Thursday, August 29, 2013

Polling, polling, polling

We are not Nate Silver.

And the Honduran election isn't producing the wealth of polls Silver had available for the US Presidential election.

But since we are going to continue to cover Honduran presidential polls, we think we should contextualize the few available as much as possible so readers can think about what is going on with something more than the prejudices Honduran candidates, and some Honduran commentators, are bringing to bear to "interpret" polling data.

Consider this graph of support for the major candidates in all the polls we have seen since the first appeared in January (there are some smaller parties polling less than 1% but except for rhetorical interest, they clearly are out of the running):

Xiomara Castro of the Libre Party started the year in the lead over the other three major candidates, and has maintained a lead in each poll since, regardless of differences in the absolute numbers reported. That's the first take-away point.

If you look at the two CID Gallup polls, between January and May, they found Castro and Nasralla increasing their share of support, while Hernandez and Villeda-- representing the two traditional parties-- lost supporters. That's the second point: the 2009 coup has indeed changed the political landscape.

And there is one more important point to understand about the polling.

The CID Gallup poll from May stands out, with Nasralla leading Hernandez. Then in the latest Paradigma poll, three of the four leading candidates appear to decline sharply in support.

Either May to July was a politically volatile period, or the CID Gallup poll from May is not like the other polls.

There is at least one obvious difference: Paradigma reports two additional categories: No response, and none of the candidates. So does Harris/Le Vote.

CID Gallup only provides numbers for no response. Its no response category is reported to be about the same as that of the Paradigma and Harris/Le Vote polls (ranging from about 13% to 20% in the different polls).

CID Gallup is essentially making people choose between the declared candidates, or decline to respond-- but not giving them the option that the other polls have, to say they do not like anyone in the field.

Does that matter?

Take a look at the data over time from Paradigma (click to see the graph at a larger scale):

Who's in the lead? None of the Above.

And None of the Above is gaining ground steadily: from 19% in February to 26% in April and over 30% in July.

The Harris/Le Vote poll for April reported almost the same level of respondents who supported none of the existing candidates: 22%.

Our advice? compare polls from the same pollsters, not across different pollsters. Pay more attention to the trends than the absolute numbers, since different pollsters may be producing apparently greater levels of support because what they are measuring is different.

And watch out for None of the Above. While she can't be inaugurated president, whoever does end up being sworn in will face a real governing challenge with almost a third of the electorate so disconnected from the options offered.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

And They're Off: Honduran Presidential Campaign Begins

San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa are festooned with vast quantities of political campaign signs this morning as Monday marked the official start of the campaign to elect a new president, congress, and 298 municipal governments.  These signs encode the party they represent through the use of colors:  red and black for Libre, yellow and red for the Democratic Unification Party, blue for the National Party, red and white for the Liberal Party, and so on.

In the most recent poll by Paradigma, Xiomara Castro maintains her lead (although almost half the electorate expressed no support for any of the declared candidates):

Xiomara Castro                19.8%
Juan Hernandez               16.7%
Mauricio Villeda                 7.0%
Salvador Nasralla               6.2%
Andres Pavon                     0.6%
Romeo Vasquez                  0.4%
Jorge Aguilar                      0.2%
Orle Solis                           0.2%
Not reporting/Not Stated    17.5%
None of the Above             31.4%

The poll,  of 2,429 individuals in 16 departments in Honduras between July 16 and July 30, has a margin of error of 2%.  Some Honduran press sources inflated Hernandez' numbers in publishing the results, rounding him up to 17% (or more).

While candidates have, so far, said little of substance, here's a list of eight presidential candidates and the positions they've adopted:

1. Juan Orlando Hernandez - National Party.  Political pundits, who uniformly dismiss the new political parties, consider him the candidate to beat.  Hernandez championed the new military police, and has indicated that we should expect more militarization of the police should he win office.  He's been an advocate of privatization of government resources and income streams during his term as head of Congress.

2. Mauricio Villeda - Liberal Party.  After nearly half of the Liberal party left to form Libre, that left a power vacuum which was filled by the extremely conservative wing of the party, typified by the leader of the coup-installed de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, and Mauricio Villeda. Villeda has come out against corruption, and for more extradition of Hondurans involved in international organized crime.  He's against gay marriage in Honduras.  Villeda promised change in 15 years, well beyond his term limit.  Most of Villeda's attention has been on disparaging Libre and Xiomara Castro.  Villeda, third in the polls, unlike Hernandez and Castro has not seen his popularity increase in the last six months.

3. Salvador Nasralla - Anti-Corruption Party.  He's told the business community in Honduras that he believes in free enterprise, but also in them paying their taxes.  Nasralla, on being asked to sign an agreement to abide by the results of the election implied he would call the electorate to insurrection should there be indications of widespread fraud.  Nasralla has intimated that election credentials were being traded and sold, causing the legal representative of PAPH (another new party, started by former Armed Forces commander Romeo Vasquez Velasquez) to demand he prove his accusations.  Nasralla has advocated for the military to return to their barracks and to cease any policing role.

4. Xiomara Castro - Partido de Libertad y Refundación. (LIBRE),  Castro would continue with the assistance programs to poor families begun under the Lobo Sosa administration.  But instead of continuing with the neo-liberal economic policies that have been dismantling the Honduran economy and leading to greater inequality and poverty, she proposes economic policies that would dismantle the monopolies created in the last 20 years and provide equal access to capital, both from private banks, and from the government.  In addition she's open to and welcomes foreign investment and technology transfer, as long as it respects Honduran sovereignty and laws.  She would re-implement the technology bonds meant to allow campesinos to modernize their farming techniques, originally introduced under José Manuel Zelaya.  Most of all, she emphasizes that this is not a campaign about leftists and rightists:
"Those that supported the coup d'etat, the constitutional crisis, the destruction of the rule of law, the destruction of democracy accusing us of being communists and radical leftists are the only ones interested in ideologically polarizing this campaign.....We of Libre, represent exactly the opposite."
This is a swipe at Hernandez, Vasquez, and Villeda, all of whom have been accusing her of being a radical leftist who is going to bring communism into Honduras.  Castro advocated that the military be returned to their barracks and cease their policing duties.

5. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez - Honduran Patriotic Alliance (PAPH) - Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, retired head of the armed forces of Honduras and a leader of the 2009 coup, is running with a promise to provide security and halt illegal activity. He says he's running to prevent chaos and bloodshed in the country.  Vasquez was mocked during the signing of an accord to protect human rights with catcalls of "murderer" by members of two other new parties, FAPER and Libre, which caused him to claim they disrespected him and to ask what happened to human rights for those who aren't leftist.

6. Andres Pavon - Frente Amplio Político Electoral en Resistencia (FAPER) and the Unificación Democratica Party (UD).  Pavon told the Cortés Chamber of Commerce that he is for jobs, security, and dialogue.  Pavon is vocally in favor of gay marriage.  He proposed small hydroelectric dams to improve electricity generation without the population displacement and investment needed for larger projects.  He is a proponent of biodiesel to decrease Honduran imports of petroleum.  Pavon agrees with the current Plan de la Nacion (a 20 year set of goals created under the current government) but proposes they need to be updated with participatory socialism (or what got Zelaya overthrown).

7. Orle Solis - Christian Democrats. Solis has promised to modernize the government and especially to bring government aid to modernizing agricultural production.  She also promised to reduce migration to the cities

8. Jorge Aguilar - Partido de Innovación y Unidad Social Demócrata (PINU).  Aguilar promised to reduce the government deficit from 13% to 3% in 2014 by making government more efficient and modern.  He proposes that there's more government income to be had simply from improving collections of taxes (something the current government has not been able to do, leaving an estimated 40% in the hands of businesses).  Aguilar also emphasized security.

There you have it. Eight candidates, nine parties, four of them new, with the lead close between the traditional party in power and the most populist of the new parties. Under Honduran law, the top vote recipient becomes the president: no run off needed, no minimum level of popular support.

The next three months should be interesting...

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Meet the New Police, Same as the Old Police

Honduras has a new law establishing a military police force meant to police the civilian population.

Apparently Juan Orlando Hernandez, who championed this bill only after leaving the Congress to run for president, is pining for his teens and 20s because he's set Honduras to return to military control of part of the civilian police force that used to be the norm.

The military likes it because they get to appoint 5000 more troops, called up from the military reserves, and they get a bigger budget as a result as well.

General Rene Osorio Canales says the new force needs training and vetting, but will be ready in October.  (How much training can they get in a month?)

This proposal stirs up memories, and not good ones. Honduras used to have a militarized police force, called the Fuerza de Seguridad Publica. It had an awful reputation for human rights violations and corruption.  Its National Investigation Directorate [DNI in Spanish], responsible for "investigating" crimes, was useless.  They merely sat in the office and took crime reports (and solicited bribes) from victims.

It was actually worse than that.  Ineffectual in dealing with crime, the DNI was good at something: violence against the Honduran population.

Edmundo Orellano wrote in a report in 2004 that during the 1980s, the FUSEP:
Through its dependency known as the National Investigation Directorate, once the constitution [1982] was in effect, persecuted, tortured, and murdered hundreds of Honduras because they thought their ideas were dangerous for the stability of the regime.

Orellana continues:
A consequence of this conduct by the [millitary] police and the submissive attitude of the judiciary [towards that behavior] was that Honduras was condemned in the Corte Interamericana de los Derechos Humanos.

In 1993, the Honduran government took away investigative powers from its military police force and gave investigation over to the Public Prosecutor's office. Instead of hiring people who hadn't completed high school (the FUSEP model), the Public Prosecutor's office only hired those with at least a high school or college degree, to try and avoid the abuses of the past.

Orellana notes that they quickly found that it was in fact, a corrupt [millitary] police that was behind much of the crime.

This led to a political war between the military and the public prosecutor's office. 

Congress, in its political wisdom, then tried to reincorporate the investigative services back under military control, but public sentiment and some political will resulted in the investigative force being switched to reporting to the Minister of Security instead, under the direction of the Public Prosecutor.

In 1997 the national police force was formally separated from the military and put under civilian control for the first time since the 1940s. In 1998 the Honduran Congress passed a law creating and regulating the civilian national police force Honduras has today.

The new 5000 member strong police force proposed would be a military police force, not under civilian control, staffed by military reservists who are called up to serve.  They would be better paid and have better benefits than the national police according to analysts, who indicated that this will exacerbate the financial crisis in Honduras.

Jose Simon Azcona, a Liberal party congressman, says the idea for a new militarized police force came from the US Embassy, and that
the government of the United States had offered assistance, and were converting four batallions into military police under the previous administration. 

So that's 5000 new military police.

But that's not the only new police.

There also is a newly created community police force, brainchild of uber Secretary of Defense and Security Arturo Corrales.  This project, done by decree instead of by law, is to hire 4500 new civilian police starting in September of this year.

Corrales announced earlier this month that he had discovered in his first 100 days as uberMinister that there were 2,150 phantom police officers, people on the payroll collecting salaries, but who could not be located in two successive attempts at roll call.  He says they're fired, and he'll replace them in September.

The lawyers in the Public Prosecutor's office say he's wrong, and that it's more like 9000 phantom police officers.

Corrales says he's budgeted for 15, 655 positions, but there aren't that many police on the payroll.  In May there were 14,472 on the payroll, and in July there were only 12,800.  Only 9,350 police could actually be located at work in July and they weren't necessarily the same individuals as the 12,800 on the payroll. 

Adding it all up, over the next several months the Honduran government proposes to hire 9,500 new police. Paying for those police is another thing.

Corrales claims that he can hire the 4,500 new officers for the new community police from his existing budget, but that's only so if 9,350 number is the true number of police actually hired and working. 

He still has to identify and get rid of the phantom payroll.  To date he's only identified and fired some 2,000 phantom officers.

The only proposal for how to pay, equip, and house military reservists called up to take over civilian policing put forward so far is to take the cost from the security tax fund, which was put in place to provide equipment, not pay people.

But neither the bad history nor the bad economics is standing in the way of these increases. Honduran politicians want more officers on the streets. What do the Honduran people want? Why would that matter?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The National Archive of Honduras and state irresponsibility

That's the headline on an editorial by historian Edgar Soriano Ortiz published in Sunday's edition of Honduras' Tiempo.

This documentary resource, urgently important for the history of the country, was moved in 2007 to the Antigua Casa Presidencial, a building turned into a national monument and at the time designated as the home of a new center for documentary research. It began the processes Soriano Ortiz notes are urgently needed:
A process of classification and advanced digitization that would permit investigators and people interested in the assignment of legal titles to land to have access with better facilities.

Soriano Ortiz reports particular neglect of the national archives during the current administration, saying that
in the present administration the situation of the National Archive has becoming increasingly chaotic to the extent that for the past half year, the colonial document collection, that has documents from 1605, fell on the floor after the old shelving on which they were supported collapsed and the authorities of the Secretariat of Culture, Arts and Sports are stalling the topic of buying new and strong shelves on which to place this valuable national patrimony. Without doubt, someone here is visibly irresponsible, it is necessary to demand responsibility of Tulio Mariano González (the Secretary of Culture) and the rest of the officials so that they don't continue to commit such barbarities.

This neglect, he argues, is not random. The National Archives can be threatening to people in power, and he says that Honduran intellectuals have noticed a pattern of "intentional neglect" of cultural institutions under the current administration:
the institutions that safeguard the cultural patrimony and the few artistic spaces have been condemned for a long time to intentional neglect. These spaces are vital to fortify civic participation and consequently are a threat to the political and economic elites that govern the country by force.

That may sound like an extreme claim, but there has been an incredible decay of management of cultural institutions under the appointees to the Secretary of Culture and Arts position, starting with the amazingly ignorant Myrna Castro, appointed during the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti.

The pattern has been pretty clear: withdrawn support from grass-roots initiatives that supported local historians; a renewed focus on Copan, valuable as a tourist attraction, to the exclusion of support of the development of other archaeological sites as spaces for public understanding of the broader history of the nation; the lack of funding for major historic museums; all of these are part of a pattern, within which the neglect of the National Archives is a consistent piece.

Is the issue that knowledge is power, so encouraging public development of historical knowledge is threatening?

Archival documents do offer a specific opportunity that may challenge power: land documents can be used to support legal claims when land has been alienated from communities or individuals marginalized in Honduran society, such as indigenous people or the Garifuna.

Documents from the recent past were recovered from the National Hemeroteca (the newspaper archive) during the de facto regime, showing that the architects of the coup were themselves part of an earlier attempt to change the constitution to allow re-election to the presidency.

So yes, a case can be made that the neglect is a deliberate response to a sense that history can threaten the powerful.

But equally, it may simply be that appointing unqualified people to positions dealing with cultural affairs introduces management that doesn't understand that a fragile piece of paper from 1605 has any value whatsoever.

Myrna Castro clearly had no time for the past, or even for conventional forms of culture: she famously said "Fashion, too, is culture" when called on using the ministry's resources for Tegucigalpa Fashion Week in 2009.

Bernard Martinez, her successor, revealed a bizarre understanding of the very word culture, not as a shared heritage of a people, but perhaps more in line with the nineteenth century idea of culture as "cultivation", an attribute of the cultured class.

Myrna Castro's hand-picked appointee to run the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, whose expertise is in management, has shown confusion about the role of the Institute (which is to protect the cultural heritage and share knowledge with the public), describing his goals as increasing tourist visitation to Copan, before completely falling into pseudo-science with his outrageous claims that "Ciudad Blanca" is a vast and unknown city lurking in the Honduran jungle.

Curiously, Soriano Ortiz describes the neglect of the National Archives as a constant feature of modern Honduran policy, missing the opportunity to underline another possible reason for the active policy of neglect that has afflicted the cultural sector of Honduras.

In fact, during the administration of Manuel Zelaya, the Minister of Culture, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle, was a professional historian who supported all the programs that were abandoned or actively reversed by Myrna Castro and her successors.

He appointed as head of the Institute of Anthropology and History another Honduran historian, Darío Euraque, who moved the archives to its present home in the Antigua Casa Presidencial, and lost his position in part by publicly opposing the attempt to use that historic building for military reserve officers, a violation of the 1954 Convention of the Hague.

Euraque did more than just move the documents into this space. He created the Centro de Investigaciones Históricas de Honduras (CDIHH), which (among other things) began the process of digitization Soriano Ortiz notes is critically needed.

Scholars and artists called attention to the disaster in Honduran culture, publishing memos in August 2010 from Bernard Martinez, saying his ministry needed office space, and asking the director of the National Art Gallery to provide space for the National Archives.

The tragedy of the National Archives is not just collapsing shelves and foot-dragging about replacing them. It is a continued outcome of the coup of 2009.

Whether current neglect is malice, crafty policy to prevent populist use of records, or just plain ignorance, it is not just Honduras' loss: the entire world is diminished when we lose the capacity for surprise about the past that primary documents can give us.

Monday, August 5, 2013

What's "Rural" in Honduran Immigration?

In rural Honduras, the northward pull is strong

That's how the Washington Post headlined an article that, unfortunately, is unlikely to give people in the US anything other than another set of stereotypes about Honduras to add to drug violence and gang violence.

Let's start with "rural". I started the article thinking, maybe finally someone got out into Yoro to talk to people there, like the ones I worked with in the early 1990s-- before electricity arrived.

Or maybe they visited Santa Barbara, where on my first visit to the site my compadre was excavating in the early 1980s, we needed a flashlight to walk through the lightless night-time streets of the city-- the capital of the Department of Santa Barbara state.

That's rural. And there are still plenty of backwaters in Honduras where sanitation, electricity, and potable water are not routine, where cities are a long way away.

So imagine my surprise when I realized that the "rural town" here is Comayagua-- the colonial capital city, the capital of the department of Comayagua, and one of the most populous cities in the country.

I would have characterized Comayagua, located on the main highway that links San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, as urban. It's a city of approximately 60,000 residents.

The valley in which the city sits is a center of commercial agriculture, which the Millennium Challenge Corporation described in 2009 as
of the utmost importance to Honduras, agricultural and cattle breeding activities carried out in the valley stimulate the national economy; the valley is leader in the production of oriental vegetables and pickles in Honduras and Central America.

Think Dubuque, Iowa.

Rural, if by rural you mean agricultural. Not if you mean remote and antique.

But that is what the photo essay accompanying the Washington Post story seems designed to suggest. 

The first image shows a man roping a bull-- a common part of life even near San Pedro Sula, the industrial powerhouse of the country, due to a long heritage of cattle ranching. The annual Feria Juniana in San Pedro Sula centrally features cowboys riding, and a cattle show-- like any country fair anywhere in the US.

But that image set a certain tone for the representation of Comayagua, which was reinforced by images of mango vendors on the side of a road, and reached an absurd climax with a series of three images of two young men, hard at work "at the Villa San Antonio community outside Comayagua".

Pause for geography lesson: Wikipedia, to which I resort out of necessity, informs us that the Villa de San Antonio is located 20 minutes outside the city of Comayagua, has 17,000 inhabitants, and its "principal economic activities include farming, factory work, and construction". 

Back to the images: the first shows a view along the paved highway. Cars drive by-- three are visible-- but our focus is on two young men in a cart. The caption describes them as riding to work "in a typical carriage pulled by oxen".

Now, "typical" usually implies "normal": what most people might use. Ox carts, though, are actually more used for specific kinds of work than as the typical form of transportation, even in the really remote rural areas I have worked in. As early as 1955 a US news article characterized Honduras as having moved directly from ox carts to airplanes, making this an especially durable image of primitiveness applied to the country.

The second photo in the sequence shows the same two young men and describes them as working "to extract dirt from the bank of a river, which they will later sell".

So far as I know, there is no market in Honduras for dirt (as such). It is possible that these two young men were digging clay, a principal material for building adobe houses that still form an important part of the housing stock in Comayagua.

Villa San Antonio's mayor made news last year asking for funding to pave the town's streets, noting that it also needed potable water. It is exactly the kind of place where adobe houses still are the most practical option for people.

So yes, Villa San Antonio is rural, if by rural you mean: poor.

But not rural as in remote, removed from urbanization. In fact, the mayor went on to talk about the need to plan for infrastructure impacts when the military air base at Palmerola is finally rebuilt as a civilian airport. Because Palmerola (Soto Cano Airbase) is in the Villa de San Antonio.

And Villa San Antonio and the other places featured in Comayagua are not particularly central to the story of Honduran migration, anyway.

News coverage today in La Prensa today says that 52,000 deportees were returned in 2012, about 32,000 from the US.

According to authorities quoted, they came primarily came from the departments of Cortés (where San Pedro Sula is located), Francisco Morazán (where Tegucigalpa is located), Yoro and Choluteca-- the last two actually rural.  No mention of Comayagua as a leading source of Honduran would-be emigrants to the US.

Of course, this isn't really a story about Honduras. Instead, it offers another stereotype: the story of Central Americans trying to reach the US, forced by Mexican drug lords to pack drugs into the US.

The narrative on immigration is just as incoherent as its representation of Comayagua. Admitting that the total of intercepted would-be undocumented immigrants at the Mexico border is at its lowest point in 40 years-- since the 1970s-- the article seizes on the fact that a higher proportion of those still trying to enter the US are from Central America.

For Hondurans, we are told, the immigration reform bill "has nothing to offer".

That's convenient: immigration reform offers nothing for Central Americans, who are coming in a "surge of unlawful newcomers", "an exodus".

Of course, it is both a small surge and an unsuccessful exodus: of an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Hondurans trying to make it to the US in a year, we are told, more than 50,000 are deported from the US-- and what cannot be estimated is how many turned back before crossing the border.

There are real issues that could have been covered here. The portrayal of Honduran immigrants as semi-willing drug mules ignores a horrific and well documented recent history of hopeful immigrants being kidnapped by Mexican criminals and held for ransom, raped, even killed.

The Post could have followed the lead of Columbia University's Katy Orlinsky, whose reporting details the risks Honduran immigrants experience riding the Mexican rails. She documents the bias Central Americans face Mexico, where (as in the US) they are viewed as likely gang members.

Most of all, she presents these people in full humanity, wanting to "show Americans what they go through to make it to the other side" She wrote:
I worked to capture their feelings of hope and uncertainty, fear and anticipation... of the young people I met in the rail yards were brave and generous. They took care of one another. People shared food; they took turns keeping watch. They felt safe with one another.

The Post could have done something similar; the last ten photos in their essay actually tell that story, if they had been explained.

They start with images of Hondurans crossing the border with Guatemala at Corinto, on the northern coast, supposedly starting for the US. Next comes an image of a bus full of Hondurans deported from the US, at the old airport of San Pedro Sula. The two ends of the journey.

The images that follow mix two centers to support returning migrants, one at the border crossing at  Corinto, the other at the San Pedro airport.

Honduran press describes the center at Corinto in 2012 as intended to serve Hondurans deported from Mexico. Funded initially by the Red Cross, the Centro de Atención a Personas Migrantes responds to the medical needs of these Hondurans-- needs caused by the conditions that Orlinsky wrote about. The mission is one of serving people who have suffered.

The second center featured, Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado (CAMR), is one of two located at the major Honduran airports. It is supported by the Catholic Missionary Brothers of San Carlos Borromeo, along with the Honduran government and an international NGO, the International Organization for Migration. Its mission, too, is to serve:
To assist those vulnerable Hondurans who return to the country, through actions directed to attend to their immediate needs and to promote their social adaptation and integration.

Vulnerable Hondurans.

This is the real story of Hondurans attempting to make it to the US: danger, risk, and need. Not as sexy as drug running, of course.