Friday, November 17, 2017

Erosion of Free Speech in Honduras

Los Guaraguao, a Venezuelan music group which frequently has visited and performed in Honduras, found itself denied entry to Honduras on Thursday when they arrived at the airport in San Pedro Sula to perform in a political rally for Salvador Nasralla.  They were held 14 hours in the San Pedro airport, then expelled.  The Honduran government claimed "immigration irregularities" and declared the group "banned from the country."  The Honduran press considers it possible that this is a reaction to a statement by the Otto Reich, a right wing lobbyist, that Venezuela was trying to destabilize the Honduran elections in favor of "friends former President Manuel Zelaya Rosales".

Los Guaraguao are a group known as part of the Nueva Cancion (New Song) tradition in Latin America, performing typically leftist songs.  They blend traditional music with socially conscious lyrics.  The group formed in 1972 and shortly thereafter released their most famous song, "Casas de Cartón" (Cardboard Houses).  We first heard their music in Honduras in the 1980s when Radio Progreso had a 3 hour long Nueva Cancion radio program on Sundays.  That musical program was eventually banned by the Honduran government.  That was also the first time we saw them come to Honduras, to play a concert to over 10,000 people in El Progreso.  They have come to Honduras and played both concerts and political rallies many times since the 1980s, often sponsored by Radio Progreso.  They played at the "Voces Contra la Golpe" (Voices Against the Coup) concert in 2009 at the National University in Honduras.  Their last visit to Honduras was to play at a rally for Xiomara Castro during the last election in 2013.

Otto Reich, a right wing lobbyist and former government official, issued a statement on Wednesday saying that Venezuela was trying to infiltrate 145 delegates passing the borders as tourists, engineers, or businessmen to help in the campaign of the "friends of Manuel Zelaya Rosales."  He said that this was part of an attempt by the leftist government of Venezuela to "conquer" Honduras.  The effect of this campaign, Reich continued, "destabilization of the nation, violence, strikes, and attacks".  Reich connects this plan to destabilize Honduras to the Venezuelan government's financial support for Calalonian independence.  Reich favored the 2009 coup.

Los Guaraguao were placed on a flight to Panama yesterday, where they were informed they had been banned from Honduras, and had to return home to Venezuela instead of continuing on the El Salvador for a planned concert.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sending Hondurans Home?

The Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has sent a letter to Elaine Duke, the acting head of the Division of Homeland Security (DHS) stating that the situations in Central America that prompted the issuing of Temporary Protected Status (TPS)to citizens of those countries allowing them to register and remain in the United States no longer apply.  While Tillerson's letter is not determinative, it does make it easier for DHS to end the TPS program for the 57,000 Honduran citizens living in the United States with this status.

Temporary Protected Status is grantable to a country's citizens if one of three conditions are met:
- There is an on-going armed conflict such as a civil war
- There is an environmental disaster.
- Other extraordinary and temporary conditions

A person granted TPS cannot be removed from the US and can obtain permission to work and travel. 

Honduras was granted TPS because of the devastation caused by hurricane Mitch, which destroyed approximately 70% of the infrastructure of Honduras in 1998. The ability of Hondurans to request TPS status was granted in January, 1999.  Permission to remain under that status can be extended by 6, 12, or 18 months by the DHS Secretary.  Renewals since have continued to cite the continuing series of environmental and medical disasters in Honduras, and the lack of recovery in things like the housing market.  Current permissions for Honduras run out on January 5, 2018.  60 days prior to the expiration, the DHS Secretary must either renew or announce the expiration of the status for that country.  That means that today, the DHS Secretary must announce either the renewal or expiration of TPS for Honduran citizens.

Honduras sent a delegation to Washington, DC last week to work for extension of the TPS.  They met with members of Congress, and members of the Executive branch, although the only named meetings were with James Nealon, former US Ambassador to Honduras and now Acting Under Secretary of the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans of the DHS.  They also met with Thomas Shannon, Under Secretary for Political Affairs at the State Department.  They returned claiming optimism that the TPS would be extended.

Tillerson's recommendation that conditions supporting the granting of TPS for Central Americans and Haitians no longer exists is contradicting the Honduran authorities who felt they had more than made their case last week in Washington, DC. 

The DHS statement on renewal of the TPS is due today.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Lawyers Group: DESA executives instigated Berta Cáceres' murder

A group of five international lawyers investigating the murder of Berta Cáceres has concluded that three senior executives of Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA) instigated and ordered the murder of Berta Cáceres in Honduras.  In the report, to be published on Tuesday, the lawyers wrote:
"The existing proof is conclusive regarding the participation of numerous state agents, high-ranking executives and employees of Desa in the planning, execution and cover-up of the assassination."

The evidence that allowed them to reach this conclusion are 40,000 pages of text linked to telephones belonging to two of the accused murderers, plus another phone confiscated from the DESA offices.  One of the phones belonged to Sergio Rodriguez, the Environment director for DESA.  The other phone belonged to Douglas Geovany Bustillo, a retired military officer who reported to the Director of Security for DESA. These text messages were provided by court order by the Public Prosecutor's office in Honduras.  The Public Prosecutor's Office has had the text messages since April and May, 2016, but have taken no apparent action in the case to pursue those who ordered the murder of Cáceres. Those messages show that two of the group accused of her murder, Rodgriguez and Bustillo, remained in frequent contact with three senior DESA executives via text and WhatsApp as they tracked Cáceres and harrassed COPINH members.

The New York Times wrote:
The conversations reveal, the lawyers said, that the orders to threaten Copinh and sabotage its protests came from Desa executives who were exercising control over security forces in the area, issuing instructions and paying for police units’ food, lodging and radio equipment

Miguel Bustillo,  a member of the lawyer's group said:
"What the public ministry has yet to do is indict the people who hired Bustillo to plan the operation."

Honduras has arrested eight men charged with carrying out the murder of Berta Cáceres in 2016. DESA has repeatedly denied any involvement in the harassment or murder of Cáceres. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Maccih investigating Porfirio Lobo Sosa

The spokesperson for the Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MACCIH), Juan Jimenez Mayor, told the listening audience yesterday on the TV program Frente a Frente in Honduras that MACCIH is investigating the accusations made during the trial of Fabio Lobo in the United States that his father, then President, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, took bribes from the Los Cachiros drug cartel to avoid extradition or investigation by the National Police.

The accusations against Lobo Sosa were made by Devis Rivera Maradiaga, one of the former heads of the Los Cachiros narcotics cartel in Honduras during Fabio Lobo's trial.

Jimenez Mayor backed off his initial statement a bit, saying that he wasn't indicating Lobo Sosa was guilty of anything, just that the accusation was being investigated.

Jimenez Mayor told Frente a Frente that MACCIH was also investigating accusations against ex-First Lady, Rosa Elena de Lobo and other connected people in the country.  He also mentioned the IHSS corruption case where he said MACCIH was particularly interested in the DIMESA case, which had the most important contract with Mario Zelaya and he hoped it would be brought to trial soon.
"Our focus is on networks of corruption, both public and private", Jimenez Mayor said.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Yankel Rosenthal pleads guilty to money laundering

On August 29 of this year, Yankel Rosenthal plead guilty to money laundering through corrupt real estate deals in the United States, specifically that he took money from the Los Cachiros Cartel, and used it to buy real estate in the United States for them.  Rosenthal told the court he atttempted to help a friend buy the real estate, even though he knew the friend provided services to the drug traffickers, but that the purchase never happened.

Rosenthal is the former Investment Minister in the government of Juan Orlando Hernandez in Honduras.  He is the nephew of former Vice President Jaime Rosenthal Oliva

Prosecutors say they could have proved additional charges if the case had gone to trial; instead they reached a plea deal with Yankel Rosenthal.  They allege that Rosenthal used over $500,000 of drug money to invest in the popular soccer team, Marathon, in San Pedro Sula.  They allege Rosenthal solicited a bribe in 2013 from a US Oil exploration company in return for permission to explore for oil in Honduras.

Yankel Rosenthal Coello will be sentenced in January, 2018.

Fabio Lobo Sentenced to 24 years, fined $50,000

Fabio Lobo was sentenced yesterday to 24 years in a federal prison, fined $50,000, and agreed to forfeit a further $267,000 for conspiring to bring cocaine into the United States.  Fabio Lobo is the son of ex-Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa.

Acting US Attorney Joon H. Kim stated that Fabio Lobo had sought out drug traffickers with offers of assistance with the intention of enriching himself.  He continued:
"Lobo used his father's position and his own connections to bring drug traffickers together with corrupt police and government officials."

During the trail testimony was offered that among those corrupt officials was the current Minister of Security, Julian Pacheco Tinoco, and his own father, then President Porfirio Lobo Sosa.  The DEA alleges that Los Chachiros paid over $500,000 in bribes to then President Porfirio Lobo Sosa to avoid extradition to the United States and to avoid investigation by Honduran police.

Lobo, whose lawyer says he will file an appeal of the sentence as "overly harsh", will serve his sentence in a Federal prison near Orlando,  Florida, to facilitate access by his family.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Jorge Barralaga Hernandez Arrested for Money Laundering

Former Tegucigalpa Police Commander Jorge Barralaga Hernandez was arrested and his home was confiscated.  He is accused of money laundering.

Barralaga rose to fame in October, 2011, because he allowed the four policemen accused of killing 4 university students, including rector Julietta Castellanos's son, to be freed from jail, allowing them to then flee.  At the time Baralaga was in charge of District 1 of Tegucigalpa and the four policemen, Sub Inspector Carlos Galeas Cruz and policemen Wilfredo Figueroa Velasquez, Arnulfo Padilla Roderiguez, and José Ruben Pozo, were under arrest in District 1 for the crime of murdering four university students.  Even though a court had ordered them held, in October, 2011 he released them, and they fled into the countryside.  For this action he was fired.

In 2012 he filed a legal appeal, seeking reinstatement and back pay; that case was never heard and remains open.  In 2013 he was accused and had an initial audience in court for abuse of authority along with Marco Tulio Palma in freeing the four accused of killing the university students.  That case remains untried.  As early as 2010 a police investigation found that Barralaga, then serving in the border Department of Copan,  had illicit income from corrupt sources, probably drug running, but high levels of the National Police, including Juan Carlos "El Tigre" Bonilla, sat on the investigation and allowed Barralaga to continue to serve and be promoted.

Baralaga was arrested this morning and his house confiscated.  He is accused of money laundering.  The police are still investigating the source of the 27 million Lempiras ($1.2 million) he has in personal bank accounts.

Friday, July 14, 2017

MACCIH to investigate DESA, government contracts, funding

The Misión de Apoyo Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras (MACCIH) announced Thursday that it would begin investigating, not the murder of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres, but the funding and government contracts of DESA, the company building the Agua Zarca dam for possible corruption and money laundering.

Mission spokesperson, Juan Jimenez Mayor announced the OAS mission would look into DESA, how it got its government contracts for the Agua Zarca dam and ENEE electricity purchase, and how it grew from a company with less than $1000 in capital in 2009 to have over $17 million in 2014.  In particular, Jimenez Mayor said the Mission wanted to verify the source of the funds, and whether DESA was money laundering.

Another aspect of the Agua Zarca project that Jimenez Mayor said was interesting was the awarding of the original environmental license in 2010, and the enlarged project environmental license in 2011.  The latter, approved by Dario Roberto Cardona, then sub secretary of the Secretaria de Recursos Naturales y Ambiente (SERNA).  Jimenez Mayor noted that while Cardona was being prosecuted for issuing the expanded environmental license in 2011 without proper consultation with the indigenous communities around Agua Zarca, he wondered why the issuer of the first environmental license, then Minister Rigoberto Cuellar, was not being investigated for the same crime since the same problem exists with the first environmental license issued in 2010. 

Jimenez Mayor also pointed to Congress, and its approval of an electricity buying contract from DESA to ENEE that called for ENEE to purchase more electricity than initially agreed on.

DESA denies there was an increase in its electricity production licensed by Cardona, and maintains it properly consulted with the municipality through open meetings, and that ILO 169 has not been codified into Honduran law.

The Agua Zarca project remains suspended.  The recent withdrawal of two of the international funding agencies (the Netherlands Development Bank (FMO) and the Finland Fund for Industrial Cooperation (FINFUND)) has not resulted in its cancelation because much of the funding comes from the Banco Interamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE) which has not withdrawn its support.

TPS and DACA to End This Year

Luis Gutierrez, a Congress person from Illinois, as part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, met with John Kelly, head of Homeland Security earlier this month.  The caucus learned that Kelly intends to end both Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program this year, opening hundreds of thousands of "Dreamers" and legally present temporary residents to immediate deportation.  Gutierrez issued a statement saying:
"Secretary Kelly determines the future of TPS and basically told us he is not sure if he will extend it for hundreds of thousands of people. He also said that the future of DACA is up to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, America’s leading advocate against immigration, so Kelly was basically telling us DACA is facing a death sentence.  They actually want to take millions of people who are documented – with our own government – make them undocumented, and then go after them and their families. " .......
Trump, Sessions and Kelly want to take 800,000 DREAMers with DACA and hundreds of thousands with TPS who are registered with the government and in compliance with the law and make them into criminals, felons, and deportees in the next few months. 

Gutierrez says he was told DACA will end in September.  Kelly already has revoked the Temporary Protected Status of 55,000 Haitians, who have until September to leave the US.  After that they will be prosecuted.  Gutierrez says Kelly intends to next end the TPS for Central Americans

Saturday, June 10, 2017

RNP Budget May Disenfranchise Votes

The Hernandez administration cut the budget of the Registro Nacional de Personas (RNP) which issues official identity cards by $170 million lempiras this year.  As a direct result, up to 1,000,000 Honduran voters, who need the card for the next election, may not be able to vote.

The Executive branch in Honduras proposes a budget, and Congress approves it, making the changes it deems appropriate.  The RNP required, by its estimation, $370 million lempiras (aprox. $17.7 million) to cover its costs this, an election year.  This includes the funding for new identity cards for 1.5 million citizens, including the more than 330,000 teenagers who became eligible to vote this year.  However, it was assigned a budget $200 million lempiras ($9.5 million) by the Executive branch, augmented by $39 million lempiras ($1.9 million) of a budget that Congress allocated for it to dispense with the fees charged for citizens who ask for a new identity card.

That budget only allowed funding for 500,000 new identity cards, of which 330,000 will be new voters.  Yet the demand is for another 1,000,000 identity cards, which the RNP cannot make because it lacks the funds to make them.  In the first 4 months of the year, the RNP made and distributed 700,000 new identity cards.  Since then they've had to stop due to a lack of funding.

Nor have they kept quiet about the problem.  During the budgeting they listed 8 large projects that would make and distribute those identity cards to people without them having to come to a central place to collect them.  The Hernandez government did not request funding for any of them.  Hence the current problem.

So now, either 1,000,000 voters will be disenfranchised in November, or Congress will have to appropriate additional funds to the RNP, which may not have sufficient time to make and distribute that many identity cards.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Honduran Prisoner Leaves Prison; No One Cares

[Updated below] 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.

[Update] The Insituto Nacional Penetenciario (INP), the people who run the prisons,  put out a story yesterday that this was a case of two people with the same name.  Nothing to see, and anyway, they still have their prisoner.  Except that the photo they released really does look like the same person arrested in San Pedro.

The Public Prosecutor's office confirms that the fingerprints of the person arrested in San Pedro match those of the person who is supposed to be being held in the maximum security prison, El Pozo, in Ilama, Santa Barbara.  The question now is who at the prison pulled off the switch, releasing the gang member and substituting a look alike to occupy the cell?

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?
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.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Los Cachiros name Honduran Ex-President as Protector

One of the leaders of Honduras's Cachiros drug cartel testifying at the trial of Fabio Lobo told a Federal judge yesterday that he paid enormous bribes for protection to both Porfirio Lobo Sosa, ex-President of Honduras, and to his son, Fabio.

Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, one of two brothers identified by the US Treasury as the leaders of the Los Cachiros drug cartel in Honduras spent over 3 hours on the stand in the trial of Fabio Lobo for drug trafficking in the US.  Los Cachiros operated as a cartel in Honduras from 2008 to 2013.

During his testimony, Rivera Maradiaga was asked if he had received assistance from Porfirio Lobo Sosa, to which he replied "Yes" indicating that the first time was in 2009 when Lobo Sosa was still a Presidential candidate for the National Party.  Rivera Maradiaga testified that he paid Lobo Sosa $250,000 - $300,000 for that initial protection as a campaign contribution.  Rivera Maradiaga also mentioned a second meeting with Lobo Sosa where he gave him a packet of 500 lempira bills "eight or twelve inches high".  Rivera Maradiaga also testified that he was present at a third meeting, post election, with Lobo Sosa in which Lobo Sosa promised not to extradite him to the United States and said he would give them government contracts to pay back the bribe they gave him during the campaign.  It was at this third meeting that Lobo Sosa designated his son, Fabio Lobo, as his intermediary for Los Cachiros and made him their contract for security.

Rivera Maradiaga testified that Fabio Lobo helped him with security arrangements on two occasions.  In 2012 Fabio helped Los Cachiros with a 400 kilogram shipment of cocaine that arrived by plane.  The second time, in 2013, it was a ton of cocaine.  Fabio Lobo received a payment of $30,000 for the first shipment, along with several vehicles and an AR-15.  Rivera Maradiaga says Fabio Lobo "asked for a bit more for the second shipment because he had to pay the Chief, that is General Tinoco."

Monday, February 20, 2017

Police Corruption Abounds in Honduras

A criminal gang of Police in Honduras have continued to serve since 2003 when they're names became known in an investigation about a group running guns to the FARC in Colombia.  Several are now or have been high ranking Police executives.

On July 6, 2003, then Congress person Armando Avila Panchamé was arrested while fleeing the crash of a drug trafficking airplane in Olancho.  The plane had landed on the ranch of Ramon Matta, son of the Honduran drug lord with the same name who was arrested and extradited illegally to the US in 1998.  Panchamé was arrested along with 10 others.  The vehicle he was driving had attracted police interest because it had been seen a few months earlier near Arenal, Yoro, at the scene of another drug plane crash.  After his arrest, Panchamé waived his immunity, and was tried and convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.  He was shot to death by another prisoner in prison less than a year later.

Panchamé was the second National Party Congressperson in a month to be arrested for drug trafficking that year.

Also in 2003, Police officer Exequial Antonio Estrada Izaguirre sent a report to the head of the Police Investigative unit, Coralia Rivera de Coca, detailing the misbehavior of a number of his fellow officers in Monjaras, Choluteca.  It seems Inspector Leonel Enrique Matute Chavez was stopped along the road there and his vehicle was found to contain more than a hundred weapons of various calibers to be sent to Rodrigo José Londono, in Colombia, to pass into the control of the FARC.  The arms were being sent by Panchamé to a drug plane that was to land in Choluteca to exchange them for money.

This report listed their high level contacts in the police used by Panchamé:  Ramirez del Cid, Napoleon Nazar, somebody Sauceda, somebody Sabillon, all of whom were present when the drug plane landed in Choluteca, so that nothing would go wrong if the Honduran police or DEA found out. These names should be familiar to you from previous posts about police involved in crime organizations.  All of them have multiple accusations of criminal involvement in known cases in Honduras, yet all of them have continued to rise in the Police ranks.

A confidential US State Department memo at the time concludes that Avila Panchamé was "offered up" as a sacrificial lamb "in an effort to demonstrate to the US the GOH's commitment to combating drug trafficking and corruption at the highest levels" much as the Valle Valle and Rivera Maradiaga were for the current government.

The police investigation has remained open and there are entries in the file through 2016, but it remained buried in police files until this year, along with evidence that someone tried to have the files expunged during the last few years.  Three of them became the Police Commissioners before retiring. Ten have been either removed through the Police cleanup process or suspended.  Two more were caught in criminal situations and removed.  But 15 of them remain active in the police.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

UN Concerned New Criminal Code Violates Human Rights

President Juan Hernandez is urging the Honduran Congress to pass his package of reforms to the penal code, saying that opposition to them is just politics.  Among those are changes to the law so that the Police and Military have immunity from being prosecuted for the use of force, and another change that criminalizes protests as terrorism.  Needless to say the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR)  has grave concerns about three of the changes.

First the OHCHR is concerned about changes to the definition of terrorism in Article 335 of the Codigo Penal.  The changes adds to the paragraph on terrorism:
"Apply the penalties from the preceding article to those who as individuals or as part of a criminal organization of any type, that seeks to assume the powers that belong to the State such as taking territorial control, the monopoly on the legitimate exercise of the use of force by the different institutions of criminal justice, causing fear, putting in grave risk, or systematically and indiscriminately affecting the fundamental rights of the population, or any part of it, the internal security of the State or the economic stability of the country."

For those who haven't been paying attention, every Honduran government since the coup has asserted that protests such as the Torchlight Marches were violating the fundamental rights of the population because protesters blocked the streets.  The change in the law criminalizes as terrorism protests against the government.  The OHCHR agrees, and suggests that the law make a more narrow definition of terrorism:
"The UN has shown over and over the necessity for the States to limit the application of anti-terrorism measures to the field of acts of authentic terrorism, as specified in the Doctrine, comparing practices in laws, and the Special Relator of the UN for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental liberties in the struggle against terrorism in 2010."

The OHCHR also has concerns about the changes to Article 222 of the Penal Code referring to extortion.  They point out the new law, as written, strengthens the penalty to 20 years to life in prison.  This ignores the Honduran Supreme Court guidance that calls for a penalty that is proportional to the harm caused called for in their review of the proposed law.  The Honduran Supreme Court also indicated in their review of this proposed change that it felt that increasing the penalty would not significantly serve as a deterrent to lower the incidence of extortion.  Furthermore, the law defines extortion as terrorism, which for the OHCHR is just wrong.  Extortion is never, per se, automatically an act of terrorism.  Such an equation breaks the spirit and international norms in the struggle against terrorism. It significantly restricts the processual and penal guarantees violating the principles of necessity and proportionality through the way it restricts the rights of the accused and prisoners, the OHCHR concluded.

Finally the OHCHR suggests that changing the law to create impunity for law enforcement officials who use use their weapon in the line of duty need to be reconciled with a respect for human rights.  As article 25 is modified to read, law enforcement officials would have immunity from prosecution any time they fired their weapon in the line of duty.  The OHCHR points out that this creates a situation of impunity for officials who resort to the arbitrary excessive use of force, perform extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearance, and so on.  The OHCHR goes on to point out that if they approve this reform, they will be in violation of international treaties and norms to which the government of Honduras is signatory.

So naturally, the National Party is all for said reforms.  PAC, PINU and Libre have come out opposing the reforms, and elements of the Liberal Party are split on supporting the package of reforms, with a final vote set for Tuesday.

Indigenous Leader Murdered

An Indigenous leader and pre-school teacher of the Tolupan in Honduras was murdered yesterday by five unnamed attackers in his home in the Montaña de la Flor community of La Ceiba.  José de los Santos Sevilla was a son of recently deceased leader Tomas Sevilla.

Sevilla was active in the community in bringing electricity and a hospital to Orica, and in maintaining the Tolupan beliefs.  The Mayor of Orica, Rosy Alexander Rodgrigues, said that the La Ceiba band was the most advanced [modernized] of the Tolupan bands of the Montaña de la Flor.

Jose de los Santos Sevilla is the first Tolupan leader from Montaña de la Flor to be murdered according Rodriguez.

The Public Prosecutor's office dispatched a team to investigate the murder.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Drug Runners Vouch for the Corrupt in Honduras

Its a case of those linked to the drug trade vouching for those linked to corruption.  Today Security Minister Julian Pacheco Tinoco said that he would keep Police Commander Felix Villanueva in his post as head of the Honduran civilian police force.

Pacheco Tinoco has been linked by a DEA informant's testimony in a trial of Colombian drug runners to the drug trade.  The informant identified Pacheco Tinoco as the person he talked to to assure the safe transhipment of a cargo of narcotics ultimately headed to the United States.  Speaking about keeping Villanueva in his post as Police Commissioner, Pacheco Tinoco said:

"This was never in doubt.  He's always been at 100 percent.  We have 100 percent confidence in him; we believe in him."

This is not completely a surprise however.  When Villanueva presented his personnel file for review, he used three lawyers who advise the Minister of Security as his personal references.

Felix Villanueva, on the other hand, based on an investigation by the Direccion de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), has an amassed wealth that he cannot explain.  They accuse him of illegal enrichment in a report.  In fact, they accuse 29 police officers of having amassed wealth they cannot account for.  Three of the high level officials alone, including Villanueva, amassed 27.7 million lempiras ( about $1.35 million ) that they cannot account for.  The report, DECC-EP-92-2012, states that Villanueva alone has 2.3 million lempiras ( about $115,000 ) that he cannot account for.  That report dates from 2012, five years ago. This report was submitted to the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas, which has never acted on it.

Several of the officers identified as having amassed wealth they could not account for have been fired from the Police, but not Villanueva, who was allowed to continue as Police Commissioner even after it was revealed that Villanueva himself ordered that police personnel files be cleansed of all accusations of abuse or corruption, including his own personnel file.  This came to light because though he filed paperwork stating he had no complaints, the Public Minister's Investigation Police force (DPI in Spanish) still had records of such complaints and produced them.  This is another case that languishes in the Public Prosecutor's office.  It has not been investigated.  Villanueva has not been asked to make a statement.

So the drug runners are now vouching for the corrupt in the Honduran government of Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Seventh Arrest in Murder of Bertha Cáceres

Honduran Police from the Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal (ATIC) announced that they have arrested a seventh person in connection with the murder of environmentalist Bertha Cáceres in Honduras last March.  Henry Javier Hernandez Rodriguez, a former member of the Honduran military, was traced to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, where he was working in a barber shop.  We first learned his name last May, when the Public Prosecutor met with representatives of the Consejo Cívico de Organizacion Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH).  At that time he was identified as having participated in the murder of Cáceres, but had not yet been located.  Hernandez Rodgriguez is currently being held by Mexican police, but is expected to be sent back to Honduras as early as tomorrow.