Thursday, December 29, 2016

Honduran Security Minister implicated in US Drug Trafficking Trial

Honduran Security Minister, retired General Julian Pacheco Tinoco, was implicated as being part of a Honduran government drug trafficking ring by a DEA informant according to testimony provided by US Federal Prosecutors at the trial of Efrain Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas.

Efrain Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas are the nephews of Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores.  They have been charged in federal court with conspiring (i) "to import five or more kilograms of cocaine into the United States from a foreign country", and (ii) "to manufacture or distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine knowing and intending that it would be imported into the United States."

The two defendants who were arrested in Haiti had sought to suppress some of their post arrest statements to the DEA and prosecutors.  Some of that evidence was about an October, 2015 meeting between a DEA informant, now deceased, identified as CW-1, and one of the nephews to discuss bringing planes with drugs into Honduras from Venezuela.  A DEA Special Agent, Sandalio Gonzalez, testified that CW-1 was unable to record the meeting, but provided photos showing the two Venezuelan nephews meeting with CW-1 and others.  Agent Gonzalez gave recording devices to two more DEA informants in Honduras, identified as CS-1 and CS-2 and urged them to travel to Venezuela to talk with the nephews and "to record all conversations, negotiations, and discussions of drug trafficking or money laundering".  CS-1 and CS-2 met with the nephews in Caracas, Venezuela, 4 times during October 2015.  A 3rd informant, CS-3 met with them in Honduras in November 2015 to discuss flight logistics and recorded that meeting.

Informant CW-1, known as "El Sentado" because he was confined to a wheel chair, was killed in Honduras in December 2015, shortly after the nephews were arrested.   Informant CS-1, José Santos Peña,  is known as "The Mexican" because he was posing as a representative of the Sinaloa Cartel.  Their co-defendant, Roberto Jesus Soto Garcia, a Honduran, was recorded negotiating the logistics of handling plane loads of cocaine in Honduras. 

Informant CS-1 is José Santos Peña, a Mexican drug trafficker who used to work for the Sinaloa cartel.  Informant CS-2 is his son.  In 2000 Santos Peña was arrested by Mexican authorities and turned over to the DEA, where he turned informant and was working from 2003 to 2016 for the DEA.  During the trial of Campo Flores and Flores de Freitas, Santos Peña testified that he had received around $750,000 from the DEA, and a further $300,000 from other agencies.  At one point, Informant CS-1 was asked during the trial about Julian Pacheco Tinoco:

Prosecutor:  In your work as a DEA informant did you meet with with someone called Julian Pacheco Tinoco?
CS-1:  Yes sir
Prosecutor: In what country did you know Mr. Pacheco Tinoco?
CS-1: In Honduras.
Prosecutor:  Do you know if he has a position in the Honduran Government?
CS-1: Yes sir
Prosecutor: What is that position?
CS-1:  Minister of Defense of Honduras
Prosecutor:  How did you know him?
[At this point the defense lawyer Randal Jackson objected, but the judge denied the objection]
Prosecutor:  How did you know him?
CS-1:  I knew him through the son of the ex president of Honduras, Fabio Lobo.
Prosecutor:  Were you meeting with Mr. Lobo as part of your work as a DEA informant?
CS-1:  Yes sir.
Prosecutor:  What was your meeting with Mr. Pacheco about?
CS-1: It was so that he could give me help to receive shipments from Colombia to Honduras.  He was in charge of a part of the security in Honduras.
Prosecutor:  What type of shipments?
CS-1:  Cocaine.

The Prosecution presented evidence that Campo Flores had deleted a chat session and contact information on his Samsung phone with Pacheco Tinoco. Informant CS-1 also admitted on the stand to lying to the DEA, not telling them about visits to prostitutes and continuing to traffic in cocaine for himself, for which he and his son were sentenced to life imprisonment.

On November 21, 2016, the two nephews were found guilty.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Incompetent Design, Failed Implementation

Another multi-million dollar project funded by international agencies has failed in Honduras, the Trans-450 high speed bus service for Tegucigalpa.  This project, funded by Interamerican Development Bank (BID in Spanish) and the Central American Bank of Economic Integraion (BCIE in Spanish) was supposed to create high speed buses along major avenues in Tegucigalpa.  Originally it was to be completed and in service by 2015.  Today the promise is maybe 2018, if the major obstacles can be overcome.  In reality the multi-million dollar project is all but abandoned.

In 2011 the Honduran Congress passed Decreto 77-2011, a bill that said it would make Tegucigalpa a city with a world-class high speed bus system. At the time only 33  world cities had such a high speed bus service.  The project was to be financed by a BID loan approved in December 2010.  This loan only financed the first of the 3 phase development/deployment plan.  The project oversight committee, established in the enabling legislation was supposed to seek other outside funds to supplement the BID money to finish the project.

The Trans-450 was a high-speed bus project similar to the high speed buses in Mexico City.  These long, articulated buses would run in lanes only they could use along major avenues in the city, and would reportedly remove hundreds of buses from regular traffic.  The project was expected to server 117,000 riders daily.  Ricardo Alverez (National Party) was its chief proponent.

 In early April 2014 Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo Alvarez inaugurated the first phase of the project promising residents that by June of that year they would be able to ride the first articulated bus in Honduras.  He said that about half of the money available through BID had been spent on the project so far.  (Inversiones Multiples de Transporte (INVERMUT), the newly formed company created to operate the system, to whom the Honduran Congress granted an 18 year exclusive contract, said that the 21 buses needed to operate the system would arrive in mid April of that same year.
All of that was a lie.  Nothing happened for the next year and a half.  Why?  Supposedly they lacked the funding to continue, which in itself is weird because in 2013 the BCIE had granted a $10 million loan to the government of Honduras for phase 3 of the project.  Alvarez had noted at the inauguration of Phase 1 that only half the BID funding had been spent to date.  BCIE also mentions in their English language page on the funding that the project was also partially funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development, never mentioned in the Honduran press coverage.

Despite the failure of the buses to materialize, or service to begin on the phase 1 part of the project  inaugurated in April, 2014, the City council of Tegucigalpa none-the-less signed an 18 year exclusive concession with INVERMUT that October that among other things, guaranteed INVERMUT a certain level of income, to be made up with Public funds if the ridership was below a certain level..

The buses never started running on Phase 1 of the project because the finalization of that part of the project, the building of access bridges to the stations, the purchase of the buses, etc. couldn't be done until other technical problems were solved.

Phase 3 construction started in 2015, when phase 2 construction was also underway, but phase 1 was never actually finished, or put into service as intended.  Technical issues prevented the construction of a bus parking area, or central terminal.  No bridges had been installed for pedestrians to get to the bus stops located in the center of busy avenues.  No plan had been done for handicapped access, and hence no ramps or elevators had been contemplated.  No one had planned to plant new trees for those that were being removed in the Trans 450 right of way.  The list goes on.

Its the end of 2016, well past the promise date for the extended end of construction.  BID says all their money has been spent.  Yet the system is not yet finished.  Major parts of the technical plan remain, such as a central bus terminal, and bus parking area.  INVERMUT sstill doesn't have the buses.  In late November, 2016, the Mayor of Tegucigalpa said it would be 2018 before the project was open to the public.  The municipal committee given oversight of the project voted 6 to 5 to keep the project going.  The city of Tegucigalpa itself has put a further $3 million into the project.

BID interim representative Rafael Mayen told the Honduran press that:
"In the bank its making us sad and it hasn't pleased us, that which is happening with the Trans 450"

Mayen also took the opportunity to reject any attempt to change the project to a monorail since the space was not designed for a monorail.  He noted the buses are built at the factory, but cannot be brought to Honduras because there's literally nowhere to park them.  The project never imagined or built a parking lot for the buses for when they're not in service!

Meanwhile, Honduras will be paying interest on those $33 million the BID invested in this project beginning in 2018. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Honduras Structurally Incapable of Fighting Corruption, Impunity!

On Wednesday the Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras (MACCIH) provided their 38 page report on their first six months of operation in Honduras to the OAS.  They did so in a public hearing where representatives of the funding countries like Canada and the US participated, along with a representative of Honduras.  During the opening statements, the Honduran representative, Arturo Corrales,  tried to establish for the record, that :
"Honduras has a clear, holistic perspective [on impunity], the institutionality of civil society and its intermediate bodies and the support of MACCIH, this is the mssion, the project is a complete system...It is worth noting this distinction because this project existed before MACCIH arrived and I assure you it will continue after MACCIH terminates its functions."

While technically correct, on paper it looks like Honduras was doing things to clean up corruption, in practice, this was a smokescreen for more of the same.  In the months prior to the formation and installation of MACCIH in Honduras, the Honduran government, guided by Corrales, Juan Orlando Hernandez, and Ebal Diaz formed the Sistema Integral Control la Impunidad (SICI) as a palliative to quiet the weekly marches of the indignados.  This was a largely hollow proposal that in effect consisted of the Executive branch of the Honduran government holding "hearings" with civil society groups that by and large already supported the existing government.  In the weeks leading up to that announcement, Ebal Diaz, a government advisor spokesperson, made public statements that were counter factual, to the effect that "corruption was already contained" (it wasn't) and deliberately manufacturing false numbers to argue that the Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG), which is what the indignados wanted for Honduras, was ineffective (it has, to date, been quite effective in identifying and prosecuting corruption and impunity).

The other smokescreen they erected was to allege that corruption during the Zelaya administration was more important, and the Public Prosecutor's office pursued this rather than the mess the National Party governments of the last two administrations created. With the help of the DEA, they proceeded to dismantle the drug cartels in Honduras that had supported the Liberal Party in the 2013 elections. 
 This is institutionality that Corrales was proudly referring to, palliatives and smokescreens that accomplished next to nothing.

Even today there is no institutionality against corruption and impunity in Honduras, or MACCIH would not be necessary.  The Honduran government has neither the structure, nor the constitutional separation of powers, nor the laws, nor the legal system to combat corruption and impunity.  Corruption is present in virtually all levels of government, from the military to the Executive branch itself.  It has lacked this institutionality since the 1981 constitution brought an end to military rule. It was designed that way.

In fact, we know Honduras was ineffective in fighting corruption because the US State Department scored it low in the fight against corruption and impunity in ranking it for possible inclusion in the Millennium Challenge Grants every year since 2010.

If MACCIH succeeds in its mission, Honduras might have an effective system to fight both corruption and impunity going forward. But all of its suggestions will need to be in place, including changes to the Honduran constitution, for it to work.

So Corrales was at best exaggerating in saying that Honduras's institutionality already exists to fight corruption.  It didn't, and still doesn't.