Wednesday, February 10, 2016

National Party intransigence blocks 4th vote on Honduran Supreme Court

The National Party has lost 4 votes to elect its slate of proposed candidates for the Honduran Supreme Court, and yet, proposes to do a fifth vote today on the same slate of candidates.  At least for the moment, the two party system in Honduras is finally breaking down, and neither the Liberal, nor the National Party's are adapting to the existence of an opposition.

The National Party will try for a fifth time today to force the Honduran Congress to elect its slate of 7 candidates to the Supreme Court.  It negotiated this slate with its rival Liberal Party, but there's ample evidence in the vote tallies that Liberal Party members are defecting and not voting for the entire slate, especially if you believe that the bribed candidates from our previous post voted for the official slate of candidates. 

Last night in the fourth round of voting,  5 candidates hit 85 votes, one shy of the number of votes needed to elect the candidate to the court.   Two received 84 votes.  One received 83 votes.  So its clear that its not just the Libre, PAC, and PINU members holding up the election of justices, as the Congressional leadership wants us to believe. At least two of the people counting the votes last night:  Eduardo Coto and Jenny Murillo, have been named as having received bribes.

PAC has offered to negotiate a solution, but the National Party leadership continues to try and impose its will, with the help of the Liberal Party. At stake is which party, Liberal or National, controls the Supreme Court.  All of the current nominees are members of either the National or Liberal Parties.  None are members of PAC or Libre or PINU.  PAC is making the argument that justices should be selected not based on party affiliation, but rather on which would be best for the country.  So far the National Party doesn't agree.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Suborning the Honduran Congress

With the next round of voting to be held Tuesday, Radio Globo's David Romero Ellner has brought to light evidence of an elaborate con that funnels funds from the government to a trade association, and there to Congress members from opposition parties allegedly to vote for National Party Projects, including for their slate of candidates for the Supreme Court.

Reporter David Romero Ellner of Radio Globo is no stranger to conflict.  He was almost the first to publicize the IHSS scandal and to report its links back to the National Party and the Juan Orlando Hernandez election campaign.  He's currently awaiting sentencing having been found guilty of slandering a prominent National Party member in a trial conducted by the Supreme Court.

The con begins with a lawyer, supposedly named José Napoleón Panchamé.  He can't be found.  He supposedly contracted with the Associacion Nacional de Productores e Industriales de Barrios y Colonias de Honduras to fund projects Panchamé tells them to.  Romero has a copy of the contract they signed.  Romero alleges the funds come from the Tasa de Seguridad, the Oficina de Obras Sociales, and the 3 percent ISV tax.  The funding was actually used to pay Congress members from mostly opposition parties to support National Party projects.  In December alone, the Association issued 20 million lempiras ($952,000) in checks to Congress members.  However, there is also a check for 700,00 lempiras ($33,333) to Panchamé.

The news first broke last Wednesday (February 2) when Romero told Radio Globo listeners that Congressman Agusto Cruz Asensio of the Partido Demócrata Christiano (DC) and Dennis Sanchez of the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Libre) received checks drawn on the Banco DAVIVIENDA from the account of the Asociacion Nacional de Productores, a group Romero identifies as a front organization that channels funds from the National Party.  Cruz Asensio's check was for 99,800 lempiras ($4752) while Sanchez received 224,550 lempiras ($10,692).  Each received two sequentially numbered checks from the Association.

Cruz Asensio claims the checks are for services he gave to the Association, but will not explain what those services were.  Dennis Sanchez said the funds were a contribution to a fund for a water project for the community of Guacamaya, Santa Barbara, near Gualala, where he was born.

Nor are these the only two Congress members Romero implicates.  Today he named a further suite of Congress members, all originally members of Libre:  Héctor Padilla, Eduardo Coto, and Audelia Rodriguez.  Padilla received two checks on December 22 of 2015 which Romero alleges were for him to vote to amend the Honduran constitution to include the military police as a constitutionally defined part of the Honduran Armed Forces.  Padilla left Libre after that vote to join the Democrata Cristiana party.  Audelia Rodriguez received two checks, also on December 22, 2015 from the same source totaling $11,405.  She left Libre in May, 2015 because "being poor she wasn't welcomed."  Rodriguez and Padilla are both now independents, while Coto is a Democrata Cristiana.

Romero says that between 16 December, 2015 and 23 January 2016, that bank account issued at least 23 checks, including one to every member of Libre that has left the party:  Eduardo Coto, Jenny Murillo, Omar Rodriguez, Mariano Alvarado, Tatiana Canales, and Audelia Rodgriguez.  At least one unnamed member of PAC also received a check.

Suborning the votes of Congress is of course an illegal, if not long standing, practice in Honduras.  The OAS's MACCIH will have a long way to go to even begin to disentangle the corruption that is the current government of Honduras.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Nasralla Denied Entry to Congress

Mauricio Oliva rules the Honduran Congress with an iron hand.  His armed guards are omnipresent, and free access to Congressional proceedings is practically non-existent, even if you are an accredited reporter.  During voting sessions for the Supreme Court, his armed guards stand between the ballot box and the seated Congress members as they come up to cast their ballots.

Today his security guards detained the leader of the Partido Anticorrupción (PAC), Salvador Nasralla, from entering.  He sought to go in to find out if there would be a vote today on Supreme Court nominees (there wasn't).  He isn't a member of Congress, but he is the head of a political party that currently won't vote for the suite of candidates being put forward by the National and Liberal parties.

When Nasralla arrived this morning, as he has on many previous occasions, the guards prevented him entering while they checked with their supervisor to see whether or not to let him in.  Their supervisor, via walkie-talkie, told them he was not authorized to enter, so they detained him and questioned him as to his purpose for wanting to go in.

He had to call one of his party members who was a member of Congress, who then had to negotiate permission for Nasralla to come in.  To quote one of the articles, Virgilio Padilla, Congressman for the Department of Francisco Morazan and a member of PAC, literally "had to convince the head of security that the engineer (Nasralla) did not represent any danger."

Nasralla proposed today that PAC would accept the imposition of Rolando Argueta, currently the chief prosecutor, as Chief Justice, if Oliva would open up the voting to at least six of the candidates favored by PAC.

"We need 7 (justices) more, they want to place one who they say is Mr. Argueta because he will do what they want on extradition, but the other 6 should be from the list agreed to by PAC.  We've knocked around the list of 15 candidates that at least among them should be six that go there to defend the people."

Remember that the Nominating Committee submitted a list of 45 candidates that was split evenly between National and Liberal party affiliated candidates, plus one independent who was elected in the first round of voting.  Four of the six candidates that Nasralla proposes be voted on are National Party members.

But that deal isn't likely to go through.  So far Mauricio Oliva, the head of Congress, will only allow votes on the National Party's proposed slate of 7 candidates, because being rejected in three separate ballots isn't enough shame.

The next vote for Supreme Court nominees is currently scheduled for Tuesday, February 9.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Supreme Court Elections on Hold

With another round of voting for Supreme Court justices seemingly at hand, lets examine what is preventing the election of a new Supreme Court in Honduras.

A successful candidate needs 86 or more votes.  The National Party has 48 members in Congress.  The Liberal Party has 27 members.  Libre has 31 members. PAC has 13, PINU has 1, the UD has 1, the Christian Democrats have 2, and there is 1 independent.

The first round of voting elected 7 justices:  5 Liberals, 2 National Party affiliates, and 1 independent.  No one got the required 86 votes in Rounds 2, or 3.

The National Party has adopted the position that the Supreme Court must be partitioned by political party, and because it is the current ruling party, it should have the majority of members.  They want 8 justices.  There is historical precedent.  That's how the election of Supreme Court justices has worked since 1982.  They insist that a particular suite of 8 candidates (6 National Party members, and 2 Liberals) be elected in the next round.

The Liberal Party is allied with the National Party over the election of Supreme Court justices.  They want 7 justices to be affiliated with their party.  They are settling for 6 justices under their agreement with the National Party.  They have also asked that the Chief Justice be a Liberal, just as he is right now.

PAC and Libre have both advocated for electing the best suite of justices.  They differ, however, on the qualifications of the current pool of 45 nominees.  PAC identified 16 candidates it felt were qualified to be Supreme Court justices from the pool.  Libre rejects all of the current pool of 37 remaining candidates.  Instead Libre seeks to turn the conversation to legislative reforms, referenda, and plebiscites.

Last weekend, the leaders of these four parties meet with President Juan Orlando Hernandez to try and negotiate a solution, but all of them stuck with their position, and they left the meetings without coming to an agreement. 

Yesterday evening the Honduran Congress yet again failed to elect any justices in a third round of voting.  Libre party members largely abstained from voting or filed null ballots.  PAC did likewise, though at least one member of this party voted for 3 candidates of the suite put forward as the solution by the National Party.  PAC accused that Congress person of betraying the party.  During the counting of the votes, several members became upset and apparently punched each other.

Today's Congressional session did not include a vote on the Supreme Court nominations.  Instead it dealt with the newly declared national emergency because of the Zika virus which has hundreds of Hondurans ill in the Hospitals. 

The issue remains on hold while negotiations continue.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Third Round of Voting for Supreme Court Underway

Something historic is going on in the Honduran Congress.  Today they are trying for the third time to elect the remaining seven justices of the Supreme Court.  The first round of voting yielded eight elected justices, five affiliated with the Liberal Party, one without party affiliation, and two affiliated with the National Party.  Mauricio Oliva tried to convene Congress the next day to elect the other seven justices, but failed because PAC and Libre declined to participate in the election, so no candidate could get 86 votes.

Over the weekend, all of the parties met to try and reach some kind of accommodation, but both the National and Liberal Parties are sticking with a partitioning of court membership allocated to only those two parties, where party affiliation is more important that the candidate's qualifications or independence.  This is the status quo.  This is how these two parties have conducted the Supreme Court appointments since 1982 when the Honduran constitution was enacted.  However, at least as of last Friday both PAC and Libre were rejecting the party quota system being argued by the two older parties.  Officially as of this morning there was no acknowledged agreement, though the Honduran press reported that PAC was considering a partitioning of the Supreme Court that included candidates they could support.  There are no PAC or Libre candidates in the pool of 37 from which the selection must be made, because the Nominating committee eliminated them and divided the slate of nominations between the National and Liberal party affiliated candidates.

In the voting today, Libre issued a communique in which it rejected the negotiations for the partitioning of the Supreme Court by party, and instead proposed a series of referenda and plebiscites, as well as approval of a suite of laws.  If Libre is able to maintain party discipline, its Congressional bench will cast no votes today.

Unlike Libre which officially adopted the position of not voting for any of the candidates, PAC had identified a slate of 16 candidates it considered qualified, of which one was elected in the first round of voting.  National Party operatives felt there was still a possibility of an agreement with PAC over a partitioning of the remaining justices, but officially, PAC said nothing publicly.

The voting is underway as I write this.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Electing a Supreme Court, Badly.

The Honduran Congress is responsible for electing a new Supreme Court every 7 years under the Honduran Constitution.  Yesterday the National and Liberal parties tried to carry on as they have for the last 34 years, nominating a suite of 8 National Party members, and 7 Liberal Party members.  Mauricio Oliva, the president of Congress and a National Party member, then forced the procedure of voting on the entire slate, rather than approving each justice individually.  He was certain he had the votes because of the alliance between the crumbling Liberal Party and the ruling National Party.  He needed 86 votes.  He got 82 (or 84 depending on which Honduran newspaper you read).  Congress failed to appoint a new Supreme Court.

But that's only the tip of the iceberg of corruption around the election of this Supreme Court in Honduras. Lets turn to the candidates themselves.  Last October,  American Bar Association joined the Centro por la Justica y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL), the Fundacion para el Debido Proceso (DPLF), and Impunity Watch to form an international oversight committee reviewing the election of justices in Honduras.  They met with the nominating committee and held workshops for them on international standards and best practices for selecting justices.  It mostly seems to have been in vain.

The master slate of some 200 candidates was formed by the Nominating committee in a procedure that privileged some institutions, such as the business community, labor unions, and civil society, with making their own nominations.  Others candidates self-nominated.  The list of 200 candidates filled out questionaires, underwent drug testing, answered questions about affiliation or participation in drug trafficking with a polygraph.  Each candidate received a numerical score, and all of this information was supposedly used to winnow the list down to the 45 "best" candidates, if by "best" you include 12 who failed the polygraph test, and some whose legal qualifications are suspect.  During the process, the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa twice submitted lists of candidates that it said required more investigation or that should be eliminated outright, supposedly based on an FBI evaluation of candidates. 

In the end, the Nominating committee submitted a list of 45 candidates to the Honduran Congress, including candidates that failed the polygraph portion of the test, and those that had numeric scores less than 50%.  These are the ones the Nominating Committee said were the "best" candidates, but they refused to make public the selection criteria. 

On January 21, the Human Rights Center of the ABA issued a 9 page report on the work of the Nominating committee, saying that it failed to meet international standards for transparency and follow the best practices for the selection of justices.  So much for those workshops in October.  The ABA said the Nominating committee had made an effort, but had not gone far enough to investigate the candidates, and that the whole process lacked transparency.  They pointed out that the "election" of the Nominating committee itself was problematic.  They made a long list of suggested improvements to the process. 

Once Congress had the list, Mauricio Oliva appointed a review committee of 10 Congress people to review the nominations and recommend a slate of candidates.  The committee was composed of members of the 5 political parties which have Congresspeople, with a majority of the positions going to the National and Liberal parties and the supporting Christian Democrats.  All committee members were selected by Oliva, not their parties.

Monday started badly for transparency when Congress blocked most of the press corp in Honduras from entering to cover the election of the Supreme Court. Blocked press included Padre Melo of Radio Progreso.

The vote failed because Oliva did nothing to court the opposition party members into supporting the slate of hand picked candidates.  He did get 9 votes from opposition party members, but clearly expected more.  After the vote, Salvador Nasralla said that only 5 of the 15 candidates were qualified in his opinion.  PAC, Libre, and PINU have together called for an open, public vote for the Supreme Court candidates, but Mauricio Oliva has instead imposed a secret vote, using paper ballots rather than the electronic voting system in Congress.  Its far easier to manipulate the results of paper ballots, as both the Liberal and National parties have done in the general elections for the last 34 years.

Congress meets again at 4 pm to reportedly reconsider electing the same slate of 15 candidates again, only this time with a secret vote instead of a public one, using paper ballots instead of the electronic voting system installed in Congress.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Honduran Indigenous People Condemn Archaeological Project

We declare that the location of the sacred places of the Muskitia, as would be Ciudad Blanca, Apalka, Raiti, among others that still have not been "officially discovered", never have been unknown to the children of the Muskitia, who have received that knowledge as a form of ancestral knowledge from our grandparents and so we assure the inviolability of these sacred places by looters.

The representatives of one of the largest indigenous groups in eastern Honduras have weighed in on the hottest Honduran news story of the new year; and their commentary should be blistering the skin of the President of the country and officials in the government responsible for management of cultural heritage.

The announcement was made by President Juan Orlando Hernández himself: a new expedition was headed to the archaeological site in eastern Honduras which was widely promoted last year as a newly discovered "lost city", supposedly representing an "unknown civilization", and identified with the traditional cultural heritage site of the Pech and Miskito people, called Ciudad Blanca in Spanish.

Hernández himself accompanied the new expedition, whose goal was described as to extract (sustraer) carved stone objects that had been observed on the surface-- a typical pattern for the many sites professionally studied in the region. Among those commenting on the spectacle was the US Ambassador, James Nealon, who professed to be fascinated by the sculptures.

Speaking archaeologically, there is a well-understood history of interpretation of similar objects in sites documented across the region. They have actually been studied since the 18th century, as some of the earliest, if not the earliest, Honduran antiquities exhibited in the British Museum and contemplated by European scholars.

Last year, an international group of scholars (including the authors of this blog) raised concerns about the outdated presentation of archaeology in the original expedition. An open letter to the sponsor and original publisher of the reports stressed that the area is not abandoned, but is actually the territory of indigenous people who surely include the descendants of the site's builders. These people, we warned, were effectively being erased from their own history and territory in the service of a more exciting story.

Now, the political representatives of one of these indigenous groups have weighed in on the new expedition-- and they are not pleased. The full statement by MASTA--composed of twelve territorial councils of Miskitu people-- shows that they are particularly disturbed that the expedition has not consulted with them, and that objects are being removed from their territory to a distant city.

But they also object to the presentation of the expedition as discovering a city unknown to them; and to the press giving the city a nickname they identify as "racist" and "denigrating".

Repeatedly, the Miskitu statement emphasizes that this area is their ancestral territory. They were autonomous allies of Great Britain, and when Great Britain gave up its foothold on coastal Honduras, the treaty it signed with Honduras included guarantees that Honduras would respect Miskitu territorial rights. Yet, they repeatedly note, no one consulted with them.

Perhaps the most striking thing in the statement is the use of the term looting for the current expedition, undertaken without consultation. For the Miskitu people, these sites, they say, are sacred, are a patrimony, and the knowledge of their locations and the responsibility for the protection has been a legacy.

That last may seem like a grand claim, except that it is true: the remarkable presence, visible on the surface, of dozens of great works of stone sculpture at archaeological sites in the Mosquitia seems incredible, even to experienced archaeologists who aren't familiar with this area of Honduras. Why have they not been looted before? The local people know they are there-- that is how archaeologists have been led to sites for decades. But the local indigenous people have left them in place.

And now, the government of Honduras is removing them as a staged spectacle intended to promote tourist visitation. But the Miskitu people are not letting this happen without fighting back. They are demanding the implementation of an indigenous model of management and protection; they specifically condemn the example of Copan, where indigenous people have no voice in management of the site created by their ancestors. They demand museums in their territory to conserve their material heritage, and training in anthropology and history to facilitate their management of these sites in accordance with their own world view.

And they label as unauthorized any publication of the works being removed from the site without their permission.

This is not how archaeology is supposed to go in the 21st century, where the watch words are community engagement and collaboration. In 19th century archaeology, no one paid attention to local people, certainly not to indigenous people, but that changed in the second half of the 20th century. When 21st century expeditions recreate 19th century practices, indigenous people know their rights, and no longer stay silent.

Here's our translation of the full statement:

We, the children of the Muskitia, constituted in 12 representative Territorial Councils and the social base of MASTA, based on our respect for the spiritual, ancestral, and cultural heritage of our ancestors; aided by Article 346 of the Constitution of the Republic of Honduras; Articles 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 15 and 35 of ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries; Articles 3, 4, 11, 12, 25 and 26 of the Declaration of the UN on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Article 8J of the Convention on Biodiversity, the framework that constitutes the principles of international law recognized by the international community and that Honduras adopted through Article 15 of the Constitution of the Republic; by this means COMMUNICATE to the national and international community concerning the case of the so-called "Ciudad Blanca", on the following points:

First: The State of Honduras received the territory of the Honduran Muskitia from the United Kingdom of Great Britain, through the signing of the Cruz-Wyke treaty celebrated in the city of Comayagua, in the month of December of 1859, in which the government of Honduras made a commitment not to violate the ancestral territorial rights of the Miskitu People (see Article III of the Cruz-Wyke Treaty).

Second: The government of Honduras, with the support of the National Geographic, has carried out the identification of the geographic location of Ciudad Blanca, also known as the lost city, and in mass media as the city of the "monkey king". The location of the said "Ciudad Blanca" is encountered in the territory demonstrated on the map embedded in the first paragraph [of the PDF statement], recognized by the State of Honduras as the "Mosquito Coast", territory pertaining historically and ancestrally to the Miskitu Indigenous People.

Third: The Government of the Republic has authorized, without consultation of the corresponding entities, the publicizing, excavation, and extraction of the archaeological objects encountered in the said city and that they then will be taken to some city in the department of Olancho. In none of the processes authorized by the government, referring to: the search, exploration, geographic location, excavation, extraction and movement to another site, have the Indigenous People of the Muskitia been consulted, demonstrating a failure of interest by the government in respecting the rights of the original peoples in a process of prior consultation for their consent, as is established in the Biocultural Protocol of the Miskitu People.

Fourth: We indigenous peoples, historically have been the object of constant violations of our rights by foreign interference, a product of the lack of clear and effective regulatory policies of the government relative to the protection and preservation of the inventions, patents, authorial rights, traditional practices and security of the indigenous population. A documented example is the case of the massacre of women in the community of Awas by the DEA in 2012.

On the basis of everything explained above, and in the framework of the rights of the Indigenous People of the Honduran Muskitia, we, the children of Tunkur, Truksulu, Waylang and Miskut, in the full enjoyment of our rights, communicate before the national and international community the following:

1. We demand the application of Article III of the Cruz-Wyke Treaty, which established that "the Government of Honduras will respect the possession of whatever land the Mosquito Indians have in the territory called the Mosquito Coast" (See annex: Cruz-Wyke Treaty).

2. We declare that the location of the sacred places of the Muskitia, as would be Ciudad Blanca, Apalka, Raiti, among others that still have not been "officially discovered", never have been unknown to the children of the Muskitia, who have received that knowledge as a form of ancestral knowledge from our grandparents and so we assure the inviolability of these sacred places by looters.

3. We demand the application of the international agreements related to the process of prior consultation, free and informed, by the Muskitia, with the goal of formalizing a model of protection and conservation proposed by the Indigenous People. We do not want to have succeed in the various sacred sites of the Muskitia what has occurred in the Ruins of Copan.

4. We demand the creation of indigenous museums in the Muskitia, in sites duly and conveniently identified by the Miskitu People, where archaeological objects that are part of our sociocultural, historic, and present patrimony can be kept and promoted.


5. We demand that the Government of Honduras, that the National Geographic and/or any institute or university respect the ancestral rights of the Miskitu People, denying authorization for any publication in any medium, relating to the sociocultural patrimony, without the required consent of the Miskitu Indigenous People by means of its representative organization.

6. We demand of the Government of Honduras, the development of local community capacity in the area of anthropology or history for the management of the Miskitu sociocultural riches and patrimony.

7. We clarify for the Government of Honduras, that the Muskitia has a millenial history related to its own culture, values, traditions, and natural riches; these form part of the patrimony and ought to be given protection, conservation, and traditional use for their continuity (for their natural and spiritual coexistence).

8. We demand of the Government of Honduras, the creation of a bureau concerning matters of anthropology, rights of authorship, traditional and innovative practices, with the full and effective participation of the Miskitu people, in keeping with the worldview of the miskitu people and in compliance with Decree No. 262-2013 in the framework of the Plan de Nacion. 

9. All the administrative or legislative decisions about the development of any activity in the territory of the Muskitia should be in full compliance with the commitments acquired before the international community which are: the declaration of the UN on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the ILO Convention 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries; the Convention on Biological Diversity; the Nagoya Protocol; the Directive Akwe-Kon; Directive of the UN about the free consent, prior and informed; the recommendations of UNESCO about the conservation of the Reserva del Hombre and Rio Platano Biosphere, among others.

In conclusion, and in consequence of the above described:

We, the children of the Miskitu Indigenous People, declare ourselves totally in disagreement with the arbitrary and unilateral decision of the Government of the Republic, concerning the exploration, extraction, and illegal transfer of archaeological objects of Ciudad Blanca; so that, we demand the immediate return of the archaeological objects looted from our sacred site called "Ciudad Blanca". At the same time we demand the respect for the names that our ancestors gave to this sacred site for our people, and we energetically reject the term city of the "monkey king", which has resulted from the recent investigations, a name that we see as denigrating, discriminatory and racist, in detriment to our miskitu people. 

With the authorized representation of the Miskitu People, we publish the present communique, with the formulation in Auhya Yari, on the 13th day of the month of January of the year 2016.