Monday, May 23, 2016

Government Pulls Globo TV Off Cable

The Commission Nacional de Telecommunicaciones (CONATEL) issued a memo on May 20 identifying 21 broadcasters it claimed were still broadcasting despite their licenses having expired.  On that list was Globo TV owned by Alejandro Villatoro Aguilar, which since 2009 has been one of the few opposition media.  The publication of that memo served as a warning to all of them that CONATEL would begin proceedings to fine them, and if they did not begin proceedings to renew their permits, CONATEL would shut them down.  The memo ended with the clause:
"respecting at all times the constitutional guarantee to defend yourself and due process"

before listing the 21 firms which included not only Globo TV but Angeluz TV, owned by the Diocese of Copan, and another station owned by an Evangelical Church.

Due process, according to journalist David Romero, involves giving the station 10 days to either correct the fault or challenge the allegation that its deficient in some way.  Of the 21 stations mentioned in the memo, 20 of them are still on the air, not yet sanctioned.  But CONATEL choose on May 16th to sanction Globo TV and issued an order to all cable tv system operators to stop carrying their signal.

Globo TVs license expired on February 21, 2016, about the same time as its company lawyer died, so there was a delay of about a week getting a payment for the renewal to CONATEL, but that money was paid on February 29, 2016, and until the notification today, Globo TV assumed everything had been taken care of.

Friday, May 20, Romero showed a copy of the memo CONATEL sent to the cable tv operators, dated May 16th, before CONATEL issued its public memo, stating that Globo TV had not paid to renew its license and ordering all cable tv operators in Honduras to cease carrying the channel. He then showed the stamped receipts from February 29 demonstrating that Globo TV had paid the license renewal fee in the Banco Atlantida on that day.

Ebal Jair Diaz Lupian, President of CONATEL, and Secretary of the Presidential Cabinet of the Government of Honduras said "You cannot renew that which is expired."

Yet that's precisely what the CONATEL memo tells them to do according to Soraya Solabarrieta, head of the Asociación de Empresas de Telecomunicaciones (Asetel).  She argued that the CONATEL order is inconsistent, saying:
"On the one hand it orders the cable systems to take off the air the signals of those operators who are supposedly operating without permission, but on the other hand, for all of them, it gives them 10 days to submit their statements, that what they need to do is present their requests to renew their permission [to broadcast]."
Javier Daccarett signed the order to cable companies to stop carrying Globo TV.  He's the first cousin of Anna Garcia de Hernandez, the wife of the President of Honduras.

So no 10 days granted to Globo TV, no due process, no right to defend itself, and selective enforcement against only Globo TV of the 21 stations operating with allegedly expired licenses, and only hard line intransigence as a response from CONATEL.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Palmerola Airport Contract Bad for Honduras?

On March 18, 2016, President Juan Orlando Hernandez representing the Government of Honduras, and Lenir Perez, representing the bid winner, EMCO, signed a contract to build an international air terminal and supporting facilities in Soto Cano Air Base (also known as Palmerola) in Comayagua.  Such an airport is necessary since Toncontin airport in the capitol city of Tegucigalpa has a dangerous approach and short runway which cannot be lengthened.  The contract was negotiated by COALIANZA, which if past practice is any evidence, makes it suspicious.  COALIANZA has negotiated a number of contracts that are not financially good for Honduras, but great for the company receiving them.

Palmerola air base was built from nothing during the 1980s by the US military to become a staging area for air support missions for the Contra's then trying to overthrow the Sandanista government of Nicaragua.  I still remember the twice weekly flights of C5a and later C17 cargo planes landing at Ramon Villeda Morales International Airport near San Pedro Sula and offloading truckloads of military supplies and equipment onto the staging area to be ferried up to Palmerola for its construction.  Today it is a key strategic foothold of the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Latin America, and home of Joint Taskforce Bravo with an 8000 foot runway.

At the time of the signing the contract terms were not publicly disclosed, but government statements outlined some of the terms.  First, the concession period in which EMCO would have the right to operate it was 30 years.  The contract required $23 million in funding from the Honduran government, and a further $53 million provided by the government of Spain.  EMCO will supply $87 million.

However, as the contract is now before Congress for ratification, terms are becoming public that lead one to question what Honduran authorities were thinking when they signed this contract, and raise questions about whether it can be ratified, even by this Congress controlled by the National party.

Salvador Nasralla pointed out that if the government of Honduras decides to keep Toncontin airport open, even if just for flights within Honduras, it will have to pay EMCO 20 million Lempiras (about $953,000) a month until Toncontin is closed .  Eduardo Facussé noted that the concession can be automatically renewed by EMCO for an additional 30 years, making it a 60 year concession, not the 30 mentioned in the press releases.  Facussé also pointed out that the contract obligates the Honduran government to close not just Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, but also Ramon Villeda Morales airport in San Pedro Sula, or face paying even higher monthly charges to EMCO.  A financial analysis of the income from the airport indicates that EMCO will not have to pay anything to the government of Honduras for the concession until years 27 or 28.  Facussé continued:

"I'd like to be in this type of business.  I don't know what kind of advisors the President of the Republic has who have told him that this is profitable for the country....The concessionary has all the advantages; that is to say that the owner of the contract for Palmerola, and the Government has a series of [financial] obligations."

Inversiones EMCO is a subsidiary of Grupo EMCO, a company founded in 2003 in Honduras.  It consists of a number of subsidiaries (Alutech, EMCO Mining, Inversiones EMCO, Constructora EMCO).Company owner  Lenir Perez is the son-in-law of Miguel Facussé, who before his recent death was the richest man in Honduras.  Perez is married to Ana Isabel Facussé.  Its subsidiary, EMCO mining began operations in San Pedro, Tocoa, Olancho in April of this year without the permission of the communities in which the mine resides, a clear violation of Honduran law.
 Another mining subsidiary, Minerales Victoria, with an iron mine in Nueva Esperanza, Atlantida has a history of human rights violations.  Perez's firm admits it kidnapped two international observers in 2014 and threatened their lives.

If Eduardo Facussé's statements about the clauses of the contract are correct, one wonders what President Hernandez's advisors were thinking in advising him to sign such a disadvantageous contract, but then, it was negotiated by COALIANZA, so we should have expected that.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Curious Case of General Leandro Osorio

Is the Honduran Police Cleanup Commission suspending the wrong people?  Today it announced it would suspend two of the current police Generals:  Jose Ricardo Ramirez del Cid and Ramon Sabillón Pineda,  Ramirez del Cid stands accused of having been one of the conspirators in the murder of drug czar Aristides Gonzalez.  Ramon Sabillón stands accused of covering police participation in that crime up.

The Commission announced it had reviewed, and would continue to employ Generals Felix Villanueva, Quintin Antonio Juarez, and Hector Ivan Mejia.

The Commission also announced the (forced) retirement of Generals Elder Madrid Guerra, Javer Leopoldo Flores and Jose Leandro Osorio.  These three, it said in its press release, were simply no longer needed since their positions were being eliminated in the restructuring of the National Police.

Leandro Osorio has no accusations against him.  In Osorio's case they're forcing him into retirement after 32 years of service claiming they have no place for him in the new proposed structure of the National Police.  Osorio told the press in Honduras that he has felt "professionally pursecuted" ever since he arrested the Colombian Reuben Dario Pinella in La Iguala in July of 2013 (see our previous post for more details).  General Ramon Sabillón also referred to that case in statements to the public, saying that one of the Valle Valle family told him that President Hernandez's brother, Jose Antonio Hernandez Alvarado, was the link between Alexander Ardon and his El Paraiso, Copan based transportista drug cartel, and their funding of the National Party election campaign in 2013.  Tony Hernandez's law office defended the Colombian, who was released by the judge in the case at the first hearing, and a later investigation showed that some $150,000 in bribes had been paid out to cause that release.

In January of this year, Osorio was stripped of his command of the police on the north coast of Honduras and reassigned to a diplomatic posting outside of Honduras.  Osorio told the Honduran press:
"I was notified of the change because the criminal structures didn't want me here, structures that have been strengthening that don't want me there."

On April 14 of this year, when it appeared as if all of the 32 officers commanding the National Police would be forced into retirement, Osorio told El Tiempo :
"There is no institution of the State that is vaccinated against corruption in Honduras; we all need to be cleaned up....those that are connected will stay, those that aren't will leave the National Police, that is to say those that don't have godfathers will leave."
Clearly Osorio wasn't connected as he's now out of a job.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Brother of The Man

We've written about this before, but the story has today come back to life with new details, new accusations.  Ramon Sabilllon Pineda, who as head of the National Police helped dismantle the Valle Valle Cartel in Honduras, says that at least one of the Valle Valle family members told him that there were 15 currently serving politicians whose campaigns were funded by the drug traffickers in Honduras.  Sabillón indicated both the Liberal and National Parties political campaigns were funded by the narco-cartels.  Sabillón stated that the National Party contact for drug funding was Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernandez Alvarado, a.k.a. "el hermano de El Hombre", the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado.  Sabillón also ties Tony Hernandez to the ex-mayor of El Paraiso Alexander Ardon, a competitor with the Valle Valle family for control of the drug trade in western Honduras.

Sabillon provided the following transcript to Globo TV during an on-camera interview two days ago:

Drug Trafficker:  This arrest, its it because of politics?
Sabillón: What are you referring to?  The arrest warrant was carried out quickly. 
Drug Trafficker: Yes, General, I finance the Liberal Party and I'm pursued because I'm a Liberal. 
Sabillón: Finance what?  Finance political campaigns?  give t-shirts?  What do you finance?
Drug Trafficker: Yes, political campaigns, General.  But why do you not do anything with the Cartel of the National Party, or the Cartel of the Conservatives (cachurecos)? 
Sabillón: Tell me a name.
Drug Trafficker: The Mayor of El Paraiso, Copan, Chagel Ardon and the brother who works with him.
Sabillón: Whose brother?
Drug Trafficker: The brother of The Man
Sabillón: Which man?
Drug Trafficker: You already know the Man I'm talking about.

We know now, two days later, that the "Drug Trafficker" was one of the Valle Valle family, captured by Sabillon's police and later extradited to the US.  We also know now that the drug cartels are financing the political campaigns of both the Liberal and National parties in Honduras.  All of the Honduran cartel's closed down in the last two years were those that were financing the Liberal party:  the Valle Valle, Chepe Handal, and the Rivera Maradiaga cartels.

The "brother of The Man", Tony Hernandez, was elected to Congress in the same year his brother was elected President, the election of 2013.  Tony is a lawyer, and as such defended two Colombians who were caught, twice, growing opium poppies, marijuana, and with a lab for processing cocaine and heroin in La Iguala, Lempira, in 2013, during the election campaign.  The Colombians, Reuben Dario Pinilla and Freddy Roland Jiménez, were captured for the second time on July 25, 2013 in La Iguala.  They had entered Honduras illegally, and had false identification papers.  They were both captured on the property that housed a drug lab, and had four greenhouses with opium poppy seedlings growing in them.  Fields with opium poppies and marijuana plants were found on the property as well.  With the law office of Tony Hernandez representing them, the Colombians were released by the judge hearing the case at the initial hearing, before any evidence had been heard.  After they were released, the Colombians fled the country.  A later investigation which went no where, none-the-less found that several people, including the judge, had split about $150,000 in bribes. 

In addition to his legal office, Tony Hernandez is a National Party member, a Congress person for the Department of Lempira, elected in 2013.  He serves as the head of the Congressional Commission on Development and Social Protections.  Along with his sister Hilda Hernandez , he owns the Hotel Posada de Don Juan in Gracias, Lempira.  Hilda Hernandez is the Minister of Communications for her other brother, the President, Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Alexander Ardon  and his brother Alfredo are the leaders of the "AA Brothers Cartel", as Honduran Intelligence named it.  They were rivals of the Valle Valle cartel, and controlled the drug trade in much of the Departments of Copan and Ocotepeque for the Sinaloa Cartel.  Alfredo was well connected in the National Party.  He helped run the party's campaign in 2013 in Western Honduras, and after the election was re-appointed to the commission that allocates funding to road building ("Fondo Vial") before disappearing in 2014.  His brother Alexander also disappeared in 2014, just before the raids on the Valle Valle family.  In 2015 there were rumors that the AA brothers had negotiated with the DEA to turn themselves in, but the rumors turned out to be false.

The allegation that Tony Hernandez is the National Party's connection to drug money for financing campaigns is not new.  Its been discussed in some of the Honduran press since the Colombian's captured in-flagrante were released without a real hearing.  Sabillón is the first high government official to give voice to the claim, for which he is now suspended from the police.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Enacting Impunity

Oscar Alvarez Guerrero, current head of the National Party but previously the Security Minister for Porfirio Lobo Sosa and enactor of the "mano dura" approach to gangs may not mean to, but is enacting impunity.

For the last month Honduras has been coping with leak after leak about corruption within the National Police, culminating in the El Heraldo and New York Times stories naming the police who organized and murdered two high government officials, drug czar Julian Aristides Gonzalez and consultant to the polivce investigating drug trafficking, Alfredo Landaverde.

Among those who have been publicly named is Oscar Alvarez.  The Public Prosecutor's office has been, and continues to be slow to act on this information, preferring to "investigate the veracity of the leaked documents" instead of taking action to talk to those implicated.  But today, the Public Prosecutor's office had cited Oscar Alvarez to appear to make a statement and answer questions.

Alvarez sent his lawyer, Jaime Banegas, to tell the Public Prosecutor that "because he was a high government official, they should take his testimony at his home, at the day and hour he chooses." Alvarez told the press:
"I can't be cited because I don't have anything to do with the case."

The message is clear.  "I'm too important, and too busy running the National Party and being a Congress person to be interviewed by a bunch of lawyers investigating murder;" emphasis on "important".  That's not only arrogant, but basically tells everyone that impunity is alive and well with the political elite in Honduras. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Violating the Constitution with Impunity

Violating the Honduran constitution is just another day's work for the Juan Orlando Hernandez administration.  Yesterday the President named a 3 person panel that has the authority to carry out the re-organization of the National Police with the goal of firing those who are corrupt.  Among those named was Pastor Alberto Solorzano, head of the major Evangelical Churches Federation in Honduras, and chief pastor in the Centro Cristiano Internacional (CCI), an evangelical church headquartered in Maryland, or maybe Florida depending on which website you visit, in addition to various regional centers scattered across central and south America.

President Hernandez himself announced the commission yesterday; naming Omar Rivera, Vilma Morales, and Alberto Solorzano to the commission.   Rivera is one to two people Hernandez turns to when he needs any semblance of public involvement.  Morales is an ex-Supreme Court justice currently serving as head of the bank oversight commission.  She was intimately involved in the coup government.  Pastor Solorzano is president of the Confraternidad Evangelica, the group to which you must belong to be a legal evangelical church in Honduras, and is the head pastor of the CCI evangelical Church branch in Tegucigalpa.

Here's the problem with naming an active pastor to this position.  Its a violation of article 77 of the Honduran constitution, which reads in part:
The ministers of the different religions may not hold public office ("cargos públicos")....

Further, immediately after the announcement, Edmundo Orellana pointed out that there was a problem with the naming of Solorzano in that it violated the constitution.  Today the government responded to Orellana, saying through its mouthpiece, Reinaldo Sanchez, that "we should be optimistic its not even been 24 hours since these citizens were sworn in..."  Sanchez went on to argue that the church has always played a role in resolving political crises in Honduras, and "in his case [Solorzano's], we need to recognize his active participation and struggle on distinct themes".  Sanchez went on to say:
"We cannot put aside the participation of people like Solorzano, as president of the Confraternidad Evangelica he will provide an important accompaniment to the Commission"

Sanchez continued, by calling all those who see Solorzano's participation as invalid to instead by positive about his appointment since he raises his daily prayers that his work that they are doing to clean up the police, is done in the best manor, and all Hondurans should be united in this task.

Notice how Sanchez deflected the comment by totally failing to deal with the fact that Solorzano is an active minister in a church by citing his role as President of the Confraternidad Evangelica as if that was the only job Solorzano has.

Hernandez did the same thing when he spoke to defend appointing Solorzano.  Hernandez said:
"The image I've accumulated through many years of  the Confraternidad Evangelica and Pastor Alberto Solorzano is of determined people contributing with their actions, to build a different Honduras."

Hernandez deliberately avoided mentioning the constitutional objections to Solorzano's appointment, and even went on to suggest the Catholic Church in Honduras would be appointing its own representative to the commission.

The appointment of Alberto Solorzano to the public commission to clean up the National Police is a violation of the Honduran constitution.  The Hernandez government doesn't care about the constitution, and as of now, it has a Supreme Court that will authorize anything that it does.   And the US government wholeheartedly supports him.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Naming The One Not Named

Rene Maradiaga Panchamé is the name I think you're looking for, the one omitted from the press reports from Honduras about a Honduran National Police commander who carried out the hit on the Honduran Drug Czar.

Yesterday the Honduran paper, El Heraldo, released a story and photos of an investigative report internal to the National Police in Honduras that names "El Señor Director de Servicios Especiales de Investigacion, Commissionado General " as the organizer of the assassination plot that killed then Honduran Drug Czar General Julián Arístides González Irias on the 8th of December, 2009.  Then security Minister Oscar Alvarez claims to have never seen this investigative report.  The then head of the National Police, Jose Luis Muñoz Licona, made a similar claim.  The last date stamped on the report itself is 2010 when it was received by the Inspector General of the National Police.

That blanked out name appears to belong to René Maradiaga Panchamé, who was listed in multiple contemporary press reports as the Director of Special Investigations of the Police (here, here, for example) in late 2009.

This is not entirely a surprise.

René Maradiaga Panchamé was a former member of Battalion 316, the notorious intelligence group that disppeared more than 300 Hondurans in the 1980s.  Battalion 316 was founded in 1979 by General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, himself trained at the School of the Americas and in Argentina.

The Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a report in 2002 called "Los Hechos hablan por si mismos:  informe preliminar sobre los desaparacidos en Honduras 1980-1993".  In it, on page 474, a declassified Honduran military document from the Commander of the Armed Forces, announces the appointment of the command structure for Battalion 316 for 1987.  Maradiaga Panchame was appointed to the battalion with the title "Jefe de Equipo Movil No. I".

This was the time of Iran-Contra scandal during the Regan presidency, when the CIA was funneling arms to the Contras to fight the Sandanistas and using cocaine and other illegal trade to fund the operations.  Maradiaga Panchame was joined at this time, by Napoleon Nazar Herrera, who was named "Jefe, Secretaria de Apoyo y Servicio" of the unit, whose name appears in the same list naming Maradiaga Panchame a member.  Here he would have become familiar with, and maybe involved in the drug trade between Nicaragua and Honduras which originated from the CIA program to finance and arm the Contras in Honduras.

In December, 2009, after the coup, he was appointed by coup leader Roberto Micheletti Bain, along with many of his Battalion 316 co-workers to command positions within the National Police. 

In October of 2012, Panchame Maradiaga, and Salomon Escoto Salinas were two of the more than 99 high ranking police commanders who were put on leave, paid but with no assignment.  They failed one or more of the confidence tests being used to weed out corrupt officers.  Others, like Luis Muñoz Licona and Ricardo Ramon del Cid were suspended.  These last two were in charge of the police when Alfredo Landaverde was murdered in Tegucigalpa in December 2011, and recent news accounts in Honduras suggest they organized his murder.  They were also in charge when the University Rector, Julietta Castellanos's son and another university student were murdered by the National Police.  The same two commanders were suspended because they protected the perpetrators of the murder and allowed them to escape from custody.

We know that by 2012 Maradiaga Panchamé was publicly reported as leader of Los Magnificos, a drug operation bringing drugs through Honduras from Nicaragua while still a member of the National Police.  We believe that today Los Magnificos would be operating as part of the Zetas cartel.  His drug trafficking contact was "Chepe" Luna (Jose Natividad Luna Pereira), a well known trafficker who worked the southern Honduran drug routes across Choluteca, with whom Maradiaga Panchamé was good friends. Luna ran Los Perrones, a transportista drug gang in El Salvador.
 
In 2013 the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas found that Maradiaga Panchamé had wealth that he could not account for.  It made a similar finding for his fellow Police Commander and former Battalion 316 member Napoleon Nazar Herrera.

2014 is an interesting year.   In January, Maradiaga Panchamé was one of many of the high ranking police commanders who resigned unexpectedly, and before they had completed the normal 35 years of service.  In May it appeared as if he had been arrested and released, but he told the Honduran press that he'd just been in Police headquarters doing business as part of the Police Hospital program.  On June 25, 2014 Chepe Luna was assassinated in Comayaguela.

So this is the name you're not allowed to know in Honduras, René Maradiaga Panchamé, because it might endanger the non-existent investigation.