September 30, 2011

The prize

recycled plastic bag
Recycled plastic bag

Yeni picked this one. I think it needs a clasp of some sort. What do you think?

Now I have to figure out how to get it to the USA. ;-)

Pick your prize
We have a winner!
Guess what this is?

September 28, 2011

Pick your prize!

La Gringa's recycled plastic market bags

Pick your prize, Yeni R, winner of the 'Guess what it is' contest!

These are some of my handmade, one of a kind, recycled plastic market bags and purses.

Here are some approximate sizes to give you an idea:

blue purse 6" high x 8" wide
orange market bag with long white handles (at left) 12" x 14"
orange market bag with short white handles (in middle) 10" x 13"

If you would like a close up on one of these, let me know. If you want to see some more, let me know about that, too. ;-) You can email me or message me on Facebook.

We have a winner!

kidney stone
Not a mint, apirin, or Alka-Seltzer, not an egg of any kind or a spider case

We have a winner in the 'Guess what it is?' contest. Wow! There were some amazing guesses, and some funny ones, too. Click 'comments' below the linked article to check out the guesses.

After posting this, I really felt guilty because I was thinking that no one in the world would ever be able to guess. That's why I decided to give a prize to the 'most clever answer' if no one won. I thought that after I posted the answer, everyone would exclaim, "Not fair!", because the 'thing' is so obscure.

But I should have had more faith in my readers! They know everything, as I find out every time I ask a question on Facebook. Personally, if I saw that photo, my own guess would have been a piece of coral and I don't think I could have come up with a second guess.

I will keep you in suspense no longer. The photo is of a large and painful kidney stone, guess #29 by Yeni R of 44 guesses. Congratulations, Yeni! What I want to know is, does Yeni have a medical background? How did she know?!

The stone was removed surgically last week in San Pedro from our little female chihuahua, Zoe. Here's her x-ray:

kidney stone in chihuahua
I always thought that kidney stones were bb-sized or smaller and had no idea that the calcium or whatever could build up to this size.

It looks like an egg, doesn't it? I wondered if one of the roosters had gotten a hold of her in some freak accident of nature! (By the way, the other strange looking spots in the x-ray are trees and things showing through the window where I put the x-ray to get a photo.)

Poor Zoe. She must have really been suffering. Thankfully, she is doing fantastic and even within a couple of hours of the surgery was up and running around the vet's office looking for her "papi".

Here is the happy family back together again:

Honduran chihuahuas
Clockwise from top, Oso, Joe, and Zoe

Congratulations, Yeni! In the next post, I'll let Yeni pick her prize. ;-)

September 25, 2011

Guess what this is?

Guess what this is? Please don't say paper clip. The paper clip is there to give you an idea of the size. The paper clip measures 1-1/8 inch or about 3 centimeters.

It was hard to get a good photo. I took at least 20 and these are the best.

Any guesses? I will give a prize to the first correct guess or the most clever wrong guess if no one guesses the correct answer. But your answers have to be here, not on Facebook!

Update: We have a winner!

Pick your prize!


 Rambután (Nephelium lappaceum)

Rambután (Nephelium lappaceum)Rambután (Nephelium lappaceum) is a tropical fruit common to the north coast area of Honduras. According to my CURLA Fruits of the Humid Tropics book, it was first introduced to Honduras at the Lancetilla Botanical Garden from Malaysia in 1926. The fruits may be red or yellow. The tree can be grown from sea level to 700 meters altitude in areas which receive at least 2 meters of rain annually.

I've had rambután many times, and yeah, it tastes good, a little grape-like with a tropical perfume, sweeter and not as acidic as most grapes, but it is a lot of work for the amount of 'meat'. The egg-shaped fruit easily separates from the peel when you split open the covering around the equator. Then you simply plop the fruit into your mouth.

Rambután (Nephelium lappaceum)Unfortunately, the thin layer of fruit generally does not separate from the seed so easily. With a little chewing and sucking, you get a tiny bit of pulp but mostly juice. Often they are eaten around the kitchen table or outside with a large bowl or communal bucket in which to toss the peels and seeds.

These rambutáns, however, were like nothing I've ever had before!

They are from a variety developed by Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola (FHIA - Honduras Foundation for Agricultural Investigation), the organization known world-wide for its banana development. In addition to bananas and plantains, FHIA has been instrumental in introducing, developing, and/or promoting non-traditional exportable crops for Honduras, such as rambután, cacao, sweet corn, mango, ginger, black pepper, and others. When I asked Dr. Adolfo Martínez, Director General of FHIA, why I had never had this variety before, he explained that this fruit is grown for exportation. Not fair!

Rambután (Nephelium lappaceum)These exotic rambutáns had about a half inch or more of sweet translucent fruit around the seed. But the best part is that the fruit cleanly and easily separated from the seed. Wikipedia calls this a "freestone" type. The trees of this and other equally good varieties are available at Centro Experimental y Demostrativo de Cacao (CEDEC - Experimental and Demonstrative Center of Cacao) in La Masica for L.110 (about US $5.80). According to CURLA, grafted trees can begin producing fruit in as little as 2-4 years.

According to Wikipedia, the name rambután is derived from the Indonesian word rambutan, meaning "hairy". The silly looking bad-hair-day fruit doesn't really feel hairy — the spikes feel more like little plastic appendages. In Honduras, they may also be called licha (though they are not lychees) and peluda (hairy). A common name in Costa Rica is mamón chino (Chinese sucker).

Rambután (Nephelium lappaceum)The fruit is similar to the lychee (Litchi chinensis) which you may be more familiar with, but the lychee fruit isn't covered with the "hairs".

So if you ever see this odd little fruit in your local grocery store, buy it! It gets the La Gringa stamp of approval.

Sorry for the quality of the photos. The light wasn't great for photo taking and when I went to go take some new photos during the daylight, all of the rambután were gone!

Gold beetle

Gold beetle
A gold beetle (with dog peeking through the screen)

September 21, 2011

Sauted lobster with mushoom risotto

Lobster with mushroom risotto
Lobster with mushroom risotto

El Jefe found a great little seafood store. Apparently it is primarily an export business but they have a little storefront where they sell to the public, too. We bought a ton of stuff. My favorite was the shrimp, the grouper, and, of course, the lobster.

I love lobster! But I have only once in my life cooked it, intimidated by the (US) cost, I guess. This was an accidental meal. I had planned to prepare the lobster differently based on delicious advice from some of my more lobster-experienced Honduran Facebook friends. I bought this frozen in a plastic bag and didn't really know what I had. The store had frozen lobster tails in the shell and these packages of lobster meat without the shell. I asked if they were pieces or whole tails and was told that they "were the same, just no shell". But upon thawing, I could see that they clearly were chunks, not whole lobster tails.

Changing plans, I decided to make a risotto with the last of my arborio rice from Los Andes in San Pedro. I kinda-sorta followed the Cook's Illustrated recipe for basic risotto. Are you at all surprised that I love the incredibly long and detailed Cook's Illustrated recipes? No, I didn't think so.

I changed the recipe by adding some canned mushrooms, which I had drained, rinsed, and minced. Oh, I can see you turning up your nose at canned mushrooms, but I have to say that even though they were lowly canned mushrooms, the long cooking added an incredible mushroom flavor to the risotto.

Mushroom risotto

2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 onion, minced
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup arborio rice
4 oz. canned mushrooms, drained, rinsed, and minced; or fresh
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups water, heated with the broth
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup dry white wine, optional
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

To start, in a saucepan, sauté the minced onion with the salt in the hot butter until very soft about 10 minutes. Add the rice and and stir frequently for about 5 minutes until the edges of the rice begin to look transparent. Add the wine, if using, and mushrooms and stir and cook until all the wine has been absorbed by the rice and the alcohol evaporated.

The recipe says that using pure chicken broth will result in too strong a flavor because of the condensation and evaporation of the liquid so I used about half broth and half water as recommended. Add about 1 1/2 cups of hot broth-water liquid. Stir about every 3 minutes until the broth has been absorbed by the rice and the bottom of the pan is dry, about 10-12 minutes. (Stirring frequently is less important in the beginning.)

Add another half cup of liquid each time the rice absorbs the previous addition. Stir more than occasionally but not quite constantly, until the grains of rice are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the center, a total of about 10-12 minutes more.

Stir in the cheese, add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and serve immediately in shallow bowls. (Mine needed no additional salt.) Food of the gods.

The lobster

With the addition of the second to the last bit of liquid to the risotto, I recruited El Jefe to supervise the stirring while I prepared the lobster.

I cut the larger lobster chunks into bite-sized pieces. In a frypan, I melted a tablespoon or so of butter and added a couple of finely minced garlic cloves (in Spanish, dientes — teeth). When the garlic aroma started wafting, I tossed in the lobster, sprinkled a bit of salt, and sautéed it over medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes and then served it hot on top of the hot risotto with steamed green beans on the side.

This was my second time ever to cook lobster. I don't know why I haven't tried it sooner, except that the first time, I bought it frozen in the grocery store and it was absolutely awful and smelly, which I couldn't tell while it was in the frozen state. I had been afraid ever since to try it again.

The review

This really was food of the gods. The rich butteriness of the lobster with the creaminess of the rice was beyond compare. "Comfort food" came to mind as we were eating. Now that I know how good it can be, we'll be having it again before long. During dinner, there was a lot of moaning about "Oh! This is so good!".

September 20, 2011

More on La Ceiba's paid parking

Parking permit sign
Parking permits sold here

The municipalidad of La Ceiba seems to have addressed some of paid parking issues discussed in the previous article. Above is the sign shown on stores that sell the parking permits. From the moving vehicle, I couldn't see too many of the signs, but at least it is a start. In one area, I saw a new sign with a symbol that may have been to indicate that this was a paid parking area, but I'm really not sure what the sign meant.

parking lines redrawn, La Ceiba, HondurasAdditionally, the lines outlining the too-small parking spots have been repainted adjusting the size of each space to be a little larger, at least in some areas. It's hard to get a good photo from a moving car on a cloudy day, but I think that if you look closely, you can see the difference in parking space sizes, as well as the fact that the original lines were not covered up. Both coats of paint are fading away rapidly considering this was only started in August.

The northern part of Avenida San Isidro, the main street in town, has parking marked on one side only which should have helped traffic, but unfortunately, many vehicles were parked in the no parking zones on the west side as well causing traffic congestion.

I tried to look into the parked vehicles as we passed. I really didn't see many parking permits, though it could have been because many of the windows are dark tinted.

parking lines redrawn, La Ceiba, HondurasIn one case a bus was pulled over half in the parking area and half out, completely blocking one lane of traffic unless cars in the other lane paused to let them pass. And of course, taxi drivers still stop in their lane to pick up or discharge passengers.

We also saw some areas in which the painted parking lines were so faded that I'm not sure whether these areas are still in the paid area or not. The municipalidad needs to get some better quality paint and do a better job of preparing the surface or I think they will be repainting the lines every couple of months.

September 17, 2011

Roatán's McNab-Anderson-Moore case

In A step back in time with Wikileaks, 2002-2004, I wrote:

"Another entire cable was devoted to the shocking Roatan McNab-Anderson-Moore case in which the American citizens' caretaker was forcibly removed in handcuffs from their house by police while they were in the US. When they returned to Honduras a few days later, they were forced by a judge and police to remove their personal belongings from their home in two hours and they found others already living in it! Ambassador Palmer thought this case would be a test of the resolve of the Honduran government in the area of investor rights. Can anyone tell me how that case ended up or is this something that we shouldn't discuss?"

I was happy to receive a response from Jean Moore, the American citizen mentioned in the Wikileaks cable. She asked me to post her summary of events since that time, so here you go.

From Jean Moore:

For those of you who are wondering about the rest of the is the short version; I don't think I'll live long enough for the long version!

For a long while after out traumatic illegal eviction, the government and the court system refused to assist. A year of networking, embassy visits, faxes to President Maduro resulted in nada. The embassy had a great team in place at the time and I knew they were working hard for us. I was told that there were 160 cases similar to ours on the books. Ours vaulted to #1 because it was the most egregious. Two things happened in our favor.

One day, on one of my trips from Miami to Tegucigalpa, I was told that President Maduro was on board. I introduced myself and was invited to sit with him. He told me that he already knew who I was and wanted to hear my story. I felt this encounter put a"face" on the situation. Soon after, Honduras lost their right to sell shrimp to the U.S. At that time the shrimping industry was the main livelihood of Roatán. The island was losing millions and the "powers that be" descended on the U.S Embassy begging for help.

Ambassador Palmer refused to help until Honduras was willing to help the "Moores get their house and land back ". Well, things started happening: our court case went straight to the Supreme Court. It took about 1 year...that's quick for Honduras. We were given our home back (somewhat destroyed) . It took a couple years for us to overcome the trauma and slowly move back in.

Along the way, all the legal minds had told us that a false inheritance suit was needed to undermine all claims to the 17 acre piece owned by various gringos...unfortunately, we were the only ones with a house on our lot. By the way, in 1991 Paya Bay was taken from the rightful owners due to this inheritance claim. All of us got together and filed suit in 2000. In the past two years, we have won at the Roatán and La Ceiba level. We are waiting to see what's next.

For 16 years, we have been harassed with nuisance lawsuits, lies and defamation on the internet, endless surveying of the land, physical snooping, and trespassing at our house....the list goes on.

So this is the short version and to those of you with similar problems, here's my advice: If you have the fortitude: perseverance is mandatory and hopefully a little luck. I believe you reap what you sow. I just want to see it in my lifetime.

Still love Roatan..... Jeanie

September 15, 2011

Congress revised the security tax law

Honduran congress
Honduran congress

The Honduran Congress approved major changes to the controversial security tax law. The initial 5-year temporary law was challenged on constitutional grounds. The changes are a result of consensus among the business, banking, and political sectors and the law is estimated to collect L.2.2 billion annually (about US $79 million), of which L.1.5 billion will go to a security fund and 700 million will go toward social projects. Others from the private sector, however, project that the law could result in tax revenues of as much as L.3 billion per year.

President of the Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández, declared,"We are in a national emergency. The theme of crime is intolerable. We can't wait any longer to give a response to the people. With these changes we will assure that the Secretaries of Security and Defense, the Attorney General, and the Supreme Court will have the resources to improve their work." Honduras has the distinction of having the highest reported homicide rate in the world, with current 2011 estimates being between 78-86 per 100,000, compared to a worldwide average estimated at about 8 per 100,000.

According to the Congressional bulletin on Wednesday, some of the changes are:

  • The tax rate has been reduced from 0.3% (.003) to 0.2%.
  • The tax has been eliminated from savings accounts withdrawals of any amount for individuals (natural persons) but will be applied for debits to checking accounts with average balances above L.120,000.
  • Businesses (personas jurídicas - legal entities) will pay the tax on withdrawals on savings and checking accounts with average balances above L.120,000 or US $6,000.
  • A new annual tax will be charged on credit card renewals based on the amount of the credit limit, as follows:
  • L.40,000: no tax
  • L.40,000 up to L.50,000: L.500
  • L.50,000 up to L.100,000: L.600
  • L.100,000 up to L.200,000: L.700
  • L.200,000 up to L.1 million: L.800
  • L.1 million and over: L.1,000
  • The tax on bank loan disbursements has been reduced from 0.3% to 0.15% and will completely absorbed by the bank who emits the credit.
  • For bank transfers within the country, the base taxable amount has increased from L.10,000 to L.20,000.
  • Still excluded from taxation are international transfers (remesas).

La Tribuna additionally reports that persons or businesses involved in mining will be charged 2% (.02) on exportations, reduced from 5%.

The "Special Contribution" of mobile phone companies will remain at 1% of monthly gross income and that of casinos will remain at 1% of monthly income. International fast food franchises will be charged 0.5% on gross monthly revenue, making this the first time that fast food restaurants have been subject to tax.


See previous article about the Security Tax for more details: Dollars and lempiras, taxes and interest


chihuahuas in the windows
I love this photo of my boys, Joey and Oso, waiting outside the Blogicito command center.

At one point, Pancho the rooster was perched on the window sill right next to Joey, a very strange occurrence. I don't know what was up with that. I used to feed the chickens outside this window but we've been feeding them somewhere else for ages.

rooster in the window

September 14, 2011

Forgot to check the mail

moldy mail
Look at this shameful mess! Damp, moldy mail that was being used as an ant's nest and possibly gecko haven for who knows how many months. Somehow we both forgot to check for mail — big change from the US where the mailbox was stuffed full of junk and bills every single day. This would actually normally be about a year's worth of mail for me.

mailboxWe used to get our checking account statement (más or menos) monthly, but then the bank started using a private delivery service. Since both were unreliable, I just use online banking to keep up with it. There is not much to keep up with as hardly anyone will accept a check anyway. Other than that and the IRS tax forms (which only make it to me about one year out of three), there isn't much in the way of mail. That's my excuse anyway.

We designed this clever mail box so that the rare piece of mail could be inserted from outside the muro and would drop through a galvanized box in the column to be collected inside the muro. The albañil had fun doing it since he hadn't seen anything like that before. We also used some super expensive paint to make sure that the doors wouldn't rust. You can see how well that worked. ;-/


September 12, 2011

A step back in time with Wikileaks 2002-2004

Ricardo Maduro, Honduran president, 2002-2006A new Wikileaks-Honduras cable came through on a Google Alert the other day. "Oh, yeah, I forgot about Wikileaks," I thought to myself. So I clicked over to see what was new: Pages and pages of new Honduras-related cables, 50 cables per page. I went through at least 10 pages and still didn't arrive where I had last left off. These latest posted cables were from 2002-2004, when Larry Palmer was US Ambassador to Honduras, and Ricardo Maduro (photo) was president. The majority were "Media response to xyz event" and even though I skipped all of those, I still spent hours reading selected cables.

Some cables read a little like gossipy soap operas or tragic comedies. Juicy! But overall, as I was reading, all I could think was, "It has been a decade and only the names have changed." Honduras has had Nacionalista presidents and Liberal presidents. We've had hundreds of million in aid and loans as well as hundreds of millions of debt forgiven. We've had new laws and new 'watchdog' committees and organizations put into place. We've had foreign experts working on various problems. We've had plans and studies and dialogues and negotiations. And Honduras still has all the same problems, only in double or quadruple now!

US Ambassador to Honduras (2002-2005), Larry PalmerUS Ambassador Palmer (2002-2005, photo) was initially generally very optimistic about changes to be made under new President Ricardo Maduro. It's true, some significant laws were implemented. Personally, with my limited experience with government offices, I saw improvements in service. At least the government employees no longer flagrantly pulled out their wallets and deposited my fees directly into them right in front of me as I had seen a couple of times in my first year in Honduras. Most payments now have to be made at a bank.

Hope and changes in the law

In February 2002, the criminal procedure code was overhauled providing for oral presentations in public court instead of written presentations debated in private by the judges. A stronger anti-money laundering law was passed early in 2002. The election law was reformed and a government simplification law was passed. The Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (TSC) was created in 2002 as a hybrid general accounting and public ethics office but, according to the Embassy, had no visible affect on corruption. In almost two years of existence, the 600-employee TSC had not reported a single accounting discrepancy or recommended a single corruption charge. "Rather, the TSC seems to have become a jobs program for contacts of senior GOH (government of Honduras) officials in need of employment."

Immunity then, impunity now

Changing the constitution to revoke immunity for a long list of public officials was another success of the Maduro administration. Unfortunately, while politicians no longer have legal immunity from prosecution, in reality, they still do and are rarely ever even fired, much less prosecuted. Public employees can become millionaires seemingly overnight without even an investigation occurring. In many cases, they are merely shuffled to other government jobs in order to preserve their dignity. In some cases, they fade away only to be later resurrected under a new administration when the public has forgotten the scandal.

We'll see how the Zelaya, Flores Lanza, Bonano, Latinode, and other cases go, and I will happily eat my words if anyone goes to jail or even more far-fetched, are forced to make restitution. Just last week, (now former) Minister of Security Alvarez told us that he can't even fire police officers accused of crimes, narcotrafficking involvement, and corruption, that the courts restore them with full pay and that 10 high level police officials are "air traffic controllers" for the narcos.

In 2003, a minor congressman, Armando Avila Panchame, caught red handed fleeing the scene of a narco plane landing, was sacrificed to the anti-corruption gods and sent to prison for 20 years. Shortly after he claimed that he was going to implicate the "big people" involved with narcotrafficking, he was murdered in prison. To the best of my knowledge, he was the first and last politician to be convicted of anything, despite strong rumors that many in congress and high level government officials were and still are involved in narcotrafficking, money laundering, and other crimes, as are some of their family members.

Astronomical violent crime rate, endemic under-reporting

Central America homicides 1999-2007Truth scarier than fiction: That was the title of this August 2003 cable in which the Embassy lamented the shocking increase in murder rates but also expounded on the several ways in which they were certain that murder was vastly under-reported, particularly in areas where there is no morgue (most of the country) and where there are no journalists from the major news organizations (again, most of the country), since most statistics are based on morgue reports or the news.

Paragraph 15 of the cable pointed to a 50% increase in murders to date in 2003, but amazingly, the official 2003 statistics issued later by the government showed an unexplained 39% reduction in homicides! No doubt there was fiction in those numbers. The same statistic gathering problems apply in 2011, but now the homicide rate is estimated at 78-86 per 100,000, placing Honduras number one in the world of countries who report such statistics.

Same old, same old

High government salaries, teachers strikes (many cables), union pressures: Each of those issues were mentioned in several cables and are worse today than they were in 2002-2003. Current government salaries are stratospheric compared to 2001 despite at least a decade of constant pressure from the IMF to reduce them. One 2009 news report said that government salaries were 10 times what they were in 2001. Teachers unions have become so emboldened by the governments' lack of resolve to make politically tough decisions that they no longer think they should even have to work in order to receive paychecks and a whole generation of children have been robbed of an education. Those children, soon to become part of the workforce, will never recover that lost time.

Expropriation of private property

This cable discussed 13 cases of government expropriation or loss through corruption of US Americans' property, some of whom had been trying to get justice since the 1970's. One of those cases is actually a friend of mine. (Very strange to read about a friend's case in Wikileaks!) A 2005 update on these cases indicated no favorable results. Another entire cable was devoted to the shocking Roatan McNab-Anderson-Moore case in which the American citizens' caretaker was forcibly removed in handcuffs from their house by police while they were in the US. When they returned to Honduras a few days later, they were forced by a judge and police to remove their personal belongings from their home in two hours and they found others already living in it! Ambassador Palmer thought this case would be a test of the resolve of the Honduran government in the area of investor rights. Can anyone tell me how that case ended up or is this something that we shouldn't discuss?

For the rest of the story on the McNab case directly from one of the parties involved, see Roatán's McNab-Anderson-Moore case.

Open for business, 2002 style

This cable discusses Maduro's efforts to attract business, not so terribly different from the current "Honduras is Open for Business" One section is entitled "Hopes rest on CAFTA" — hmmm, that didn't work out near so well for most of Honduras as it did for US exporters. It then lists some of Honduras' challenges, which, unfortunately are still with us. One example was the then recent minimum wage hike (which brought wages at that time to less than half of what they are now). In another cable, Palmer discusses the case of a US citizen who believed that his cable company was being harassed and that he was personally and publicly being defamed as being a narcotrafficker by a politically powerful Honduran business rival.


Corruption and a frustrating lack of will for change was a frequent theme of the cables, despite Ambassador Palmer's initial hopefulness. But by December 2003, in a cable entitled "Good talkers, but Maduro Administration not seriously committed to fighting corruption", the embassy wrote this:

"In office for almost two years, President Ricardo Maduro's administration talks a lot about fighting corruption .... Upon close examination, however, one sees little demonstrable progress in breaking corruption's pervasive grip on almost all aspects of daily life in Honduras. Moreover, there appears to be very little genuine interest in addressing corruption's root causes or the venality of many Government of Honduras officials."
At that time (2003), Transparency International ranked Honduras 106 in corruption out of 133 countries (fourth lowest in the Western Hemisphere). In 2010, Honduras was in 134th place out of 178 countries, tied with eight other countries. Honduras' score fell from 2.7 (out of 10) in 2002 to 2.4 in 2010. Among many other actors, Palmer pointed to the congress, describing it as,

"riddled with tainted politicians who view their positions heavily through the lens of personal wealth creation. This year alone, three members of Congress have been arrested on drug trafficking charges, and many others continue to be involved in a wide range of other illicit activities."

By October 2004, Palmer makes his disappointment about the lack of progress on the anti-corruption front and with President Maduro crystal clear. Palmer reports on a heated meeting with Maduro in which:

"Maduro was visibly put-off by the Ambassador's suggestion that Honduras needed to do more on the anti-corruption front. Apart from the fact that Honduras could be found ineligible to receive future MCA funds based on its undistinguished anti-corruption record, Maduro appears more preoccupied with maintaining the political status quo."

And so it goes.

Honduras corruption
Cartoon: Dario Banegas
La Prensa, Honduras

September 11, 2011

September 11

shih tzus
Molly and Alex

On September 11, 2001, we were in Houston, Texas, taking care of final paperwork at the Honduran consulate and arranging for shipping of our cars. We were supposed to leave for Honduras on September 13, but that didn't happen.

We were wakened by a phone call telling us to turn on the television. ..... Oh, the horror of it. I was glued to the television for days. It just didn't seem real no matter how many times I watched it. How could something like that happen? God rest the 3,000 souls who didn't survive that day.

Of course, our flight was canceled. We ended up not being able to get a flight in which we could take both of our little dogs until a week later. The airline only allowed two dogs in cabin per flight and every flight had at least one. We had made all the arrangements for them and even had made an advance trip to the airport to make sure there wouldn't be any problems, but all of that changed with 9/11. The helpful airline's customer service solution was that we only take one dog with us. Right: We'll just abandon one of our 14-year-old dogs in the airport. No problem. So, instead we ended up spending an expensive week in a motel in Houston with two dogs before we finally were able to leave for Honduras.

At the airport, we were designated as suspicious characters, exacerbated by our one-way tickets. Our four huge overstuffed bags were searched completely, down to unfolding the socks. I waited, trying not to notice that all the blonds sailed right through with a wave. I never thought that the inspectors would ever be able to put everything back and zip up those suitcases, but miraculously they did.

Honduras was a relief as we had no news, no phones, no cable TV, and no newspapers in the beginning.

Both dogs have since gone to doggy heaven and I still miss them.

Lemon harvest

lemons, La Ceiba, Honduras
Our lemon tree is finally producing a pretty good crop of lemons. These are really tasty and so much juicier than the lemons in the stores. Yum.

September 10, 2011


huntsman spider, La Ceiba, Honduras
(Not a) Tarantula

This (not a) tarantula lived in our bedroom for about a week before El Jefe accidentally stepped on him. Yes, accidentally. I had tried to remove him by slipping a piece of paper under him but he escaped every time.

huntsman spider, La Ceiba, Honduras
Crucial Update: This spider is apparently not a tarantula! For anyone whose life was adversely affected by my misidentification, I deeply apologize. hahahah

I'll admit that for me, formerly, spider + big + hairy = tarantula. I thought it looked kind of skinny for a tarantula but my mistake. Readers make me work so hard but I'm happy for the correction and appreciate that readers keep me on my toes.

The commenter said it was a wolf spider. However, after I looked it up, I don't think that it looks like the wolf spider photos that I found. It looks more like a Brown Huntsman. It was about 4 inches in length and from what I've read, wolf spiders are generally smaller, though there may be a special Honduran version of wolf spider. Here is some of what I found:

What's that bug?

Sparassidae: Huntsman Spider

Another reader sent me a photo of a tarantula he found on his wall last week along with a funny tarantula story.

tarantula, Honduras
Juan's tarantula

Any comments from spider experts would be welcome. ;-)

September 9, 2011

Corruption but no corruptos in Honduras

Buen Provecho!

corruption HondurasBon appetit!

Image: Dario Banegas
La Prensa, Honduras

Did you know that the US has some laws that even cover crimes committed in other countries? The US doesn't agree with the "When in Rome, do as the Romans" philosophy for US corporations. The officers of one company found out about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act the hard way.

After winning a long distance services contract in 2005 with Hondutel (the state-owned telephone company), Latin Node (Latinode) was apparently approached by Honduran government officials with a deal to "sweeten the pot". With bribe payments in the right places, an even lower connection fee would be charged by Hondutel. One by one, former officials of the company are going to prison for paying US $500,000 in bribes to Honduran officials in 2006-2007. Four down and three more to go. Additionally, the company itself was required to pay a US $2 million fine.

Here in Honduras? Nada. There is an old saying here: "En Honduras hay corrupción, pero no hay corruptos." Honduras is full of corruption but there are no corruptos. At least none that can be convicted and very, very few that can even be charged. I suppose it goes back to "Honor among thieves" or "You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours".

Marcelo Chimirri, former head of Hondutel, was one of those rare exceptions who did spend a few months in jail before he raised L.4 million bail. Initially he even had the audacity to use government funds to pay lawyers to defend him and the other accused against the corruption charges. Here is Chimirri having a good laugh at the justice system after he was released.

According to one Wikileaks cable, Latinode may only be the tip of the iceberg. "Latinode is one of 16 new international carriers that Hondutel has contracted with since the new administration of President Jose Manuel "Mel" Zelaya took office in 2005. Most of these contracts, including Latinode, contain suspect "confidentiality clauses" that seem to arbitrarily lower their rates." Despite the totally shocking information included in this cable, Chimirri was found not guilty of fraud charges and is still awaiting trial for abuse of authority charges. If a man like Chimirri (read the cable!) can not be convicted, there is really no hope for Honduras. Hat tip to Omar for sending me the cable.

It seems that if the cases have already been proven in the US, it shouldn't be such a stretch for Honduran prosecutors to win convictions in Honduras. While some of the Honduran officials were charged, we can't even find out the name of one of the bribed officials. His name has been maintained secret by three different administrations for all of these years. For all we know, he may be one of the many running for president.

September 8, 2011

FNRP leader Emo assaulted by Zelaya bodyguards

Emo hugging Zelaya, 9/21/09
Emo hugging Zelaya at Brazilian Embassy, 09/21/09

suspect in Emo killingMahadeo Roopchand Sadloo Sadloo, better known by his nickname Emo, and one of the most well-known faces of the Resistance (FNRP), was assassinated yesterday at his tire shop in Tegucigalpa. Emo (variously being reported as Emo, Emmo, or Emmoo) was a naturalized Honduran citizen with 12 children.

Based on witnesses' testimony, the murder appears to have been a paid assassination, and judging by the composite drawing of the perpetrator, the killer was a young man in his early 20s or perhaps even younger. The victim died of five gunshot wounds to the head and thorax.

Xiomara CastroXiomara Castro de Zelaya, probable FNRP/FARP (Resistance) presidential candidate and wife of Manuel Zelaya, immediately called it a "political crime" and a warning for her husband. That is an extremely interesting spin, since the only documented threats reported by Emo himself were from Mel Zelaya's own bodyguards. Xiomara eulogizes, “Emo has been a bulwark of the Resistance; he has accompanied Mel; he has been at Mel's side", but fails to mention that Mel's bodyguards have used violence in the past four months to keep Emo away from Mel.

Mel Zelaya said that this action was "a declaration of war against the Resistance" — another interesting political spin, since it is highly doubtful that his bodyguards would have used aggression against his long time loyal follower on several occasions without Mel's knowledge. Mel is calling for "strong and massive" protests and claims that there is a plot to assassinate the leaders of the FNRP.

Honduras President Pepe Lobo says that the full force of the state will be put forth to bring the perpetrator to justice. Today police offered a L.100,000 reward to anyone who could provide conclusive information.

As usual, none of Resistance friendly media or the international media report the aggressions documented by Emo himself in a official human rights complaint against Mel Zelaya's bodyguards, who apparently abused him during visits to several cities.

Emo considered Zelaya "his leader" and was one of his most vocal supporters, always at the forefront of every protest, often giving interviews and soundbites to both local and international media. The photo above shows Emo hugging Zelaya at the Brazilian Embassy when he returned to the country on September 21, 2009.

Emo signs complaint against Zelaya bodyguardsEmo made an official denuncia before CODEH (Committee for the Defense of Human Rights) on July 21, 2011, characterized on CODEH's website as "physical assault and harassment". According to Emo's complaint, although he considered himself a close friend of Zelaya and part of Mel's inner circle, beginning on May 28, 2011, when Mel Zelaya returned to Honduras, he was repressed and beaten to keep him away from Zelaya by Zelaya's bodyguards, who he names in the complaint.

Emo reports several other instances in which he had traveled to various parts of the country to support "his leader" but was beaten, punched in the face and stomach, choked, knocked to the ground, threatened with a gun, and insulted as being a "nobody" and a "bum" by the bodyguards. He also wrote that he witnessed the bodyguards using aggression against other Zelaya followers, women and men, who were knocked to the ground only because they wanted to say hello to their hero.

The complaint says that Emo reported all of this to other Resistance leaders, Rafael Alegría, Rasel Tome, and Mel himself but received no response.

Zelaya may have thought that Emo had outlived his usefulness and had instructed his bodyguards to keep Emo at a distance from him. Perhaps Emo was disillusioned with Mel's actions since his return. We will probably never know the actual circumstances but it would be very difficult to believe that Zelaya's bodyguards were acting without his knowledge or against his wishes.

Andrés Pavón, CODEHCODEH is not a credible organization and it's president Andrés Pavón has made some outrageous, unsupported accusations over the years. Perhaps the most ridiculous was when, in an effort to sabotage the 2009 presidential elections, he reported on a Cholusat Sur television program that he had uncovered a mass assassination plot by the military in which they were going to massacre 1,200 UCD (anti-Zelaya) members during the election in order to blame the massacre on the Resistance. Pavón claimed to have proof and slyly grinned while he showed the cameras two photos of two soldiers standing, doing nothing. The photos could have been taken on any street corner or military installation and showed nothing at all except two soldiers talking to each other. At times during this great revelation, he even appeared to be snickering, as if he himself couldn't believe the gullibility of anyone who would believe this farfetched story.

FNRP Emo PosterHowever, CODEH published Emo's complaint on their website on July 21, 2011, and included two photos of Emo signing the document, so I tend to believe that Emo actually made the denuncia. Interviewed yesterday, Pavón stated that he had not taken action on the complaint as a week afterward, Emo told him that he had "reached an accord" with the bodyguards. The complaint could have been false, but why? Up until an hour before his death, Emo was supporting Mel Zelaya's corrupt protege Flores Lanza in a protest in which he carried a banner with a likeness of Mel. Could it be that the resistance needs a fresh martyr?


Related article from a Honduran blogger (in Spanish):

Quién sale beneficiado con la muerte de Sadloo? (Who benefits from the death of Sadloo?)

September 7, 2011

Protect the Río Plátano Biosphere

Please set aside some time to watch this fantastic video about the destruction being done in the "protected" Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve. The video is about 30 minutes long and well worth the time spent as you'll be seeing a part of the world that not many have seen.

Rio Platano, Honduras

The reserve was declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1982. It includes approximately 5,250 sq. km. (1,300,000 acres) of mountainous and lowland tropical rainforest, where 39 species of mammals, nearly 500 species of birds and 126 reptiles and amphibians have been recorded. Threatened species include giant anteater, Baird's (Central American) tapir, jaguar, ocelot, puma, Central American otter, Caribbean manatee, among others.

Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve map (Honduras)In 1996, the UN declared the reserve to be in danger. It was removed from the endangered list in 2007 due to "significant progress", but was placed back on the list again in June 2011 at the request of the government of Honduras due to the combined threats of illegal logging, fishing and land occupation, poaching and the government's reduced capacity to manage the site, notably due to the deterioration of law and to the presence of drug traffickers. As this video shows, much damage is being done in the protected area.

But a friend of mine says that the narcos aren't the real problem — except that they scare the authorities away — because they like things all jungly where they can hide their mansions and hummers among the foliage. A bigger problem is the farmers and cattle ranchers who cut down all the trees to grow corn or pasture the cows, and the hunters who kill the animals and dynamite the river to kill the fish.

I'd love to tell you a little story about an adventure in the jungle but I'm afraid that it might put my friend in danger.

According to the UNESCO World Heritage website, the site of Ciudad Blanca (White City) within the protected area constitutes one of the most important archaeological sites of Mayan civilization. Archaeological remains include the Piedras Pintadas petroglyphs on the bed of the Plátano River, believed to belong to an unknown pre-Columbian culture.

Find out more about the Río Plátano Biosphere at the UNESCO website or Wikipedia. Join the Friends of the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve cause on Facebook.

Or if you are a real adventurer, see it for yourself through a tour with Jorge Salaverri of La Moskitia Ecoaventuras, the guide in this video.

Note: The link to La Moskitia Ecoaventuras has been updated to a more complete website.

September 5, 2011

Paid parking in La Ceiba

Tire boot on car in La Ceiba
Vehicle wearing a tire boot

The municipality of La Ceiba has implemented a paid parking system in el centro (the center of town) to help alleviate parking and traffic problems. The area includes the major north-south streets of San Isidro, 14 de Julio, and La República, from a few blocks south of the municipal palace north toward the ocean as well as parts of some east-west streets.

A lot of self-generated confusion and lack of information about the new system has ensued, partly due to changes that have been made since the initial announcement. There is no signage indicating that parking payment is required and as a result, many have found out the hard way by having their tire locked by the 'parking police'. Word has been disseminated through local radio and television programs, but even the newspaper articles have been contradictory as to the cost, areas covered, fines, and how and where the permits can be purchased.

White lines indicate paid parking in La Ceiba, HondurasWherever you see the parking spaces marked in white as in this photo, that means that these are paid parking spots. You must purchase a parking permit from a nearby store or the municipalidad (municipality building) and place it on the dashboard inside your car on so that it can be easily seen by the parking inspectors. Special areas are marked for motorcycles, which do not have to pay for parking, since obviously, permits left on them would be stolen. Additionally, I have heard, but can't verify, that special parking spots marked with blue paint are for specific business owners or managers.

Parking permits are available for L.5 on an hourly basis, L.30 on a daily basis, possibly weekly at a price I don't know, or L.300 monthly. The permits are punched with the day and hour. However, some drivers have reported that no hourly permits were available at any store in the city, with some even being out of daily permits, requiring drivers to purchase a weekly or monthly permit that they didn't need. Hopefully the muni will do a better job in the future of distributing the permits to vendors.

The new el centro area parking restrictions is being strictly enforced. A news article reported that the hours in which permits are required are 8 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday and 7 am to noon on Saturdays. Tire locks (boots) are placed on vehicles with no permit, those parked badly or facing the wrong direction, or those parked in the yellow no parking areas. In order to free your vehicle, if a ticket wasn't left on your vehicle, you must go to the municipalidad to get it and then the L.500 fine must be paid at a bank. Then you return to the municipalidad to arrange for someone to come to unlock the boot and go back to your vehicle to wait. The fine for parking in a handicapped spot is L.1,000.

Visitors and even many residents have been caught by surprise due to the lack of signage and lack of information about where the permits can be purchased. Many wonder whether their car will be "booted" while they go up and down the street searching for a store, sometimes blocks away, which sells the permits. A big sign in the windows of such stores would be helpful — and one reader has reported that signs with the parking logo are now being used (a square tilted at an angle with a street running through it).

After hearing many complaints about the size of parking spots on television programs, El Jefe measured one of them. It was exactly the length of our vehicle! So unless you have a compact car or your vehicle has the ability to slide sideways into a parking spot, you'll be out of luck in a crowded area.

If the system gets a little more organized it should be a help for downtown businesses, in which it is usually impossible to find a place to park. We have generally avoided shopping or dining in el centro when possible due to inability to find a spot, using the 'one person drives around the block while the other person runs into the store' method, which of course only contributes to the traffic congestion. The new system has freed up parking in el centro but apparently has only moved the problem to the outlying areas where other businesses may now suffer from parking congestion which prevents their customers from visiting. A municipal or private parking lot with frequent and cheap transportation to el centro might be a better solution. I'd like to see the cute little "train" used for that!

So, now you know what I know. Please feel free to add any information in the comments section as my information has come through the grapevine, the news articles have sometimes been inaccurate, and, of course, the rules could be changed at any time.

See also the update: More on La Ceiba paid parking
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