Friday, January 26, 2018

Congressional Corruption Part 1

Lest we think that all is well in the Honduran Congress as a deliberative body, recent news reports in Honduras document widespread corruption in the Honduran Congress; everything from the way money ends up back in Congressperson's pockets to the way laws as published in the official newspaper, are completely different than what was voted on in Congress.  Corruption here is widespread, and deep.

The OAS mission to support the fight against corruption and impunity in Honduras (MACCIH for its acronym in Spanish) found out this week that the problem in Honduras with impunity and corruption isn't that they don't know how to follow the internationally recommended ways to combat corruption and write a legal framework that combats corruption.  Since the 2009 coup numerous panels have made legislative suggestions that have been totally ignored. Honduran legislators, the Judicial and Executive branches have have deliberately ignored them for a reason.

The problem in Honduras continues to be that the government at all levels, from the legislative, to the Judicial, and the Executive branches, is rife with corruption.   They actively choose to write legislation that facilitates corruption and impunity.  No amount of MACCIH investigating crimes and suggesting model legislation will fix that.  But only now is MACCIH waking up to the reality of Honduras.

This week the Honduran Supreme Court dismissed the first  corruption case that MACCIH brought to trial.  This was the case of the five Congresspeople who were paid off by the Executive branch for changing their allegiances to the National Party.  In return they were paid using funds Congress allocated to an NGO for social programs.  The money, some $300-$400,000 ended up in the private bank accounts of these five Congressmen.

It was a well documented case that should have easily resulted in a conviction.  Instead, the Honduran Supreme Court threw one roadblock after another at the prosecution.  First, they refused the request to have the Congressmen arrested to await trial in jail.  Next they scheduled the first trial date to be the Dia de Innocentes (Innocents’ Day).  The Supreme Couirt judge postponed hearings time after time.

Then Congress acted, or maybe the corrupt leaders of Congress acted would be more precise.  All those leaders were, at the time, members of the National Party.  The lame duck Congress came back after New Years and passed a series of laws, among then on January 18th a new "Ley Organica de Presupuesto"(decreto 117-2017)  with some interesting clauses.  The new law, as written, takes away from the Public Prosecutor's office the right to pursue crimes related to the budget of Honduras, instead giving it to the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (TSC).  The law particularly states that while the TSC is auditing any budget item, the judicial branch cannot act.  To rub MACCIH's face in it, they made the law retroactive.

Given the new law, the Supreme Court judge dismissed the case against the five Congresspersons because the Public Prosecutor's office had no standing to bring the case.  MACCIH works with the Public Prosecutor's office, not the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas.  Not only does this destroy MACCIH's ability to investigate and prosecute the crimes it was set up to pursue, but it also closes investigations it had open on over 60 Congresspeople, including the President of the Congress, Mauricio Oliva.

Article 16 of the law gave Congresspeople the right to request, administer, and spend public funds from any source (government, NGOs, etc) that are for community development, social aid, and the improvement of law and democracy.  This change in the law legitimates the transfer of funds to the five charged Congresspersons.

Article 131 of the new law authorized the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (TSC) to audit the use of these funds, specifically funds from 2006-2018, retroactively.  It gives the TSE 3 years to perform the audit of those years and only when it is done, and publishes its report, will changes be adduced and filed against anyone.  No criminal charges can be filed against anyone on these grounds while the TSC is investigating and writing its report.  Nor can civil charges be filed.

These changes passed with 69 votes for, and only 2 against, with 11 abstentions.  The changes shut down MACCIH's investigations and ability to bring charges against this kind of financial corruption.

New Police Chief Tied to Wilter Blanco

The new Police Chief of Honduras's National Police, José David Aguilar Moran, aided Wilter Blanco in moving cocaine from Honduras to the United States, the AP reported this morning.

Jose David Aguilar Moran was sworn in last week after President Juan Orlando Hernandez appointed him as the Police Chief of the National Police.  Juan Orlando Hernandez said of Aguilar Moran that he was "of the highest confidence".

According to a Honduran Security Ministry's Inspector General's report, in 2013, police stopped a tank truck with 780 kilograms of cocaine hidden in the tank.  The truck was on the way to a property owned by Wilter Blanco, a drug trafficker from Honduras who turned himself in to the DEA and was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison.Aguilar Moran was the chief of Police Intelligence at the time.

In 2013, Aguilar Moran was the head of the Intelligence division of the National Police.  The then Police Chief of La Ceiba, José Rolando Paz Murillo, was a known associate of Wilter Blanco, who visited Paz Murillo in his office and reportedly delivered millions of dollars in bribes to Paz Aguilar. 

The officers stopping the truck belonged to the Tourist Police in La Ceiba led by Grebil Cecilio Giron Miranda.  They had been tipped off to the truck containing cocaine by a phone call from a rival gang (Los Cachiros?) .  The truck was being escorted by 11 police officers in four vehicles.  After the truck was stopped, Giron Miranda escorted it to a local police station.  There the La Ceiba Police Chief, Paz Murillo, ordered him to release the truck and threatened to get all the officers who stopped the truck fired.

According to the report, Giron Miranda drew his gun and pointed it at Paz Murillo, made him lie on the ground, then handcuffed him.  While continuing to threaten Giron Miranda, Paz asked to make a phone call, who called Aguilar Moran, then passed the telephone to Giron Miranda.  Aguilar Moran reportedly ordered Giron Miranda to release the truck, Paz Murillo, and all those detained.

Among those involved in this case were Aguilar Moran, then Chief of Police Intelligence, the then Inspector General of the National Police, Orlin Javier Cerrato Cruz,  and Orbin Alexis Galo Maldonado, who at the time was Aguilar Moran's second in command.

The AP says that one of the officers escorting the truck was later forced to retire, but otherwise none of the involved police were punished, reportedly at the request of Blanco.  Nor was the Public Prosecutor's office informed.  Nor was the US Ambassador, Lisa Kubiske, informed. Paz Murillo is currently a judge in Roatan.

In addition to the Inspector General's report, the AP notes the event was mentioned in a page of Aguilar Moran's personnel file given to them, and corroborated by several former police officers in Honduras that they interviewed. Maria Maria Borjas, who headed the internal investigations division of the National Police until forced out, authenticated the Inspector General's report.

The Honduran Government, when asked for comment, called the report "fake".

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ponce Fonseca: Gang and Foreigners are Protesting in Honduras

General Rene Orlando Ponce Fonseca, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces, sees Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans protesting in Honduras; but not Hondurans.  I suggest he open his eyes.

On Monday, after 100,000 Hondurans marched in San Pedro Sula on Saturday to protest the fraudulent "official" results of the Honduran elections of last November, and tens of thousands marched in Tegucigalpa on Sunday for the same reason, General Ponce Fonseca gave an interview in which he said:
"These marches are infiltrated by members of criminal structures who have been joined by elements from other countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, a point that's been well established."

Lets translate that.  For "members of criminal structures" read "gang members", and for "elements from other countries" read "foreign interference".  For "a point that's been well established" read "I say so". 

So according to General Ponce Fonseca gangs and foreigners are marching in Honduras, upsetting the peace, causing violence, and hurting his soldiers by pelting them with rocks.  Bear in mind that his soldiers have automatic weapons with live ammunition and have been firing on the crowds without provocation, and to deadly effect.

To make it clear, Ponce Fonseca continued:
"The intention to maintain chaos and burn down the country are objectives that take us to another dimension which is outside of all order, but the Armed Forces are prepared to defend the people."

So protesters are not Honduran people to General Ponce Fonseca.  The Honduran people are those who are not protesting.

No wonder we see the Honduran Military Police violating the human rights of protesters all the time.