hondurans, especially those that have been marching as the Indignados, are sceptical of the OAS mission.  They see it as a stalling attempt by their government to make it appear to the outside world that its working to correct corruption and impunity without actually doing anything.  Much of the MACCIH charter involves studies and recommendations, which then must be acted upon by already corrupt parts of the Honduran government, to correct their own corruption.

How ironic that the MACCIH mission will be beginning its work in Honduras today without the required Congressional ratification and amid allegations that the ruling party is offering bribes to vote for ratification of the treaty.  Not an auspicious start.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The New Supreme Court

In the end, the intransigence and bribes paid by the National Party succeeded in getting their slate of candidates for the Honduran Supreme Court elected, but it took six votes, and the rebellion of 3 Partido Anti-Corrupción women who ignored the party line.  On the fifth vote, February 10, congress elected 3 more magistrates to join the 8 already elected, and on February 11, the sixth vote, they elected the remaining 4 candidates.  The court, as it stands, will consist of 10 men and 5 women, 8 National Party members and 7 Liberal Party members, with the National Party holding the Chief Justice position.

Thee PAC Congress Members voted with the National Party on the Sixth round of voting:  Marlene Alvarenga, Kritza Perez, Ana Josefina Fortin.

Friday morning, Feb. 12, the Chief Justice, Rolando Argueta, issued a memo appointing each of them to one of the four branches of the court for the next seven years, as follows:

Rolando Argueta - Chief Justice

Sala Constitucional:
Lidia Alvarez, Jorge Zelaya,  Edwin Ortez, Reyna Hércules, Jorge Serrano

Sala Penal:
José Rogdríguez, Rafel Bustillo, Alma Guzman

Sala Civil:
Reynaldo Hernández, Wilfredo Méndez, Rina Alvarado

Sala Laboral:
Edgardo Cáceres, Miguel Pineda, Maria Castro

Update Feb. 14:

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

National Party intransigence blocks 4th vote on Honduran Supreme Court

The National Party has lost 4 votes to elect its slate of proposed candidates for the Honduran Supreme Court, and yet, proposes to do a fifth vote today on the same slate of candidates.  At least for the moment, the two party system in Honduras is finally breaking down, and neither the Liberal, nor the National Party's are adapting to the existence of an opposition.

The National Party will try for a fifth time today to force the Honduran Congress to elect its slate of 7 candidates to the Supreme Court.  It negotiated this slate with its rival Liberal Party, but there's ample evidence in the vote tallies that Liberal Party members are defecting and not voting for the entire slate, especially if you believe that the bribed candidates from our previous post voted for the official slate of candidates. 

Last night in the fourth round of voting,  5 candidates hit 85 votes, one shy of the number of votes needed to elect the candidate to the court.   Two received 84 votes.  One received 83 votes.  So its clear that its not just the Libre, PAC, and PINU members holding up the election of justices, as the Congressional leadership wants us to believe. At least two of the people counting the votes last night:  Eduardo Coto and Jenny Murillo, have been named as having received bribes.

PAC has offered to negotiate a solution, but the National Party leadership continues to try and impose its will, with the help of the Liberal Party. At stake is which party, Liberal or National, controls the Supreme Court.  All of the current nominees are members of either the National or Liberal Parties.  None are members of PAC or Libre or PINU.  PAC is making the argument that justices should be selected not based on party affiliation, but rather on which would be best for the country.  So far the National Party doesn't agree.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Suborning the Honduran Congress

With the next round of voting to be held Tuesday, Radio Globo's David Romero Ellner has brought to light evidence of an elaborate con that funnels funds from the government to a trade association, and there to Congress members from opposition parties allegedly to vote for National Party Projects, including for their slate of candidates for the Supreme Court.

Reporter David Romero Ellner of Radio Globo is no stranger to conflict.  He was almost the first to publicize the IHSS scandal and to report its links back to the National Party and the Juan Orlando Hernandez election campaign.  He's currently awaiting sentencing having been found guilty of slandering a prominent National Party member in a trial conducted by the Supreme Court.

The con begins with a lawyer, supposedly named José Napoleón Panchamé.  He can't be found.  He supposedly contracted with the Associacion Nacional de Productores e Industriales de Barrios y Colonias de Honduras to fund projects Panchamé tells them to.  Romero has a copy of the contract they signed.  Romero alleges the funds come from the Tasa de Seguridad, the Oficina de Obras Sociales, and the 3 percent ISV tax.  The funding was actually used to pay Congress members from mostly opposition parties to support National Party projects.  In December alone, the Association issued 20 million lempiras ($952,000) in checks to Congress members.  However, there is also a check for 700,00 lempiras ($33,333) to Panchamé.

The news first broke last Wednesday (February 2) when Romero told Radio Globo listeners that Congressman Agusto Cruz Asensio of the Partido Demócrata Christiano (DC) and Dennis Sanchez of the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Libre) received checks drawn on the Banco DAVIVIENDA from the account of the Asociacion Nacional de Productores, a group Romero identifies as a front organization that channels funds from the National Party.  Cruz Asensio's check was for 99,800 lempiras ($4752) while Sanchez received 224,550 lempiras ($10,692).  Each received two sequentially numbered checks from the Association.

Cruz Asensio claims the checks are for services he gave to the Association, but will not explain what those services were.  Dennis Sanchez said the funds were a contribution to a fund for a water project for the community of Guacamaya, Santa Barbara, near Gualala, where he was born.

Nor are these the only two Congress members Romero implicates.  Today he named a further suite of Congress members, all originally members of Libre:  Héctor Padilla, Eduardo Coto, and Audelia Rodriguez.  Padilla received two checks on December 22 of 2015 which Romero alleges were for him to vote to amend the Honduran constitution to include the military police as a constitutionally defined part of the Honduran Armed Forces.  Padilla left Libre after that vote to join the Democrata Cristiana party.  Audelia Rodriguez received two checks, also on December 22, 2015 from the same source totaling $11,405.  She left Libre in May, 2015 because "being poor she wasn't welcomed."  Rodriguez and Padilla are both now independents, while Coto is a Democrata Cristiana.

Romero says that between 16 December, 2015 and 23 January 2016, that bank account issued at least 23 checks, including one to every member of Libre that has left the party:  Eduardo Coto, Jenny Murillo, Omar Rodriguez, Mariano Alvarado, Tatiana Canales, and Audelia Rodgriguez.  At least one unnamed member of PAC also received a check.

Suborning the votes of Congress is of course an illegal, if not long standing, practice in Honduras.  The OAS's MACCIH will have a long way to go to even begin to disentangle the corruption that is the current government of Honduras.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Nasralla Denied Entry to Congress

Mauricio Oliva rules the Honduran Congress with an iron hand.  His armed guards are omnipresent, and free access to Congressional proceedings is practically non-existent, even if you are an accredited reporter.  During voting sessions for the Supreme Court, his armed guards stand between the ballot box and the seated Congress members as they come up to cast their ballots.

Today his security guards detained the leader of the Partido Anticorrupción (PAC), Salvador Nasralla, from entering.  He sought to go in to find out if there would be a vote today on Supreme Court nominees (there wasn't).  He isn't a member of Congress, but he is the head of a political party that currently won't vote for the suite of candidates being put forward by the National and Liberal parties.

When Nasralla arrived this morning, as he has on many previous occasions, the guards prevented him entering while they checked with their supervisor to see whether or not to let him in.  Their supervisor, via walkie-talkie, told them he was not authorized to enter, so they detained him and questioned him as to his purpose for wanting to go in.

He had to call one of his party members who was a member of Congress, who then had to negotiate permission for Nasralla to come in.  To quote one of the articles, Virgilio Padilla, Congressman for the Department of Francisco Morazan and a member of PAC, literally "had to convince the head of security that the engineer (Nasralla) did not represent any danger."

Nasralla proposed today that PAC would accept the imposition of Rolando Argueta, currently the chief prosecutor, as Chief Justice, if Oliva would open up the voting to at least six of the candidates favored by PAC.

"We need 7 (justices) more, they want to place one who they say is Mr. Argueta because he will do what they want on extradition, but the other 6 should be from the list agreed to by PAC.  We've knocked around the list of 15 candidates that at least among them should be six that go there to defend the people."

Remember that the Nominating Committee submitted a list of 45 candidates that was split evenly between National and Liberal party affiliated candidates, plus one independent who was elected in the first round of voting.  Four of the six candidates that Nasralla proposes be voted on are National Party members.

But that deal isn't likely to go through.  So far Mauricio Oliva, the head of Congress, will only allow votes on the National Party's proposed slate of 7 candidates, because being rejected in three separate ballots isn't enough shame.

The next vote for Supreme Court nominees is currently scheduled for Tuesday, February 9.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Supreme Court Elections on Hold

With another round of voting for Supreme Court justices seemingly at hand, lets examine what is preventing the election of a new Supreme Court in Honduras.

A successful candidate needs 86 or more votes.  The National Party has 48 members in Congress.  The Liberal Party has 27 members.  Libre has 31 members. PAC has 13, PINU has 1, the UD has 1, the Christian Democrats have 2, and there is 1 independent.

The first round of voting elected 7 justices:  5 Liberals, 2 National Party affiliates, and 1 independent.  No one got the required 86 votes in Rounds 2, or 3.

The National Party has adopted the position that the Supreme Court must be partitioned by political party, and because it is the current ruling party, it should have the majority of members.  They want 8 justices.  There is historical precedent.  That's how the election of Supreme Court justices has worked since 1982.  They insist that a particular suite of 8 candidates (6 National Party members, and 2 Liberals) be elected in the next round.

The Liberal Party is allied with the National Party over the election of Supreme Court justices.  They want 7 justices to be affiliated with their party.  They are settling for 6 justices under their agreement with the National Party.  They have also asked that the Chief Justice be a Liberal, just as he is right now.

PAC and Libre have both advocated for electing the best suite of justices.  They differ, however, on the qualifications of the current pool of 45 nominees.  PAC identified 16 candidates it felt were qualified to be Supreme Court justices from the pool.  Libre rejects all of the current pool of 37 remaining candidates.  Instead Libre seeks to turn the conversation to legislative reforms, referenda, and plebiscites.

Last weekend, the leaders of these four parties meet with President Juan Orlando Hernandez to try and negotiate a solution, but all of them stuck with their position, and they left the meetings without coming to an agreement. 

Yesterday evening the Honduran Congress yet again failed to elect any justices in a third round of voting.  Libre party members largely abstained from voting or filed null ballots.  PAC did likewise, though at least one member of this party voted for 3 candidates of the suite put forward as the solution by the National Party.  PAC accused that Congress person of betraying the party.  During the counting of the votes, several members became upset and apparently punched each other.

Today's Congressional session did not include a vote on the Supreme Court nominations.  Instead it dealt with the newly declared national emergency because of the Zika virus which has hundreds of Hondurans ill in the Hospitals. 

The issue remains on hold while negotiations continue.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Third Round of Voting for Supreme Court Underway

Something historic is going on in the Honduran Congress.  Today they are trying for the third time to elect the remaining seven justices of the Supreme Court.  The first round of voting yielded eight elected justices, five affiliated with the Liberal Party, one without party affiliation, and two affiliated with the National Party.  Mauricio Oliva tried to convene Congress the next day to elect the other seven justices, but failed because PAC and Libre declined to participate in the election, so no candidate could get 86 votes.

Over the weekend, all of the parties met to try and reach some kind of accommodation, but both the National and Liberal Parties are sticking with a partitioning of court membership allocated to only those two parties, where party affiliation is more important that the candidate's qualifications or independence.  This is the status quo.  This is how these two parties have conducted the Supreme Court appointments since 1982 when the Honduran constitution was enacted.  However, at least as of last Friday both PAC and Libre were rejecting the party quota system being argued by the two older parties.  Officially as of this morning there was no acknowledged agreement, though the Honduran press reported that PAC was considering a partitioning of the Supreme Court that included candidates they could support.  There are no PAC or Libre candidates in the pool of 37 from which the selection must be made, because the Nominating committee eliminated them and divided the slate of nominations between the National and Liberal party affiliated candidates.

In the voting today, Libre issued a communique in which it rejected the negotiations for the partitioning of the Supreme Court by party, and instead proposed a series of referenda and plebiscites, as well as approval of a suite of laws.  If Libre is able to maintain party discipline, its Congressional bench will cast no votes today.

Unlike Libre which officially adopted the position of not voting for any of the candidates, PAC had identified a slate of 16 candidates it considered qualified, of which one was elected in the first round of voting.  National Party operatives felt there was still a possibility of an agreement with PAC over a partitioning of the remaining justices, but officially, PAC said nothing publicly.

The voting is underway as I write this.