Sunday, May 28, 2017

Honduran Prisoner Leaves Prison; No One Cares

So how does a prisoner with a life sentence housed in a maximum security prison in Honduras suddenly show up on the streets of San Pedro Sula?

In October of 2013, Virgilio Sanchez Montoya, a suspected head of the Barrio 18 gang,  was found guilty of the 2010 massacre at a shoe shop in San Pedro Sula that left 17 people dead.  He was sentenced to over 500 years in prison.  In November of 2016 he was moved from the National Penitentiary in Tamara to the newly constructed "El Pozo" prison in Ilama, Santa Barbara, a maximum security prison where gang members are segregated and kept under harsh conditions.  Yesterday he was arrested walking the streets of San Pedro Sula carrying an AK-47.

Nor is he the first prisoner from El Pozo to mysteriously appear on the streets of San Pedro Sula.  At least 3 others have been re-arrested in San Pedro over the last 9 months, free when they should have been in prison cells.  There's been no explanation, no investigation as to how these admittedly dangerous prisoners are showing up on the streets of San Pedro when they should still be in prison.

Earlier this month 8 prison guards at El Pozo were dismissed for unspecified "security irregularities" but no one noticed any prisoners missing.  One of those dismissed was a guard who made a duplicate key for the prison armory.

The Honduran prisons, which are sieves,  hold almost 19000 prisoners either convicted of a crime, or awaiting trial.  It appears that in these new maximum security prisons, the prisoners are still in control of some aspects of prison life.  That a prisoner with a life sentence can go from a maximum security prison cell to walking the streets of a major city with no one noticing, or caring back at the prison, is disturbing.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Innumerecy in the Tribunal Supremo Electoral

The Honduran Tribunal Supremo Electoral announced today that there were 6.2 million registered voters for the presidential elections to be held this November.  The problem is, there can't be.

Depending on who you want to believe, the Honduran population is, this year, 8.2 to 8.8 million individuals.  In Honduras, you must be 18 to vote.  So the question is, what percentage of the Honduran population is under 18?  That number turns out to be 42% of the Honduran population. 

6.2 million registered voters equates to about 72% of the current Honduran population.  So the question is, what percentage of the Honduran population is under 18 and therefore cannot register to vote?  That number is about 42% so Honduran demographics means the TSE election rolls are heavily inflated. 

There are about 14% more registered voters than there should be according to demographics.  That is, if 42% of the Honduran population is under 18 years of age and therefore not eligible to be a registered voter, then at most 58% of the population is eligible to be registered to vote, a total of 5.104 million voters, not the 6.2 million the TSE is claiming.  Thats 1.096 million extra voters enrolled that simply cannot not exist.  Yet they apparently do exist on the voter rolls.

But actually its worse, because the 0.2 percent of the Honduran population that's in prison either convicted of or awaiting a trial, cannot vote.  There are no polling places in prison.  A further 0.14 percent of the Honduran population is in active military service, and also not allowed to vote.  The Honduran military aid the TSE by distributing ballot boxes before the election, and collecting and returning them to the TSE.

This excess of 1.096 million voters has built up over the last several years, and at least in part is because the TSE is notoriously bad at its job of cleaning up the voter roles in between elections.  The dead are seldom removed from the voter rolls, and indeed, in nearly every election since 2005 political parties in Honduras have demonstrated that people known to be dead nonetheless somehow managed to vote in presidential elections of 2009 and 2013, votes certified as fair and transparent by the US State Department.

So it would be good if the TSE learned to count and did a better job of keeping up the voting rolls, because some of us can count, even if the President of the TSE, David Matamoros, can't.


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spoiled Ballots Say Something

Honduras has just concluded its national primary elections to choose candidates to compete in the national elections for President, Congress, and Mayorships this coming November. While the official results are not expected before the end of the month, there are some disturbing trends in the voting:  spoiled and blank ballots are becoming much more common.  Spoiled ballots are ones that are defaced by political messages, or vote for more than one candidate for office where only one selection is allowed.  Blank ballots are those that contain no discernible vote.

In the low information, highly politicized elections in Latin America, spoiled ballots and blank ballots mean something.  As Driscoll and Nelson (2014) state:
"Scholars interpret blank and spoiled ballots as resulting from some combination of voter incapacity, where citizens lack the requisite skills or information to cast a valid ballot, and political motivations, when voters deliberately signal their malcontent."
Driscoll and Nelson go on to show that it's less about incapacity in their case study of Bolivian elections, and more about political intentions.  In the Bolivian 2011 election, where 60% of the votes cast were spoiled votes, they conclude that both blank and spoiled ballots are the result of political concern, but that blank ballots were more likely to be from  politically more sophisticated voters.

In Honduras, a quick examination of the Tribunal Supremo Electoral's (TSE) archive of the results of past elections shows that the number of spoiled and blank ballots in general elections oscillates between 4% and 8%.  The rate seems to increase when the candidates are more contentious, as in the election between Zelaya and Lobo Sosa in 2005, and drop when the election is less contentious as in the election between Carlos Reina and Oswaldo Ramos in 1993.

Unfortunately, the TSE archive does not preserve complete data on the primary elections before 2012.  In the  2012 primary, the TSE data show the rate of spoiled and blank votes by political party:
National Party          14.15%
Liberal Party            13.73%
Libre                          5.27%

Yet voter dissatisfaction with Party candidates dropped in the general election of 2013 to 4.88% while overall voter participation rose.

While the full and final results are not yet in, a comparison with this year's reported results to date is nonetheless instructive:
National Party          16.73%
Liberal Party            13.43%
Libre                          6.85%

Honduran press reports indicate a campaign to inflate the number of votes cast in the National Party with at least two videos surfacing showing polling place workers filling out left over ballots and stuffing them into the National Party ballot box.  Twitter was full, after the election, of images of National Party ballots marked with messages against  candidate and current President Juan Orlando Hernandez (here, and here for example). In addition, the TSE has failed to purge voter roles of the deceased, so that even the dead could vote in the primary.

All three parties have strong central administrations that control the degree to which different factions have a say in party positions.  All three parties have had the same faction of the party in control of the central administration since the 2009 coup.

Our interpetation of the data suggests that internal party dissatisfaction with the candidates available is increasing in all three parties, but it's especially notable in the National Party. As Driscoll and Nelson note in their conclusions:
"we show that these votes are intentional demonstrations of citizen dissatisfaction, signaling to elite voters disapproval of the electoral process."

To write these voters off as anomalous is to risk loosing the confidence of the voters that brought them to power. A study of where these spoiled and blank votes come from could be used by a smart political party, as a cue to where it should concentrate its efforts to consolidate Party support.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Los Cachiros testify to bribes paid to Tony Hernandez

Devis Rivera Maradiaga testified in Federal Court in New York today that he met with Antonio "Tony" Hernandez, brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and was promised that he would get government contracts for one of his cartel's companies if he paid Tony Hernandez a bribe.  Today's testimony came during Fabio Lobo's sentencing hearing.

Rivera Maradiaga in the testimony today testified that Tony said he would use the government contracts to help alleviate the debt the administration owned los Cachiros in exchange for a bribe.  Apparently Rivera Maradiaga recorded his conversation with Hernandez, and turned that tape over to the DEA.  He didn't state when the conversation took place.  However, because he recorded it, we know it took place sometime between December, 2013 and 2015 when Rivera Maradiaga was acting as an informant for the DEA.  Rivera Maradiaga said:

"Tony Hernandez was going to help us by paying some money to INRIMAR which the government of Honduras owed."

INRIMAR was the company that los Cachiros formed at the urging of Porfirio Lobo Sosa to receive government money from contracts for construction.  Porfirio Lobo Sosa was president of Honduras until January 27, 2014 when he was succeeded by Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Tony Hernandez has been implicated in numerous previous investigations into the drug trade.  He featured prominently in testimony Ramon Sabillon, a former police commissioner, swore was part of a conversation he had with a member of the Valle Valle cartel.  In that conversation, he was referred to as "The Brother of The Man".  He tied Tony Hernandez to the AA Cartel, run by the Ardon brothers in El Paraiso, Copan, Honduras.  The AA cartel collected money given to the Presidential campaign of Juan Orlando Hernandez from their drug trafficking.

Tony Hernandez personally defended two Colombians caught in a raid at a grow operation in the Department of Lempira.  Somehow the two prosecutor's who investigated the case were re-assigned to another part of the country just before the trial, leaving an unprepared prosecutor to pursue the case.  The judge then gave the Colombian's a preliminary dismissal of the charges and ordered them released from jail.  They then fled the country.  A later investigation of the case showed that a $150,000 bribe had been paid to the judge to release the Colombians.

Tony Hernandez was also linked with the drug trade by Captain Santos Orellana.  At the time Santos Orellana was named as a person of interest by the US Embassy.  He voluntarily came in to talk to the DEA, and later said on Honduran television that they interviewed him about a plot to kill the US Ambassador to Honduras, James Nealon.  They asked him if he could tie Tony Hernandez to the case.  They also questioned him about a helicopter found in Brus Laguna that had been used to transport cocaine.  He reported that he was told it had been used both by the then Defense Minister, Samuel Reyes, and Tony Hernandez.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Devis Rivera Maradiaga Testimony part 3

We are reading and summarizing the high points from the nearly 3 hours of testimony that Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga gave in the sentencing hearing of Fabio Lobo in Federal Court in New York.  Our source is the trial transcript published by El Heraldo.  This is part 3.

After lunch, Devis Rivera Maradiaga resumed his testimony. talking about how Fabio Lobo had asked him to introduce him to other drug traffickers that he might help out the same way he'd helped los Cachiros.  Devis Rivera introduced him to Carlos Lobo, at Carlos Lobo's house in San Pedro Sula.  Rivera dropped Fabio Lobo off at the meeting, and afterwards heard from Carlos Lobo that he was employing Fabio to help get back some properties of his that had been confiscated, and that Fabio was going to introduce him to Oscar Alvarez's secretary, a lawyer. For these services Carlos Lobo paid Fabio Lobo $100,000.

  1. Q. Now, I would like to direct your attention to the fall of
  2. 2013. Did the defendant help with a cocaine load that arrived
  3. in the Colon Department around that time?
  4. A. Yes, sir.
In the fall of 2013 Devis Rivera called Fabio Lobo for help with a drug plane carrying 1050 kilograms of cocaine.  When asked why, Devis told the court:

  1. A. Because it was a larger shipment. Because I needed his
  2. protection. I knew that having him with me, everything would
  3. go well and I felt better supported if I was with the
  4. president's son.
They met in Tocoa, Colon.  Fabio and his security detail arrived in 3 blue Toyota SUVs.  All the SUVs had sirens.  The drug plane landed in Farallones, near Ironia on the land of Ton Montes on a private landing strip owned by Miguel Facussé.  The landing became compromised because the police raided the hacienda where the cocaine was to be stored. A military police officer named Fortin alerted los Cachiros to the police raid and the fact that the plane had left its GPS pinger on and it showed up on radar. A truck with all the cocaine arrived in Tocoa and Devis Rivera went to get Fabio Lobo.  Fabio was being driven by armed military police officers in all three SUVs and they used their sirens to get past a police checkpoint between La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula.

Devis Rivera got money from Digna Valle to pay Fabio Lobo $50,000.  However, Fabio asked for more because General Pacheco needed a cut.  However, Fabio Lobo didn't get any more money.  Devis Rivera testified that he notified Fabio Lobo about 5-8 other drug shipments just in case he needed help with any of them.
  1. Q. Did OFAC sanction you and the Cachiros at some point?
  2. 24  A. Yes, sir.
Devis Rivera went to Fabio Lobo with concerns in 2013 about Honduras's plans to enforce the OFAC sanctions.  He met with Fabio Lobo and Oscar Najera in the Hotel Plaza San Martin in Tegucigalpa.  Oscar Najera agreed to talk to Pepe Lobo about the sanctions.  Fabio Lobo agreed to talk with his cousin Palacio Moya who was head of the government department that would confiscate los Cachiros property.  Fabio left for two hours and came back with a list of properties and bank accounts that the Honduran government was going to confiscate.  Devis Rivera paid Fabio Loco between $50,000 and $70,000 for the list, with an understanding that the money would be split between Fabio, Oscar Najera, and Palacio Moya.  Fabio Lobo recommended they destroy all the paperwork they had on the companies that were about to be confiscated, and said that if Devis Rivera wanted to visit the zoo animals while the zoo was being confiscated, that someone named Cesar who worked in the San Pedro Sula office of the OABI would be happy to take him there and get him in.

The Rivera Maradiaga family, with advanced warning, cleared out the computers and paperwork from the assets going to be seized, emptied the bank accounts, and moved vehicles.  After the companies were confiscated, Devis Rivera began to fear for his life, and fear extradition.  In December 2013 he began to record his meetings with Fabio Lobo and became an informant for the DEA.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Devis Rivera Maradiaga Testimony part 2

We are reading and summarizing the high points from the nearly 3 hours of testimony that Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga gave in the sentencing hearing of Fabio Lobo in Federal Court in New York.  Our source is the trial transcript published by El Heraldo. This is part 2 of 3.

A few months after the meeting with Pepe Lobo, Devis met with Fabio Lobo in an office in Tegucigalpa.  Fabio gave them a set of contracts to review, and they paid him the bribe due on each one.  Later analysis showed they were contracts that had already been awarded to other companies, who had already carried them out.

Q. Did you have any meetings with the defendant where you discussed drug trafficking explicitly?
A.Yes,sir.
In 2012 Devis met with Fabio Lobo in Catacamas, Olancho.  At the time Fabio told Devis that his father wasn't "helping him out" because los Cachiros were helping Fabio.  By "helping" Devis said he meant participating in drug trafficking.  Fabio told him that the airport in Aguacate, San Esteban could be used as a landing site for drug planes.

Aguacate has a landing strip because it was a CIA base originally, built in the 1980s to assist with the Contra war in Honduras and Nicaragua.  It housed both the CIA and Honduran military torture cells where suspected communists were tortured and murdered.  Five clandestine cemeteries were later discoved at the site.  Between 1988 and 1999 it was reportedly the landing site for numerous drug planes, and the Honduran military stationed there would carefully offload the drugs.

Fabio Lobo told Devis that he would speak with the military base commander about having los Cachiros drug planes land at Aguacate.  However, it turned out that the base commander said it wouldn't work because of the work done there during the Zelaya administration that prepared it to become a public airport with cargo and passenger terminals.

On another occassion Fabio took Devis to a clandestine airstrip somewhere between Catacamas and the Patuca river.  They went by helicopter, along with a half brother (unnamed) of Fabio's to measure the landing strip and see if it was appropriate for their use in the drug trade.  However, when Devis showed the strip to a Venezuelan pilot working for him, the pilot said it was not usable because it was in a valley between two tall mountains and he'd be afraid of hitting them on landing or takeoff.

  1. Q. Now I would like to direct your attention to 2012. Did the
  2. Cachiros control a landing strip in the Cortes Department?
  3. A. Yes, sir.
  4. Q. Did the defendant ever help you with a cocaine shipment
    that came to that landing strip?
  5. A.Yes,sir.
Devis Rivera testified that Fabio helped them in 2012 with a 400 kilogram shipment of cocaine that arrived by air from Apure, Venezuela to the landing strip in Cortes.  Devis Rivera called Fabio to come to San Pedro Sula and bring his security because they were going to transport some cocaine.  When Fabio got to San Pedro, he was directed to go stay at the Playa hotel in Puerto Cortes, where Devis Rivera picked him up and took him to his beach house in Chachaguala, on the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  Fabio told Devis Rivera he had spoken with the San Pedro Sula Police commander who had volunteered to kill any police operations along the highway where the drugs had to be transported.  Devis and Fabio drove to Choloma to meet a truck with the offloaded cocaine from the plane and then escorted the truck to La Entrada, Copan, making $800,000 - $1 million profit.  Fabio received an AR-15, an armored SUV, and $20,000 - $30,000 dollars as his pay for that day.  Devis Rivera also paid the same amount to Ramon Matta, the son, as payment for fitting out the SUV.

Ramon Matta is the son of Ramon Matta, a drug dealer kidnapped by the DEA from Honduras, convicted of drug running in a US Fedral Court, and now in a Federal Prison.  Matta was kidnapped by the DEA because at the time there was no extradition between Honduras and the US.  Ramon Matta, the son, took over his father's property, which includes an hacienda with an airstrip in Olancho.




Friday, March 10, 2017

Devis Rivera Maradiaga Testimony part 1

Now that El Heraldo has published a transcript of Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga's testimony at the sentencing trial for Fabio Lobo in New York, we are getting more information about the Lobo family involvement, and that of the current Security Minister, Julian Pacheco Tinoco.  As the testimony is long and detailed we'll break our summary of it into several posts.  This is post 1 of 3.
  1. Q. Generally, how did you and the Cachiros obtain assistance
  2. from Honduran politicians?
  3. A. By paying them.
Devis Rivera Maradiaga told the court that he was involved in the drug trade from 2003 to 2013, and that los Cachiros was headed by his brother, Javier, and himself.  They started out as Transportation cartel, moving small quantities of drugs in cars.  They received the drugs both via coastal boats and via airplanes.  In the period 2009 - 2013 they moved more than 20 tons of cocaine from Olancho to Copan, where they gave it to the Valle Valle cartel.  They relied on Honduran law enforcement for protection and for paid assassinations.  They relied on the Honduran military for information about police operations, radar clearance, and for security.

Devis Rivera Maradiaga is from Tocoa, Colon.  He states he was aided by a Congress person, Oscar Najera, and Juan Gomez, Adam Funes (Mayor of Tocoa) , and Hidence Oqueli.
  1. Q. Are you familiar with a man named Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who uses the nickname Pepe?
  2. A. Yes.
  1. Q. Did you and the Cachiros receive assistance from Pepe Lobo
  2. and the defendant during that time frame?
    A. Yes.

  3. Q. What did you do to get that assistance?
  4. A. We paid them.
  5. Q. More than once?
  6. A. Yes.
Devis Rivera told the court that he met with Pepe Lobo, an ex-President of Honduras, for the first time when Pepe Lobo was running for President in 2009. At that time his brother Javier paid Lobo Sosa $250,000 - $300,000 as a bribe.  The money came from Javier's drug operation.  Devis was not present when the money was paid, and only knows about it.  Javier told him the first bribe was sent to Lobo Sosa using Javier's father, Isidro Rivera,  Lobo Sosa's brother, Moncho Lobo, and Juan Gomez.

An additional bribe was paid to Lobo Sosa in 2009.  Javier asked Devis to go to Tegucigalpa and join him and Juan Gomez in a hotel room.  Juan Gomez was advising Javier and Devis what to say to Pepe Lobo about what they wanted from him.  They then left the hotel, near Congress, and traveled to Lobo Sosa's house, El Chimbo,  in Tegucigalpa,   Javier asked Lobo Sosa about the first bribe, and Lobo Sosa thanked him for their support.  Javier asked for help with Oscar Alvarez, who in 2009 was investigating los Cachiros.  Javier also asked for protection for the organization, and protection from extradition to the United States.  They also talked about the shell companies Lobo Sosa suggested they set up to receive government contracts as a way of paying them back for the first bribe.  At the end of the meeting Juan Gomez handed Lobo Sosa a stack of 500 lempira bills about 10-12 inches tall, telling Lobo Sosa it was from all of them.  When they returned to their hotel, they received delivery of a suitcase with $200,000 - $250,000 in cash in it.  The money was, Devis understood, from another drug trafficker who lent Javier the money.  Javier gave the suitcase to Juan Gomez, who in turn, gave it to Lobo Sosa's security detail.

Finally they got down to Fabio Lobo's involvement.  Jorge Lobo, Fabio's cousin, introduced them to Fabio.  Jorge told him that Fabio was looking for people to award government contracts to since his dad had just won the election.

  1. Q. Were you interested in government contracts at that point?
  2. A. Yes.
  3. Q. Why?
  4. A. For money laundering.
About a week after the conversation with Jorge Lobo, Devis and Javier met with Jorge and Fabio Lobo in Trujillo. Fabio explained that he was going to get government contracts awarded to them for a bribe of about 10-20% of each contracts value, which would be paid, in part, to the various heads of the government agencies that awarded those contracts.

Devis then talks about a third meeting with Pepe Lobo in Tegucigalpa.  Juan Gomez arranged the meeting.  Devis met Juan Gomez at the Plaza San Martin hotel, and found that Oscar Najera, a Congress person from Colon was there.  In the ensuing conversation, Devis said he was made to understand that Najera was there to join them in their meeting with Pepe Lobo because Najera wanted a government job in the new administration.

The same day they went to Pepe Lobo's Tegucigalpa house and met with him.  Fabio Lobo was there as well.  They talked of government contracts and how Pepe would not extradite anyone during his term as President.  Devis said that Lobo Sosa told them not to worry about protection, that if they needed anything to talk to Juan Gomez, who would in turn notify Fabio Lobo, who would then talk to then General Julian Pacheco Tinoco who was head of the military intelligence unit.  During the meeting Fabio called General Pacheco to tell him to expect a visit from him later in the day.  The meeting closed with a discussion of the company Devis and Javier would set up to get government contracts:  INRIMAR.