January 28, 2012

Oreo Pops (recipe)

Oreo Pops - recipe
A month or so ago, I was looking for something on the internet, which led to something totally unrelated, which led to something else (Cake Pops), and then I stumbled upon Oreo Pops.

Maybe this is old news to those of you in the USA, but "Cake Pops" were something new to me. They are little dessert treats on a stick, like a sucker, and some talented people decorate them like you wouldn't believe! Cartoon characters, Santa Claus, animals, flowers, you name it (click for photos). It sounded like something fun but since I couldn't find sucker sticks or fancy decorating ingredients in La Ceiba and didn't feel like baking a cake, I decided to make Oreo Pops, or more accurately called Oreo Bites since I had to use toothpicks.

I had reservations as I thought these might be a little too sweet for my taste since the white Oreo filling is mixed in as well. Not so. They had a deep, rich chocolate flavor that wasn't overly sweet. The final texture is kind of like fudge, but not as sweet as fudge generally is. El Jefe liked them, too.

This is a great recipe for Honduras, especially for those of us not in the mega shopping areas, since it only has three ingredients: Oreos, cream cheese (which has been readily available in La Ceiba for several years now), and chocolate. I think it would also be a fun recipe for kids to make.

Oreo Pops - recipeOreo Pops

makes about 30-36

1 16 oz. bag of Oreos
1 8 oz. package of cream cheese
4-5 oz. semisweet, milk, or white chocolate*

*I used Bakers Semisweet squares, but you could use chocolate chips or Dove chocolate candies if you can find them, or even use plain chocolate candy bars if your selection of chocolate is limited. You could also use a little of two kinds of chocolate and drizzle a design of white chocolate over a semi-sweet coating or vice versa.

Oreo Pops (recipe)If you have a food processor, dump all of the Oreos in it and let 'er rip until the Oreos are fine crumbs.

If you don't have a machine, put the cookies a few at a time into a heavy sealable plastic bag and either using a rolling pin or your kitchen rock (you do have one, right?), and smash until the cookies are in fine crumbs. Place the crumbs into a medium-sized bowl. It looks a little like potting soil at this point.

Oreo Pops - recipeAdd 4-6 oz. of the cream cheese and run the machine for a few seconds at a time until the mixture begins to pull into a well-mixed ball. Or, if you aren't using a machine, mix in the cream cheese with a big spoon, spatula, or your hands, part at a time, until the "dough" is firm and will agreeably roll into a cohesive ball. Add more, a couple of ounces at a time, as needed. I only used about 6 oz. total, though most recipes call for the whole 8 oz. You want the mix to be about play dough consistency. Too soft and your balls will flatten out, too dry and your balls will crumble.

Oreo PopsPinch off an amount to make about a 1 to 1 1/4 inch ball. If I had sucker sticks, I would make them bigger. Roll the dough in your hands until it is a nice round shape. Place the balls on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and put it in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.

Melt your chocolate carefully in the microwave or rig up a "double boiler" with a bowl and a small pot. I like the double boiler so I could keep the chocolate warm for dipping. As it cools, it thickens and that isn't great for dipping.

Oreo Bites - recipeSide Note: I've been having problems with chocolate seizing (getting hard and never melting in the microwave) lately — all the time! I don't know if it is the quality of the chocolate (note the photo, this chocolate has been melted in transit at least once and apparently stored under less than optimal conditions) or if it is just from the high humidity in the air. If you use a double boiler, be sure that no boiling water spatters into your chocolate as it will definitely seize.

Oreo Pops (recipe)If your chocolate seizes or seems too thick for dipping, stir in a teaspoon or two of shortening or manteca to thin it out a bit. Don't use butter — it will melt later. This time my chocolate did seize as you can see in the small bowl to the side. I tried to melt the congealed mass over the stove with no joy, so I added a bit of shortening, and a bit more, and a bit more, until it finally got to the right consistency. Though I wouldn't purposely add that much shortening if I had a choice, the finally taste really didn't suffer.

Oreo Pops - recipeWhen the balls are firm and the chocolate is melted, take a toothpick, dip the end into the chocolate and then insert it into a ball. The chocolate is supposed to help keep the toothpick from falling out of the ball and it seemed to work. I never lost a single one.

Holding the toothpick vertical, plunge the ball completely into the melted chocolate to coat it thoroughly. I used a spoon in the other hand to help the chocolate cover completely and the back of spoon to scrape some of the excess off the bottom, but work fast as the chocolate will look messy if you play with it after it starts to cool. Do this one by one and place the chocolate covered balls back on to the wax paper (foil might work, too), but definitely do not place them on a plate as the chocolate will stick like glue.

If you find the balls are getting soft before you finish, put them back into the freezer for a few minutes to firm up again before dipping the rest.

Chill in the freezer until the chocolate is firm and enjoy! I'll bet you can't eat just one.

Oreo Bites (recipe)Another note: Most recipes for Cake Balls say to not store them in the refrigerator because the chocolate will 'weep' (form condensation on the outside). Here in the tropics, the chocolate would melt if I stored them at room temperature, so I stored the Oreo Balls in the freezer. I just put some on a plate and let them thaw for a few minutes before serving.

Question: Have any of you in the tropics had problems with chocolate seizing when there has been no chance of moisture being introduced by the cook? I melted many a chocolate in my previous air-conditioned kitchens and never had this problem before. Now I have the problem almost every time and I'd like to try to pinpoint what the issue is.

As always, please let me know if you try the recipe and how you liked it. ;-)

January 27, 2012

Freedom of the press in Honduras

Honduras President Porfirio Lobo
Honduras President Porfirio Lobo
Photo: El Heraldo, Honduras

The Miami Herald article discussed in Corruption in the upper echelons of the Honduran police is reporting what newspapers in Honduran can only hint at, if they even have the nerve to do that.

While freedom of expression and freedom of the press are enshrined in law and the constitution of Honduras, the reality is different. There is the very real fear of retaliation for what it said or written — about 17 journalists have been murdered in the past couple of years and many more have been threatened or intimidated by police, other government officials, or criminals. It is widely rumored that some journalists simply accept payment for covering/not covering or putting a certain slant on a story and even that one television 'journalist' extorts his potential victims — 'Pay up and we'll leave you alone. Don't pay and we will crucify you with wild claims and made up 'proof'.

Sometimes family politics and financial interests also get in the way of the "whole truth and nothing but the truth". The government of Honduras is one of the biggest advertisers in Honduras. That's right, in addition to their own two dedicated propaganda television channels, the government of Honduras spends millions on paid advertising incessantly telling us on TV, radio, and in print what a good job they are doing, using money that could be better spent actually helping the poor instead of trying to get their party reelected. Less than transparent government officials are often able to successfully confuse or cover up the truth or mislead journalists. Then there is also the possibility of being charged criminally or sued for millions for reporting derogatory stories.

You see, in Honduras, the archaic calumnia law (liable, slander, and insult) provides that anyone who even feels that their honor and dignity was offended can file a criminal complaint. It's called a "crime against honor" and is listed in the penal code in Título III, right after homicide and rape. It can be punishable by 6 months to 3 years in prison, as well as huge monetary damages in a civil lawsuit.

Reminiscent of the feudal era, which still exists to some extent in Honduras, and reflecting Honduras' strong and never ending love of impunity, in the case of "insult", the accused is not even allowed to present the truth as a defense except in the case of public officials. However, proving the truth is next to impossible in a country where "investigations" continue indefinitely and the few A cabinet of goalies - Hondurascases brought to trial rarely result in successful prosecution. Publishing a retraction, even if you have reported the truth, is the only option to avoid criminal prosecution. Even caricatures of public officials can be classified as a crime, though my favorite caricaturist and congressman Dario Banegas certainly pushes that to the limit. [Cartoon entitled a Cabinet of Goalmakers: A grinning President Lobo: I only half close an eye and .... goal! (the soccer balls spell 'corruption').]

Thankfully, this law, like so many laws in Honduras, is mostly ignored. Cases were filed and threats were made several times under the administration of Manuel Zelaya, including his threat to sue Otto Reich, former US Assistant Secretary of State, for Reich's comments made and published in the USA (coincidentally in the Miami Herald) stating that Zelaya was complicit in the Hondutel/Latinode corruption case. Reich's response to Zelaya was more or less "bring it on". In a big show for the Honduran public, the enraged Zelaya even sent high level government officials to the US to see what they could do, which was nothing.

Marcelo ChimirriRepublishing an 'offensive' article that was previously published elsewhere in the world can also result in lawsuits. We saw that in 2007, when Hondutel official and nephew of then president Manuel Zelaya, Marcelo Chimirri (who has since served some time in prison for corruption but is now out), sued two television journalists individually and sued La Prensa and El Heraldo newspapers for L.500 million (US $26 million) for the re-publication of a Mexican article which directly linked Chimirri [photo] to Hondutel corruption and was later reported by CNN. Those cases were thrown out, but it took almost five years for the underlying fraud and bribery to be investigated in Honduras, despite the fact that Latinode officials plead guilty to bribery in US court. Unfortunately, the US public court documents only list the Hondurans who made the deals and received the bribes as "Official A, Official B, and Official C".

Honduran officials still claim to not know who "Official A" is, though it was claimed that he had close connections to Zelaya. I think the case is "still under investigation" in Honduras, which apparently has much higher standards of evidence than the US. < /sarcasm > Chimirri was arrested and taken to jail shortly after the ouster of President Zelaya to the cheers of many. It now appears that other than a few months in jail, during which he was allowed visits from his stylist and masseuse, nothing more will happen to Chimirri related to the specific corruption charges made in the article. He was released on L.4 million personal bond and nobody investigated where that money came from either.

In 2007, when the cases against the media were thrown out, several members of the national congress spoke out saying that freedom of expression is one of the pillars of a democratic society. Several mentioned that the law which makes defamation a criminal offense, as well as the new transparency law, needed to be changed in order to guarantee the citizens the right to be informed. One diputado went so far as to say that "to file a lawsuit against journalists who denounce corruption only reflects the class of functionary who isn't prepared to show his innocence." But more than four years have passed and the big talk was not followed by any action.

Names and photos of police who have been suspended and/or accused of crimes are withheld from the public — who have a real need to know — because, officials say, they could be sued for releasing the information. Police and other government officials, who have no similar qualms about giving out names and allowing photos of alleged criminals before charges have been filed or proven in court, have a whole different attitude about their own. Amazingly, even the Public Prosecutor says that the names and cases have not even been released by police to their office. No investigation, no trial — no need to embarrass or defame anyone.

That brings us full circle to the Miami Herald article. Honduran officials, including those named in the article, curtly dismiss the article, saying that it is unethical, merely rumors, and asking the Herald to provide proof. Since the only ones in a position to provide proof are those devoted to covering up the truth, there is not much chance of that ever happening.

Remember that Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla said back in November 2011 (see Minister Bonilla responds) that he had no knowledge of any investigations against his command officers but that he had requested any investigative files against them from all sources. Apparently, he has not yet received those files or he is covering them up, because he's still not talking and he definitely hasn't said that the files don't exist. Leaks to the media seem to be the only way that the public can get any information.

Despite the many unsolved murders of journalists and many recent charges of attacks and intimidation, rather than addressing those issues, Honduran President Pepe Lobo announced on Wednesday that he would be sending a decree to congress intended to "regulate" the media. He didn't give any details but said that the objective is to guarantee that media divulge information without bias and that no media should be allowed to "defend personal interests". What he meant by that remains to be seen. And it doesn't bode well for freedom of expression if the government is in a position to decide what is biased and what is not. I would like to see the government propaganda channels subjected to the same criteria.

In addition to loads of coverage about the crime situation, criminal police, and lack of investigation and incompetence within the justice system, the media has exposed details of several suspicious government contracts lately as well as cases of laws passed by the congress in which the wording was mysteriously (and illegally) changed prior to being published in La Gaceta. It would be so much 'prettier' if only the media wouldn't talk about such things. In fact, the government is in the process of developing their own media campaign to improve the image of Honduras. Wouldn't a better effort be to improve the reality in the areas of crime and corruption?

Juan Orlando Hernández, President of the Congress seems to have lately put his presidential aspirations above his previous 100% support of every action of Lobo. He says that the President has a right to send a decree to Honduras, but that the congress has a right to not approve it.

On Friday, President Lobo added that the national media should obey "an ethical framework to inform and orient the public opinion in an impartial manner." "If I grab a newspaper, I am assuming that they are telling me the truth. The reader doesn't assume that the owner of a newspaper is the owner of a business that wants to get a [government] contract...." Unlike his previous announcement, this time he said that he would consult with journalists, the Inter American Press Association, and Reporters without Borders.

Honduran journalists have declared themselves "in alert" against any effort to limit their rights under Article 72 of the constitution. Proceso Digital writes that Lobo's reiterated declarations that he will legislate the exercise of the profession of journalism indicates his intolerance for criticism. [Both links in Spanish]

The Inter American Press Association has already announced its concern, citing one of the media's greatest roles as being a watchdog over the powers that be.

Related article:

Andres Oppenheimer: Press censorship on the rise in Latin America

January 25, 2012

More on Celín Pinot Hernández

Celin Eduardo Pinot Hernández
Celín Pinot Hernández, alias "Cabeza"

I previously wrote that Celín Pinot had not served nine years in prison as Miami Herald reported. I determined that based on the articles about his death which reported that he was serving nine years for the July 2009 crime. But I was wrong. Maybe reporters were purposely misled by police or maybe they assumed the same that I did, that Pinot had served his time for the 2001 murder and/or 2003 attempted murder and was out committing new crimes. I tried to find more, but the newspapers search functions don't go back that far.

My source clarified that for me.

Celín Pinot was in prison at least since 2003, which might have been on the 2001 murder charge. My source says that "he was in prison for a time and then out for a few weeks and then back in again. Whenever he wanted out, he just had to pay off the police for each week he was out. People from DGIC (police criminal investigation) came and collected the money from him so that he could stay out even though he was supposedly serving his prison sentence. He had to pay for his vacations." This practice of letting out criminals was also confirmed by a friend of friend who was being held for a time in the La Ceiba jail and spoke of a narco who spent his days handling business and voluntarily returned to jail at night.

Regarding the July 2009 crime, the source said this: "In 2009 he was arrested near to Camosa, below the airport in Tegucigalpa. When he was arrested he was supposed to be IN jail, but he was out on a paid-for vacation and the police knew it. But he paid them to be able to leave prison and paid them weekly or monthly to stay out, so he did the kidnappings and the robberies and paid the police from money earned but when it got too 'hot' for the police then they would arrest him again and back to jail he would go to finish his sentence. The police never did the paperwork for him to have to go to jail for additional charges, like for escaping or the additional kidnappings, etc."

So when police were telling reporters about Pinot's nine-year sentence, they either falsely stated or implied it was from the 2009 crime, because to do otherwise would have shown that he had been allowed to leave prison by the very police who were making such a show of capturing this dangerous criminal. Note also that the July 2009 article mentions that witnesses saw the abduction in process and called the police. The article congratulates the police on their quick action. But maybe the real story is that because of the witness calls, they did not know who the perpetrator was and then had to deal with that potential embarrassment once they realized who had been captured.

The source goes on: "The last charge he had pending was this 2009 secuestro (kidnapping/carjacking) case. He went to court on that but was released the same day (October 13, 2011) because no witnesses came to testify against him. The police showed up, but the case was poorly put together, so the case was thrown out. He was given the carta de libertad (get out of jail letter) which was delivered by the court to the prison at 7:00 PM the same day and then they forced him to leave at 11:00 pm at night when the police killed him." This sounds similar to the case of narcotrafficker Begué in La Ceiba, who was murdered shortly after his questionable release from prison, according to this El Faro article [in Spanish].

It seems obvious that Celín Pinot represented a huge risk to the police, given their complicity in releasing this dangerous criminal on the public and even demanding a cut of the crime profits if what the source says is true. As long as he was 'serving time', the police had the option and could hold the threat over his head of picking him up and keeping him in prison or worse, arranging that he be one of the frequent prisoner murder victims in 'gang disputes' that so often happens in Honduran prisons. Once Pinot was legally free, he might talk. Or maybe he might not be so agreeable to turn over a portion of his profits to the police. Or maybe one side or the other got too greedy and an example to other criminals had to be made.

The source goes on to show the close connections between National Director of the Police, Ramírez Del Cid, and Commissioner of DSEI, Danilo Orellana: "They were married at the same time on the same date in the same wedding ceremony with the ex-director of the police Flores Ponce as the padrino of the wedding. They have been really close ever since police cadet school and are always into everything together."

The source also gives some financial details: "They own property together and owned a large piece of land in Jicaro Galán in Valle in the south of Honduras. They sold that land to the police cooperativo for a lot more money than it was worth. Now the member police can't get loans, because the cooperativo has no money for loans — yet another story that everyone is afraid to publish. Del Cid also owns a "company" which rebottles palm oil located in Germania and he uses lots of police to guard it. Orellano has chicken restaurants."

It seems pretty clear that Celín Pinot Hernández was a bad guy, a violent criminal, and probably even a murderer. Reader comments on the news story of his death were generally congratulatory toward whoever killed the three pandilleros (gang members). Some mentioned the price of L.200,000 as the cost of 15 days outside of prison and mentioned it was a common practice. Some speculated that the police had killed them. But police who think they have the right to kill will also kill innocents, as they did a week later when two university students were murdered by police in Tegucigalpa.

The Honduran media should be able to verify when Pinot was convicted and the sentence he received. They should also be able to confirm whether the case for the July 2009 kidnapping/carjacking was thrown out on October 13, 2011, and whether or not he should have still been serving a prison sentence at the time of the crime. Certainly the DIECP (new commission created to probe police corruption) should be able to investigate this and the financial aspects.

January 23, 2012

Celin Pinot, murdered to cover up criminal police activity?

Celín Eduardo Pinot Hernández
Celín Pinot, murdered to cover up criminal police activity?

How would Celín Pinot Hernández, an inmate serving 9 years in the maximum security prison of Honduras, come to be dressed in a Honduran police uniform and carrying a police weapon? Why was he obviously posed for this photo, appearing uncomfortable and perhaps frightened that those directing him might actually pull the trigger? His expression is definitely not one of a cocky gang member showing off for the camera. Who would have the power to force a supposed dangerous gang leader to pose like this? Why would a dangerous criminal sentenced to nine years be released from maximum security prison by officials at 7 pm (or some say 11 pm) at night?

The above were all questions that I had when I was sent this photo a few weeks ago along with the story and a link to a YouTube video. I was told that the Honduran media had been given the photos and story but weren't going to run them. The person who sent them to me was afraid to tell me too much more.

The Miami Herald article discussed in my previous article "Corruption within the upper echelons of the Honduran police" touches on the case of Celin Pinot:

"The U.S. aid allocation included $2.5 million to help fund a maximum security prison. Among the inmates who were sent there: Celin Eduardo Pinot Hernández, aka “Cabeza,” leader of the notorious 18th Street Gang.

"For an inmate, Pinot had pretty good perks. He had a cell phone and was regularly let out to run drugs and visit his various girlfriends. Photos show him at the lockup in a police uniform and sporting a gun.

“For the past two and a half years, he was always let out at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and, if not, on weekends,” a childhood friend of his told The Miami Herald. “He was doing business for the boss — drugs, weapons. He would deliver drugs and bring money. ”

“The boss,” his friend says, was the high-ranking cop who runs prisons.

"In Honduras, managing prisons is one of the most lucrative jobs in the hierarchy of the National Police. Inmates pay bribes for everything from phones to freedom and are let out to commit more crimes at the behest of their captors, people familiar with the practice say.

"After spending his nine-year sentence doing illegal bidding for police buddies, Pinot, 30, was released on Oct. 13. He was immediately gunned down, felled by gunshots a few hundred yards from the prison gate. [This is not correct, he had only served two years of the nine year sentence.]

"Two women who had come to pick him up and take him home that evening told human rights activists that they saw police officers do it. A few days later, the police officer who usually accompanied Pinot on his get-out-of-jail outings was also murdered. Then one of the witnesses to Pinot’s killing was stoned to death. The other vanished.

“It’s very difficult to investigate the jails,” said Human Rights Prosecutor Sandra Ponce. “They tend to self-govern. There are inmates with de facto authority.”

"Ponce said her office is looking into Pinot’s death, because there were enough “irregularities” to suggest law enforcement involvement, including the fact that he was released from prison at night, an unusual move that helped make the surprise attack easier.

"Prisons director Danilo Orellana insisted he has cleaned up the jails and that escapes, murders and crime are all on the decline, despite widespread overcrowding and a lack of resources. He said he had heard rumors that Pinot was sometimes let out, but denied that prisoners regularly go on drug runs.

“I can tell you that during my term, it isn’t happening. The jails have changed a lot,” Orellana said. “I put my hand on the fire for myself. I do my things correctly.”

"Because this is Honduras, Pinot’s case didn’t cause a ripple in the news media. ..."
Celin Pinot's death was reported in the Honduran media here, here, and here [in Spanish], and questions were raised about his release but never answered.

Along with another gang member, Pinot was arrested in July 2009 [in Spanish] after abducting a businessman and his luxurious vehicle. At the time of arrest, he was also in possession of a DNIC (police criminal investigation) shirt and two police issued bullet-proof vests indicating he might have had police connections prior to his prison time. Investigators claimed that he was also involved involved with the murder by machetes of three women and had been charged with murder in 2001 and attempted murder in 2003. No information was reported about whether or not he had been tried for those cases or whether or not he had previously served time. Police described him as extremely dangerous and said he was linked to a series of kidnappings, extortions, and murders in Tegucigalpa. In this case, according to news reports, Pinot was found guilty of numerous charges, including attempted kidnapping and aggravated robbery, and was ordered to serve nine years in prison.

On July 6, 2011, he was one of the first prisoners transferred to the newly opened maximum security prison due to being considered extremely dangerous and possibly involved with the murders of other inmates at the Tamara prison.

But on the night of October 13, 2011, both Pinot, alias Cabeza, and his accomplice in the July 2009 crime, Neptalí Coello Flores, alias "Lágrima", were murdered in a rain of bullets only 500 meters away from the prison minutes after being released by authorities. Investigators collected more than 60 bullet casings of different calibers, including AK-47. Police had no other clues and presumably, "the case is still under investigation".

Perhaps they were killed by rival gang members as the police speculated off the record to reporters, but you might wonder how rival gang members could have known that they would be released on that day and at that unusual time. The idea of a heavily armed rival gang hanging around outside a maximum security prison for hours without notice is a little farfetched. Perhaps police were angry at his release and took vigilante justice into their own hands. Or perhaps these criminals had served their usefulness to police authorities and needed to be silenced.

Celin Eduardo Pinot HernándezMy source says that the photo at top was taken a few days before Pinot was released and killed. The photo at right is another one that was taken inside the prison. The photo below is an older ID or mug shot photo which was previously published by La Tribuna.

My source also stated that Pinot was regularly allowed out of prison on Tuesdays and Thursdays to do drug runs for Ramírez del Cid, National Director of the Police, and Danilo Orellano, Commissioner of Special Preventative Services which is in charge of the prison system.

Celin Eduardo Pinot HernándezMy source told me that a police chauffeur who regularly drove Pinot on drug runs was murdered a few days later, as was Pinot's girlfriend, who along with two other women, claimed that they saw police kill the released inmates. The second woman disappeared, leaving behind a 5-month old nursing baby and is presumed to be dead. The third was arrested but Human Rights was able to get her released before anything happened to her and she is now in hiding.

The YouTube video called "El Tiky: Ascenso de un Criminal en Honduras" (El Tiky: The rise of a Criminal in Honduras) was uploaded by a group called Frente Civil por la Paz y Seguridad who seems to have no other internet presence. It strongly accuses Ramírez del Cid (who they call El Tiky) of being a loyal pawn of organized crime and gives specific cases, including assassinations, in which Ramírez is alleged to have been involved. The video claims that the assassination of Celin Pinot was done with the collusion of Danilo Orellana. It also makes claims of past corruption of Minister Pompeyo Bonilla and asks President Lobo to open his eyes and look for new security leaders.
In curt interviews today, both Minister Bonilla and Commission Ramírez del Cid rejected the charges reported in the Miami Herald article.

Prior to the publication of the Miami Herald article, on Friday US Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske [in Spanish] admitted to reporters that there were many rumors surrounding the police leadership. She classified as urgent the need for purification of the police department.

So there you have it. I doubt that we'll ever know how much is true and how much is not.

See also "More on Celín Pinot Hernández" for more information.

Corruption in the upper echelons of the Honduran police

Police announce promotions, Honduras
Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla announces promotions, November 1, 2011

Frances Robles of the Miami Herald wrote an article in the long list of those entitled "Honduras named murder capital of the world". I almost didn't read it because there have been dozens with similar titles, all saying the same thing. However, a friend sent me the link pointing out that this one was different. This one was hot. The Herald has since changed the title to a more descriptive "Graft, greed, mayhem turn Honduras into murder capital of world".

The subtitle of the article is: "An unholy alliance of cops, crooks, prisoners and politicians has turned the nation into a shooting gallery." The article relates some of what everyone in Honduras is afraid to say — that some of the officials promoted and transferred to the upper echelons of the police department on November 1 by Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla and approved by President Pepe Lobo are suspected to be among the most corrupt and are rumored to have narcotrafficking connections.

"But Herald sources say those tapped to head the department have some of the worst reputations in Honduran law enforcement and are notorious for taking bribes, ordering hits and offering protection to drug traffickers."

The article includes some specific examples of how police investigations are sabotaged by higher level officials. My comments are in italics in brackets:

"One intelligence agent recalled being on a stakeout of a clandestine drug landing strip when he was called by a colonel and redirected to a location three hours away to check out a tip that turned out to be bogus. When he returned, the drug plane had come and gone. [Though narcoplanes and drugs have been captured many times in Honduras, to my knowledge, no narcotraffickers have ever been captured in these raids.]

“You write a report, give it to your boss and then realize it was him who was committing the crimes,” a military intelligence investigator told The Herald. “I have friends who are criminals and hit men. It’s the police, the army, the security ministry — it’s not just police or armed forces. It’s even prosecutors.” ["Friends?" Is this part of the problem? ]

Maria Luisa Borjas"That was the case with María Luisa Borja [photo], the former head of police internal affairs who was sidelined eight years ago after repeatedly denouncing high-ranking police brass.

“The minister of security took away my gas budget so the cars couldn’t move. I started paying my own gas,” she said. “So he took my car.”

"Eventually her office was stripped of files and she was suspended for leaking information. The people she accused of murder and evidence-tampering were promoted, one of them to vice minister of security."

Coralia Rivera[Coralia Rivera (photo), now second in command in the police department, was charged but ultimately absolved for allegedly ordering the alteration of arms in police custody in 2002 so that the weapons could not be identified or tested as evidence in the extrajudicial executions of 50 people. The case remains unsolved the murderers remain in impunity.]

"Another ranking police investigator told The Herald he discovered that his supervisor allowed members of the special forces squad to double as bodyguards for drug traffickers. That supervisor is now a commissioner, the highest rank in the police department.

“Maybe the ratio of honest to corrupt in the police is 10 to 1. But it doesn’t help that nine are clean if the one who is dirty is in charge,” the investigator said. “In this country, bosses are named to specific posts with the purpose of facilitating the entry and exit of drugs.” [Some say the ratio of 'good cops' is more like 6 out of 10, but in my opinion, a cop who covers up for a dirty cop is just as guilty.]

The Miami Herald names more names:

Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, National Director of Honduran police"The most controversial name in law enforcement is Commissioner José Ricardo Ramírez del Cid [photo], the newly named director of the National Police."

[As I reported previously, Honduras' Iron Lady, Julieta Castellanos, whose son was murdered by police, made some damning comments about Ramírez del Cid including, "If something happens to me it is the fault of the police, primarily señor Ramírez del Cid, because there is no one more interested in something happening to me.... and no one more knowledgeable about corruption in the police since he was the former head of Intelligence."]

Honduran police guarding top cop[You may remember that Ramirez del Cid was also the police official who, when summoned for questioning about the release of police officers accused of murdering two university students, showed up at the Prosecutor's office with 20 armed police lining the hallways, in what appeared to be an effort to intimidate the prosecutors.]

"The head of the police department’s internal affairs unit said there are at least four cases and multiple boxes of reports against Ramírez, involving allegations such as abuse of authority that have never been probed.

“I was surprised when he was named, because I saw people of higher rank who were passed over and I thought, ‘why weren’t those people named? What’s happening here?’ ” said internal affairs commissioner Santos Simeon Flores. “We are going to reactivate those cases. We really shouldn’t have cases up in the air like that.” [Internal Affairs no longer exists and has been replaced by a new separate civilian organization [Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial — DIECP] which will have it's own budget and investigators. It remains to be seen whether this organization will be as incompetent, underfunded, and sabotaged as Internal Affairs was previously. Indications so far are not good. Under Santos Flores, the internal affairs organization failed to complete the majority of investigations for years on end, submitted only a small percentage of its cases for prosecution, and produced almost no results, certainly none among mid- to higher level police.]

The prison system is part of the corruption:

"In Honduras, managing prisons is one of the most lucrative jobs in the hierarchy of the National Police. Inmates pay bribes for everything from phones to freedom and are let out to commit more crimes at the behest of their captors, people familiar with the practice say." [In some cases, the practice of letting prisoners out to commit other crimes has been proven to be true when the inmate is killed or captured while committing a crime outside the prison walls. Other than that, there is no way to determine how frequently this happens. There have been recent cases in which we are told that the inmate (from the maximum security prison no less) had a "pass" signed by a judge and prison officials would have "violated the law" if they had not abided by the judge's orders, though they mentioned the possibility that the release orders may have been falsified. We were promised a thorough investigation. No further mention was made in the media and apparently the judges in question had no comment.]

Danilo Orellana"Prisons director Danilo Orellana [photo] insisted he has cleaned up the jails and that escapes, murders and crime are all on the decline, despite widespread overcrowding and a lack of resources. He said he had heard rumors that Pinot was sometimes let out, but denied that prisoners regularly go on drug runs." [More on Pinot in the next article. About once a month we read of raids within the prison and see photos of confiscated weapons, cell phones, and drugs which could could only be entering the prison grounds with the collusion or incompetence of prison guards.]

“I can tell you that during my term, it isn’t happening. The jails have changed a lot,” Orellana said. “I put my hand on the fire for myself. I do my things correctly.” [More on that in the next article.]

Now that this information has been published, the Honduran newspapers are reprinting the article, mostly without editorial comment so far. There have been no responses from police or government officials yet.

Please read my next article about the murder of one prisoner:

Celin Pinot, murdered to cover up criminal police activity?

Read the entire Miami Herald article here:

Graft, greed, mayhem turn Honduras into murder capital of world

The article is also available in Spanish here:

La corrupción de las autoridades ahoga a Honduras

Please also read this background story about Miami Herald reporter Frances Robles' trip to Honduras after one of her sources was killed.

The dangers of being a Honduran whistleblower

January 20, 2012

Most violent city in the world award goes to ...

Security, Justice and Peace murder map
The international news has been reporting on crime and violence in Honduras frequently lately. When I started my series on Crime in Honduras in October with "Crime is out of control in Honduras", I had no idea that the 'stuff' was going to hit the fan in the international media, I just felt that people had a right to know and that if a problem doesn't get recognized and addressed, it never gets fixed. Sweeping the crime situation under the rug might bring a few more tourists and volunteers to Honduras, but it doesn't help all of the Hondurans who live (or die) with it every day.

For those who don't keep up with Honduras news, first there was the flawed UN study reporting Honduras to be the most dangerous country in the world in 2010, with a murder rate per 100,000 population of 82.1 compared to a current worldwide average of 6.9. (See the previously linked article for the discussion of the flaws and a link to the report.) Then the effect of narcotrafficking on Central American countries received and is still receiving a lot of coverage. Last week, a Mexican organization named Seguridad, Justicia y Paz (Security, Justice, and Peace - SJP) declared San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with a murder rate of 158.9, to be the most violent city in the world [in Spanish] surpassing Juarez, Mexico, for that dubious distinction. Distrito Central (Tegucigalpa) was ranked 5th with a rate of 99.7.

There are tons of complaints coming from Honduran police officials and politicians about that latest study, some justified and some not.

First, Honduran officials are using as an excuse the country's inability to develop accurate statistics. This is one of those TIH (This is Honduras) responses that I don't even know how to address. If the murder rate goes down this year, I promise you they will be relying on those same "bad" statistics for comparison to show what a good job they've done. By the way, I am extremely concerned that officials are fudging the current murder reports to show that Operación Relampago is effective. President Lobo's and police officials' continued claims that crime has been reduced by 60% or 50% or 80% or "practically to zero" are belied every day by the newspaper and TV news accounts of murders.

Honduras crime sceneSecond, yes, we know that Honduras' crime statistics are not accurate, but the homicide statistics are the most accurate of all crimes because there are bodies as evidence, 95% of them with bullet holes or knife or machete wounds, so there isn't much chance that they should have been recorded as natural or accidental deaths. Also, in the case of murders, unlike most crimes, there is usually independent verification from the morgue, grieving families, and news media, which often sends reporters out to take photos.

Third, the only way that Honduras' murder figures are inaccurate is that they are understated, not overstated. I state this as a fact and explained why in the linked article. I don't think you will find anyone in Honduras who would try to argue it, unless they work for the police department or are the president. In a 2003 Wikileaks cable titled "Truth is scarier than fiction", the US Ambassador expounded on the many ways that Honduran murder statistics are understated. Even more damning, the Ambassador lamented that the year-to-date figures showed a 50% increase in homicides, but the final 'massaged' 2003 figures showed a 39% decrease. I have personally been told of murders in which the police either never came, or came and merely told the family to take the victim's body home, completing no paperwork. This is especially true in outlying areas in much of the country where the police don't even have a vehicle to transport bodies, but it also happens in La Ceiba.

Fourth, officials say that bodies are brought to the San Pedro morgue from all over the country and are implying that they are all recorded as San Pedro homicides, unjustly increasing the San Pedro statistics. That may happen occasionally, but logically, that argument just doesn't fly. Honduras only has three morgues, in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro, and La Ceiba. If all homicides were recorded in the city of examination, we wouldn't see the high homicide rates in all of the other states and cities that we do. This is another TIH argument, as one would think that the police paperwork would show where the murder occurred or at least where the body was found. While this argument may make San Pedro's statistics a little more palatable, a murder is a murder, and it should have been counted somewhere else in the country.

On the other hand....

But, one argument being made by Honduran officials is that the study used (they say) 600,000 as the population of San Pedro Sula when (they say) the actual population is around 1.3 million. Worldwide homicides statistics are commonly compared on a per capita basis (rate of murders per 100,000 population). I found the SJP study [downloadable here in Spanish] and was able to confirm that this statement is not true and is an attempt to confuse the Honduras public with falsehoods. The SJP study used the same 2010 San Pedro population figure used by Honduras' own Observatorio de la Violencia, 719,447. While that does result in some overstatement of the homicide rate, since they are using the 2011 homicide number (sort of, see below) with the 2010 population number, it is not understated by 700,000 as officials shamelessly claim.

I have a copy of the last Honduras census, 2001, and the population of the municipalidad of San Pedro was 515,000. The 719,000 figure represents an estimated increase of about 3% per year for San Pedro Sula. Estimated growth of 3% per year might be low, but again, not to the extent that officials are claiming. I then found that the Observatorio de la Violencia (OV) uses the Honduran government's Institute of Statistics [in Spanish] population estimates so it is a little crazy for Honduran officials to claim the numbers are off by more than a half million.

Another argument could be made that the SJP article cites numerous cases which show that the Mexican data is purposely understated by officials — but then again, so is Honduras' data. Like the UN report, the SJP did not always compare the same year data. In some cases, data was from 2010 due to unavailability of 2011 statistics.

I then looked at SJP's methodology for Honduras and it is not good. They used sketchy newspaper report figures, not the actual OV report, to calculate some of the data and apparently failed to notice that those reports were only through December 15, not the entire year — but that would only make the real figures higher, especially since the last four years data shows that December is always the highest murder month of the year with significant increases over the prior 11 months. For other Honduran statistics, they used the OV January-June report to project total 2011 murders. [Both links in Spanish]

So, yes, there are flaws in the SJP report, but the resulting errors go both ways and I'm not sure that Honduras would come out looking any better in the ranking if all these errors were accounted for. Labeling San Pedro Sula the most violent city in the world is misleading when it is not even the most violent city in Honduras on a per capita basis.

The Observatoria de la Violencia has apparently not released the complete 2011 crime statistics yet. If anyone has access to the actual final report, please send it to me.

More from the SJP report

A big point to consider is that the SJP study only included cities with a population of 300,000 or more, which means that Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula were the only Honduras cities included. La Ceiba, Atlántida, with a population of under 200,000 had the highest murder rate at 158.2 per 100,000 in 2010 and a reported increase of 18% in 2011, but the city isn't large enough to be included in that study.

It now appears that Copán Ruinas might have surpassed La Ceiba, based on the partial year (50 weeks) data. Proceso Digital reported [in Spanish] the highest city murder rates through December 15, 2011, as Copán Ruinas (178.9 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants); La Ceiba (167.4), Tocoa (159.4), San Pedro Sula (158.9); Jutiapa (158.1), and La Lima (153.2), compared to a country-wide average of 81.8.

In the "Other Jurisdictions" section, the SJP report includes the Honduran departamentos (states) of Cortés, which ranked 1st with a rate of 122.0; Yoro, ranked second (110.1); Francisco Morazán, ranked 8th (86.4); and Olancho, ranked 15th (70.7). For the latter two states, the data was projected from the January-June 2011 statistics, which is merely a guess and would not take into account the effect, if any, from Operación Relampago. None of these rates come close to Atlántida, but with an estimated population of a little over 400,000, it didn't make the cut-off of 500,000 to be included in the study. According to the OV, the 2010 rate in Atlántida was 138.1 and increased in 2011.

Deny, deny, deny

Almost as disturbing as the number of violent deaths in Honduras are the attempts at covering up or downplaying the violence by Honduran officials. President Lobo has claimed several times in press conferences that he had no idea crime was so bad or that there was so much police involvement in criminal activities. He can't have not known, but what he didn't know was that the international media would begin paying so much attention requiring damage control on his part. Incompetent and corrupt officials count on the fact that Honduras generally does not get any international media attention, so there's no explaining to do. Some of the pueblo may believe their president when he tells them that the media is lying or incompetent or just plain being "unfair to Honduras", all of which he has done, but too many have been touched by violence personally and aren't apt to trust their government anyway.

CNN's Narco Wars Special

CNN has a special report on Narco Wars focusing on Honduras and Guatemala which will be aired at 8 pm ET (7 pm Honduran time) on Sunday night. A background article and video trailer is here. Watch it with me so we can talk about it.

Related articles in the media [all in English]:

Honduras: home to the most violent city in the hemisphere?

Crime booms as Central Americans fear police switched sides

Honduran president says US to send personnel to help combat violent crime

In a press conference yesterday, President Lobo stressed, as he has since October, that Hondurans are in charge, that they welcome anyone's help but Hondurans will remain in charge. Honduras has also been getting guidance from Colombia, Israel, and others, but its all pretty hush-hush about the details.

Honduras Will Allow Drug-Related Extraditions To US

How does this work? Is this only if the US already has an arrest warrant out for the person and how would they have jurisdiction for a warrant if the person is operating in Central America? Just curious about how much effect this would actually have in Honduras and would appreciate any info. Note also that Honduras has had an extradition treaty with the US since 1909, but it only applied to foreigners, not Honduran citizens, who were protected by article 102 of the constitution.

January 12, 2012

Happy news

Some of the most exciting things that happen to a blogger come at inopportune times or it seems inappropriate to be snapping pics, etc. Sometimes, it's so exciting that I forget the camera altogether. Darn! In this case, I forgot the camera, and my cell phone, and part of the journey was too dark to use the camera anyway.

I mentioned several months ago that Arexy, our housekeeper, was pregnant again. There were issues which I'll write about later (oh, I always say that, don't I?), but I'll tell you the happy ending right now.

Arexy was supposed to be due around the 17th of this month. This gringa had decided from the beginning that we weren't going to let her life or the life of her baby be threatened in Hospital Atlántida and Arexy happily agreed to go to a gringo missionary hospital. I've been trying to get her to stay with us for a month so we could be sure to get her to the Loma de Luz Hospital in Balfate in time. She finally came to stay with us on Tuesday evening. (Why we were going that far away, I'll have to tell you another time.)

Balfate is about 50 minutes on a rough dirt road from Jutiapa. Jutiapa is on the highway about 35 minutes from La Ceiba, longer with police operativos. Just Wednesday, we had had a long talk with Arexy at dinner about being sure to let us know in time as soon as the contractions started, especially since she had told us that her third baby was born at home because she only had an hour's notice!

Arexy tapped on our bedroom door about 4 a.m. on Thursday to tell me she was having contractions. I am not a morning person and definitely not a 4-in-the-morning person, but after circling the bedroom a couple of times trying to think, get clock, no, brush teeth, no, get dressed, no, get clock, I finally grabbed my little bedside clock and went downstairs. She said she had waited 30 minutes just to be sure that it was for real. ;-/ She was having a contraction at the time. Fine. 4:10 a.m., noted. I started a pot of coffee, picturing myself sitting with her for a couple of hours before we left for the hospital. Another contraction. 4:12 a.m.! What?! I looked at Arexy wide-eyed and said, "I'm going upstairs to get dressed! Get your bag!"

Brushed teeth, combed hair, threw on some clothes and poured some coffee into travel mugs as El Jefe yelled at me that I was wasting time. We were in the car and on the road at 4:21 a.m. just as Arexy had another contraction. Next one 4:25, 4 minutes apart. Well, that's good, I thought. Next two were 4 minutes apart. Good. Much better than 2 minutes apart. Next three were 3 minutes apart. Then a few at two minutes apart and we weren't even to Jutiapa, though El Jefe was literally flying down the highway.

Driving that dirt road would have made a heck of a video! Not only is the road in such terrible shape that it just about jars the teeth out of your mouth, but we had to dodge and swerve to avoid two herds of cows, several dogs, and some horses and ponies in the dark. More animals were out on that road at 4:30 - 5:00 a.m. today than we have seen in all of trips out there during the day. Oh, and I forgot to mention the 2-foot high piles of gravel in the middle of the road in a few spots, just to keep us on our toes.

Arexy's pains were getting increasingly stronger and were not helped by bouncing around in the car. I finally thought to call the hospital to tell them we were coming. I dug through the crumpled papers in my purse from previous visits and we tried a few phone numbers. Voice mail. Not surprising considering the time of day. Then I thought of my friend Dave from the hospital. Call him at 4:45 am? Yup. Gotta do it. I told him where we were in the journey and he reassured me and said they would be waiting for us.

The last 15 minutes or so, Arexy's cries were getting louder and louder. J was reassuring her, "Hang on, Arexy. We're almost there. Not too much longer. Only 10 more minutes. We're almost there. Only 5 more minutes. Look, there's the hospital. Dave and the doctor will be waiting for you!" I was feeling terribly useless and couldn't even reach to grab Arexy's hand for moral support.

We arrived at the guarded gate of the hospital. El Jefe told the guard that we were transporting a woman having a baby right now. The guard insisted that we not enter until he called someone to okay it. J hesitated about 10 seconds. OHohOhowOWowww! came from the back seat. El Jefe said, "Sorry, we can't wait. She's having the baby now and this is an emergency!" He hit the gas pedal and up the hill to the emergency entrance we sped.

It was 5:01 a.m., an amazing 40 minutes after we had left for our hour and 20 minute journey! We pulled up to the emergency entrance and I jumped out of the car to see if the door was unlocked, opened it, yelled, "Hellooooooo!" and ran back to help J get Arexy into the hospital. She was really, really in pain and walking was difficult for her by that point.

Another pregnant girl was there pacing the hall, and the doctor and staff were already there. They looked from her to Arexy, to her and back again. Arexy obviously won that contest but just to be sure, as I was holding an agonized Arexy up, I said, "She's been having contractions one minute apart all the way from La Ceiba!!!" (only a slight exaggeration, I'm sorry!) They grabbed Arexy and took her into the delivery room.

Approximately three minutes later, we heard a baby cry.

We were that close to delivering a baby in the car, in the dark, on a dirt road out in the middle of nowhere. And I hadn't even had time to look it up on the internet to figure out how to do it yet.

January 11, 2012

More Honduran police crimes

Peligro: Policia, Honduras
[Image: Danger, Police in the area]

Back in November, I was keeping track of cases of criminal cops who made the news and other stories which indicate police collusion in crimes. I continued to make a note of links to articles, with a big gap around the holidays, so this lengthy update is by no means complete, and of course, does not consider that the police are able to successfully cover up many of the crimes of their compadres. One of the reasons that I'm tracking this is to show that bad cops apparently have no fear of the supposed purification and another is that I'd like to be able to compare these names (when given) with those released on the lists of fired police agents.

José Rubén Pozo López, one of the escaped police accused of the murder the two university students [in English] in October, voluntarily turned himself in to the National Human Rights Commissioner (non-governmental organization) in early December. The initial judicial hearing was unusually held in a military installation to protect the accused. He was ordered held in custody in an unnamed military facility for the charges of murder and abuse of authority. The charge of aggravated robbery was provisionally dismissed. Pozo López asked the judge to consider the fear he had in turning himself in, as evidenced by the fact that police patrols were circulating around the military facility that day in a seeming effort to intimidate him. Continuing as fugitives from justice are Carlos Gáleas Cruz, Wilfredo Figueroa Velásquez, and Arnulfo Padilla Rodríguez.

Mother of one of the victims, Julieta Castellanos, accused the Human Rights prosecutor Sandra Ponce of negligence for knowing for several days that Pozo López wanted to turn himself in and doing nothing to facilitate the process. Ponce denied the charge, but said that she had received a call from the Pozo's attorney and was waiting for another call from him.

La Tribuna revealed details of the case of the murder of the two university students. Police not only stole the victims' money and cell phones, but also a leather jacket and even the shoes of the victims. Previously, it was reported that one of the police agents used the victim's cell phone at the crime scene to call his girlfriend as he "had no minutes" on his own phone.

Police agent Luis Enrique Pineda Castillo, assigned to barrio Los Dolores, Tegucigalpa, along with two civilians, were charged with extortion, aggravated robbery, and carrying illegal weapons after being caught in the act of receiving money from the victim. All three were released by the court and ordered to present themselves voluntarily once per week until the case comes to trial. Pineda Castillo was ordered suspended from the police at the request of prosecutors.

Police agents Nery Saúl González and Jaime Adalid Soriano were charged with stealing a gun and other evidence. The gun was decommissioned from suspects but never reported to supervisors. The owner of the gun presented a denuncia of the theft. An unnamed police source said that many police steal guns and other evidence from suspects resulting in a lack of evidence for prosecution and the criminals go free.

Two drunken members of the Honduran air force, René Alfonso Romero Reyes and Neptalí Osmín Morales Nufio, were arrested for carrying three 9 mm guns and threatening the lives of others.

Ex-police agent Nelly Emilio Vásquez was found guilty of homicide in a San Pedro court for the 2010 murder of a prostitute who he had a dispute with while using her services. The sentence will be given in January.

Prosecutors charged Homicide police inspectors René Darío Sierra y Maynor Salomón Cáceres with rape and robbery of a police vehicle in which one of them tried to escape. Two young women were leaving a discotheque when they were chased by the two police inspectors. One of the women was allegedly raped and subject to other acts of lechery. Police initially refused to name the suspects, but names were later released by prosecutors. Salomón Cáceres is currently a fugitive from justice.

Police agent José Luis Alemán Pérez (23) was captured by DNSEI agents (Special Investigation) in the act of extorting L.200,000 from executives of a cooperativa. Alemán was in possession of two IDs, one in the name of José Luis Rodríguez Yánez, as well as his police badge, at the time he received the cash from the intended victims.

During the initial hearing of police agent Wilmer Alexander Zavala, judges ordered him to be held in prison pending trial for the murder of a 16-year-old in the capital. Zavala is accused of confronting two minors in the street, grabbing one by the neck and shooting him causing instant death. The other boy fled.

Ex sub-commissioner Jorge Alberto Barralaga, previously suspended [in English] for his role in the escape of four police agents accused of murder, has been accused of attempted murder by a citizen in Tocoa, Colon. Barralaga denies the charges.

Padre Marco Aurelio Lorenzo denounced that he was beaten and tortured on December 26 by police agents in Intibucá who stole L.11,500 from him. However, the police responded saying that their report showed that the priest had been in a car accident and was drunk, and that the police merely took him to the hospital. The spokesperson noted that the police were accompanied by "persons of prestige" at the time and speculated that maybe he had been robbed by some other uniformed persons prior to the police arriving. The priest's parish stands by him and demands action by the justice system [in English, also read the comments which add additional information].

The Salvadoran Transportation Association continues to denounce that truck drivers are intercepted by police up to 10 times during their deliveries of products in the south of Honduras and have to pay up to US $30 each time, for an estimated total of US $9,000 per day in bribes to Honduran police. As before, police promise a profound investigation and to take corrective measures.

In Comayaguela, a man supposedly caught in the act of extorting an impuesto de guerra (war tax) from a citizen was shot various times and killed by DNIC agents who said that when they told him to raise his hands, he fired on the investigators who shot back.

Police intervention in Tela, Honduras

Honduran police authorities intervened in Tela, Atlántida, and "suspended" 80 police agents, who have been sent to the Cobra unit for "investigation". No information was given as what sort of investigation will occur or when these police will resume duty in Tela. Currently naval personnel and Cobras from San Pedro Sula are performing patrols in the city. The only information given by the police spokesman was that police were not performing their duties in high crime, noted gang and narcotrafficking areas and that they will be retrained to determine whether or not they can resume their duties. Speaking of that, I can't recall ever hearing anything else about the 176 agents "suspended" in Tegucigalpa [in English]. Apparently the results of that retraining, and the 100 or so agents who refused to report for it, is one of many police secrets.

Criminals using police equipment

Two robbers were found to be in the possession of a police weapon when arrested.

Seven suspects were ordered held in custody for seven days by judges in Tegucigalpa after being captured in an operativo in which AK 47s, grenades, and three luxury vehicles, along with seven bulletproof police vests and three anti-gas masks were seized. Prosecutors have this seven days to present enough evidence to have them held in custody until the trial.

Related news

Latest statistics given by the police show that the DNIC (Criminal Investigation) that 84% of the criminal cases go uninvestigated but they expect that will improve with the donation of technological equipment and better collection of evidence.

In an interview with a Tegucigalpa morgue employee, who asked to remain unnamed because of fear of retaliation, he stated that in 15 years, he has never seen such horrible murders as he sees now. He added that initially he didn't believe family members' claims that police were responsible for the deaths, but after seeing so many bodies with the same characteristics, he began to doubt. He said that they often see bodies that have been tortured, dismembered, and burned as well as with faces disfigured with numerous gunshots to prevent identification. He pointed to one case in which four young men who according to family members were captured by a Belén police patrol and parts of their dismembered bodies were found the next day. He stated that it is very strange that the Tegucigalpa morgue is seeing fewer homicides since the death of the two university students [in English], because during other similar operativos, the numbers of murders did not decrease. However, after this case, the existing Belén and La Granja police were all removed from duty in those areas.

Diario Tiempo reports that an unnamed human rights advocate states that since the beginning of 2010, dozens of young men have been captured in the middle of the night and later appeared tortured and executed with their hands tied behind their backs, often in the areas covered by La Granga and Belén police stations, as well as in Comayaguela. Some of the family members claim that these young men were abducted by eight hooded, heavily armed men dressed as police and wearing bullet-proof vests. They say that it is a lie that police announce the deaths were a result of ajuste de cuentas (revenge killings) between gangs.

Related articles:

Nov. 26, From the 'too odd to believed' criminal cops files
Nov. 25, Continuing police crime
Nov. 20, Honduras police crime and corruption continues
Nov. 11, Police crime and corruption

January 10, 2012

Liar, liar, pants on fire

Honduran congress
Honduran congress

Here I am, lowly blogger, doing the job the Honduran media should be doing — exposing the big fat lies of Honduras' elected representatives. [All links in Spanish unless otherwise noted.]

On Monday I received a mea culpa sent out by the congress stating several things, the most amusing of which was that they will set up a committee to make sure that in the future they read the things they are approving before they approve them. Now there is a concept! They blamed approval of the Securiport contract and new $34 security tax on the President and told us that they are always working for the pueblo. Numerous congressmen have been in the news crying that they didn't know what they were voting on, blaming it on President Lobo, who later decided not to the tax after the uproar, and President of Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández, who interestingly did not vote at all on the issue.

The missive also stated that the decree was passed at 2:26 in the afternoon, not in the madrugada (middle of the night) as the news had reported (though the new exit tax passed the same day was passed at 11:30 pm). As proof, they included a link to the main page of the voluminous Congressional website. So after navigating the congressional website, I found the 24 pages of files of attendance and votes for December 2011, a mere 472 PDF files. Luckily, the latest file uploaded and one of the only file names with a date, was the attendance record for December 14.

Plowing through the records

Imagine my surprise to see that the "attendance" record is 114 pages long, logging all the ins and outs, requests to speak, time of speaking, etc. of the congressmen during the approximately 14-hour session. It was in time order, not by name. No way could I determine who was there without doing a multi-page spreadsheet logging the 114 pages of ins and outs, and I wasn't interested in doing that.

Even the 10-page individual records of the votes on each issue are not in alphabetical order, making finding the several hundred votes for that day very difficult. Each voting record is in a separate 10-page PDF image file that can't be searched and is not in alphabetical order!

The 472 PDF files have titles like "Art. 52" and similar which give no indication of what the issue was much less any details within the files. Article 52 of the constitution, Article 52 of a contract, or Article 52 of a law or regulation, and which one and what was the change? Your guess is as good as mine, there is no information whatsoever.

So while this congress continually claims to be the most transparent ever, they manage to present mountains of information in such a way that it would take a full time staff to find and wade through and document their votes and still there is not enough information for even the congressmen to determine what they were actually voting on.

They also like to refer to their televised sessions as transparent but the truth is that even if you have the time and patience to watch their TV channel 24 hours a day (and be subjected to hours of Juan Orlando Hernández government-paid presidential campaign propaganda commercials), you still won't know how congressmen voted unless you take a photo of the TV at each vote and have the seating chart (by which the for and against votes are shown in green or red) memorized to compare against the photo later. There are no names shown for votes, so while a diputado (congressman) could publicly rail on and on against something during the televised session, he could actually electronically vote for it and no one would know unless they have the time to search the voluminous files at the website.

The congressional website has only posted four laws in the past 5 years and none at all for this congress which started in January 2010 and brags that they have passed more new laws than any congress before. What were those laws and where are they? Under "Conozco su diputado" (Know your congressman), pages of photos with a name underneath are presented with no information about what departamento (state) they represent, what they stand for, what their voting record is, nothing at all except which party they are with. If you want to know who your elected diputados (congressmen) are, you won't find out at the congress website, because the sad truth is once you elect them, they cease to be your representatives and become the "party's" diputados.

Information on motions, dictamens, decretos, actas, and so forth are similarly lacking with little or no information posted in 2010 and 2011 and none in 2012. The little information that is there is presented in such a manner that only the most determined would spend the days or weeks required to sift through. Only in the rarest of cases are proposed laws made public in advance or published on the congressional website after they approved. So you might find out, as I did for example, that they approved several acts conceding "amnesty for debts with the state" (there were several of these in the madrugada on December 14), but good luck finding out who got the amnesty or for how much.

One of the biggest factors of non-transparency is La Gaceta, which is the government's official publication of laws, regulations, and so forth, which could easily be online but is not. Individual organizations of the government include publication of some laws on their websites, but you have to be a detective to find them and often they are not posted for months or years after they are passed. I know because I've spent more hours than I care to admit trying to find the text of various laws. Transparent? No way.

Who voted how?

In Big Brother comes to Honduras [in English], I mentioned that two of the three congressmen that Proceso Digital interviewed didn't know about the new US $34 travel/migratory/security tax and the third voted against it.

From Proceso Digital's interviews earlier this week, here is a translation of what they wrote:
"Meanwhile, the Liberal legislator Waldina Paz expressed that she voted against this decree. "I am against more taxes. That was approved in Interairports package. I asked them if what they wanted was the buildings constructed with dollars of the people," she said."
Go to page 8 of the vote results and you'll see that Jariet Waldina Paz also voted 'si' on this issue. She did vote 'no' on the increase to the InterAirports exit tax.

Proceso Digital also wrote (translated):
"Another of the interviewees was the Nationalista parliamentarian Antonio Rivera, who said he was unaware of what the decree in question referred to, adding that "I have no knowledge of the decree because I was not present at the parliamentary session."
Not only was Diputado Rivera present, but he voted in favor of the decree. Go to page 4 of the vote results and you'll see that Antonio César Rivera Callejas voted 'si'. Rivera did not vote for or against the InterAirport increased exit tax. He now says he doesn't remember voting on it. He's joined by Diputados Carlos Martínez Zepeda, Celí Discua Elvir, and others who say they just don't remember voting on this issue.

Scanning through the yes votes, a couple of diputado names caught my eye. You might think that congressmen elected in tourism areas would look unfavorably upon additional taxes for travelers which could serve to harm the tourism industry, but I found that the sole diputado for the Bay Islands, Romeo Silvestri of Roatan, and Gonzalo Antonio Rivera of La Ceiba, Atlántida, also voted in favor of this travel tax. In fact, there was only one vote against it. Of the 109 diputados present, 68 voted for the tax, one abstained and 39 didn't vote at all.

Of the other seven Atlántida diputados, only Ramon Antonio Leva Bulnes (PN) voted in favor of the increased tax. Rodolfo Irias Navas (PN), Margie Dip (Margarita Dabdoub Sikaffi- PN), Marcio Rene Espinal Cardona (PN), Daniel Flores Velasquez (PN), Jorge Alberto Elvir Cruz (DC), and María Aracely Leiva Peña (PL) did not vote at all.

Then I became curious about the votes on the other travel tax passed that same day, the increase in the exit fee proposed by the executive power and then later vetoed by the same. I waded through pages of documents to find the vote on the increased exit tax, though it was identified only as "approve 2nd modification to InterAirport contract". The vote on this issue was 88 in favor, 15 against, 8 abstained, and 14 did not vote, for a total of 125 diputados present.

Of the nine Atlántida and Bay Islands diputados, Romeo Silvestri of the Bay Islands and Ramón Leva, Marcio Espinal, Daniel Flores, Margie Dip, Gonzalo Rivera, and Jorge Elvir of Atlántida all voted for the increased exit tax to be paid to InterAirports. Rodolfo Irias and Maria Leiva did not vote.

Excuses, excuses

Some of the gem excuses that have been given to reporters:

Juan Orlando Hernández, President of the Congress: "the $34 should be absorbed by the airlines and in no manner is to affect the final users." Oh, please, that is such a huge insult to the intelligence. He also made a dismissive comment that most of the pueblo (voters) can't afford to fly anyway so it won't affect them.

Secretary of the Interior, Áfrico Madrid: "there was no public bid because Securiport is the owner of the technology." Are we to believe that Securiport is the only company in the world that provides the technology for immigration control in every airport in the world?

Olancho Diputado Francisco Rivera: He blamed the media for not reporting on the issue when it was discussed in session. Now that's really hypocritical. The media has been denied all information about this contract and only found out about the tax after the airline association was notified that they must begin collecting it. José Francisco Rivera Hernández incidentally voted for both travel taxes.

Cortés Diputado Wenceslao Lara (PL): "I am sure that this Nacionalista government is the worst that we have had in the history of Honduras, because they are in charge of disgracing our country, making our already impoverished society even more poor." Proceso Digital quotes him as saying that he voted against the new travel tax, but the voting records show that Lara did not vote on either tax issue.

Francisco Morazán Diputado German Leitzelar: lamented that they continue playing with the dignity of a noble pueblo and qualified those who approved this law as bats. "They operate in the night and sink their teeth into the heart of the Honduran pueblo." Diputado Leitzelar did not vote for or against either tax issue.

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