July 30, 2010

Honduras' dispensazo scandal

"Melito" Zelaya Castro and Dariela María Pineda Mendoza
Photo: El Heraldo

Subtitled: The tale of the 2010 Porsche Cayenne,
How Zelaya* and other officials continue
to rape the country of Honduras

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.

And this is such a tangled web that it has taken me days to write this, with new and/or corrected information coming out daily.


constancia - a statement or oath sworn to by the signer; may or may not have legal standing
denuncia — a formal legal complaint
diputado — congressman elected by the people
dispensa — a legal document issued by the government granting exoneration of taxes and import duties, in this case regarding vehicles
-azo — a far-reaching (usually corruption-related) scandal; the suffix is used similarly to '-gate' scandals in the US.


Since 1993, Honduran diputados have had the right to import two vehicles completely tax and duty free during their term.

On March 16, 2010, the National Congress, led by Nacionalista President Juan Orlando Hernández (photo La Tribuna), unanimously (supposedly) agreed to repeal (supposedly) the right of diputados to two vehicle dispensas each, a special political privilege which costs the government an estimated L.100-300 million per year in lost taxes and duties. At least 'repeal' is what the public was led to believe. Hernández's announcement on the Congressional web page speaks of the unanimous vote as "contributing to a greater transparency, improving the finances of the country, reducing the privileges of the political class, and setting an example."

However, in a July 29 editorial, El Heraldo points to the old adage, "quien hace la ley, hace la trampa" (he who makes the law, makes the fraud/mockery/loophole). All is not what it seemed.

The tale of the Porsche

A few days ago, Director Ejecutivo de Ingresos (DEI—similar to IRS), Oswaldo Guillén (photo La Tribuna), announced in a press conference the completed investigation of the March 1 importation of a US $88,000 2010 Porsche Cayenne by a diputado, who he named as José Mauricio Rosales Cardoza (related to Manuel Zelaya Rosales?) Guillén stated that the automobile was declared abandoned on March 28 due to failure to pay the taxes. It was included in the list of vehicles to be auctioned by the state for failure to pay the importation fees and taxes, which in the case of the Porsche, amount to L. 1,313,788 (US $69,500). (Note that a diputado suplante (substitute) like Rosales Cardoza net earnings are less than US $1,000 per month.)

After the Porsche was declared abandoned, on May 12, the Panamanian seller of the vehicle reported — oops! — an "error" in which the actual owner of the vehicle should have been named as Dariela María Pineda Mendoza and the actual shipping destination should have been the Dominican Republic, home to former president Mel Zelaya. This request was denied as it is illegal to reexport property previously declared abandoned. On May 20, a dispensa was requested, processed, and presented to the port authorities in little more than 24 hours, a near impossibility for mere mortals, which raised a red flag to DEI. Use of the dispensa was denied because it was not presented by the deadline. Guillen made the statement to the media, "If this costs me my job, so be it."

El Heraldo reported that 22-year-old Dariela Pineda Mendoza is the girlfriend of "Melito" (little Mel) Zelaya, youngest son of Manuel Zelaya and demonstrated photos of several trips to Paris and elsewhere taken by Dariela and Melito during Zelaya's administration as proudly displayed on Dariela's Facebook page, which has since been eliminated. During Zelaya's term in office, the family and girlfriends/boyfriends made trips, allegedly in the presidential jet, to Europe and the US. Photos of those trips, with the "kids" sporting their Rolexes and drinking champagne also disappeared from Facebook last year.

On July 21, the young lady, accompanied by Melito, visited the offices of the DEI to take care of the little problemita but were refused an audience with the director.

Diputado José Rosales Cardoza (photo La Tribuna) has belligerently stated that the car is his, he will have it, and he can send it or sell it to whomever he wants under the law. He says that it is one of two cars he has imported under the dispensas he is entitled to as a member of congress in the previous term. He implies that someone in the DEI wants to keep his car. He did not explain why he waited two months after the importation of the car to apply for a dispensa, but it is likely that he thought "other arrangements" had been made to avoid payment of the taxes (wink, wink).

The tip of the iceberg

Back in March, during the time that the repeal of the vehicle dispensas was being discussed, Juan Orlando Hernández told reporters that dispensas were a focal point of corruption, including fraudulent use of photocopies of dispensas, but at that time, Hernández failed to mention where that knowledge came from or whether he or anyone else had filed a denuncia or whether it was or would ever be investigated, something that struck me as very wrong.

On a Tuesday morning talk show, I learned that the law doesn't apply to current officials after all because it "wouldn't be fair" to them since they were elected under the assumption that they would receive this benefit (though when the law was changed in 2002, it retroactively granted privileges). I also learned that the constancias in which some (not "all but one" as was previously reported) of the diputados swore to not use the dispensas have no legal effect but should be morally and ethically binding. Two diputados on the show said that the names of those who have requested and/or received dispensas should be made public.

Later in the day, the National Congress published two lists on their website. One was a list of 18 current diputados and 6 prior diputados who applied for dispensas after the date of the decree. The other was a list of 10 diputados who have used dispensas since March 16, 2010. The list reflects mostly luxury cars, though not to the extent of a Porsche. Interestingly, only Liberal diputados were listed.

Channel 10 news speculated that the list was not complete as it included no Nacionalistas and did not include Diputado Rosales, importer of the infamous 2010 Porsche. Additionally, not all of the ten diputados who have used dispensas are reflected on the list of 18 who have requested dispensas, nor does the list reflect those who have used two dispensas after March 16. Providing further doubt, it appears that #4 on the list has been deleted and the preparer of the list forgot to renumber it.

Diputado Carlos Martínez Zepeda (who has used a dispensa this year) was quoted in La Prensa as saying that "members of both [major political] parties have submitted dispensas" and that "this is nothing more than a circus to divert attention from the true [crime of] clonation."

Cortina de Humo

Secretario de Finanzas, William Chong Wong (photo Hondudiario), states that all this talk of the diputados' dispensas is just a cortina de humo (curtain of smoke) to prevent the investigation of fraudulent dispensas. Chong was named llorón (crybaby) by President Lobo, for his constant calls to cut costs and quit giving out handouts because the country is going bankrupt.

Chong Wong states that they have investigated the clonation of five dispensas but there are many, many more from, he says, prior administrations. He also denounced that a large legal firm in Tegucigalpa has processed forged dispensas, without naming the firm, of course. Guillén reported that 128 vehicles have been determined by DEI to have been imported with fraudulent dispensas by those from the "political, economic, and non-profit sectors", who have not been named. Another report was that 160 vehicles are circulating in Honduras with cloned dispensas.

The dispensa scandal not only includes Honduran citizens and officials, but also foreign embassies, who have not been named. Minister Chong has promised to post a list of all of the functionaries (diputados and others) who have requested dispensas. Will charges be brought? Current talk is that the perpetrators will be required to pay the taxes, but is it not a crime to forge government documents? Shouldn't these people go to jail? Which government employees approved and processed the fraudulent documents? Have they no responsibility? Will this all be hush-hushed so that no one important suffers embarrassment as is usually done?

Incredibly, the answer came on the Friday night news. Guillén announced that the proprietors of the 128 vehicles which were fraudulently exonerated will have until September 30 to pay the taxes or the vehicles would be confiscated and auctioned. What does this mean? Anyone in Honduras can just decide that crimes don't need to be prosecuted? Shouldn't this be a decision for the Ministerio Publico?

This is exactly why corruption runs rampant in Honduras. Everything is forgiven. The worst that can happen if one is caught (extremely rare) is that he may have to pay what he would have originally had to pay anyway. There is no punishment, ever. It is things like this that make me despair that anything can ever change in Honduras.

Chong Wong told reporters that dispensas for a "lot" of Hummers was requested by the Minister of Tourism for a car rental business. The Minister of Turismo, Nelly Jerez, denies that Tourism has approved any Hummers, but has approved cars, buses, and pickups for tourism and car rental business. She also says that the prior administration approved a helicopter.

Full disclosure:

La Ceiba Diputada Margarita Dabdoub Sikaffi, known locally as Margie Dip, is one of the listed diputados who requested a dispensa after March 16.

Additionally, as an incentive to attract expatriates to move to Honduras, the immigration law provides that expatriates who are approved for residency as a pensionado (retiree with a proven pension) or rentista (other proven foreign source of income) are entitled to apply for a dispensa for the importation of one vehicle and their personal household belongings. In every case that I know of (a lot!), the dispensas were used to bring the immigrant's current used vehicle to Honduras. The law relating to foreign residents differs greatly from the law relating to government officials in that expatriates who sell the vehicle within 5 years must repay the tax.

I used a dispensa to bring my 2-year-old car to Honduras and saved about US $12,000 which at that time was approximately 50% of the value of the car! That is the only residency benefit that I have received from the government in almost 9 years in Honduras. As happens to many (most?) expatriates moving to Honduras, various governmental inefficiencies and misinformation resulted in my receiving, but not being able to use a dispensa for personal belongings. I have never heard of any expatriate selling a dispensa or using his dispensa for nefarious purposes though I suppose it is possible.

Nothing new

This is not a new scandal, nor does it only affect diputados. News articles from February 2009 during Mel Zelaya's administration read exactly like the current ones, with everyone accusing everyone else of fraud. Only the names and dates have changed.

In an El Heraldo investigation in early 2009, it was reported that a Corvette Z06, 17 Porsche Cayennes, two Ferraris, a Lincoln Navigator, a Maserati, five Hummers y eight Cadillac Escalades, among other luxury cars had been imported with dispensas by diputados who earn about US $2,500 net per month. El Heraldo reported that Supreme Court Justices, members of the Central American Parliament, embassies, NGOs and churches are eligible to receive dispensas, for a total of more than 3,000 vehicles from 2006 to 2008. There were even accusations of organized crime being involved in the trafficking of diputados' dispensas.

Diputado Marco Antonio Andino (photo El Heraldo) imported a Maserati and was accused of using fraudulently using a dispensa exonerating him of more than a million lempiras in taxes. As far as I know, no action was ever taken and the scandal didn't hurt him at all — he was reelected!

Two members of the UD party (now associated with the Resistance) were denounced for selling their four dispensas to an auto importer for US $90,000. The UD party responded by demanding an investigation of the diputados of other parties, some of whom they claimed were using more than two dispensas each. The then director of the DEI denounced that some diputados had used up to eight dispensas, though only two are allowed by law. UD Diputado Marvin Ponce claimed that bands of organized crime were using the constancias and dispensas of diputados. Accusations were thrown in every direction, investigations were started, and .... nothing ever happened.

El Heraldo also reported that when he was President of the Congress (2001-2005), current President Pepe Lobo was against any restrictions against vehicle dispensas as was Roberto Micheletti, when he was President of the Congress. In fact, three decrees under Lobo's leadership significantly liberalized the rules in 2002. If a diputado was not able to use both of his dispensas during his term, he was given an extra year to do so. If the diputado died before using them, his heirs inherited that right. And worst of all, the law which originally only allowed "work" vehicles, was changed to remove restrictions so that luxury vehicles could be included and provided that the vehicle owners did not have to pay annual registration taxes for five years. The ability to import any type of luxury vehicle compounded the problems of corruption because now "real money" was involved.

Presidential candidate Pepe Lobo later decided he was for eliminating the dispensas.

Same old, same old

One thing that all of Honduras' '-azos' have in common is that usually no one 'important' is ever named and certainly not punished, restitution is never made, and rarely does anyone ever even lose a job over it, much less go to court. In fact, generally whatever the scandal is, it usually continues year after year unfettered by the government no matter who is in power. Corruptos protect corruptos.

And sadly, this is only one of many -azos right now and it represents a grain of sand in the ocean compared to income tax evasion, fraud, and exonerations which are estimated to cost the state in the tens of billions of lempiras each year. Meanwhile people are dying every day from lack of medical care for dengue and even more so from lack of police protection against crime.

* While no evidence has been made public yet that the Porsche was going to Mel Zelaya in the Dominican Republic, Hondurans aren't stupid! Even President Lobo in an assembly yesterday in Trujillo said, "Everyone knows for whom this car came."

July 22, 2010

Watch out, girls!

Those Honduran guys are really charming, really, really charming. Apparently one is headed north and planning ahead. Here is what he googled:
"i need to learn english in order to flirt with some gringas when i will go to the united states"
I'm confused, though, because his English looks pretty good to me. I'm sure he'll do just fine.

90% of the searches leading to the Blogicito are some combination of words La Gringa Blog or Blogicito, in every imaginable form of spelling. But every now and then there is a good one that makes me laugh. I am sorry that he probably didn't learn any good flirting moves here at the Blogicito.

July 21, 2010


carao fruit/beanCarao fruit

Carao fruit/beanEl Jefe found this woody 2-foot long "bean" which he said is called carao (pronounced ca-rah-oh). He said when he was little, they used to suck the jam-like fruit from the little sections containing seeds. The bean comes from a large pink-flowering tree called Cassia grandis. The tree is common from southern Mexico to northern South America.

"It smells a little funny," he said, so I took a whiff. Yeah, "funny" like sweaty sneakers smell funny. However, I have heard of other tropical fruits, like the durian, which are said to smell absolutely terrible but taste wonderful. That is hard for me to imagine, but I was game so I tasted the goo around the seeds.

I tried really hard to think about how I could describe the flavor and I just don't know. I could almost fool myself into thinking there was a chocolate flavor, but mixed with something a bit tangy, maybe like chocolate and cherries mashed together.

Carao fruit/beanApparently carao is most popularly used in a drink made with milk. I found a nice story about a small businesswoman who bottles the syrup in Costa Rica, amusingly titled "Don't let the smell fool you". Yes, I could see that diluted with milk it would probably taste pretty good. I'd have to use the machete to get all those little sections open and I don't think my aim is good enough for that.

This particular bean may be past its prime. Trying to get a better photo of the inside, I broke a piece off, but that end was white and dry inside. I couldn't break the remaining piece at all until I put one end on the floor and put my foot on it to break it, it was that hard!

Carao fruit/beanBut then I somehow managed to take 4 blurry photos so you can't really see the inside anyway. Above you can see the brown goo on my finger. In the photo at the left, I have folded back one woody section to expose another seed and more gooey fruit. For a better look at the inside, see these photos.

I couldn't find much information on the internet and almost all of it is in Spanish. Apparently, it is known as a blood builder and is used to treat anemia. I wonder if this could be useful for treating dengue hemorrágico patients. Other (unproven) health claims are that it increases energy, increases milk in nursing mothers, prevents hemorrhages, and is an aphrodisiac.

July 20, 2010

Cultural difference: Consumer experiences

In the last article, Cultural differences: Consumer complaints, I wrote about some general cultural differences. Here are some examples of some consumer experiences in Honduras.

Petty pasta problem

Upon returning home from a small grocery store (which is no longer in business), when putting away a package of pasta, I noticed that there were black bugs crawling all over the pasta. This was in my early days in Honduras, and I insisted that El Jefe take it back and exchange it. Not because of the little bit that it cost, but just to teach the store that they should be more careful about the products that they sell. (.....hahaha, yeah, right. I was so naive.)

Not happy about it, El Jefe returned anyway, went to the store manager and said that he wanted to exchange the pasta because it had bugs in it. There was no "Sorry for your inconvenience" or "Let me get a new package for you." The manager looked over the package carefully, and indignantly said, "Well! There's not very many bugs in it!" and he belittled El Jefe for being so picky. He did exchange the pasta, but less determined customers would think twice before trying to return anything again. We rarely return grocery items anymore and just chalk it up to a learning experience when we make a bad purchase. It just isn't worth the time, effort, and aggravation.

Note: at most grocery stores in La Ceiba, customers have 24 hours to return anything and there are no cash refunds under any circumstances.

Success with the stainless steel stove

A month after we moved here in 2001, we bought a Maytag stainless steel stove at the nice Diunsa store in San Pedro. Within a very short time, the stove started rusting. At first it was only inside the bottom drawer so I tried to pretend it wasn't happening. After two months, the rust was quickly spreading to the outside. "This stove is defective and must be returned!" said me. "Impossible. It will never happen," said El Jefe. Despite that, at my insistence, we packed the drawer into the car and off to San Pedro we went. (We obviously couldn't carry the whole stove in the car.)

We were met at the door by an armed guard who told us we couldn't return it and in fact we couldn't even carry the drawer into the store. El Jefe insisted. Inside we were met by a clerk who asked us when we bought it and then told us flatly that we couldn't return it. ("Ask to talk to the manager", I whispered to El Jefe.) He did and eventually a supervisor showed up to tell us again that we couldn't return it. J still kept calmly insisting to talk to the manager. Finally, the store manager showed up and was just as adamant that we could not return the stove after two months. He talked a mile a minute and at that time, I could only catch about half of the Spanish that was being spoken, but I did hear him say that it was because it was so humid in La Ceiba and that the rust was probably from my lax cleaning abilities (!).

In my badly accented Spanish, I said, "Disculpe, qué significa 'acero inoxidable'?" ("Excuse me, what does stainless steel mean?") 'Acero inoxidable' in Spanish has an even better meaning than 'stainless steel'. The words literally mean 'non-rustable steel'. Everyone got quiet, and the manager stopped dead (I could just see his mind racing) and after a minute, said, "Oh, all right! I can't give you your money back but go find another stove." The new, more expensive stove was delivered about a week later and the old stove was picked up.

The transaction wasn't entirely successful because he said that he couldn't refund the tax. That was unfair that we had to pay tax on two stoves, but at least we got satisfaction on the price of the stove itself, something that El Jefe and his family never thought would happen. We traded it in for a Whirlpool stainless steel stove, and after 8 1/2 years, it still has no rust and looks like new.

"It's the policy of the company"

That is an often heard statement to which there usually is no recourse. One time during our house construction we went to a hardware store and bought 100 bags of cement. As was the custom, one person attended to us, another wrote the ticket, another collected the money and stamped our receipt, and yet another went to the warehouse to give yet another person the ticket for delivery. Oops! "What do you know! We don't have any cement."

"Okay, no problem, give us our money back and we'll go to another hardware store." "Uh, fíjese que...." (the red flag words) "we can't. No cash refunds. It's the policy of the company. You'll have to buy something else." So that was that. No money and no cement and we sure didn't need L.8,000 of anything else at the time. Not fair? No, but once you've paid your money, you are at their mercy. We took a store credit which we were eventually able to use, but we only shop at that store as a last resort anymore.

A Honduran friend told me another great example of how that policy can lose customers. His sister bought an extension cord at an electronics store at the mall. As she was walking out the door, under the watchful eye of the armed guard, she realized that she actually needed a longer one. She turned around and walked through the entrance door, went back to the clerk and told him her dilemma . "Sorry, no refunds, no exchanges," was the response. The extension cord was still in its package, still in the bag with her 2-minute old receipt stapled to the outside. She not only did not want a refund, she was planning to spend more for a longer cord. No amount of logic could trump the store policy.

Sometimes you win

I don't mean to make it sound as if every experience is bad. We impressed our construction workers a few times when they laughed at us for thinking we could exchange something. Once we bought a bunch of very expensive white cement that was hardened in the bag — which, of course, the worker accepting delivery didn't notice until after the delivery truck had left. It was exchanged the next day.

Another time we bought a bunch of 4" x 1" lumber and then discovered that we really needed 3" x 1". The carpenters were painstakingly cutting it down to size. I suggested why not ask the lumber yard if we could exchange it instead? Haha! sneered the workers. Fat chance. Lo and behold, the store owner not only delivered the 3" wood and picked up the 4" wood without charge, but he refunded the difference in price, which we hadn't even asked for. That lumberyard was our store of choice after that.

Where you shop can make a big difference, as can developing a relationship with the owner or manager. Eventually during our home construction, we discovered a little hardware store owned by a Cayman Islander. Wow! What a difference, Ferretería Toronjal treated us like valued customers. We could just call to order things and pay for them when they were delivered! No going to the store to get the ticket written up, going to the bank to get the cash, going back to the hardware store to pay for it, and then waiting another day for delivery. They gladly took our checks! They let us return things when we bought the wrong thing or too many! Their prices were a little bit higher than the big stores, but it was well worth the difference. That store has since expanded, a sign that others appreciate being treated well and fairly.

Sometimes you lose

I could probably list 50 examples of consumer experiences that might shock or dismay US Americans. Some of them turned out okay, but usually only with extreme insistence and persistence. Others did not and some cost us big time. Whenever and wherever shopping, we try to remember 'buyer beware' and the more money involved, the more attention we pay to what could go wrong. I've also learned to not always go with the lowest price, especially when it comes to services. That almost invariably ends up costing more in the long run.

With the growth of La Ceiba, I have noticed a change in attitudes over the past 9 years. It might be that there is more competition or that store owners and managers are learning that it pays to treat their customers right. I hope so.

July 19, 2010

Cultural differences: Consumer complaints

I'd like to start a cultural difference discussion about consumer complaints. These are only my observations and are very general so I hope that no one takes offense. I bring this up only to share something that my patient Honduran husband has been trying to teach me (with only a modest amount of success!) for almost 9 years in Honduras.

I have the US American 'complaint gene' — truth be told, I have an overabundance of that gene. In the US, the customer is always right, they say. We are miffed if the clerk isn't friendly and expect that they will show the appropriate appreciation for our money or patronage. Heaven forbid that a meal be cold or the bread stale. If there is a problem with goods or services, we complain and demand action. Anything that doesn't "make sense" or isn't "fair" must be rectified!

US Americans have a long history of complaining, starting with "No taxation without representation!" There is no doubt that history of complaining has resulted in lots of good changes that protect citizens and consumers and hold businesses and governments accountable. In some cases, it goes to the extreme (think hot coffee), but that is a different topic.

The first thing that you have accept is that things are not always fair in Honduras, nor do they always make sense by US standards, and very rarely will you be able to change that. 'Buyer beware' is the motto here. If you buy something that is the wrong color or size or food that is already spoiled, you may not be able to return it. And that may be true even if the thing doesn't work or has been misrepresented. Look it over carefully, check the expiration date, plug it in to see if works. Ask about price before you buy, and just walk away if it seems too high. Don't ask about guaranty, because there is none, no matter what they might tell you.

In Honduras, and maybe many other Latin American countries, complaining is considered rude and a lack of respect for the person to whom you are complaining. To the clerk you deal with, his or her job and the risk of annoying the boss with a question are much more important than leaving you a dissatisfied customer. In general, admitting that his initial answer was wrong or that he doesn't know the answer is not an option. Almost all of the time, the first person that you deal with does not have the authority to make the change that you want even if they did agree with you, so complaining just gets that "no" embedded in stone.

If the person won't listen to or act upon a calm, reasonable explanation, you may be able to move up the line to a manager or owner, but surprisingly, in La Ceiba, often that person with authority is not on site or not available to customers so don't burn bridges with the clerk. Do you really think that the clerk will ask the owner to call you so you can tell him what an imbecile the clerk is?

I've found that getting angry or emotional when faced with a difficult situation almost never ends up with good results in Honduras, no matter how righteous my cause might be or how many reasonable people might agree with me. El Jefe always tells me, "When you lose control, you lose the battle." It tends to close any options that might otherwise have been available. I still have problems with this! I am an emotional person by nature and it's hard to change. I get especially emotional in any situation that seems unjust to me. Thankfully, El Jefe is a miracle man who deals with people much better than I do.

Losing the battle can happen with business owners as well. Pride and dignity mean more than money in Honduras. Sometimes a business owner would rather lose your business and your money than submit to an angry gringo making demands of him. "I'll take my money elsewhere!" will likely be met with "gracias!"

I would also like to point out that sometimes it is the gringo's lack of knowledge that gets him or her into trouble. Gringos aren't always cheated or overcharged or treated unfairly. And sometimes assuming that things are the same way that they are in the US (or should be! as some say) is the problem.

The best advice that I can give is to choose your battles. Not everything matters! Other advice is to show your appreciation for good service and give your business to those establishments that deserve your patronage — I think that is especially important in a small town like La Ceiba where we don't always have a lot of choices and where people will remember you the next time you come in. In the next article, Consumer experiences I'll give some examples of my experiences — successes and failures.

What do you think? If you live in Honduras or another Latin American country, how do you deal with tough consumer situations? Have you found the magic language to make a wrong thing right?

July 12, 2010

Trying to love the Disqus commenting system

The Blogicito is trying out a new commenting system. The built-in Blogger commenting system just has no flexibility and it is annoying and very inefficient for blog owners. Worst of all for me, while Google does an outstanding job of filtering spam in Gmail, they put absolutely no effort into filtering spam comments in Blogger. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Unless a blog has comment moderation turned on, a comment with 15 links to spam or p()rn sites will be posted by Blogger.com. (I can't even type the P or V words because it would attract more spammers to my site!) Turning on captchas slows down the rate of spam somewhat, but also slows down legitimate commenters and sometimes malfunctions preventing them from commenting at all. Moderating all comments is annoying for users and blog administrators alike.

Disqus (pronounced 'dis-cuss') has a built in spam system (Akismet) and gives moderators the ability to whitelist or blacklist commenters once and for all. That is a huge bonus for me, the Russian spam magnet! It also gives blog administrators tools to manage comments more effectively. I've already noticed that it makes it much easier for me to interact with commenters.

But enough about me,
what will Disqus do for you?

With Disqus, readers don't have to sign in every time to leave a comment and there are no annoying captchas to slow you down.

If you are signed in to your social media service or to Disqus, Disqus will recognize you and you are all set to leave a comment. If you are not signed in anywhere, you'll only need two clicks to do so. If you have more than one online presence (for example business and personal), you won't have to worry about which one you are signed into as your screen name and avatar will already be showing above the comment box. 'Guest' comments will also be allowed, for now anyway.

Disqus gives readers the ability to later edit and manage their own comments as well as to subscribe to comment replies. If you decide that 'Pete' is an absolute genius, you can subscribe to all of his comments (if he has a profile). If you later add or change your avatar, it will be changed on every comment you have made. You can even elect to automatically post your comment to Twitter or your Facebook page if you think it is particularly brilliant!

Readers, whether you comment or not, have the ability to 'like' a comment as well as to 'flag' an inappropriate comment for review, giving all readers a general idea of reader sentiment. Your preferred view of all comments can be arranged by oldest, newest, or best rated. Arranging comments by newest first will definitely be a time-saver when you just want to check back to see what's new.

Replies made to the comments of other readers are threaded to make discussions much easier to follow, especially when there are numerous anonymous commenters. (There is nothing like an 'anon' commenting on an argument between 'anon' and 'anon' to get the rest of us totally confused!) Comments are updated real-time, no need to refresh the page, so you don't have to worry about confusing cross-postings. Commenters also have an option to sign up to receive by email replies to their specific comment or all comments received on that article made after theirs and can post a reply by email.

You can connect your Disqus profile with your own blog (on any platform), website, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media accounts and display your own screen name and avatar, making commenting a much better social experience. If you don't have and don't want any of that, you can set up your profile to just display your screen name with no links. You set that up once, and you are done, but you have the ability to change your settings at any time.

There are so many options for 'connecting', including Open ID, that I'd rather let you review them and decide what is best for you. I will explain more about that in the next article. But if you have any specific questions, please leave a comment and I'll try to find an answer.

if you already have a Google, Blogger, Yahoo, Wordpress, Flickr, or one of several other accounts,
that is your Open ID. You won't have to set up a new one.

All of these options sounded fantabulous to me! What do you think?

Note to bloggers:

Despite all of the above and my strong desire to love this system, I cannot recommend Disqus to bloggers yet. I'll give you a review of the Disqus system after I've tested it for awhile. Installing it was easy enough, but it did not install properly on my custom template. After two weeks, I have not been able to import all of my thousands of old comments into the Disqus system — something I'm not happy about at all! I'm trying to be patient, as Disqus has assured me that they are working on a fix right now, but I was disappointed in the customer support suggestion to "play around" with my coding.

To make matters worse, I discovered that Internet Explorer 8 could not display some of my blog pages at all. And then, for the cherry on top of this high tech nightmare sundae, my laptop is broken and I'm limited as to my online time, all my files, programs, and prior templates are inaccessible on my computer, and I'm totally discombobulated using J's computer when I can.


I'd love to hear your feedback on this new system. I invite you to try it out on this post, even if you only want to say "testing!" You won't bother me at all and it will help me to test the system. If you have problems of any kind, please try to be as specific as possible so I can try to troubleshoot. If you are unsure about or have problems signing in, please first read the next article, Connecting to and using Disqus.

Connecting to and using Disqus

In the last article, I described some of the features of the Disqus commenting system. In order to benefit from those features, you'll need to set up a Disqus account if you don't already have one. About 500,000 sites use Disqus, including Mashable, UK's Telegraph, The Atlantic, La Prensa, and El Heraldo as well as some of the 'big' blog sites. You may find that you already have a Disqus account.

Oh, I know, I know! We'd all love to be able to participate in forums, leave comments, access services, or whatever without having to sign in. But this is the internet and a few (or many) bad apples have spoiled it for everyone. The truth is that the internet would sink to its lowest common denominator (social misfits) and most websites would be overrun with spam and inappropriate comments if they didn't have some sort of control over who and what can be posted to their website. Garbage posted on websites reflects badly on the website administrator. Readers don't come to the Blogicito to find p()rn sites, buy the v-drug, or find a Russian girlfriend and I'd like to keep it that way.

Long time readers will remember that the Blogicito didn't even use captchas, much less moderation, for many years. Writing the Blogicito is a joy for me and getting feedback from readers is, too, even when readers don't agree with me. But as the Blogicito has grown, it has now gotten to be a job to manage spam comments every single day — and an unpaid one at that — so I hope that you will give Disqus a try.

Getting set up

Keep in mind that the initial set up could be a bit confusing, so please have patience. I think it will be worth it in the long run, especially if you choose an OpenID since it can be used at millions of sites.
I'll also answer questions and give a few tips about 'connecting' in the comments, so check those out, too.

Maybe the easiest way to start would be to look at my Disqus profile:

Click image to enlarge

My sign in name is 'lagringalaceiba' because 'lagringa' was not available, however, I changed my 'display name' to 'La Gringa' which you can see in the upper left next to my hammock avatar. I encourage everyone to make sure that your screen (or display) name is the one that you want use and that whatever profile you decide to use shows only what you want to be public.

Note that your email address will not display on the public profile.

Click image to enlarge

This is the page where you make those "public info" selections. Only the "Display name" is required.
I have included my location since it is already well known, but there is no need to fill out the location, website, or short bio if you don't want to. The Disqus settings are very simple and easy to understand so just explore the pages of your profile to make sure it is the way you want it to be.


You can connect your Disqus profile with your own blog (on any platform), website, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media accounts and display your own screen name and avatar, making commenting a much better social experience, and eliminating the need to type in your email and website each time. If you have any specific questions, please leave a comment and I'll try to find an answer.

Tip: if you already have a Google, Blogger, Yahoo, Wordpress, Flickr, or one of several other accounts, that is your Open ID. Check out that link and many of you won't have to set up a new account.

I've chosen to connect with Twitter, Facebook, OpenID, and my blog. You can choose to connect with any or all of these or nothing at all.

If you don't have and don't want any of that, you can set up your profile to just display your screen name with no links, just as before with Blogger's system, with the advantage that you don't have to sign in each time you want to comment. You set that up once, and you are done, but you have the ability to change your settings at any time.

If you don't want to connect to any social media sites, skip down to "Too complicated?" below.

Click image to enlarge

When connecting, each individual site (Twitter, FaceBook, OpenID, WordPress, etc.) will ask you in a pop-up window to verify that you are the owner by requesting your log in information — that is to protect you from someone who could impersonate you by, for example, listing your Twitter page as their own. That information (password, etc.) is not going to Disqus. You'll only have to do this once.


Twitter seemed the easiest to connect to. Sign in to your Twitter account before you try to connect to your Twitter page. If it doesn't work the first time, or if you connect to the wrong account, just unconnect by clicking the box and try again.


Before trying to connect your account to Facebook, make sure that your Facebook settings allow it. Choose Your Privacy Settings > Basic Directory Information > Search for me on Facebook > set to "everyone". This setting only means that your Facebook name is available to anyone in a search of the Facebook directory, not that all of your information is available. Note that you can (and should) manage the Facebook security settings to control information that is shown in searches. In most cases, your settings will already make your Facebook name available to everyone in a search.


I also connected my Disqus account with my OpenID and listed a link to my blog. OpenID was the most complicated for me, but I've since found a site called OpenID Explained which does just that — explain it. That site also rates the various ID providers on security, ease of use, and services. And, of course, the biggest benefit is that OpenID can be used at millions of sites.

As mentioned above, you may already have an OpenID that you can log in with. If not, you can set one up at many sites. The site that I found easiest to understand and most customizable was MyOpenID.com, which was also one of the highest rated providers. If you want to connect your comments directly with a Blogspot blog, you'll need to use OpenID.

Another benefit to MyOpenID.com is that you can set up "personas" which means that you can choose to use a full profile or a more limited one, depending upon where you are logging in. The first time you log into a site, you'll be asked which profile you want to use. I'm skimming over a lot of OpenID details, so please feel free to ask in the comments section if you need more help.

Too complicated?

I'm sure that all that sounds complicated to many of you who don't have such an extended internet presence. Not to worry! If you only want to comment and be able to use Disqus features, it is much simpler. In order to be able to explain it, I decided to set up a Disqus profile using my "throwaway email" address that I use for signing in to websites that I may not visit frequently or those that might send unwanted email. Surprise, surprise! When I tried to set up the profile, I found that I already had a Disqus profile using that email address:

Click image to enlarge

At the top there is a message that says "Profile found!" You can see that this one is bare-bones and that there are no links (connections). I did not upload an avatar because I was in a hurry that day but I hope that you will if you are a frequent commenter at the Blogicito.


Avatars help readers and me to remember previous commenters.
Don't let the word 'avatar' confuse you. The avatar doesn't have to be your face. It can be any image from your computer, a pet, a flower, an icon, a cartoon, anything, including a drawing that you make yourself, like the one I did for the guest commenters. (Funny picture, huh?) ;-D

Almost done!

Whichever method you choose, when you have completed it, take a moment to look at your public profile page to see that it displays only what you want it to display. If you have connections, click the links to make sure that they go to the the correct websites. With the exception of OpenID, it took me much longer to write this than it did to do all of it!

If you have already commented as a 'guest', you can easily "claim" those comments and set up your profile the way you want it. Just click on the guest avatar and click the link in "If this is you, claim it now to manage your comments".


Click image to enlarge

I'm going to run through the comment area. Don't worry, you won't be given a test. Heheheh. ;-) It looks awful, but chances are that you will only care about a few of these features. Just click! Nothing is going to bite you and nothing can't be undone.

If your display name and avatar (1) are not showing, you can log in before or after you comment (use the Disqus link (2) ). I like to log in first. My data is always already there so all I have to do is click 'login'; no typing is required.

Type your comment in the box (3).
Click 'Post as yourname' (5) to post it. If you are not logged in, you will see 'Post as ...' (5). Click your choice of profiles (Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to log in and post the comment.

To share your own comment on your Twitter and/or Facebook page, click the appropriate icon(s) (4) before you post.

Click 'Subscribe by email' (6) or 'Subscribe by RSS' (7) if you are interested in being informed of future comments on that article. The Subscribe button will change to an 'unsubscribe' button.

To later
edit or remove your comment, click the 'edit' link (14) beneath your posted comment. This will be a 'like' button on other people's comments.

When viewing the other comments:

Click the 'Sort by' box (8) to arrange your view of the comments by newest, oldest, or best rated.

Click on a commenter's avatar (9) to view his/her public profile

Click on a commenter's name (10) to go to the website he or she has connected with.

Click on the date/time (11) to obtain a URL for the comment.

Collapse a comment thread from your view by clicking the minimize button [—] (12) which will appear at the right of the commenter's name.

To 'flag' (13) an inappropriate comment or to 'like' (14) a comment, just click. No sign in is required. The 'flag' button will appear when you run your mouse over the comment.

To post a response to a specific comment, click "Reply" (15) at the lower right of the comment to which you want to reply.

When viewing the Recent Comments widget in the sidebar:

Click the avatar (A) to view the commenter's public profile.
Click the commenter's name (B) (if it is a link) to go to their connection page (Twitter, blog, etc.)
Click the article title (C) to go to the beginning of the article.
Click the time (D) of the comment to go directly to the complete comment.


The reason for this hideously long article is that I want readers to have a good experience with this. A few readers commented negatively about Disqus when I first installed it, partly because there were some malfunctions in the beginning, partly because of not understanding how it worked, and I guess partly because no one likes change. I thought that it needed some further explanation so that commenters can use whatever features they are interested in to their fullest.

I'd love to hear your feedback on this new system, but to give it a fair shot, you'll need to make two comments — the first where you set up your account — which might be a pain in the neck — and a second one where you will see that you don't have to type in anything, just click the Discus (or other link) to be recognized.

If you have problems of any kind, please try to be as specific as possible so I can try to troubleshoot. Try out the features mentioned here and in the other article, Trying to love the Disqus commenting system. I invite you to try it out on this post, even if you only want to say "testing!" You won't bother me at all and it will help me to test the system and figure out where readers are having problems.

July 4, 2010

Honduras Blogs

Honduras Blogs

Have you visited Honduras-Blogs yet?

We have a new blog network site that you are going to love if you are interested in Honduras and what Catrachos and expatriates in Honduras are blogging about.

We are in the process of contacting all of the Honduras bloggers that we can find so that we can introduce their blogs to you. So far we've found about 150 blogs, but haven't been able to find email addresses for many of them yet and we are waiting patiently for the other bloggers to respond.

It's amazing but it is like pulling teeth to get bloggers to write about their own blogs! I haven't even written the Blogicito introduction yet because I've been so busy contacting bloggers and translating the Spanish introductions to English.

If you are one of those bloggers who has been holding back, please check out what we need from you:

Add your blog

Añadir su blog [Esp.]

Honduras-Blogs can only be successful if we all work together to make it so. So don't be shy, send in your introduction now!

One of the greatest things about Honduras Blogs is that it is bilingual. Almost everything is presented in both Spanish and English.

Latest articles

The lower part of the front page (click the large down button near the top) has an automated feed which includes a snippet of the latest article from each of the Honduras bloggers (about 90 so far). It is updated almost instantly as new posts occur throughout Honduras. This is a terrific place to scan through the recent articles and click over to the blogs you want to read more from.

Since these feeds come in their original language, we provide in our sidebar two translators so that you can translate the snippets to Spanish or to English with one click. I hope that those of you who aren't bilingual will try that. I think you will be amazed at what you find. It may widen your view about Honduras and the people in it!

Searching for blogs

Additionally, the category lists provide a way to search for blogs by your areas of interest (topics, location, language, nationality of blogger). There is an incredible variety of Honduras Blogs, focusing on everything from everyday life to science to religion to high-tech to poetry to politics to sports.

This site is going to be your one stop shopping site for Honduras blogs. Please visit Honduras-Blogs and check back often to see what Honduras bloggers are writing about!

Follow Honduras Blogs

Please also follow Honduras-Blogs on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Networked Blogs on Facebook. Add it to your feed reader if you use one, bookmark it, or sign up for daily email updates. And please don't forget to leave a comment for the bloggers. Nothing encourages bloggers like reader comments.

I hope that you enjoy Honduras Blogs and find it useful. Please let us know what you think or any suggestions you might have, either here or over there.


Bloggers and Blogueros: Please send your introductions to Honduras Blogs! Please also feel free to use any part of the above article if you would like to write your own blog article about Honduras-Blogs.
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