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.