Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fewer Murders

For the last two years Honduras has been the murder capital of the world, far outstripping any other country, but that is changing.  

This year, Venezuela will close out the year with the highest frequency in the world, with 82 murders per 100.000 population. 

Honduras, on the other hand, will show its first major reduction in homicides in the last 3 years.  According to the Observatorio de Violencia of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, Honduras will end the year with a murder rate of 67 to 69 per 100,000 population.

That, according to the Observatorio de Violencia director Migdonia Ayestas, is a reduction of 10-12 murders per 100,000 population.  In 2013 the Observatorio de Violencia reported that Honduras had a murder rate of 79 per 100,000 population.  To reduce that to 67-69 per 100,000 population is real progress.

This, however, is only a start.  The UN considers a murder rate of less than 8.8 per 100.000 population to be the goal for protecting citizens against violence.  Honduras has a long way to go to reach that.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Falsified Supreme Court Decision

On November 25th the Constitutional branch of the Honduran Supreme Court emitted a ruling finding the government responsible for defaulting on a payment to a Honduran pharmaceutical company, and ordering it to pay immediately 126 million lempiras.

Or did they?

On December 3 of this year, the Honduran press covered the release of a Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court legal decision, upholding a lower court ruling that the government of Honduras owed Farmasula S.A. de C.V. 126 million lempiras (about $6 million) based on the government defaulting on a payment of about 61.5 million lempiras (about $2.9 million)  to the company.

The order was "signed" by Justices Silvia Trinidad Santos Moncada (president of the Constitutional branch of the Supreme Court), Jose Elmer Lizardo Carranza, Jorge Alberto Rivera Aviles, Tomas Arita Valle, Reina Sagrario Solarzano Juarez, and Lidia Estela Cardona Padilla.

Now, there are several problems with this order.  First, it supposedly has six signatures of justices, but each branch of the Honduran Supreme Court consists of five justices, not six.  Where did that sixth justice come from?

Second, there are the names of several justices there that don't ordinarily belong on a Constitutional branch opinion.  I refer of course to justices Alberto Rivera Aviles, Tomas Arita Valle, and Reina Sagrario Solarzano Juarez.  They are not listed as members of the Constitutional branch, and so could come to sign an opinion there only if some of the assigned justices were absent.

This turns out to be the case.  Three of the justices assigned to the case, Lidia Estela Cardona Padilla, German Padilla, and Victor Lozano, were out of the country the day the case was supposedly decided, attending a judicial seminar.

By being out the country with her colleagues at a judicial seminar, Lidia Estela Cardona Padilla could not have participated in any debate or signed the decision on November 25th.  She flat out denies that her legitimate signature appears on the document.

The accuracy of the order is supposedly guaranteed by the signature and seal of Carlos Alberto Almendarez Calix, secretary of the Constitutional branch.  Did he goof and add her name to the list of signatories?

But more importantly, why was this case, which had been tabled for further study and not scheduled to be decided, suddenly brought up and replacement justices assigned while the three normal members of the Constitutional branch were out of the country attending a legal seminar? 

Someone needs to ask Justice Silvia Santos Moncada that question.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Honduras's Millennium Challege Scorecard, 2015 Edition.

Honduras once again failed to resolve issues that prevent it from obtaining a Millennium Challenge Compact from the US Government.  Honduras failed to score a passing grade on 10 criteria, though not the same 10 criteria it failed to score a passing grade on last year.  These yearly scorecards determine a country's eligibility for a Millennium Challenge Compact.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) uses what it describes as"objective and quantifiable policy in­dicators in three broad policy categories: Ruling Justly, Investing in People, and Encouraging Economic Freedom".  These broad areas are broken down into several measures in each area, each listed with the third party that developed and scored the countries.
Ruling Justly
     Civil Liberties (Freedom House)
     Political Rights (Freedom House)
     Control of Corruption (World Bank/Brookings Institution WGI)
     Government Effectiveness (World Bank/Brookings Institution WGI)
     Rule of Law (World Bank/Brookings Institution WGI)
     Freedom of Information (Freedom House / FRINGE Special/ Open Net Initiative)
Investing in People
     Immunization Rates (World Health Organization and UNICEF)
     Public Expenditure on Health (World Health Organization)
     Girls’ Education (UNESCO)
     Primary Education Completion (Scorecard LICs)
     Secondary Education Enrolment (Scorecards LMICs)
     Public Expenditure on Primary Education (UNESCO)
     Child Health (CIESIN and YCELP)
     Natural Resource Protection (CIESIN and YCELP)
Encouraging Economic Freedom
     Business Start-Up (IFC)
     Land Rights and Access (IFAD and IFC)
     Trade Policy (Heritage Foundation)
     Regulatory Quality (World Bank/Brookings Institution WGI)
     Inflation (IMF WEO)
     Fiscal Policy (IMF WEO)
     Access to Credit (IFC)
     Gender in the Economy (IFC)
This set of criteria was adopted in 2012. 

The Millennium Challenge Corporation board then selects five countries from those that receive passing scores on all indicators and allows them to develop a compact, based on available moneys allocated by the US Congress.  These compacts can be worth up to $250 million to a country.  In addition, a few countries each year get a 1-3 year grant called a Threshold grant designed to help them improve their score where they fall below the 50% threshold.  Threshold grants are $10-$30 million.

In August, 2013 Honduras received a 3 year, $15.6 million,  Threshold grant to "to improve public financial management and create more effective and transparent public-private partnerships."  This program had a number of concrete programs designed to improve Honduras's scores in several areas:
Public Financial Management
     1. Budget and Treasury Management
     2. Improve Procurement Capacity, Planning, and Controls
     3.  Improve the Capabilities of the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas
     4. Grants to Civil Society Organizations to Foster Accountability
Public - Private Partnerships
     1. Enhance COALIANZA's capabilities to Select, Finance, and Manage Risk.
     2. Fund Fundación para la Inversión y Desarrollo de Exportaciones to provide government solutions supported by user fees and manage exports through an eregulations.org government platform.
Depending on the statistic, the years 2012 and 2013 form the baseline for evaluating the effectiveness of the Threshold program. 

The 2013 scorecard forms the basis of assigning Honduras to the Threshold program, so lets look at the areas where Honduras was deficient (below average) on that scorecard and see what's happened since then. 

Under the rubric of scoring Economic Freedom, the MCC uses a number of indicators.  Honduras in 2013 had deficient scores (below the median score) in four of them:  Fiscal Policy, Gender in the Economy, Land Rights and Access, and Business Start-Ups.  In 2013 Honduras scored a 50% in Fiscal Policy.  That meant that 50% of the countries scored better, and 50% scored worse than Honduras.  Its ranking on this criterion worsened in 2014, to 46% and plunged on the 2015 scorecard to 26%.  That plunge can directly be attributed to the economic policies of the Porfirio Lobo Sosa government, whose last year in office forms the basis of the 2015 score.  The Threshold program has not yet had a chance to affect this indicator.

Honduras was deficient in 2013 in women's participation in the economy, called Gender in the Economy.  Here Honduras started with a score of 21% on the 2013 scorecard, improved its score in 2014 to 41% then saw its score decline again in 2015 to 37%.  No Threshold grant goals sought to address this criterion.

Land rights and Access was another criterion where Honduras was deficient.  Here Honduras began 2013 with a score of 32% and saw it decline on the 2014 scorecard to 23%.  On the 2015 scorecard it improved slightly to 25%.  No Threshold grant goals seek to address this criterion.

The final Economic Freedom indicator where Honduras was deficient was in Business Start-Ups.  In 2013 Honduras scored 28%.  That improved to 50% on the 2014 scorecard, but decreased to 43% on the 2015 scorecard.  No Threshold grant goals addressed this criterion.

Honduras was also judged deficient in Girls Secondary Education Enrollment Rate.  Here Honduras began with a score of 16% and actually managed to improve it in the 2014 and 2015 scorecards, so that in the latest scorecard its 31%, nearly double what it was two years ago.  Still there's a lot of room for improvement here.  No Threshold grant money had improving this indicator as a goal.

Under the rubric of Investing in People, Honduras had two areas of concern:  Girl's Secondary Education Enrollment Rate and Children's Health.  Honduras scored 16% on the 2013 scorecard in Girl's Secondary Education Enrollment Rate.  This continued to improve in 2014, where Honduras scored 22% and 2015 where Honduras scored 31%.  Children's Health scored 43% in 2013 but improved to good levels in 2014 and 2015 (56% in each) and is not currently an area of concern.  By comparison, another criterion, the Immunization Rate, became of concern in 2014 and continues to be of concern as Honduras's ranking plummets.  Honduras scored 87% on the 2013 scorecard.  It scored 44% on the 2014 scorecard, and 37% on the 2015 scorecard.  No Threshold grant goals address any of these three criteria.

Under the rubric of Ruling Justly, the MCC found Honduras deficient in four of the six criteria in 2013:  Freedom of Information, Government Effectiveness, Rule of Law, and Control of Corruption.  Honduras scored just 28% in Freedom of Information on the 2013 scorecard.  Its score has decreased on each subsequent scorecard to 27% in 2014 and 21% in 2015.  Government Effectiveness follows the same trajectory.  Honduras scored 44% on the 2013 scorecard, and its score declined in each subsequent scorecard, to 27% in 2014, and 25% in 2015.  The criterion Rule of Law scored 44% on the 2013 scorecard, but only 4% on the 2014 scorecard, and 7% on the 2015 scorecard.  Finally, in Control of Corruption, Honduras scored only 16% on the 2013 scorecard, 15% on the 2014 scorecard, and 21% on the 2015 scorecard.  The Threshold grant was designed to affect both the Government Effectiveness and Control of Corruption criteria, but because these measures only reflect the years of the Porfirio Lobo Sosa government, it has yet to show any results.

So Honduras is still deficient in 10 criteria though not the same 10 criteria that were deficient in 2013.  Child Health was eliminated as a concern, and Immunization Rates became a concern during the last two years.  The Threshold grant has yet to be able to show any results, but that is to be expected.  The scorecard has yet to report on years in which the Threshold Grant was active.  Honduras's deficiencies are directly attributable to the Porfirio Lobo Sosa government's actions, not the drug trade, not gangs.

Whether the Hernandez government can use the Threshold grant to turn some of these scores around remains to be seen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dueling Murder Rates

Good News.  Honduras's murder rate has fallen significantly, though the magnitude of the drop depends on who you believe.  The Security Minister reports a homicide rate of 65.55 per 100,000 population, or 15.67 murders per day.  The Observatorio de Violencia, indicates that Honduras is on track to have a murder rate of 71.82 per 100,000, or 17.17 per day.  Still, either of these rates lets Honduras remain the murder capital of the world for nations not a war.

The difference again comes down to what you count as a murder.  Arturo Corrales, the Security Minister, changed the definition of murder back in 2013 to require both a police report and a coroner's report indicating the case is a homicide.  Corrales claims he was just following the recommendations of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB0 on how to construct a comparable murder statistic between countries.  See our previous posting on this topic for a link to that IADB "standard".  We point out in that post some of the shortcomings of the standard.

The Observatorio de Violencia, on the other hand, gathers both the police reports and the coroner's reports and reconcile the two.  There are bodies that lack a police report but have a coroner's report.  There are bodies that have a police report but no coroners report.  The Observatorio, using internationally recognized techniques attempts to determine based on the information available, if those bodies represent a homicide, and if so, include it in their statistics.

The difference so far this year is 623 bodies in the first half of the year that the Security Ministry does not recognize as homicides because they lack a coroner's report.  The Director of the National Police, Ramon Sabillon,  told El Heraldo that until there's a coroner's report the body cannot be incorporated into his database.  His database is the Sistema Estadistico Policial en linia (SEPOL), the official public face of crime statistics in Honduras.

Then too, there's confusion among the official government sources about how many homicides there have been in the first half of 2014.  FUSINA, the inter-institutional police force (combined military and police) says 2442 murders in the first half of the year, while the Police report 2720 homicides.  The coroner's office reports 2442 homicides.

Still, despite the innumeracy of the Honduran government, this is good news.  Murders are decreasing, though slowly. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Cartel del Pacifico Network in Guatemala Linked to Honduras

As I was writing the previous three posts outlining what is known about the Honduran side of the drug trade, the Guatemalan newspaper, El Periodico, was reporting on the Guatemalan connections of the Valle Valle family.  The central focus in Guatemala is on José Manuel Lopez Morales, alias El Ché, a drug trafficker identified by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as the main Valle Valle connection in Guatemala.

On September 27, 2014, Guatemalan security forces and the DEA raided a variety of homes and businesses in Chiquimula, Guatemala, looking for José Manuel Lopez Morales.  Lopez Morales, they contend, is linked to a number of other known drug traffickers and transportistas believed to control the drug trade from along the Honduran border into Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador.  The raids failed to capture Lopez Morales, although they did capture both his wife, Deidy Gisleny Nufio Franco, and one of his bodyguards.

Lopez Morales is the nephew of the mayor of Chiquimula, Mario Rolando Lemus Martinez, whom the DEA has identified as being in charge of the logistics of the drug trade in the region.  Lopez Morales is also alleged by the DEA to be the godson of an unnamed town official in San Jose La Arada, near Chiquimula.  In addition, Lopez Morales has benefited from the political support of the Mayor of Concepcion, Las Minas, Juan Banegas.  In the communities around Chiqiumula, El Periodico reports that Lopez Morales is said to be helpful in funding social projects, and this includes having the arena in San Jose Ermita named after him.  Further, Lopez Morales was connected with the owner of a bus line that runs from the Honduran border crossing near Ocotepeque, Honduras, to Quezaltepeque, Guatemala.  That bus line is said to have hidden caches in the buses where drugs are smuggled within Guatemala.

Without looking at a map, its not immediately evident that these towns named above are all strategically located for the transhipment of drugs from Honduras into Guatemala and El Salvador.  San Jose Ermita is located along the road between Copan Ruinas, in Honduras, and Chiquimula.  San Jose La Arada is located along the route from Chiquimula to El Salvador, passing through the Ipala region.  Concepcion Las Minas is near Esquipulas, on the border of a large forest preserve along a highway that leads into El Salvador.  Quezaltepeque is located along the road that runs from Ocotepeque, Honduras, further into Guatemala, or over into El Salvador.

El Periodico reported that some in Guatemala believe the Valle Valle family articulated with the Cartel de Ipala, who run the drug trade in Guatemala's Jutiapa Department, along the Salvadoran border, but the Guatemalan Interior Minister, Mauricio López Bonilla, in a recent statement to the press indicated that Lopez Morales was the Valle Valle family's contact in Guatemala.

Lopez Morales reportedly escaped the DEA raid by hiding in one of 10 ambulances seen cruising the roads around Chiquimula all day with their sirens on; an unusual sight.  Because they had their sirens on, they were not detained by the police roadblocks, and Lopez Morales escaped.  He's said to have gone to the owner of the bus company mentioned above to have himself smuggled into Honduras.

While what El Periodico reports is sketchy, what they seem to be reporting is a Guatemalan crime family with ties to one or more transportista families.  The article briefly mentions cartels in adjacent parts of Guatemala.  The Ipala cartel tranships drugs from El Salvador into Mexico's Pacific Coast, and moves some drugs from Guatemala into El Salvador.  The Rodriguez cartel, mentioned as controlling the drug trade around Bodegas and Zacapa, moves drugs into Belize and the Guatemalan Peten.

What's beginning to emerge in both Guatemala and Honduras is an image of a number of small, territorial families linked to moving drugs from specific counterparts further along the path to the United States.  As drug interdiction succeeds in Honduras, there will be smaller and smaller amounts to move, leading to competition and consolidation of these crime families.  This particular network works for the Cartel del Pacifico (formerly the Sinaloa Cartel).

Stay tuned for even more violence.

A Zeta Network in Guatemala with Links to Honduras

Honduran security forces arrested Héctor Emilio Fernández Rosa, wanted for extradition to the United States on drug charges.  Fernández Rosa, a Honduran born in La Entrada, Copan, has been linked to the Zetas by the DEA.  He is alleged to operate as a transportista along the Honduran Guatemalan border, moving drugs from Playitas, Florida, Copan to the Peten in Guatemala.  Members of the Tropa de Inteligencia y Grupos de Respuesta Especial (TIGRES), along with the DEA, suprised Fernández Rosa in his home in El Hatillo, north of Tegucigalpa.

According to the Prensa Libre of Guatemala in 2012, Fernández Rosa was linked to various actors in the Zeta network in Guatemala, including Otto Herrera (extradited to the US), Jorge Paredes (captured in Honduras in 2008 and wanted in the US), Waldemar Lorenzana (patriarch of the Lorenzana crime family in Guatemala in charge of moving the Zeta's drugs from Honduras into Mexico), Elio Lorenzana (being extradited to US from Guatemala), Brian Linares (a member of Otto Herrera's group), and Mario Ponce (captured in Honduras and extradited to the US).

This is a lucrative business.  The DEA was able to reconstruct over 552 financial transactions, over $10 million, between 2007 and 2010 for Mario Ponce alone.

Because of all of the above captures, the Guatemalan side of the business has been in a constant state of flux, reorganizing as each person was captured.  Investigations last year in Guatemala determined that Jorge Ponce Rodriguez, brother of Mario Ponce, is currently in charge of this crime family and has recruited six others.  Hector Emilio Fernández Rosa is his Honduran contact moving drugs through blind border crossings between the Department of Cortes in Honduras, and the Department of Izabal in Guatemala, and from there into the Peten in Guatemala.

Jorge Ponce Rodriguez in turn, is working with Horst Walter Overdick Mejia around Lake Peten Itza  and Coban, Verapaz, to move the drugs closer to Mexico.  Overdick Mejia has been receiving weapons and training from the Zetas since 2008.  Ponce uses aircraft to move drugs within Guatemala, and has several pilots known to be working for him.  It appears that at least some part of his organization also moves drugs into Spain, where he owns several companies.

Its worth pointing out that Jorge Ponce Rodriguez is credited with being the drug cartel running the territory adjacent to José Manuel Lopez Morales discussed in a previous post.  Together these two control the entire Guatemalan side of the Honduran-Guatemalan border region, a region with at least 45 known blind crossings.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Organization of the Honduran Drug Trade (Part 3 of 3)

In the first two installements of this series, we discussed examples of what a September 2012 UN report called a territorially-based crime group and a transportista crime group in Honduras.

The third kind of group involved in the international drug trade are what the UN calls tumbadores, disruptive groups that prey on crime families and transportistas opportunistically, to take their drug shipments and sell them to others.

Tumbadores often form from territorial groups, like crime families. In addition to hijacking shipments of drugs, they may also extort the transportistas who must cross their territory to move drugs along, and they may contribute to street crime.

In Honduras, Los Grillos, a group operating near La Ceiba, have been identified as tumbadores.  They've been competing for territory with Los Pelones, also headquartered in La Ceiba. That conflict generated over 373 firearm caused homicides in the first half of 2011 in La Ceiba.

Both groups are said to operate by trying to hijack drug shipments traveling from eastern Honduras through the La Ceiba area. They have reportedly heavily infiltrated the police in La Ceiba, and carried out contract killings on reporters in the La Ceiba region, including reporter David Meza Montesinos, who was broadcasting exposés on police corruption in La Ceiba when murdered.

More recently Los Grillos have expanded into the Bay Islands of Honduras, particularly Roatan where they're following the drug traffic in coastal waters.

Not included in these three main categories are street gangs, the Maras. The UN report concludes that they "have little connection to the transnational drug trade, and focus primarily on extortion and other local power struggles".  This goes against a powerful representation popular with the Honduran (and some international) media that links the street gangs and drug traffickers together.

The Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Mara Calle 18 are territorial organized crime units. but are not usually classified as organized crime units because their focus is not financial gain. They provide small amounts of security and distribute money to friends and family, but make no pretense of serving a broader public good as do the crime families.

Their territorial control is about identity, respect and their place in the world, according to the UN report.  This focus on identity causes them at times to work against their financial interests, feuding with others over symbolic incursions.

They are trans-national, but not organized trans-nationally.  They are present across the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, but there is no central leadership that coordinates what each member organization is doing.  Both gangs operate as small territorial units, cliques, that control or dispute a small local territory.  Some analysts suggest there is a national structure made up of the leadership of the largest cliques. Both may have cliques that make opportunistic alliances across international boundaries but outside of this, there is no international coordination of activities.

While neither Mara is a major player in the international drug trade, both are involved in local distribution of drugs in Honduras. That doesn't mean they are benign; their primary activities are major sources of violence in Honduras: kidnap for ransom, extortion from transportation (bus, taxi), extortion of local businesses and individuals, murder for hire, and theft accompany their involvement in street trafficking of drugs within the country.

Their street level drug trafficking is mostly cannabis, with only a little cocaine these days.  Back when they arrived in Central America, they got their start by trafficking crack cocaine, previously not a problem in Central America. But today, the cocaine trade is international business of the cartels.

In Honduras, the way the Maras have articulated with the territorial crime families and transportistas is through murder for hire.  In the Bajo Aguan, there's evidence that a group calling itself Mara 61 has been hired by drug traffickers to provide security and logistical support for their operations.  Mara Calle 18 was hired by the Zetas to carry out contract killings in Honduras.

It is the activities of the Maras in extortion and murder for hire that produce the most violence in Central America.

In El Salvador, when politicians and the Catholic church negotiated a truce between MS-13 and Calle 18, it dramatically lowered homicide rates, while extortion and other gang related crimes continued unchecked. When the truce collapsed, homicide rates returned to their former, high, levels.

The UN report shows that violence in Honduras is a result of two primary forces, conflict between the various people involved in the drug trade, and the high level of violence promulgated by the Maras.

Collapsing these two sources of violence is a mistake that can lead to thinking strategies intended to fight the Maras are also countering drug trafficking, or that fighting drug trafficking will reduce the high levels of violence people endure in some Honduran cities. These are separate problems, even if each offers opportunities for the other.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Honduras Finding IMF Accord Difficult

Honduras failed to come to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for stand-by funding of the Honduran government over the next three years last week.  Negotiations have now entered overtime with a deadline of today, October 7.  Without an agreement and a dramatic reduction in deficit spending, the Honduran government of Juan Orlando Hernandez will have trouble making payments on the existing debt accumulated by the unrestrained deficit spending of the defacto government of Micheletti Bain and his successor Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

Marlon Tabora, President of the Central Bank, has been leading the negotiations with the IMF in Washington, DC since the beginning of last week.  He has met with high level officials within the IMF including Alejandro Werner, Director of the Western Hemisphere Department.

There are two real sticking points in the negotiations.  First, the IMF is requiring Honduras to divest itself of the state owned electric company (Empresa Nacional de Energia Electrica) and to programatically reduce the deficit spending from its current 5.2% of Honduras's Gross National Product to 1.7% by 2017.  Given the National Party's propensity to overspend on security (military, new police forces like the TIGRES, FUSINA, etc) and gutting of social welfare programs, this reduction would leave it with little to nothing to spend on development, infrastructure, or economic stimulation, all areas which need more investment by the government.

While the conversations were extended two days into this week, Tabora has until this Friday, October 10, to negotiate a letter of intent with the IMF. Without a signed letter of intent by the end of this week, Tabora will not be able to present to the full IMF at its November 10 Directors meeting for final approval.  Such an agreement was expected to provide between $190 and $200 million to meet this year's deficit.  Without it, the government will have to sell bonds in the internal and external financial markets at substantial interest in order to pay for its current spending.

The Organization of the Honduran Drug Trade (Part 2 of 3)

In the first installement of this series, we illustrated what a September 2012 UN report called a territorially-based crime group in Central America, with a discussion of the recently arrested Valle Valle family.

The second kind of criminal group identified by the UN are the transnational trafficking networks, or transportistas.  Transportistas work like a legitimately subcontracted transportation company.  Their relationship to suppliers is contractual, but they are free to work with anyone.  They move drugs between point A and point B where A and B are frequently under the control of territorial crime families.

They don't seek violence, and indeed seek to remain unnoticed.

The Chepe Handal organization was described as a transportista organization when it was dismantled.  Chepe Handal allegedly moved drugs for the Cartel del Pacifico from the departments of Colon, Atlantida, and Cortes, to the border region with Guatemala.

While the organized crime family where the Chepe Handal organization picked up the drugs remains publicly unidentified, the newly arrested Valle Valle family control the area where the Handal organization allegedly brought drugs to smuggle across the Honduras/Guatemala border.

Transportistas need to be crime families with established ties into politics and participating in the corruption of government officials, and Handal's organization fits that description.  It was large and diversified.  It owned hotels, a zoo, construction companies, retail stores in San Pedro Sula, and transportation companies.  Chepe Handal also bred thoroughbred horses.
While many of the Honduran border area crime families go unidentified, across the border in Guatemala territory is said to be under the control of the Mendoza crime family.  They have extensive land holdings along the whole border in ranches and agricultural production.  They also own hotels, gas stations, construction companies, and transportation companies, and move cocaine from the border region into the Peten.  That makes them an example of a transportista group.

But they simultaneously fit the description of a territorial group: they are now allied with the Lorenzana family of Guatemala, that controls the border territory of Zacapa in Guatemala.  Together they control much of the Honduras/Guatemala border, from the Caribbean inland to Ocotepeque in far southwest Honduras.

Another Honduran example of an alleged organized crime family would be the Arnaldo Urbina Soto family, arrested in July. The head of the family is the alcalde (mayor) of Yoro. One of his daughters, also arrested, was the head of the Honduran Congressional committee on children.

The Urbina Soto family is alleged to have participated in drug trafficking, 137 murders, car theft, building landing strips for drug planes, and the forced displacement of people. They owned large cattle ranches in Yoro, many houses described as "mansions", and ran an aviary that included ostriches.

While 137 murders might seem like a lot, in the context of some parts of Honduras, that's just a month's worth of homicides. Crime organizations need to keep their profile fairly low in order to succeed.  Murders need to be strategic and uninvestigated.

The Urbina Soto family most likely worked for the Zetas, who US sources say are headquartered in Santa Rita, Yoro. Their drugs are transported through the western Honduran Department of Santa Barbara and points south, reaching the Guatemalan border near Ocotepeque, with a handoff to the Lorenzana family in Guatemala.

Diana Patricia Urbina Soto, a National Party Congressperson from Yoro when arrested, was later released.  Her political visibility produced an unusual piece of information: she answered the question posed to congress members "Are you in favor of, or against the legalization of drugs?" by saying "In favor, in this way it will reduce the violence and control the consumption".

Given the UN analysis, that might well be how a member of one of these crime families views things. Drug trafficking is a business; they provide security and governance to otherwise ungoverned territories. Violence is not their main goal; when it happens, it is a side effect of cartel struggles or is specially targeted.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Organization of the Honduran Drug Trade (Part 1 of 3)

On August 20th of this year the Valle Valle family of western Honduras was named by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control  as "significant drug traffickers" under the Kingpin Act. This weekend, members of the family were captured in Honduras.

In the August statement, the US named Miguel Arnulfo Valle Valle and his brothers Luis Alonso and Jose Reynerio Valle Valle. Not included was their youngest brother, Jose Inocente Valle Valle. 

A UN report from September 2012 on the drug trade in Central America provides a context for understanding these developments. The UN identified three groups of actors in Honduras that are at least tangentially involved in the drug trade, and how each of these groups relates to violence.

First are the territorially based organized crime groups.  These impose order where the state government lacks control, offering security and protection in both city neighborhoods and the countryside.  They require an enforcement organization, and there must be a clear chain of command, often family based:
These territory-bound groups are intensely concerned with local affairs, and this limits the scope of what they can do. They can demand tribute (extortion), give credit at usurious rates (loan sharking), and dictate local employment conditions (labour racketeering) within their zones of influence. With their money and community standing, they can even affect voting outcomes and wield considerable political clout. They may move into high-level corruption, such as public procurement fraud. Once secure in their status as political patrons, they can engage in acquisitive crime at will, selling stolen property and smuggled goods with impunity.

The UN report goes on to say these groups often have to fight with rival outfits for control of contested territory, and this means they spend an "undue amount of time addressing symbolic infractions, sending messages to their constituencies about who is in control."

What this means is that they control the wholesale traffic through their region, and this often can include drugs as one of the sorts of contraband that flow this way.  They then subcontract risk, such as local distribution, to others. In Central America, because of these groups' geographic control, international drug trafficking is under their command.

These crime families are not interested in stirring up violence as part of their drug trafficking. Traffickers generally are interested in keeping the violence down and not drawing attention to themselves.  Thus they operate in remote areas with little state control.

The Valle Valle family fits this part of the UN model.

The US government alleges the Valle Valle family runs a business that moves thousands of kilograms of cocaine each month towards the United States, laundering the money generated through three coffee-producing companies (Inversiones Yosary, Inversiones Luisito, and Inversiones Valle), a cattle and dairy business (Finca Los Tres Reyes), and a hotel in La Entrada, Copan.

According to the US, the Valle family operates a drug business in the Honduran Department of Copan, in the municipality of Florida, Copan, along the Honduras/Guatemala border.  Here there are several legitimate border crossings, and other blind crossings between Honduras and Guatemala.  Florida is adjacent to the town of El Paraiso, Copan, where the Alex cartel, linked to the Sinaloa cartel, operates.

Once the Valle Valle brothers and their businesses were designated as "significant drug traffickers" by OFAC, the Honduran government in association with the US Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated their businesses, houses, bank accounts, hotels, and in the process located arms caches buried on one of their properties. However, the family had been tipped off, and their houses had been largely emptied of all possessions, just as other such operations have been leaked to the families about to be pounced on by the Honduran police and the DEA.

On October 3, Honduran security forces captured Jose Inocente Valle Valle in El Porvenir, Florida, Copan, about 30 minutes drive from the Guatemalan border,  and confiscated a gold plated AK-47,  many pistols of different calibers and over 600 rounds of ammunition.  Also confiscated was a picture of Jose Inocente with his arm around the former head of the Transit Police in Copan, Neptaly Aguilar Rivera.  Among his other possessions when captured was a belt containing 12 solid gold coins stamped "Sinaloa".

Sunday, the Honduran police captured two more brothers (Miguel Arnulfo and Luis Alonso) in El Espiritu, Copan, only a five minute drive from the Guatemalan border.

The Valle Valle family was  allegedly responsible for getting drugs from Honduras across the border to the right people in Guatemala, making up what the UN called a territorially based organized crime group. There others took over-- something we cover in the next installment of this series.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

ZEDE Feasibility Study

KOICA, the Korean International Cooperation Agency, delivered its preliminary report on the feasibility of establishing ZEDEs in Amapala, Aliaza, and Nacaome in the department of Valle in southern Honduras.  KOICA handed off the preliminary study to the Honduran government in New York Monday while they were attending the UN General Assembly.  The feasibility study, which we previously have written about here, was delivered about 3 months late.

Robert Ordoñez, Minister of Public Works for Honduras, told the press that study suggests the development of world class port facilities in Amapala, located on the island of El Tigre in the Gulf of Fonseca.  It suggests a free trade zone be developed in Alianza to provide warehousing and logistical support for shipments coming through Amapala.  It likely also requires Amapala to be connected by a bridge with the mainland for the movement of goods to the logistical area.  In Nacaome, the Koreans suggested developing an agricultural research center.  Amapala and Alianza qualify as low population density coastal regions not requiring approval of the local populations under the ZEDE law.

In August of this year the Honduran Supreme Court rejected a case brought by more than 50 Non-governmental organizations challenging the constitutionality of the ZEDE law.

Designs are expected to be finalized for all three projects by March of next year.  Parallel to the development of the designs, KOICA and Honduras will be holding conversations with the Interamerican Development Bank about financing the projects.

Monday, June 9, 2014

US Crew Runs Afoul of Honduran Gun Laws

US attitudes towards guns are notoriously different than those elsewhere in the world. And despite the well-promoted image of Honduras as inherently "violent", it is aligned with the rest of the world in restricting access to guns.

Now that difference has tripped up a ship's crew from Aqua Quest International, a self-described "Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Recovery Corporation " out of Tarpon Springs, Florida, that has landed itself in jail in Honduras by being ignorant of Honduran gun laws. Unfortunately, the news media in the US are not doing a very good job of understanding the actual laws involved, being too ready to accept another ready-made image: that of the corrupt foreign officials. While sometimes that definitely fits the Honduran case, this seems to be an exception: the Honduran legal system is working the way it is supposed to.

The Aqua Quest International crew was on its way to take a contract with the town of Ahuas, where a DEA supervised helicopter murdered 4 Honduran citizens including a pregnant woman in a botched drug interdiction.  The contract was to dredge the lower Patuca river, recovering sunken mahogany and ceder logs worth thousands of dollars.  Aqua Quest would get 30% of the sale price of the logs recovered.

It is not uncommon for ships sailing in US coastal waters, and even in the Caribbean, to have guns on board, but the Captain must be aware of local laws concerning guns before entering a port.  In many countries, Captains with guns have to sink a container with the guns onto the ocean floor, in international waters, marking the location, and retrieve them after leaving port.  This is a complicated, and not always successful project.  But local laws apply when a ship enters a port, and that includes gun laws.

But the captain and crew from Aqua Quest International entered Puerto Lempira not knowing Honduran law, and apparently not knowing that they were breaking it.  They declared their guns to the military vessel that checked them as they entered Honduran national waters, and were expecting the Port Captain to decide if they could keep their guns or needed to have them locked up.  Instead they were met by, and arrested by, the local police.

Their lawyer, Armida Lopez de Arguello claims this is a violation of maritime law.

It is not.

Honduran law is very clear. 

If you want to bring a gun into Honduras by sea, air, or land, you better already have a permit issued by Honduras.  Any attempt to bring a gun in without such a permit, aboard ship, via air, or overland, will get you arrested and thrown in jail.  Wikipedia mentions it, and cites a section of the US State Department website on Honduras. 

Under the heading "Firearms" the State Department website clearly states:
Firearms: No one may bring firearms into Honduras, except for diplomats or individuals participating in shooting or hunting sport events who have obtained a temporary firearm importation permit from the Honduran Ministry of Security prior to their travel to Honduras.
Firearms for personal safety or for purposes other than those mentioned above must be purchased locally through a store named “La Armería.” These stores are regulated by the Honduran Armed Forces and are located throughout Honduras.

It's even on the Honduran Embassy website, albeit in the Spanish language FAQ. 

A little research on the internet might have saved the ship's Captain and crew from its current predicament.

The ship had two shotguns, two handguns, and a semi-automatic "sports rifle" that resembles an AK-47.  Shotguns and hand guns can be easily permitted in Honduras, but that semi-automatic "sports rifle" cannot. Possession of such a rifle in Honduran territorial waters is itself a criminal act.

Despite easy access to the facts of Honduran law, most of the English-language media seem perplexed as to why the crew were arrested. 

Fox news used the phrase "trumped up changes", echoing the words of Stephen Mayne, the company's chief operating officer, brother of the ship's Captain, Robert Mayne, Jr., who is also the company's CEO. 

NPR covered the story this week without mentioning Honduran law. 

Stephen Mayne told the Macon Telegraph that:
“They shouldn’t be (in prison). (The crew) did everything by the book. They’ve been detained unlawfully by officials with suspect motives.”

Only a few media outlets got the facts right, and it makes for some strange bedfellows.

A New York Times article quotes a government prosecutor in Tegucigalpa as saying that the men should have had a permit for the guns because they had entered Honduran waters. The Voice of Russia reports that "the Honduran armed forces said the crew was arrested because they didn't have permits to possess guns in the country."

It's pretty clear that the actions of the US group were due to ignorance of Honduran law.  A Honduran appeals court will decide if they will continue to be held for trial, or can be released awaiting trial, later this week.

Meanwhile, we can hope that in the interim, more of the English language media can learn the facts, and begin to explain them to a US public that at times really doesn't understand that in other countries, being casual about firearms is not acceptable.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Whose Observatory of Violence?

Who controls the crime statistics?  Honduras has an Observatorio de Violencia, long a part of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras (UNAH).  The Security Ministry has outsourced its collecting and reporting of crime statistics to a private company,  Ingenieria Gerencial, owned by the Security Minister, Arturo Corrales.  Just about no one believes the crime statistics Corrales has been peddling.

So in February, Corrales announced the formation of 30 separate municipal Observatorios de Violencia, modeled after the successful program in Colombia, the  Observatorio para la Prevencion de Violencia y Lesiones de Colombia.  This program, and the existing Observatorio at UNAH, both owe their existence to pilot projects done by the CISALVA institute of the Universidad del Valle de Cali, in Colommbia 2002-2004, financed by Georgetown University and USAID.

In 1996 the Organization of American States Pan American Health Organization recognized that violence was a health problem, and in 2008 published a manual of best practices derived from what was learned in the Colombia pilot program.  The manual was written as part of a project to roll this program out in several Central American countries.  Ultimately Panama and Nicaragua were part of the initial pilot program.

Honduras was considered for that pilot program, but because of internal political considerations, was dropped.  The OAS wrote in the methodology manual for these municipal observatories in 2008:
It should be noted that Honduras was selected for the first phase [of the roll out by the UN], and later postponed for political reasons, in actuality the methodology has been successfully implemented developing a national observatory and a local observatory in the capital city of the country, founded in the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras, UNAH, with the technical aid of the UN Development Program (PNUD in Spanish) and financed by the Swiss Agency for International Development.
So basically, the OAS/Pan American Health Organization is saying in 2008 that Honduras already has a national program that follows the best practices methodology they're promulgating, and doing it successfully.

So why is Arturo Corrales rejecting the Observatorio de Violencia at UNAH and proposing to supplant it with 30 municipal Observatorios doing the same work?  Corrales falsely claims you cannot do this at the national level:
The objective for establishing these municipal observatories of violencis is to characterize the causes of death and this can only be done at the local level, not the national level.
But the OAS, who after all, wrote the best practices manual, just said that the methodology was successfully being implemented at the national level in Honduras by the UNAH Observatorio de Violencia, so either Corrales is unfamiliar with the actual program and methodology, or he's being disingenous.

The irony here is that the UNAH Observatory already has proposed to do exactly this, almost a month ago.  For the last several years it has been establishing local observatories of violence in selected municipalities.  On March 27,   they announced the creation of a local observatory in Tela and said they sought to extend this to the whole country.  In fact, there already are local observatories in Comayagua, Choluteca, San Pedro Sula, Choloma, La Ceiba, and Juticalpa.  At least some of these are places Corrales intends to install his own observatories.  Maybe instead of developing a competing program, Corrales should embrace the existing one?

Why should Honduras spend money on setting up municipal violence observatories when everyone including Corrales agrees the UNAH program is exemplary? Migdona Ayestes, head of the UNAH Observatorio de Violencia, thinks it may be that Corrales doesn't understand the mission and function of an Observatorio de Violencia.  She arranged to meet with him  to explain it to him.

However, there seems to be two other  answers here.  On the one hand, these would be the "Official" observatories that would collect and disseminate statistics through the Security Ministry.  That should give everyone pause.

Corrales, though, went on to say that they would be more inclusive, involving more of civil society, and let them be able to take local preventative action and measure the results of such actions through their local statistics.  So its also about decentralization, taking the responsibility for crime fighting decision making from the Security Ministry and making responsibility for devising strategies to fight crime the responsibility of Mayors and their local observatory.

This kind of local decision making is a part of what is envisioned in the OAS best practices manual.  How that will translate in Honduras, where the police force is nationally controlled by the Security Ministry remains to be seen.
It has the benefit of taking responsibility for crime statistics away from the national government and puts it on municipalities, which Corrales must like.  Currently his job performance is evaluated by the national crime statistics, hence his investment (and profiting) from producing and reducing them.

There's no explanation for where the funding for these local observatories is coming from.  The OAS manual calls for an IT professional and a computer to host the database and map server/gis system that registers and displays crimes, and these cost money.  There is not necessarily such a person already in every municipality who can be freed up to support such a program.  The computers need to allocated, and the specified software packages installed and configured on them.  Presumably Corrales is freeing up money from some other part of his budget to cover the expenses of such a program roll out and operation.  It certainly wasn't in his 2014 budget.

So right now it looks like Honduras will have competing Observatorios de Violencia for the forseeable future.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Constitutional Branch Defends Itself

The Constitutional Branch of the Honduran Supreme Court attempted to defend its actions in declaring a winner in the municipal elections of San Luis, Comayagua a week ago. The notice they released makes it clear they're responding to pressure on social media.  Their defense is akin to stamping their foot and saying "because I said so".

The court reaffirmed its belief in the rule of law, and stated that its decision in this case was well founded in the constitution and laws of Honduras.  It also reaffirmed its right to hear the case, claiming dominion over the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE).  It further wished to point out to the public that it was Santos Zelaya Chacón who sought to appeal the TSE's decision claiming his due process rights had been violated.  So its not the Supreme Court's fault that they had to hear this case, its Santos Zelaya Chacón's according to their logic.  The court argued that tossing a coin does not strip one of one's rights to appeal the election, except that it does in the TSE rules to which all candidates agree when running for office.

The court went on to allege that the Municipality of San Luis was notified not to allow anyone to assume office, that the case had been admitted, but that the Municipality ignored the court.  Finally, the court says its decision was firmly based in law and the constitution, without providing any backing for that claim.  They have not released a written judgement and this decision may never be published.  They simply assert they did the right thing. 

This branch of the court, packed by Congress with supporters of the neoliberal policies advocated by Juan Orlando Hernandez, you will recall, voted to install the National Party candidate, Santos Ivan Zelaya Chacón as Mayor of San Luis despite the Tribunal Supremo Electoral ruling that the election was a tie.  Tie runoff procedures in Honduras call for both candidates to agree to settle the tie by the toss of a coin.  Both candidates agreed, a coin was tossed, and Lenny Hernandez, the Liberal Party candidate won.  The Tribunal Supremo Electoral awarded him a certificate of election, and on January 27, 2014 he assumed office.

The TSE is supposed to be the ultimate election authority, but of course, that is no longer the case in post-coup Honduras. The hierarchy now goes Congress -> Supreme Court -> Tribunal Supremo Electoral.

In the meantime, Santos Ivan Zelaya Chacón decided to appeal to the Supreme Court claiming his due process rights had been violated.  The Constitutional Branch of the court took the case, and issued a 5-0 decision agreeing with him, and awarding him the election.

Since then, the Liberal Party filed a challenge appealing the decision; their appeal was apparently rejected by the Supreme Court with the statement that they have no standing.  The Constitutional Branch ruling is threatening the pact between the National and Liberal Parties in Congress.  The TSE then voted to affirm the Constitutional Branch ruling, and the very next day, the building housing the Mayor's office burned down in Sal Luis.  The same week a Liberal Party leader in San Luis was murdered.

Edmundo Orellana, admittedly a partisan of the Liberal party, wrote yesterday that:
Everything that has happened is the fault of the Constitutional Branch; none of these things would have happened in this municipality if they hadn't stuck their noses where they shouldn't.  This is a political problem and the Supreme Court is not authorized by the Constitution for this.  The magistrates have violated the Constitution of the Republic and thereby are exposed the consequences of this violation.

We happen to agree with Orellana, that the court took an ill considered and  unreasoned political decision, not a legal one.  We do not choose to question the court's assertion that Zelaya Chacón's due process rights were violated, but rather question why they themselves trample on the due process rights of the opposing candidate and the voters by appointing Zelaya Chacón as Mayor, unilaterally, and without any offered justification, other than that the TSE denied him his due process rights. The TSE's alleged error in denying Zelaya Chacón his due process rights does not merit the court ignoring the rights of the voters, and the rights of the opposition candidate, Lenny Flores.

Congress in the meantime is working on a compromise solution in which there would be a new election.  Yes, for once the Honduran Congress is making sense.  Both the legitimately aggrieved Liberal Party and even the voters of San Luis itself have called for a special election to determine the outcome, but Zelaya Chacón says he will not recognize the outcome of any such special election, arguing that only he had his rights trampled on by the TSE.

Cooler heads have prevailed.  The threat of the Liberal Party to break its alliance with the National Party over this issue worked, after they meet with the leaders of the Anti-Corruption Party and Libre to present a unified front in Congeress calling for a new election, which the National Party rejected.  The compromise solution arrived at, preserving so far the fragile Liberal-National Party coalition, has been for both candidates to irrevocably resign from candidacy to the office.  This probably will force a new election for Mayor in San Luis, Comayagua, but the Tribunal Supremo Electoral isn't saying that, as yet, preferring to wait for the paperwork and "study" the issue.

The only way Hondurans found to preserve anyones rights after the Supreme Court acted was to preserve no ones rights.  Lenny Flores and Santos Zelaya are now out of it, but the political parties will probably get a chance to propose new candidates for Mayor, and the people of San Luis might finally get a chanced for representation that they voted for, instead of representation imposed on them by a fully politicized Supreme Court.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Nice Work If You Can Get it!

The press has blown the whistle on waste in Coalianza, the government commission that negotiates and regulates the sale of government assets to the private sector, and forms government - private partnerships in Honduras.

It seems that the 3 commissioners of Coalianza recieved a pay raise when they took office in January.  Two of them, Miguel Ángel Gámez and Erasmo Virgilio Padilla had their pay raised from roughly 150,000 lempiras monthly ($7142.86) to 199,000 lempiras a month ($9576.19).  The third commissioner, Zonia Morales, received a raise from 111,800 lempiras ($5323.81) to 159,000 lempiras a month ($7571.43).  By comparison, the President receives a salary of 86,000 lempiras monthly ($4095.24).

The commissioners acknowledge the raise, but claim it was authorized in 2013 and figured into their budget.  When asked why they continued to accept these overly large salarys, Gamez told the press that in fact, they hadn't yet had a chance to have a meeting!  For the last three months, the time they've been collecting these salaries, they've done nothing.  When asked why that was, Gamez redirected blame back on the current government, stating:
They still have not named the Executive Secretary of Coalianza.  This looks to me like a bad intention and far from benefiting, it damages the institution.

So, Gamez is throwing it back on the government, which he says hasn't named his boss, so they could not meet and roll back their enormous salaries.  Boo Hoo.

Luckly Juan Orlando Hernandez did just that today, acting to roll back all three salaries to 150,000 lempiras a month.  They still have not met.  They still have not done anything.  They just keep collecting some of the highest salaries in the government for sitting on their hands.

That's government waste of slightly over $80,000 in salaries in this one small agency.  Nice work if you can get it.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Public Prosecutor: ZEDEs Are Legal

It will come to no surprise to anyone keeping track of anything to do with model cities in Honduras that the Public Prosecutor's office has issued an opinion just before Easter finding that the law enabling the new Zonas Especiales de Desarrrollo y Empleo (ZEDE) is legal.  The position paper, requested by the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court came from the Office for Defense of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court admitted a case challenging the ZEDE law as unconstitutional because in order to pass it Congress changed some of the supposedly unchangeable articles of the Honduran constitution.  The argument is that Congress, in modifying Articles 294, 303, and 329 violated Article 374's provision that prohibits modification of Articles of the Constitution related to the territory and form of government of Honduras, the so called "stoney" articles.  The Constitutional changes  modify clauses that define the territory and form of government of Honduras.

On accepting the case, the court followed procedure in requesting a legal opinion from the Public Prosecutor's office.  It skipped over the step of asking Congress for its documentation, however, putting this appeal on a fast track.

The Public Prosecutor, Oscar Chinchilla was formerly a member of the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court and was the sole member of that branch to find the original Model Cities legislation constitutional.  His four fellow justices were summarily dismissed (illegally) by the same Honduran Congress that later appointed Chinchilla as Public Prosecutor.

Thus, the opinion in favor of the ZEDE law was never in doubt.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

These Are Not The Pilots You're Looking For.....

As quickly as they came into custody yesterday, they left.  Yesterday Honduran authorities at Ramon Villeda Morales airport in San Pedro Sula arrested two Americans asserting they were the pilots of the Gulfstream jet allegedly abandoned on April 1 in Roatan.  Temporary held were Luis Felipe Parra, a naturalized US citizen born in Colombia, and US citizen Hector Manuel Guerra.  Guerra is a licensed pilot according to the FAA database, but Parra is not.

Both were released this morning, supposedly at the disposition of the Dirección de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico (DLCN) of the Public Prosecutor's office, but both immediately boarded a flight to Miami and left the country.

Elvis Guzmán, spokesperson for the local Public Prosecutor's office stated that the two were released because all their paperwork was in order.  They had both the proper immigration stamps in their passports and had filed a valid flight plan with permission from the Honduran Civil Aviation Authority to land in Roatan.  In the flight plan they had even requested that the plane be allowed to remain at the airport for two weeks; hence it was never abandoned.  There were no indications the plane had been used to transport drugs.  Therefore there was no crime here and they had to let them go.

Apparently InterAirports, the company that has the concession to run four international airports in Honduras, was the one that complained that the jet might be abandoned.  Either they had no access to the flight plans, which seems unlikely, or they're just incompetent, which is much more likely. 

While responsible for airport security they let millions of dollars in drug money pass through security "undetected", including $7 million in cash carried in 6 suitcases by 4 individuals on a flight from Honduras to Panama.  Panamanian authorities detected the cash and arrested 3 of the 4 individuals traveling with the bags.  Interairports was either complicit in letting the cash leave the country, or more likely, wasn't actually screening luggage since that would have cost them money.

Honduran authorities still have offered no explanation as to why they repeatedly told the press that the pilots they were looking for were Mexican citizens named Erick Emanuel Mejia Montes and Darimel Guerrero Ríos.

Apparently nothing to see here, except incompetence.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dead Man Flying

A nice older executive jet landed at Roatan airport in Honduras on Tuesday, April 1.  Honduran authorities reported that the pilots, Darimel Guerrero Ríos, and Eric Emanuel Mejia Montes walked out of the airport and never returned to the jet.  Honduran authorities didn't notice this for a few days, however.  The two pilots have reportedly disappeared, probably having left Honduras.

We might be able to clear that up for the Hondurans. 

Eric Emanuel Mejia Montes was reportedly killed the very next day,  April 2,  in Torres, Venezuela when the Venezuelan air force shot down a Cessna with Mexican registration.  Two burned bodies were found in the wreckage of the plane, and one of them was identified as Mejia Montes, apparently through his passport.   What we know is that on April 1, someone purporting to be Mejia Montes flew a jet into Roatan airport, and the very next day someone identified as the very same Mejia Montes was shot down and killed in a Cessna in Torres, Venezuela while supposedly running drugs.

The jet in Honduras may or may not be an American registered Gulfstream II with registration N707KD.  Early versions of the story said the plane had a Mexican registration and showed a picture of a jet with Mexican registration MTX-01 on the engine.  The Honduran press is often unreliable on details, often attaching unrelated pictures to articles.  That appears to be the case here.

Later versions of the story alleged an American registration and showed a picture of N707KD and reported that as the registration of the jet.  Furthermore, an El Heraldo story supported Mexican registration, but gives flight details and an aircraft description of N707KD in the text of this article.  The plane pictured parked at Roatan in this La Prensa article is clearly N707KD.  Everyone agrees the jet is a Gulfstream IISP with two engines.  This jet, according to the FAA, can haul up to 12,500 pounds of cargo, or carry up to 22 passengers.  This plane is 37 years old and still flying, and belongs to a company in Florida. 

According to FlightAware, N707KD last flew out of the US from a general aviation airport in Miami to Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico on March 8.  This is a similar flight profile to a similar Gulfstream abandoned in Roatan just over a year ago.  That plane, N951RK, was abandoned by its Mexican pilots on Roatan March 22, 2013, and later reclaimed by its American owners Aero Group, without problems.  It had tested positive for cocaine.

So who really flew the current Gulfstream jet to Roatan, from where, and why?  If it is the American registered jet, what, if anything, does the owner know about who rented it, and for how long? These are questions that the DEA doesn't ever seem to ask.  US planes continue to fuel the flow of drugs through Central America.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hernández Packed Court Goes Political

The Honduran Supreme Court, or more properly, the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court, packed with National Party supporters while Juan Orlando Hernández was head of Congress, paid a dividend yesterday by issuing a blatantly political opinion, with no legal argument to back it up.

The case has its origins in the November, 2013 elections for Mayor of San Luis, Comayagua.  Leny Flores Suazo of the Liberal Party was running against Santos Iván Zelaya Chacón of the National Party. 

Both candidates declared themselves the winner, forcing the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) to recount the votes.  But recount in Honduras does not mean what you think it means.  A "recount" in Honduras entails just re-tallying the votes already recording on the tally sheets, not recounting each vote.  The Tribunal Supremo Electoral has maintained that this is the only recount mechanism allowed under its regulations. 

After the recount, the TSE declared the election a tie. 

The candidates then both voluntarily agreed to flip a coin, and whoever won the toss would assume office.  This procedure is called for under Honduran law, if both candidates voluntarily agree to it.  Leny Flores Suazo won the coin toss, and the TSE formally declared him the winner of the election.  He was given paperwork by the TSE naming him the winner.  He was sworn in to office on January 27, 2014.

More than a month later, the National Party candidate appealed to the TSE to declare the election null and void and call for a new election. 

After the TSE turned him down, he appealed to the Supreme Court alleging there was no transparency in the recount process. We tend to sympathize with Zelaya Chacón, because the "recount" is actually pointless, unless you believe a simple math error, rather than the original vote counting, is the problem. But it isn't particularly impenetrable: the TSE adds the numbers a second time.

The Constitutional Branch accepted the case, and following usual procedure solicited an opinion from the Public Prosecutor, Oscar Chinchilla. He is a former Supreme Court justice himself, and the only justice that Hernández kept in the Constitutional Branch when he replaced the other four. 

Despite these ties, Oscar Chinchilla actually concurred with the TSE, arguing that what it did was correct and in accordance with the Electoral Law and the Law of Political Parties, which called for the the coin toss in the case of a tie if both parties agreed to it. There is no dispute of their agreement to abide by the results of the coin toss.

The Constitutional Branch, however, unanimously rejected the Public Prosecutor's opinion and found against the TSE. 

They ruled that the TSE violated the transparency requirements by not immediately consulting the original ballots themselves, rather than the tally sheets, and this failure violated Zelaya Chacón's rights to due process even before the coin toss happened. 

They reportedly wrote, in part:
It is clear to this Constitutional Chamber that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has violated the political rights of the complainant, adopting resolutions lacking sufficient motivation, lacking the accuracy of the procedure.

But this is where the train left the tracks.  Rather than order the TSE to reconsult the ballots, or to hold a new election for mayor if the original ballots were no longer available (which is likely), they wrote:
Because of all the reasons previously cited, the appeal placed by Mr. Eneas Portillo Cabrera for Mr. Santos Iván Zelaya Chacón, should be granted with the effect that it restores to him full possession and exercise of his political rights, in such a manner that he can exercise for the rest of the time allowed, the job of Mayor of the town of San Luis, department of Comayagua.

The court simply declared Zelaya Chacón the winner, with no constitutional or legal basis provided for such a ruling, and awarded him the election.

Flores Suazo is reported to have said:
So far, it looks like in Honduras, the Supreme Court imposes Mayors [on towns] and sets aside the resolutions of the Election Tribunal.

This is exactly what happened.  Neither every one's due process rights nor the people's votes to determine the outcome of the election were preserved by this ruling.  Why even bother to hold elections?

But that's not the end of this story.  Flores Suazo called on Mauricio Villeda, his party's head of its Congressional delegation.  He has received the unanimous support of the Liberal Party congressional delegation.  Villeda told the press:
The Liberal party was surprised and is angry by the legal decision handed down by the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court concerning the case of the Mayor of San Luis.  This election was a tie and was decided by a coin toss.  Afterwards the Constitutional Branch got involved; listen well to what I am saying:  concerning election law, where the highest authority is the Supreme Election Tribunal.   This has surprised us and we don't want a precedent like this to exist in Honduras.

When asked who might have pressured the court, Villeda said:
Possibly various people from the National Party because they have replaced a Liberal Party Mayor.  Sufficient corruption exists already in this National Party government for there to also be corruption in election business.  We must make it clean and only the social communications media can help...

Villeda went on to indicate that this will become an issue in the alliance in Congress between the National and Liberal parties, saying that what the Liberals enabled in Congress, they can just as easily make impossible by breaking the alliance.

The Liberal Party has indicated that once they have had time to study this decision, they will appeal it to the full Supreme Court, but in the meantime, that court has imposed a mayor who was not elected on San Luis, Comayagua, for political, not legal, reasons.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NGO Do-Over

Maybe it's not a good idea to try and purge non-governmental organizations like C-Libre and FIAN after all. 

It just might get you in trouble.

Today Juan Orlando Hernández met with representatives of several unnamed non-governmental organizations and his Minister of Human Rights, Justice, Government, and Decentralization, Rigoberto Chang Castillo. 

Afterward, a communique read by his chief of staff, Reinaldo Sanchez, ordered a review and restructuring of the Unidad de Registro y Seguimiento de Asociaciones Civiles (URSAC), the unit that just a few days ago tried to cancel the registration of 5,429 NGOs claiming deficiencies in their filings. 

The goal of the review and restructuring will be to have better control over the NGOs and to modernize the handling of NGO authorizations and the filing of required reports. 

The government also walked back the cancellation of those 5429 organizations, ordering a new review of each one's files.

Sanchez noted that the government was aware of the importance of the role played by civil society and the NGOs in strengthening Honduras's democracy and diminishing economic inequality.

Clearly, someone wasn't on the same page...


Monday, March 10, 2014

Honduras to Seek $1 Billion in Loans, Visit IMF.

Wilfredo Cerrato, Honduras's Finance Minister, told the assembled press on March 7 that Honduras will seek to place $1 billion in bonds in the international market in 2015, and that he would head a delegation traveling to Washington, DC later this month to learn what conditions must be met for Honduras to re-establish a borrowing agreement with the IMF, which he also hopes will be in place sometime in 2015.

The Honduran press only covered one part of this story.  Can you guess which?

The international press primarily reported on the bonds story, though some did lead with the IMF trip. Cerrato told them the bond placement was specifically to convert short term high interest internal debt issued by the Honduran banks to long term, lower interest, international bonds.  Two year high-interest bonds will be replaced by 10 year lower interest bonds.

This kind of short term debt was largely shunned until Roberto Micheletti Bain, head of the post-coup de facto government, was forced to make deals with Honduran banks in 2009 because no international placement of bonds was possible after the coup. 

That use of Honduran banks, that benefits the upper class of Honduras which owns them, continued under Porfirio Lobo Sosa. So government debt payments went from $65.8 million per year in 2008, to a yearly debt payment of $789.6 million when Lobo Sosa left office in January 2014.

The Hernandez government projects that the 2014 debt payment will reach $930 million (!) with the borrowing it must do this year to balance the budget.

But that story is not being publicized by the Honduran press.

Instead, they chose to report only on the visit to the IMF to learn about the necessary conditions for arranging a new loan agreement.  Cerrato told the press that he projected a new agreement could be signed this coming April.  One wonders what that optimism is based on, since Honduras has not formally spoken to the IMF yet, and the Hernandez government has not  yet begun to achieve the financial goals they set for themselves.

Honduras successfully placed $1 billion in bonds in two sales in 2013, and the proceeds from those bonds were used to pay down some of the more egregious short term loans and finance the Lobo Sosa government deficit spending for 2013. With debt service reaching nearly $1 billion by the end of this year, the Hernandez government will find itself trapped continuing to seek external financing, if it wants to avoid an austerity budget even harsher than what seems to be in the works.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

NGO Purge

On his way out of the government, Áfrico Madrid, Interior Minister under Porfirio Lobo Sosa, saw the final step in a long-brewing confrontation in which he has been engaged.

That step? abolishing his opponents-- more than 10,000 NGOs.

Friday La Gaceta published a decree revoking the legal status of 5429 NGOs. The Unidad de Registro y Seguimiento de Asociaciones Civiles (URSAC), a part of the Interior Ministry, issued the decree that revokes the permission of these NGOs to operate.

This comes slightly more than a month after Madrid revoked the legal status of another 4800 NGOs in mid January.

Honduras reportedly had about 16,000 NGOs at the start of 2013. So altogether, these two decrees succeeded in abolishing more than half of the NGOs in the country.

That makes it a little harder to figure out who this campaign was really targeting and why.

We would remind readers that back in 2010, the Honduran Congress passed a law to define the characteristics of an evangelical Christian church, declared unconstitutional in 2012, that advanced Madrid's agenda to abolish evangelical churches he felt were "fringe" groups.

According to the decree published this week, the named institutions failed to comply in some way with a previous decree 770-A-2003 regulating NGOs, which gave a 30 day window for every NGO to supply an annual activities report, a financial report, indicate its officers, and so on.

What does the abolishment of these NGOs translate to, in practice?

They can no longer sign contracts or hold bank accounts.

They are ordered to liquidate any property and goods held, and donate the proceeds of that liquidation to a still extant NGO with a similar goal.

All Honduran banks and government agencies were notified of the loss of rights of these 5,429 NGOs.  In 30 days, their bank accounts will be frozen by the government, and any remaining assets seized.

This is not just a matter of eliminating a few small and inconsequential groups that were struggling.

Among the NGOs cancelled was the Asociación Comite por Libre Expresión (C-Libre), the most visible group monitoring press freedom in Honduras, composed of of journalists and others.

Hector Longino Becerra, president of the organization, said that the action against C-Libre was part of an attack on organizations that are critical of the government. Becerra said that all of C-Libre's paperwork with URSAC was complete and up to date, and he possessed the receipts to show the filing was done on time.

In the wake of the Friday publication of La Gaceta, Jorge Montes, head of URSAC, claimed Saturday that the NGOs still had 30 days to make things right and avoid cancellation.

That claim is hard to understand since the published law reportedly cancels the legal right to exist of the named NGOs. Montes claims that each NGO's legal representative will be notified in 30 days of the cancellation if, prior to that, their paperwork is not brought up to date.

He emphasized three kinds of reports that need to be filed: a report on activities; a financial report that indicates what money the group holds, where it came from, and where and how it will be spent, and where the NGO's assets are; and an up-to-date list of officers.

The Civil Society Group that advises the government is disturbed by all this and has requested a meeting with Rigoberto Chang Castillo, current Interior Minister, and thus the head of URSAC.

They stated:
It is the responsibility of the state to create an enabling environment for the functioning of civil society organizations and to keep watch over the unfettered right to free association.

Their point: the Honduran government isn't doing that when 62% of the country's legally established NGOs are disestablished by the government.

We couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

News Flash: Honduran Police in the Pocket of Drug Dealers

A reporter for Channel 5 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras reportedly tweeted a picture yesterday of sworn testimony given by a suspended judge that he says links the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández to a Colombian arrested in a marijuana growing operation and high tech drug lab in the department of Lempira. 

We don't agree with the inferences being drawn. There clearly is a pervasive penetration of drug money throughout Honduran society, but the standards for guilt in Honduras too often rest on rumor and innuendo.

On January 30, the Honduran police and military shut down a drug operation in La Iguala, Lempira that consisted of a very large suite of greenhouses being used for growing marijuana and opium poppies.  It also contained what was described as a high tech drug lab. 

During the raid, police arrested a Colombian citizen, Rubén Dario Pinilla. 

This was not the first time Rubén Dario Pinilla had been arrested in Honduras on drug related charges.  On the 25th of July of last year, he was arrested in the same town along with another Colombian, Fredy Hernán Roldán Jiménez.  They were found to be growing 73 pot plants, with 2440 seedlings alleged to be pot plants growing in the same greenhouses on the same property. 

That case came before judge Francisco Rodríguez in the city of Gracias a Dios in the department of Lempira, and the judge dismissed the charges against both Pinilla and Roldan Jimenez on July 31, 2013. 

Both were represented in court by the law office of Tony Hernández, brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Since then, the police involved in the initial arrest, the police chief in La Iguala, and the judge who heard that July, 2013 legal case against the two Colombians, have all been suspended and are being investigated to see if they have ties to the drug-growing operation or have done anything illegal.

What was publicized this week was a picture of one page of the deposition of the judge who released Pinilla in the 2013 case, conducted by the Public Prosecutor's office. It gives us the judge's claims-- which we can say from the outset will predictably be designed to assign responsibility for this failure of the justice system somewhere else.
Prosecutor's Office:  Asked so that you can say:  do you have any knowledge of these Colombian persons paying money either to the lawyers, the judge and the police to be put at liberty?

Judge:  I personally in no moment had physical contact or communication with Rubén Pinilla and Hernán Jimenez.  The only time I saw them was in the arraignment when they were represented by the law office of Tony Hernandez, brother of the president of the republic of Honduras, and by the lawyer José Antonio Madrid Corea.  Of the thing that they talk about in the newspapers, I don't know anything about who they gave money to, the mechanisms used to give them money, persons involved, and I did not receive money from the two accused and I ask you to investigate me.....you should also investigate to see if at any time I went to the local prison in Gracias, Lempira, to talk to the two accused and I give you my cell phone number [redacted by me] to see if I ever had contact with them in the dates they were deprived of their liberty, from July 24 to 31 in 2013....

A reporter can tweet that this shows that Tony Hernandez was involved in this drug case, but all it actually shows is that, as legal systems in Honduras allow, the defendants even in controversial issues are entitled to legal representation.

The judge's answers to other questions on the single page of testimony released seems to suggest that he freed the defendant because the police failed to supply all the necessary documents to build a case against Pinilla. The page starts in the middle of a response by the judge to a question we cannot see, but that must deal with the legal documents because his response is that "I personally, in all the analysis of the file, this documentation doesn't appear. The deposition continues:
Prosecutor's Office: Asked so you can say: in the initial hearing did you interrogate the agent Pablo Albarenga about the facts just mentioned?
Judge: if I personally had had in the administrative file the said paperwork on the actions carried out by the agent Pablo Albarenga, I would have asked the questions related to those aspects, but it did not exist.

The implication is that this omission might have been deliberate. But that points not at the defense, but the police investigating officer.

That would not be surprising.  But it makes for a far less scandalous story: police in the pocket of organized crime is an old story, not news.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Moody's Cuts Honduras Credit Again

Moody's Investor Service cut Honduras's credit rating from B2 to B3 today.

Honduras now has a rating equal to that of the Congo and Argentina.

The reason: the widening fiscal deficit of the Honduran government.  Moody's places Honduras's credit rating as tied for the worst rating in Central America:
Costa Rica     Baa3
Panama         Baa2
Nicaragua      B3
El Salvador    Ba3
Honduras       B3
Guatemala     Ba1

Moody's describes Baa as a low risk investment, Ba as a somewhat risky investment, and B as a risky investment.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa was supposed to get the government budget under control in 2013, but he didn't.  Instead, he let it balloon out of control, and the deficit went from 5.9% of Honduras's gross domestic product to 7.7 % of the GDP.

This news comes as Juan Orlando Hernandez celebrates his first 30 days in power, and amid reports that in general, investors are counting on him to turn the fiscal deficits around.

They just don't believe Honduras will achieve the goals his administration has set.