Friday, December 9, 2016

Incompetent Design, Failed Implementation

Another multi-million dollar project funded by international agencies has failed in Honduras, the Trans-450 high speed bus service for Tegucigalpa.  This project, funded by Interamerican Development Bank (BID in Spanish) and the Central American Bank of Economic Integraion (BCIE in Spanish) was supposed to create high speed buses along major avenues in Tegucigalpa.  Originally it was to be completed and in service by 2015.  Today the promise is maybe 2018, if the major obstacles can be overcome.  In reality the multi-million dollar project is all but abandoned.

In 2011 the Honduran Congress passed Decreto 77-2011, a bill that said it would make Tegucigalpa a city with a world-class high speed bus system. At the time only 33  world cities had such a high speed bus service.  The project was to be financed by a BID loan approved in December 2010.  This loan only financed the first of the 3 phase development/deployment plan.  The project oversight committee, established in the enabling legislation was supposed to seek other outside funds to supplement the BID money to finish the project.

The Trans-450 was a high-speed bus project similar to the high speed buses in Mexico City.  These long, articulated buses would run in lanes only they could use along major avenues in the city, and would reportedly remove hundreds of buses from regular traffic.  The project was expected to server 117,000 riders daily.  Ricardo Alverez (National Party) was its chief proponent.

 In early April 2014 Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo Alvarez inaugurated the first phase of the project promising residents that by June of that year they would be able to ride the first articulated bus in Honduras.  He said that about half of the money available through BID had been spent on the project so far.  (Inversiones Multiples de Transporte (INVERMUT), the newly formed company created to operate the system, to whom the Honduran Congress granted an 18 year exclusive contract, said that the 21 buses needed to operate the system would arrive in mid April of that same year.
All of that was a lie.  Nothing happened for the next year and a half.  Why?  Supposedly they lacked the funding to continue, which in itself is weird because in 2013 the BCIE had granted a $10 million loan to the government of Honduras for phase 3 of the project.  Alvarez had noted at the inauguration of Phase 1 that only half the BID funding had been spent to date.  BCIE also mentions in their English language page on the funding that the project was also partially funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development, never mentioned in the Honduran press coverage.

Despite the failure of the buses to materialize, or service to begin on the phase 1 part of the project  inaugurated in April, 2014, the City council of Tegucigalpa none-the-less signed an 18 year exclusive concession with INVERMUT that October that among other things, guaranteed INVERMUT a certain level of income, to be made up with Public funds if the ridership was below a certain level..

The buses never started running on Phase 1 of the project because the finalization of that part of the project, the building of access bridges to the stations, the purchase of the buses, etc. couldn't be done until other technical problems were solved.

Phase 3 construction started in 2015, when phase 2 construction was also underway, but phase 1 was never actually finished, or put into service as intended.  Technical issues prevented the construction of a bus parking area, or central terminal.  No bridges had been installed for pedestrians to get to the bus stops located in the center of busy avenues.  No plan had been done for handicapped access, and hence no ramps or elevators had been contemplated.  No one had planned to plant new trees for those that were being removed in the Trans 450 right of way.  The list goes on.

Its the end of 2016, well past the promise date for the extended end of construction.  BID says all their money has been spent.  Yet the system is not yet finished.  Major parts of the technical plan remain, such as a central bus terminal, and bus parking area.  INVERMUT sstill doesn't have the buses.  In late November, 2016, the Mayor of Tegucigalpa said it would be 2018 before the project was open to the public.  The municipal committee given oversight of the project voted 6 to 5 to keep the project going.  The city of Tegucigalpa itself has put a further $3 million into the project.

BID interim representative Rafael Mayen told the Honduran press that:
"In the bank its making us sad and it hasn't pleased us, that which is happening with the Trans 450"

Mayen also took the opportunity to reject any attempt to change the project to a monorail since the space was not designed for a monorail.  He noted the buses are built at the factory, but cannot be brought to Honduras because there's literally nowhere to park them.  The project never imagined or built a parking lot for the buses for when they're not in service!

Meanwhile, Honduras will be paying interest on those $33 million the BID invested in this project beginning in 2018. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Honduras Structurally Incapable of Fighting Corruption, Impunity!

On Wednesday the Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras (MACCIH) provided their 38 page report on their first six months of operation in Honduras to the OAS.  They did so in a public hearing where representatives of the funding countries like Canada and the US participated, along with a representative of Honduras.  During the opening statements, the Honduran representative, Arturo Corrales,  tried to establish for the record, that :
"Honduras has a clear, holistic perspective [on impunity], the institutionality of civil society and its intermediate bodies and the support of MACCIH, this is the mssion, the project is a complete system...It is worth noting this distinction because this project existed before MACCIH arrived and I assure you it will continue after MACCIH terminates its functions."

While technically correct, on paper it looks like Honduras was doing things to clean up corruption, in practice, this was a smokescreen for more of the same.  In the months prior to the formation and installation of MACCIH in Honduras, the Honduran government, guided by Corrales, Juan Orlando Hernandez, and Ebal Diaz formed the Sistema Integral Control la Impunidad (SICI) as a palliative to quiet the weekly marches of the indignados.  This was a largely hollow proposal that in effect consisted of the Executive branch of the Honduran government holding "hearings" with civil society groups that by and large already supported the existing government.  In the weeks leading up to that announcement, Ebal Diaz, a government advisor spokesperson, made public statements that were counter factual, to the effect that "corruption was already contained" (it wasn't) and deliberately manufacturing false numbers to argue that the Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG), which is what the indignados wanted for Honduras, was ineffective (it has, to date, been quite effective in identifying and prosecuting corruption and impunity).

The other smokescreen they erected was to allege that corruption during the Zelaya administration was more important, and the Public Prosecutor's office pursued this rather than the mess the National Party governments of the last two administrations created. With the help of the DEA, they proceeded to dismantle the drug cartels in Honduras that had supported the Liberal Party in the 2013 elections. 
 This is institutionality that Corrales was proudly referring to, palliatives and smokescreens that accomplished next to nothing.

Even today there is no institutionality against corruption and impunity in Honduras, or MACCIH would not be necessary.  The Honduran government has neither the structure, nor the constitutional separation of powers, nor the laws, nor the legal system to combat corruption and impunity.  Corruption is present in virtually all levels of government, from the military to the Executive branch itself.  It has lacked this institutionality since the 1981 constitution brought an end to military rule. It was designed that way.

In fact, we know Honduras was ineffective in fighting corruption because the US State Department scored it low in the fight against corruption and impunity in ranking it for possible inclusion in the Millennium Challenge Grants every year since 2010.

If MACCIH succeeds in its mission, Honduras might have an effective system to fight both corruption and impunity going forward. But all of its suggestions will need to be in place, including changes to the Honduran constitution, for it to work.

So Corrales was at best exaggerating in saying that Honduras's institutionality already exists to fight corruption.  It didn't, and still doesn't.




Friday, November 11, 2016

Honduran Supreme Court defines CIDH ruling

The government of Honduras, specifically its Supreme Court, has chosen to willfully defy an order by the InterAmerican Court of Human Rights (CIDH in Spanish)  to reinstate the 3 Honduran justices dismissed because they did not support the 2009 coup in Honduras.

The CIDH found on 2015 that the government of Honduras willfully violated the rights of Adan Guillermo Lopez Lone, Tirza del Carmen Flores Lanza and Luis Chévez de la Rocha to due process, and ordered that they be reinstated to similar positions with full back pay.  In addition, the court ordered the government of Honduras to repay the legal expenses incurred by the Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL) and the Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia (ADJ).

On November 10, the last day the International Court gave Honduras to reinstate the justices with full back pay, the court tweeted:  "The monies ordered by the the CIDH to be paid complying with the sentence in the case of Lopez Lone and others versus Honduras has been consigned to a bank."  It also posted to its website a statement that said in part:

"The statement made to the beneficiaries we undertook to inform them of the decision of the Justice Branch that it was not possible to reincorporate them because in actuality there are no open positions which are equivalent to those that they held at the moment of their firing, nor with their salaries and benefits.  [This is] because the positions they held are now occupied according to the needs of the Executive branch by individuals who have developed a judicial career.  Adding to this is the lack of positions that fulfill the parameters stipulated in the sentence.  Taking into account all the foregoing, there's nothing else to do but look to the alternate solution, contemplated in paragraph 299 of the [CIDH] sentence, given the impossibility of re-employing them, to fix the additional indemnitization for each of them for a year after they were dismissed."

In so stating, the Honduran Supreme Court chose to avail itself of paragraph 299 of the order which says if they cannot be reinstated to similar positions, Honduras must pay each of them the equivalent of $150,000.  In doing so, CEJIL alleges the Supreme Court of Honduras lied.  They have, all this year, been appointing justices to similar ranked positions in courts within Honduras that at any time it could have reinstated these justices.  In fact, in the month of October alone CEJIL says they appointed 4 judges of similar rank and benefits to two of those dismissed unjustly, to courts in San Pedro Sula.  

The Honduran Supreme Court could have complied with the order, but chose instead to prevaricate and avail itself of a monetary solution, doing further harm to those it denied due process.  This speaks to the corruption that is this Supreme Court in Honduras.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ambassador Nealon doesn't get "democracy"

US Ambassador James Nealon seems to have forgotten that in a democracy, even a weak one like Honduras, you have to actually charge someone with a crime to detain them for long periods of time.  Today Nealon tweeted the word "Lamentable" with a link to a newspaper story announcing the release of Captain Santos Rodriguez Orellana from detention by the Honduran military.

The US Embassy named Captain Rodriguez Orellana along with six others in a press release, as persons the US was investigating for their links to corruption and narco-trafficking on October 7.  At that time the Honduran Military suspended him from his duties providing security to the Joint Command in Comayaguela and confined him to quarters.

They did not silence him however, and on Monday, October 10th he began talking with the press, calling in to the TV Program Frente a Frente and programs on Radio Globo to talk about why he was detained.  He said he went to the Embassy on Sunday, October 9 for questioning by 3 DEA agents.  At that time they asked him about his knowledge of a plot to kill the US Ambassador by bombing his house, and if he could tie President Hernandez's brother, Tony Hernandez to that plot.  Rodriguez Orellana told the Honduran press that he told the DEA he knew nothing about a plot against Ambassador Nealon, nor could he tie Tony Hernandez to such a plot.  He did allow that while he was part of the Honduran Army's security force engaged in drug interdiction in 2014 they confiscated a helicopter in Brus Laguna that tested positive for having transported cocaine, and that an informant told him the helicopter belonged to Defense Minister Samuel Reyes and Tony Hernandez.  That helicopter bore a valid Guatemalan registration with a fake US registration number decal covering it.

This is not the first time that the Honduran President's brother, Tony Hernandez, has been linked to narco-trafficking. We covered such a link in April this year.

Jenifer Lizeth Bonilla, the wife of Captain Rodriguez Orellana, told Criterio, a Honduran weekly publication, that the DEA asked her husband to connect Tony Hernandez to a helicopter captured in August, 2014 by the Honduran military.  It tested positive for drugs.  She said her husband knows nothing about it and has asked the Honduran Ombudsperson for protection.  She said:
"These problems for Captain Rodriguez Orellano come from the time he captured the helicopter, that according to sources, this helicopter was that of Samuel Reyes and Tony Hernandez"
Defense Minister Samuel Reyes challenged her to present her proof to Honduran authorities. Bonilla showed a Whatsapp conversation Rodriguez Orellana had with DEA agent Matthews in which Rodriguez Orellana said that the helicopter was one used by both Samuel Reyes and Tony Hernandez.  Rodriguez Orellana phoned in to Radio Globo and said that the day after they captured the helicopter, someone broke into his house and ransacked it.

Captain Santos Rodriguez Orellana returned to duty today after the military found it had no reason to keep him confined to quarters.  There were no formal charges brought against him.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Honduras Still Ignores ILO 169 Requirements

The Government of Honduras made some misleading and false statements in its recent submission to the International Labor Organization (ILO).  In May-June of this year, the ILO held an international conference on Labor, during which the Government of Honduras submitted a report on its compliance with ILO 169, a treaty it signed in 1995.  By Honduras's own claims, it only began to implement the treating in 2011, and the Honduran courts claim that even that statement is false.

You can view the ILO report submitted by the Government of Honduras here on the ILO website.  The Honduras specific section begins on page 152 of the report.

First up is Article 15 reporting, where Honduras reports on its consultations with interested indigenous groups before starting or authorizing any mineral prospecting or exploitation in their territory.  This is what the government of Honduras wrote and submitted (page 153):

"Natural Resources:  In the maritime zone of the Mosquitia, as part of the process of realizing a project to explore for oil and gas, a process a consultation during the period September to November 2013 was adopted; there were 10 consultative meetings with the territorial councils of the Mosquitia.  This practice of previous free and informed [consent] has been implemented since 2011.  Initially it was applied to hydroelectric projects in the Lenca indigenous zone (Intibuca and La Paz).... "

If you didn't know the actual timetable or anything about recent Honduran court decisions, you might be tempted to take those statement at face value.  The government of Honduras did undertake a consultation, staging 10 meetings in the area of the Mosquitia where it planned to carry out oil and gas prospecting, during the months of September to November, 2013 as stated. 

However, ILO 169 Article 15 requires that consultation to take place before any such exploration project is authorized or started.  The Honduran Cabinet voted to approve a contract with BG group, a British oil and gas exploration company now a part of Royal Dutch Shell,  to carry out oil and gas exploration on the 9th of April of 2013, a full six months before any consultation took place.  The Honduran Congress approved the contract in May 2013, five full months before the first consultation.  Thus the entire authorization process took place before any consultation took place, violating the intent and the letter of ILO 169 Article 15, which, to reiterate, calls for prior, free, consultation with interested groups prior to the start, or authorization of any such exploration or exploitation of a mineral resource.  During the post-approval consultation, the Garifuna and Miskito communities involved soundly rejected the project.

Did Honduras carry out consultation? Yes.  Was it as Article 15 requires, prior to the start or authorization of any such mineral exploration or exploitation? No.  Honduras did not lie in its submission.  It did however, stretch the truth to make it sound like it complied with the consultation requirements when it did not.

The government of Honduras goes on to state in the next sentence:
This practice of previous free and informed [consent] has been implemented since 2011.  Initially it was applied to hydroelectric projects in the Lenca indigenous zone (Intibuca and La Paz)....

This time we have the word of a Honduran court and the Public Prosecutor's office that this is not true.

This year, the Fiscalia de Etnias, a part of the Public Prosecutor's office that is supposed to defend the rights of the indigenous peoples of Honduras, took the former vice head of SERNA, Marco Johnathan Lainez Ordoñez, and the Mayor of Intibuca, Martiniano Dominguez Meza to court over the approval process for the Agua Zarca dam.

A Honduran court ruled there was no prior consultation in the case of the Agua Zarca dam on the border between the municipalities of Intibuca and San Francisco de Ojuera.  The court said that SERNA did carry out consultation with the residents of San Francisco de Ojuera on December 8 and 9, 2010, but they live downstream from the project.  The residents of Rio Blanco, in Intibuca, where the dam was to be constructed, were never consulted, nor were they invited to the consultation session in San Francisco de Ojuera. On March 24, 2011, SERNA issued a 50 year Environmental License for the Agua Zarca dam without consulting the resident of the town most impacted by the dam.

This may have been because DESA, the company petitioning for the rights to build the project, listed its location as San Francisco de Ojuera, but the maps submitted with the project clearly show it being built on the border between the two municipalities, with most of the disruption falling to the upstream commmunity, Rio Blanco.  Only the actual power generation facility was located in San Francisco de Ojuera.  The dam, and a diversion canal that took water out of the river for power generation, were in Rio Blanco.

Ordoñez was convicted in June of this year of illegally giving the Agua Zarca project its environmental license in violation of the ILO 169 rights of the residents of Rio Blanco.  A second charge of abuse of authority has been filed by the same Fiscalia de Etnias against Lainez Ordoñez in a second Lenca dam dispute, this one on behalf of the Lenca community of Gualjiquiro in La Paz. 
The mayor was charged with abuse of authority for having given the municipal permission to construct the dam without consulting with the people in Rio Blanco.  His case is still pending. 

So the Honduran Courts demonstrate that the second statement, about beginning consultations in 2011 with the hydroelectric projects in the Lenca region is false.  As the UN Relator on the Rights of Indigenous People noted in the ILO report (page 155):
even in the cases where the indigenous people have title to their lands, they are menaced by claims from third parties who make claims over indigenous land and protect park lands for development of mineral and energy projects, model cities, and tourism.

The ILO commission which took this testimony issued a set of conclusions that noted that in the 20 years since Honduras signed the treaty, there has been no progress to formalizing rules for prior, free, and informed consultation of the indigenous peoples of Honduras when development or exploitation projects will impact their communities (page 182).  It urged the government of Honduras to develop policies, rules, and procedures to guarantee the prior, free, and informed consultation of indigenous groups in all cases where it applies.


Monday, May 23, 2016

Government Pulls Globo TV Off Cable

The Commission Nacional de Telecommunicaciones (CONATEL) issued a memo on May 20 identifying 21 broadcasters it claimed were still broadcasting despite their licenses having expired.  On that list was Globo TV owned by Alejandro Villatoro Aguilar, which since 2009 has been one of the few opposition media.  The publication of that memo served as a warning to all of them that CONATEL would begin proceedings to fine them, and if they did not begin proceedings to renew their permits, CONATEL would shut them down.  The memo ended with the clause:
"respecting at all times the constitutional guarantee to defend yourself and due process"

before listing the 21 firms which included not only Globo TV but Angeluz TV, owned by the Diocese of Copan, and another station owned by an Evangelical Church.

Due process, according to journalist David Romero, involves giving the station 10 days to either correct the fault or challenge the allegation that its deficient in some way.  Of the 21 stations mentioned in the memo, 20 of them are still on the air, not yet sanctioned.  But CONATEL choose on May 16th to sanction Globo TV and issued an order to all cable tv system operators to stop carrying their signal.

Globo TVs license expired on February 21, 2016, about the same time as its company lawyer died, so there was a delay of about a week getting a payment for the renewal to CONATEL, but that money was paid on February 29, 2016, and until the notification today, Globo TV assumed everything had been taken care of.

Friday, May 20, Romero showed a copy of the memo CONATEL sent to the cable tv operators, dated May 16th, before CONATEL issued its public memo, stating that Globo TV had not paid to renew its license and ordering all cable tv operators in Honduras to cease carrying the channel. He then showed the stamped receipts from February 29 demonstrating that Globo TV had paid the license renewal fee in the Banco Atlantida on that day.

Ebal Jair Diaz Lupian, President of CONATEL, and Secretary of the Presidential Cabinet of the Government of Honduras said "You cannot renew that which is expired."

Yet that's precisely what the CONATEL memo tells them to do according to Soraya Solabarrieta, head of the Asociación de Empresas de Telecomunicaciones (Asetel).  She argued that the CONATEL order is inconsistent, saying:
"On the one hand it orders the cable systems to take off the air the signals of those operators who are supposedly operating without permission, but on the other hand, for all of them, it gives them 10 days to submit their statements, that what they need to do is present their requests to renew their permission [to broadcast]."
Javier Daccarett signed the order to cable companies to stop carrying Globo TV.  He's the first cousin of Anna Garcia de Hernandez, the wife of the President of Honduras.

So no 10 days granted to Globo TV, no due process, no right to defend itself, and selective enforcement against only Globo TV of the 21 stations operating with allegedly expired licenses, and only hard line intransigence as a response from CONATEL.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Palmerola Airport Contract Bad for Honduras?

On March 18, 2016, President Juan Orlando Hernandez representing the Government of Honduras, and Lenir Perez, representing the bid winner, EMCO, signed a contract to build an international air terminal and supporting facilities in Soto Cano Air Base (also known as Palmerola) in Comayagua.  Such an airport is necessary since Toncontin airport in the capitol city of Tegucigalpa has a dangerous approach and short runway which cannot be lengthened.  The contract was negotiated by COALIANZA, which if past practice is any evidence, makes it suspicious.  COALIANZA has negotiated a number of contracts that are not financially good for Honduras, but great for the company receiving them.

Palmerola air base was built from nothing during the 1980s by the US military to become a staging area for air support missions for the Contra's then trying to overthrow the Sandanista government of Nicaragua.  I still remember the twice weekly flights of C5a and later C17 cargo planes landing at Ramon Villeda Morales International Airport near San Pedro Sula and offloading truckloads of military supplies and equipment onto the staging area to be ferried up to Palmerola for its construction.  Today it is a key strategic foothold of the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Latin America, and home of Joint Taskforce Bravo with an 8000 foot runway.

At the time of the signing the contract terms were not publicly disclosed, but government statements outlined some of the terms.  First, the concession period in which EMCO would have the right to operate it was 30 years.  The contract required $23 million in funding from the Honduran government, and a further $53 million provided by the government of Spain.  EMCO will supply $87 million.

However, as the contract is now before Congress for ratification, terms are becoming public that lead one to question what Honduran authorities were thinking when they signed this contract, and raise questions about whether it can be ratified, even by this Congress controlled by the National party.

Salvador Nasralla pointed out that if the government of Honduras decides to keep Toncontin airport open, even if just for flights within Honduras, it will have to pay EMCO 20 million Lempiras (about $953,000) a month until Toncontin is closed .  Eduardo Facussé noted that the concession can be automatically renewed by EMCO for an additional 30 years, making it a 60 year concession, not the 30 mentioned in the press releases.  Facussé also pointed out that the contract obligates the Honduran government to close not just Toncontin International Airport in Tegucigalpa, but also Ramon Villeda Morales airport in San Pedro Sula, or face paying even higher monthly charges to EMCO.  A financial analysis of the income from the airport indicates that EMCO will not have to pay anything to the government of Honduras for the concession until years 27 or 28.  Facussé continued:

"I'd like to be in this type of business.  I don't know what kind of advisors the President of the Republic has who have told him that this is profitable for the country....The concessionary has all the advantages; that is to say that the owner of the contract for Palmerola, and the Government has a series of [financial] obligations."

Inversiones EMCO is a subsidiary of Grupo EMCO, a company founded in 2003 in Honduras.  It consists of a number of subsidiaries (Alutech, EMCO Mining, Inversiones EMCO, Constructora EMCO).Company owner  Lenir Perez is the son-in-law of Miguel Facussé, who before his recent death was the richest man in Honduras.  Perez is married to Ana Isabel Facussé.  Its subsidiary, EMCO mining began operations in San Pedro, Tocoa, Olancho in April of this year without the permission of the communities in which the mine resides, a clear violation of Honduran law.
 Another mining subsidiary, Minerales Victoria, with an iron mine in Nueva Esperanza, Atlantida has a history of human rights violations.  Perez's firm admits it kidnapped two international observers in 2014 and threatened their lives.

If Eduardo Facussé's statements about the clauses of the contract are correct, one wonders what President Hernandez's advisors were thinking in advising him to sign such a disadvantageous contract, but then, it was negotiated by COALIANZA, so we should have expected that.