November 29, 2010

Freedom of expression is a human right, not a Honduran right

The government of Honduras needs to be reminded that freedom of expression is a human right that has nothing to do with nationality.

The Honduran constitution (1982) prohibits foreigners from carrying out political activities, but to stretch the definition of 'political activities' to include writing opinion articles is a clear violation of the rights granted by the member states of the United Nations
(of which Honduras has been a member since 1945) and the Organization of American States. Honduras was suspended from active participation in the OAS on July 5, 2009, but was still expected to "fulfill its obligations as a member of the Organization, in particular with regard to human rights".

The following are excerpts from the related documents. The complete documents are also available in other languages, including Spanish, at the links given.
Emphasis is mine.


The following is from the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the full text of which appears in the following pages. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."


Article 2.

* Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.


Article 19.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.


From the OAS's Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression:


REAFFIRMING the need to ensure respect for and full enjoyment of individual freedoms and fundamental rights of human beings under the rule of law;

AWARE that consolidation and development of democracy depends upon the existence of freedom of expression;

PERSUADED that the right to freedom of expression is essential for the development of knowledge and understanding among peoples, that will lead to a true tolerance and cooperation among the nations of the hemisphere; CONVINCED that any obstacle to the free discussion of ideas and opinions limits freedom of expression and the effective development of a democratic process;



1. Freedom of expression in all its forms and manifestations is a fundamental and inalienable right of all individuals. Additionally, it is an indispensable requirement for the very existence of a democratic society.

2. Every person has the right to seek, receive and impart information and opinions freely under terms set forth in Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights. All people should be afforded equal opportunities to receive, seek and impart information by any means of communication without any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, economic status, birth or any other social condition.


5. Prior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression, opinion or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law. Restrictions to the free circulation of ideas and opinions, as well as the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression.


From the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights:

(Adopted by the Ninth International Conference of American States, Bogotá, Colombia, 1948)


Article IV. Every person has the right to freedom of investigation, of opinion, and of the expression and dissemination of ideas, by any medium whatsoever.


Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Freedom of Thought and Expression

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice.

2. The exercise of the right provided for in the foregoing paragraph shall not be subject to prior censorship but shall be subject to subsequent imposition of liability, which shall be expressly established by law to the extent necessary to ensure: a. respect for the rights or reputations of others; or b. the protection of national security, public order, or public health or morals.

3. The right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls over newsprint, radio broadcasting frequencies, or equipment used in the dissemination of information, or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions.

4. Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph 2 above, public entertainments may be subject by law to prior censorship for the sole purpose of regulating access to them for the moral protection of childhood and adolescence.

5. Any propaganda for war and any advocacy of national, racial, or religious hatred that constitute incitements to lawless violence or to any other similar action against any person or group of persons on any grounds including those of race, color, religion, language, or national origin shall be considered as offenses punishable by law.


Ironically, the Honduran government ignores clear violations of number 5 above while going after someone with an opposing political opinion. Again, for anyone celebrating this attack on freedom of expression, please think about it. The next time it may be an attack on your freedom of expression or the people you agree with.

Related article: Honduras attacks freedom of expression

November 28, 2010

Wikileaks on Honduras

US Ambassador Hugo Llorens with Mel Zelaya
Photo: US Embassy

Wikileaks released a July 2009 communication from US Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens to the Secretary of State and others. There isn't much new, except that Llorens admits that Mel Zelaya probably committed illegal and unconstitutional acts and/or intended to, something that the official US position never did.


DE RUEHTG #0645/01 2050023
O 240023Z JUL 09




E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/23/2019


Classified By: Ambassador Hugo Llorens, reasons 1.4 (b and d)

1. (C) Summary: Post has attempted to clarify some of
the legal and constitutional issues surrounding the June 28
forced removal of President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya. The
Embassy perspective is that there is no doubt that the
military, Supreme Court and National Congress conspired
on June 28 in what constituted an illegal and
unconstitutional coup against the Executive Branch, while
accepting that there may be a prima facie case that Zelaya may
have committed illegalities and may have even violated the
constitution. There is equally no doubt from our perspective
that Roberto Micheletti's assumption of power was
illegitimate. Nevertheless, it is also evident that the
constitution itself may be deficient in terms of providing
clear procedures for dealing with alleged illegal acts by
the President and resolving conflicts between the branches
of government. End summary.

2. (U) Since the June 28 removal and expulsion of President
Zelaya by the Honduran armed forces, the Embassy has
consulted Honduran legal experts (one cannot find a fully
unbiased professional legal opinion in Honduras in the
current politically charged atmosphere) and reviewed the
text of the Honduran Constitution and its laws to develop a
better understanding of the arguments being parlayed by
the coup's supporters and opponents.

Read the rest of the (long) communication at .... if you can get in. The site was down most of the day today.

Thought: Is this a political act for which I can be punished?

November 27, 2010

Honduras attacks freedom of speech

Federico Álvarez Fernández
Photos: La Tribuna, Honduras

In the style of dictators and Hugo Chávez, dictator/president of Venezuela, the Honduran government of Porfirio Lobo is talking about expelling from the country a 34-year resident and retired businessman who is married to a Honduran and has raised his Honduran children and grandchildren here in Honduras.

Born in Costa Rica, Federico Álvarez Fernández has spent the majority of his adult life in Honduras. He arrived in 1977, when Honduras was still under a military regime, as the Costa Rican Ambassador to Honduras. He is a former president of the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE) in Honduras. He is active in the civic group Unión Cívica Democrática (UCD). His weekly opinion pieces on social, economic, and political developments are published in La Tribuna.

Álvarez has been a productive, contributing member of Honduran society for almost 34 years, serving for five years as Representative of the Interamerican Development Bank (BID in Spanish) in Honduras. He left BID rather than being transferred to Mexico because he had decided that Honduras was his home. He later became CEO of various Honduran banks until he retired and now serves on the Board of Directors of Banco Lafise.

Álvarez has been decorated by two Honduran presidents. He received the prestigious Francisco Morazán en el Grado de Gran Cruz Placa de Plata (the country's highest award) for his contribution to the democratization of Honduras from Roberto Suazo Córdova (1982-86), the country's first democratically elected president. He received the José Cecilio del Valle award from President Rafael Leonardo Callejas (1990-94) for his "outstanding" contribution to the economic development of Honduras. He was granted an honorary citizenship by the National Congress in December, 2009, for extraordinary service to Honduras. To understand what that meant to him, please read his article Hondureño (in Spanish).

Álvarez is a prolific writer and has written and distributed many thoughtful essays regarding the political crisis and the pressures that have been placed on Honduras to violate its constitution and laws by outside forces, including the Organization of American States.

However, Federico Álvarez also has been critical of President Lobo's handling of many matters. His focus is on adhering to the rule of law and the constitution, believing that is the way for Honduras to advance, not by bowing to political pressures.

This isn't the first time that Sr. Álvarez has been threatened by the Lobo administration. In June 2010, he was warned that Lobo had assigned a high level government official with the task of discrediting his reputation and that of Fernando Anduray, another critic of the Lobo administration. Anduray has a high level job in the government, but his wife was fired as Director of PANI, which she claimed was political retaliation for her husband's outspoken opinions.

After receiving honorary citizenship in December 2009, Álvarez decided that he wanted to become a naturalized citizen and submitted his application. On January 25, 2010, the Ministry of the Interior approved his request and extended to him the "Carta de Ciudadanía". He only learned of the supposed paperwork problems after being informed that the current Minister of the Interior Áfrico Madrid had declared on the Esdras Amado López television show on Channel 36 that he was going to cancel Álvarez's citizenship because of "missing" documents in his file.

Áfrico Madrid (remember him, the witch-hunter?) stated that Álvarez' paperwork was not in order and for that reason, "he could be invited to leave the country in the next days" — echos of Venezuela, where paperwork problems are the frequently named cause of hundreds of expropriated businesses and closed media outlets.

Madrid said that Álvarez failed to submit a "authenticated" birth certificate or a police record from Costa Rica. Since Álvarez has lived in Honduras for 34 years, perhaps a Honduran police record (or lack thereof) would suffice? It seems clear that the government was on a witch hunt, looking for something with which to intimidate Álvarez into not writing. Madrid stated clearly, "From now on, he is prohibited from participation in political activities that contravene the stability of the Honduran state".

Álvarez told me that he had been warned by friends for months that he should tone down his opinions because they were "causing discomfort to President Lobo". He has talked to several lawyers and all agree that this recent action is a gross violation of the law. However, he has not been able to defend himself because the Government has not given him written notice of their decision. He believes that it is clear that he may be able to recoup his nationality, but fears that the Government will keep trying to silence his voice by other methods.

Article 32 of the constitution of Honduras states that foreigners are not allowed to carry out (desarrollar) political activities. What is the legal definition of 'political activities' or will that change with each president? For that matter, what is the definition of 'desarrollar'? Is expressing a dissenting opinion a political activity? Is being a member of a civic group a political activity?

Unlike other foreigners who have been tolerated to enter and stay in Honduras during the past two years for purely political reasons to encourage protests, violence, and anarchy and to train, fund, and even arm radical groups in an effort to disrupt the country, Federico Álvarez is a man with deep ties to Honduras who exercises his freedom of speech to share his opinions. While the government ignores the former groups to appease the political "human rights" groups, a decent man with 34 years residency in Honduras is being intimidated and threatened with expulsion merely because he disagrees with the president.

But perhaps the message is not only for Sr. Álvarez. Perhaps the message is to the media in general. Is Honduras going to become a place where freedom of speech is discouraged, where open debate is prohibited, where politicians' actions cannot be questioned, where citizens and residents cannot express their displeasure with direction of the government without fear of retaliation?

That may be the intent, but it will backfire on the Lobo administration. They have the power to turn a writer into a martyr. Anyone anywhere in the world can and does write about Honduras whether they know anything about it or not. La Tribuna publishes opinion pieces from any writer of interest. There is no requirement to be a Honduran resident or citizen. Obviously, Álvarez can submit his articles from anywhere in the world. He will become a celebrity if he is expelled from Honduras which will likely widen his audience even more.

This is serious. Most of the foreign residents that I know are already intimidated from speaking their opinions publicly (many have told me so) for fear of government interference in or retaliation to their businesses, NGO's, or charity groups. Most Honduran bloggers outside of the resistance do not write about political matters. How many more citizens will think twice before expressing an opinion now? Honduras needs more citizen participation, not less.

For those in the resistance media and blogs who are celebrating this blow to Federico Álvarez, you shouldn't be. If the Lobo administration can witch hunt for 'paperwork errors' for one person, they can do it for you, too. And, if not this administration, maybe the next administration will. Any attack on freedom of expression is an attack on all freedom of expression. Those of you claiming political persecution to the world should know that better than anyone.

Who is next? Housewives who blog about the news and give their opinions about the political situation in Honduras? It wouldn't surprise me, because once you take that slippery slope, it is easy to push further and further like Hugo Chávez.

Just don't do it, President Lobo. It will tarnish your reputation all over the world where freedom of speech is valued and give credence to the many false claims of political persecution that have been made.

Related articles in Spanish:

Honduras Libre y en Democracía blog: Persecución Política
La Tribuna: Secretaría del Interior suspende naturalización a Federico Álvarez
La Tribuna: He cumplido con todos los requisitos exigidos por la ley
La Prensa: Áfrico Madrid: Federico Álvarez no es hondureño
La Tribuna: Áfrico Madrid: “No se le ha quitado nacionalidad porque nunca él fue juramentado” (In this latest article, Madrid seems to be backtracking, saying that Álvarez would revert to his former resident status rather than being expelled from the country.)

You can also read Federico Álvarez's opinion columns and judge for yourself whether he is a radical or in any way tries to destabilize Honduras.

November 24, 2010

Pumpkin pecan praline ice cream

Pumpkin Pecan Praline Ice CreamLa Gringa's pumpkin pecan praline ice cream

Yum! This was a good experiment with a holiday flare. El Jefe liked it a lot, too.

Pumpkin Pecan Praline Ice CreamI followed my basic mango ice cream recipe except substituted a can of pumpkin puree for the mango, reduced the milk a little to adjust for the volume of puree, and added some cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice.

Next time, I think I will leave out the pumpkin pie spice and just use about 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Initially, I only used half the can of pumpkin, but the pumpkin flavor was too faint, so I dumped the whole thing into the mix.

Pecans cost an arm and a leg here in La Ceiba so they are a special treat for us. I'm not giving the praline recipe for reasons explained below, but the next time that I get it to work, I will give you a recipe.

pecan pralineI cannot follow a praline or toffee recipe to save my life! I don't know why I always feel the need to adjust by adding butter or more corn syrup. It always tastes good, but this praline turned out incredibly sticky. I joked that it has the advantage of giving you a snack later on from all the praline stuck to your teeth. ;-/ Luckily, mixed into the frozen ice cream, it was delectably crunchy and not too sticky.

chopping pecan pralineAfter the praline hardens, chop it into small pieces using a sharp chef's knife. You can store it in a plastic container at room temperature or in the freezer. I store mine in the back of the freezer because otherwise it just dwindles away day by day until there is nothing left. (El Jefe rarely looks in the freezer.)

This ice cream is great by itself, but since it isn't too terribly sweet, I think it would be good as a side to your pumpkin or pecan pie, too.

Let me know what you think if you try it!

La Gringa's Pumpkin Pecan Praline Ice Cream
If you are going to try this recipe in the tropics (or even if you aren't in the tropics), please check out my Ice Cream Making Tips, which I know from my years of ice cream making experience will help to avoid disappointment. If you are still on the fence about buying an ice cream maker — just do it! Check out my Ice Cream Maker Reviews where I give the straight scoop on ice cream makers.

Oh, yeah, and for the raw egg-phobics, you can easily change this recipe to a cooked egg custard based recipe by following the instructions in Custard Based Ice Cream.


Green oranges

Green oranges

A friend who raises oranges gave El Jefe a 'few'. What might not be clear by this photo is that this container holds close to 5 gallons. And that wasn't all of them. Arexy had already made about a half-gallon of juice and had prepared the oranges in the container below for 'sucking'.

This is the typical Honduran way of consuming oranges. They are peeled and then cut in half to hold in the hand to suck the juice out of them. Oranges are peeled so that the bitter skin doesn't leave a bad taste on the lips. When you buy one on the street, the vendor will peel it for you.

We gave a huge bag of oranges to Arexy and another one to my sister-in-law, and still had oranges for about two weeks.

Though they are green, not like you would see in US grocery stores, these oranges are bright orange inside, ripe, sweet, and juicy. Very sweet and juicy!

To understand why your oranges are orange and ours are green, please see Why are oranges orange?

November 19, 2010

Guest response to: The falling US dollar and Lempira

The following guest blog is by Jorge Gallardo Ruis in response to
Guest Blog: The falling US dollar and Lempira.

The unknown author also forgets that most of the imported articles we purchase come from the US. When the dollar rises and falls, it does so with respect to other currencies that are not very common in Honduras: The Euro, the British pound, the Yen and most recently, the Chinese currency.

Thus, inflation is affected very little when the dollar rises and falls, or at least, we're affected the least, compared to the idea that the Lempira fell against the dollar. That would promote our exports to the US (our greatest market) but push inflation as the prices rise on consumer goods imported from the US, as the author says, and that would affect us much more than "riding" the dollar up and down against the other currencies. In this sense we are still living by the dollar standard as we were in the 60s, except the ratio has changed.

What the author recommends: "About the only way to keep up the living standard is have a more efficient economy and trying to reduce the import of oil and a lot of food items and became more self sufficient in energy." was called in the 60s "Import substitution" and would have worked well, as it did in the Asian Tigers, except that's when we had the real coups which were a means for a few to mass accumulate the wealth. General Oswaldo Lopez Arellano became one of the wealthiest men in Honduras together with a clique of generals and servants, while they beat up on students.

I would say Import Substitution is still the current policy, with the biggest import, oil, as its primary target. That is why those recent Honduran contracts for renewable energy were so important.

The stability of the Lempira with respect to the dollar is maintained, not quite by manipulation which sounds kind of nasty, but by a series of macro-economic mechanisms which include primarily the open market where dollars are made available to big traders (the banks as intermediaries and big projects), but also include the interest rates to try to attract foreign capital. The problem was that the interest rate had created accumulation of funds but there were no big projects to invest in, circling back to the renewable energy projects, which Zelaya was holding back. His only investment project was "la cuarta urna" as we all know.

But these projects will not create as many jobs as manufacturing and infrastructure would. Appreciating the Lempira with respect to the dollar, as the author recommends would, yes, reduce inflation which is small, but would also affect our manufacturing exports by making them more expensive in the US. So, appreciating the Lempira would hurt the slow recovery we are having in industrial production and affect adversely job creation, a current priority.

I would say that riding the dollar while the dollar is depreciating should force us to look for new markets for manufacture and tourism in Europe and Asia where we're becoming cheaper to buy from and visit.

Many thanks go to Jorge Gallardo for allowing me to post this article. You can find other Blogicito guest articles by Sr. Gallardo here.

Jorge Gallardo Rius is a Honduran citizen who was born in La Ceiba and currently lives in Tegucigalpa. He studied in Louisiana, Houston, and Romania and is currently an Information Systems Analyst. Jorge's mother was a US citizen so he grew up speaking both languages at home. For a time, he wrote a weekly column on Education and Technology for an English-language weekly newspaper. He offers English/Spanish and Spanish/English translations. Sr. Gallardo can be contacted at jgallardo515 at

Your comments on this article are welcomed.

November 17, 2010

Quantitative Easing in layman's terms

Since the last guest article mentioned 'Quantitative Easing', a little more explanation in layman's terms might be needed. This video is priceless!

The last half gets a little more political than some may be comfortable with. Feel free to leave a comment.

Hat tip to Henry via Steve.

November 16, 2010

Guest Blog: The Falling Dollar and Lempira

The following is a guest blog from a reader who has asked not to use his name.

The Falling Dollar and Lempira

The American dollar is losing value against a basket of world currencies, about 10% so far this year. The reasons are many and complex. The world economic crisis, large US trade deficits and foremost the QE (Quantitative Easing) or in other words the massive infusion of additional new money in the financial system. The money printing presses are working overtime.

This QE was supposed to stimulate the economy and reduce unemployment. It has mostly failed but prevented the total collapse of the banking system. The Lempira for a few years already and at the present is fixed by manipulation of the Central Bank of Honduras at about L. 19.02 to U.S. $1.00. Whatever happens to the U.S. dollar affects the Lempira. Since when the value of the U.S. dollar goes down so does the Lempira, this is good for Honduran exporters, but it will result in more inflation, since many items for daily consumption will have to be paid in dollars.

Many countries like Brazil are concerned that their currencies appreciate too fast against the dollar and they will have problems exporting. There is also a massive outflow of U.S. dollars to emerging countries, where interest rates are much higher than in the U.S., and at the same time their currencies rise in value against the U.S.dollar. Interest rates for term deposit in Lempiras are 8 to 10% compared to 1 to 3% for U.S.dollar deposits in North America.

If the Central Bank of Honduras does not appreciate the value of the Lempira, then the country will be affected by greater inflation with all of its disadvantages and problems. What can Honduras do? About the only way to keep up the living standard is have a more efficient economy and trying to reduce the import of oil and a lot of food items and became more self sufficient in energy.

The great amount money (remesas) which Hondurans living in United States are sending to Honduras to support their relatives in their daily living. As inflation increases, this money will reduce their buying power.

If the price of a basket of food (canasta basica) goes through the roof, there will be riots in the streets and a big cry to raise the minimum wages much higher. This will result in more inflation and unemployment and so there will be a vicious circle of higher inflation and higher wages and on and on it goes.

November 12, 2010

Odds are good for criminals in Honduras

"Sueño profundo" (deep sleep)
Cartoon by Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras

As mentioned in the Avionetazo article, the Honduran Ministerio Publico (MP - similar to district attorney) is famous for dragging out cases until the accused are nowhere to be found and the witnesses have forgotten, can't be found, or have been bribed or intimidated into not responding. Just how bad is their record?

(Note: all of the following links are to Spanish-language articles unless otherwise noted.)

In 2009, the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime recorded 866 cases, of these only 74% were sent to DNIC for investigation. Of that, only 19% were returned with an investigation file that could be taken to court. Of those 166 investigations, 10 were thrown out by the MP as lacking sufficient proof and only 75 arrest warrants were issued. So, best case, 8.6% of these 866 cases might result in arrest, prosecution, and punishment. (hat tip to Liz)

The reality is that frequently no arrests are ever made resulting from these warrants because the accused are long gone before the months or years that it takes the MP to develop a case and if they do go to trial, which requires more months and years, often the judges dismiss the case — 37 cases were thrown out by the judges last year, reducing the remaining faint possibility of eventual punishment to about 4% of the original number of cases!

The MP blames the police for lack of investigation, the police (and the president) blame the judges for releasing criminals, and the judges blame the MP for presenting inadequate cases. Regardless of whose fault it is — and I won't even get into the accusations of corruption in the police, the MP, and the courts — crime pays in Honduras. If you are disposed to committing crime, the odds are well within your favor — which is obviously the risk that those involved in the
Avionetazo case decided to take.

Planes, boats, automobiles, and more

This plane is just one of many other assets seized by the government. OABI, the MP organization responsible for the administration of confiscated organized crime property, has tens of millions of dollars of properties and cash under its control.

In March 2009, OABI announced that they had not received judicial orders to dispose of the planes, saying that a team of lawyers had solicited the MP for return of six of the planes to their owners. In this article, the confiscated property was reported as 178 vehicles, 36 boats, 25 real estate properties, and cash of 52 million lempiras and US $4.1 million in cash. An additional US $14 million in narco cash has been confiscated in 2010 alone.

In November 2009, El Heraldo wrote of the narco fleet maintained by the military pending final disposition. The government incurs expensive costs in the repair and continued maintenance of the airplanes. OABI announced that the planes would be auctioned in six months. Obviously that did not happen.

On February 11, 2010, El Heraldo again reported that dozens of planes under the control of the military, some with a value of up to US $4 million, had still not been auctioned or assigned to any institution. They also reported a helicopter confiscated in 2000 was deteriorated from lack of maintenance.

On February 16, 2010, Juan Orlando Hernández, President of the Congress, said it was important to use or auction the 152 confiscated properties, which include vehicles, 7 planes, boats, 54 properties including homes, two ranches complete with 575 "narco cattle", and vacant properties. The "narco cattle" were auctioned in December 2009 due to the difficulty for the government to maintain them. Some of the vehicles are being used by Fiscales and others by municipalities. Some of the properties are being maintained as evidence for trials that have not yet occurred and some have just not been dealt with due to the government's inability/incompetence/negligence to finalize the paperwork and legal process. In one case I wrote about in 2008, a narco boat previously confiscated from narcotraffickers was rented by OABI to another narcotrafficker [English] and confiscated a second time in another drug raid.

El Heraldo reported that as of September 30, 2010, OABI managed 169 confiscated assets, including 18 planes, 56 real estate properties, 78 million lempiras and 7 million US dollars in cash. OABI still reports that they are waiting for judicial orders for the assets' disposition. President of the Supreme Court Jorge Rivera Avilés announced today that he will be sending a draft law to congress to provide for the immediate use of confiscated organized crime assets.

What should be done?

An independent, immediate, and thorough audit is in order to ensure that this long list of property still exists under government control. Immediate action should be taken finalize any legalities and to auction the properties and distribute the cash as required by law. Minister of Security Oscar Álvarez has recently solicited the disbursement of confiscated narco funds for use in combating narcotrafficking and organized crime.

How shameful that these assets are deteriorating while various government organizations are haggling over who gets the "goods" or who didn't process their paperwork, instead of properly putting them to use for crime fighting as required by law. In a country where the police constantly tell citizens that they have no money for gasoline or have no vehicle to attend to crime victims, it is extremely doubtful that any arm of the government could afford to maintain and put to good use an airplane. Sell them and buy vehicles and gas for the police!

Don't wait another year or two or three and then tell us that the assets can't be found!

November 11, 2010

Honduras' Avionetazo

Marlon Pascua and General Carlos Cuéllar
Minister of Defense Marlon Pascua with General Carlos Cuéllar

All photos: La Tribuna, Honduras

Though few questions are being answered about the 'Avionetazo', the brazen theft of a confiscated narco plane [English] on October 31, it has been announced that somewhere between US $300,000 and $400,000 was paid to the participants for their actions or inaction. Presumably that information came from one or more of the 19 military who were questioned and detained by the military. (Note: all links are to Spanish-language articles unless otherwise noted.)

Marlene BanegasThe interim coordinator of the San Pedro Ministerio Publico (MP - similar to District Attorney), Marlene Banegas, has been quite vocal much to the chagrin of Minister of Defense Marlon Pascua, who expressed his displeasure in a television interview. Banegas said that the incident happened around 10 p.m. on Sunday night but wasn't reported to civilian officials until about 4 a.m. Monday morning. She stated that after the plane left San Pedro, it landed in La Ceiba where it was fueled, filled with (narco) money, and then flew on to Colombia. She announced that the five individuals who stole the plane have been identified but because of the ongoing investigation, she can't name them.

Minister of Defense Pascua stated that 19 military, including 4 "officials" have been identified as being involved, but similarly stated that he can't name them due to the ongoing investigation. He has given even less information to the media than Banegas, but specifically stated that at no time has he accused Lt. Colonel Gonzales, commander of the San Pedro base, of being involved.

The other colonel

Col. Helmer HermidaPossibly also involved was the La Ceiba base comandante Colonel Hilmer Hermida, who, according to Banegas, mysteriously "arrived at the SPS base on Sunday night 20 minutes after the theft" (San Pedro is a minimum 2-hour drive from La Ceiba or about a 30-minute flight).

In a radio interview, transcribed by La Tribuna, Colonel Hermida expressed his anger at Fiscal Banegas. He told of receiving a call from his commander at 10:33 p.m. telling him to take precautionary measures in his unit [the La Ceiba air force base]. His answers seem evasive. He finally mentions at the end of the transcript that Lt. Colonel Gonzáles was present at the La Ceiba base at the time (!) and that he asked Colonel Hermida to "help him take control of the SPS base." Hermida said that he asked and received permission from his commander to do so. He said they arrived at the SPS base at 11:20 p.m. and that the log book [maintained by the military under these officers' control] will prove that. He also said that he gave all this information to the Fiscal but doesn't know where she is getting the information she is giving to the media.

Based on this information, one hypothesis might be that the agreement was that payment for the 'favor' would be made in La Ceiba when the narco plane was free and clear of San Pedro. Both colonels would have a solid alibi that they were not in San Pedro and the bribe money would not be in San Pedro where searches might find it. If they were involved, they could have departed La Ceiba for San Pedro immediately after overseeing the landing, receiving the payment, and seeing the takeoff of the plane in La Ceiba.

The full weight of the law - measured in milligrams

Also under investigation is Interairports (Aeropuertos de Honduras), the concessionaire who runs the Honduran airports, related to the fact that lights and radar were turned off and security cameras were unable to capture any information (apparently at either airport).

Despite all the talk of applying "the full weight of the law", Banegas said the accused would be charged with "the crime of aggravated vehicle theft". There was no mention of bribery, treason, illegal enrichment, dereliction of duty, or other crimes. On November 5, Pascua said the case was in the hands of the Fiscal. On November 7, it was announced that, because the crime was committed on military property, any accused military will be under the jurisdiction of military law, which Marlon Pascua described as "muy suave" (very soft) compared to Honduras' criminal law.

The Avionetazo shows every sign of following the long list of Honduras' '-azo' scandals [English] that fade from the headlines with at most a bit of temporary embarrassment for those involved — who often bounce back quickly by being reelected to office, appointed to high-level government positions, or receiving lucrative government contracts!

Liberty for the implicated military

A few days after the theft of the narco plane, it was announced that 14 military personal were involved and were in military custody. That number was upped to 19 and apparently does not include Lt. Col. Gonzáles who was in charge of the Armando Escalón military base in San Pedro Sula.

Yesterday, CODEH (Committee for Human Rights) filed a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that the soldiers were being denied their individual and constitutional rights as they had not yet been formally charged with anything. The Appellate Court ordered that the 19 be released from custody and they were. CODEH is likely one of those human rights organizations who President Lobo was referring to, along with COFADEH [English], when he recently accused "some" of these human rights organizations of mixing politics with human rights and taking actions to denigrate Honduras based on the dollars they receive from "the exterior". CODEH had a valid argument this time, but during the past year and a half this organization has been infamous for denouncing non-existent death camps, planned military-led massacres, and other absurdities that no legitimate media in the world have found credible enough to report.

Lt. Col. Juan Carlos GonzalesThe SPS comandante Juan Carlos Gonzáles was suspended from his duties but no mention was made of any measures to ensure that he didn't leave the country nor that his house or bank accounts were being searched for large amounts of US cash. (With a possible US $400,000 floating around, you might think that would be the first thing they would do. Maybe they did; they aren't talking.)

More Keystone Kops

Last week, it was announced that the Ministerio Publico would be taking Gonzáles' statement/questioning him on Monday or Tuesday (a week after the fact!). Later the MP said they couldn't find him to serve him the subpoena — though reporters have apparently had no trouble in finding him for a statement. Then, according to La Tribuna, the MP was waiting for the two officers to present themselves voluntarily to give their declarations. Today it was reported that Colonel Hermida will give his statement today (12 days after the fact) and that Lt. Colonel Gonzales said he was unaware whether a citation from the MP had arrived and that he is waiting for the required legal citation. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Clearly, the officers have had almost two weeks to work on their stories and, if they were involved, plenty of time to dispose of the cash where it cannot be found.

Interpol issued an international alert regarding the stolen plane on Monday (a full week after the theft!).

The MP, in a ridiculous statement yesterday, announced that the Secretary of Defense is obligated to return the airplane that was put into their custody or pay its equivalent in cash. It is a ridiculous statement because no officials in Honduras under any circumstances are ever held responsible for their actions. At most, this would result in one arm of the government paying another arm and who pays for that? The people of Honduras, who in the end pay for all corruption! Instead of cooperating to finalize a serious and speedy investigation, we are seeing infighting among the government organizations.

Despite all the talk, I wouldn't be surprised if, as usual, a few peons go to prison for a short time (for the 'show'), until their convictions are overturned, while the higher-ups get off scot-free, with the bribe money intact. The MP is famous for dragging out cases until the accused are nowhere to be found and the witnesses have forgotten, can't be found, or have been bribed or intimidated into not responding.

Business as usual in Honduras.

Tomorrow: How bad is the MP's record and how many planes are there?

November 2, 2010

In the news, November 2

Stolen plane
Photos: La Prensa, Honduras

There has been some crime news in the past couple of days that has even shocked me.

Narco plane stolen from military base

Sometime in the late night or early morning hours on Sunday, five armed men entered a military base in San Pedro and commandeered a previously confiscated (in 2008) narco plane. According to unofficial versions reported in La Prensa, the plane had been warmed up just hours earlier and was full of gas with the key inside. A later version indicated that the plane was warmed up daily for two weeks before the theft and that there were empty gas cylinders around.

The armed men would have had to have passed a locked gate complete with a manned guard house. Channel 10 news reported that they would have had to pass two such guard houses. There have been no reports that the base was assaulted or that shots were fired.

Marlon Pascua, Minister of Defense, attributed the act to organized crime and said that the objective was to discredit the military. He pointed out that the narcotraffickers usually just burn their planes, as we've seen many times in Honduras. "For them (narcotraffickers), planes are disposable." Pascua pointed out the oddity of the risk taken to get this one back. On Tuesday, he indicated that he knows who was behind this but cannot reveal names because of the investigation.

Attorney General Luis Rubí stated that this act shows the audacity of organized crime in Honduras and added that it is obvious that there was definitely complicity on the part of someone. I think it also shows that audacity of the corrupto(s) who likely were paid to assist in this act. But when there is little to no prosecution or punishment for corruption or crime, I suppose the benefits exceed the risks involved.

The Vice Minister of Police says that there have since been threats against the police related to this investigation.

Juan Carlos Gonzáles, commander of the base, along with other officials were suspended from duty yesterday, pending the investigation which will be done by a special commission. Few details have been given to the media.

Update, Nov. 3: La Tribuna has some additional information about the crime, including an unofficial report that the plane is now in Venezuela.

Follow up article, November 11: Honduras' Avionetazo

Kidnappers thwarted

Quick action by a witness to a kidnapping and a quick response by the police are responsibility for the safe recovery of a San Pedro Sula businessman yesterday after a long chase. After throwing the victim out of the car, one of the kidnappers was killed by the police, two were injured and captured, and one was caught while trying to flee. But speaking of audacity, one of the kidnappers was a policeman, part of the La Ceiba special anti-kidnapping unit.

Is it any wonder that most witnesses and victims of crimes do not report them when the very people who are supposed to be protecting us are involved in crimes?

US $7 million in tourists' luggage

On Sunday, 15 foreigners (Panamanian, Guatemalan, and Argentinian) were arrested for money laundering at the airport while trying to board a plane with almost US $7 million in cash in their luggage. At least one of the accused admitted that they were paid US $2,500 to transport the money. This makes a total of some US $13 million confiscated by the police this year. Hopefully the money will be used for further crime fighting efforts.
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