Honduras

Honduras appears to be challenging Mexico for the title of Worst Place to Be a Journalist: Two more journalists were killed in Honduras on Saturday, bringing the total number of journalists killed there during March to five. None of the crimes have been solved. [link]

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On Sunday, Nahum Palacios became the third journalist to be killed in Honduras in two weeks. The radio and television journalist was gunned down on Sunday night by men traveling in two vehicles who sprayed his car with 42 bullets. Police say they have no leads. Journalists all over the country marched to protest the wave of violence against their peers. [link]

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On holiday

Trying to relax.

I guess drug kingpins need vacations too. Honduran Security Minister Óscar Álvarez is saying that Sinaloa Cartel head Joaquín “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzmán is hanging out in Honduras, getting a little R&R. He’s rumored to be staying in an area known as “El Paraíso” (paradise). Among evidence cited is the possibility that Mexican narcocorrido group Los Tigres del Norte was spotted playing a party in the area.

Apparently, “El Chapo” is a big fan.

Though “El Chapo” is one of the last big Mexican drug kingpins still on the loose and is wanted by the Mexicans, the Americans, INTERPOL, and God knows who else, the Hondurans don’t sound especially fired up to go out and bring him to justice:

Asked if after learning this information, the Honduran authorities were setting up an opperation to find “El Chapo” Guzmán, the minister said he had just recently taken the job (as security minister) with President Porfirio Lobo’s new cabinet less than a month ago.

Sounds like Álvarez plans to live to be security minister next month too.

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Prepare for landing crashing

Popular Mechanics has published a list of the world’s 18 strangest airports, and to no one’s surprise, Honduras’ Toncontin International makes the list. Nestled among mountains and smack in the middle of Tegucigalpa, Toncontin has only one 7,000-foot runway, which is awfully stubby for 747s and 757s.

Maybe “strange” isn’t quite the right word. How about “crazy-dangerous”?

I actually know someone who survived a plane crash there in 2008, and everyone else I know who’s flown in there says it’s scary as hell. Planes have to drop in between the mountains, then bank hard and nail the postage-stamp runway right at its start to take advantage of the full length. Here’s a video of the maneuver that makes me never want to fly into Honduras, ever.

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Honduras’ security minister says there are between 250 and 300 drug trafficking routes into Honduras from Venezuela, via air. “The majority of the routes leave from zones in Venezuela, with airplanes displaying that country’s flag. It’s a situation that we haven’t seen for many years, but in the last two years these type of flights have increased.”

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Modest proposal

There was some downtime in Honduras’ National Congress (CN) the other day, so MP Nora de Melgar got to thinking about how small the CN’s facilities were for her and her 127 fellow MPs. She spoke up:

In a verbal motion, she proposed to the CN chair that they begin studying the possibility of moving the National Congress building to a piece of state land in the Támara Valley, stituated between the National Penitentiary and the Santa Rosita psychiatric hospital.

I highly recommend that all legislatures of the world consider something similar, as it significantly shortens everyone’s morning commute. In the end, however, the Hondurans decided to just build a footbridge connecting their headquarters with the Central Bank, which is more what you would expect from Congress.

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Honduras: Broke.

Money all gone. (ht germeister)

Honduras is, for all intents and purposes, broke. That is, incoming Finance Minister William Chong told the AP that Micheletti left the government with only about $50 million in its coffers (note to self: Do governments really still use coffers? Because if so, no wonder they can’t keep track of their money).

This is not at all surprising. It’s what six months of international isolation do to a government’s finances, especially when the country is a poor one like Honduras and partly dependent on international aid. According to an article in El Heraldo, President Lobo is calling for swift reinstatement of Honduras into the international community so that international funds and aid can begin flowing again.

However, there is one problem: International aid is about publicity as much as it is about actually aiding people, and the popular place to give money right now is Haiti. More than $1 billion $2 billion has been pledged there by governments at last count. Also, I think it’s safe to assume that international aid is something of a zero-sum game, which would mean that at least some of the aid flowing into Haiti is flowing out of a different program (at least those are the rumblings I hear from friends working with NGOs).

Anyway, at least one Honduran is doing pretty well: Mel Zelaya. He’s camped out at an exclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. No word yet on any “international aid” he might be receiving.

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Who is Pepe Lobo?

Winning elections, not beauty contests.

Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo was sworn in today as president of Honduras. So who is he? According to this long, exhaustive, very well done profile by the folks at the Barcelona Center for International Studies, Pepe is a child of the political power structure. Born a wealthy rancher, he studied business administration at the University of Miami. After an odd detour to spend a few years at a university in the Soviet Union, he joined the power structure of the country’s right-wing Honduras National Party (PNH) in the 1980s and worked his way up through various executive- and legislative-branch posts.

After winning his party’s nomination for president in 2005 (partly on a platform that called for legalizing the death penalty), Lobo ran against none other than Mel Zelaya. He lost to Zelaya in a close election marred by complications with the vote count. After Zelaya was deposed in June of last year, Lobo initially supported the coup, then backed off and remained conspicuously neutral during the rest of the controversy.

He won the presidency in a relatively peaceful vote that took place on November 30. His first act as president-elect was to reach an agreement to grant Zelaya safe passage out of the country, which Zelaya took advantage of today. Some 10,000 security personnel were in place during his inauguration today, where Lobo made a point of stating, “It’ll be four years. Not one day more, not one day less.”

His 15 proposals for his administration are as follows:

  1. National reconciliation, extended to the international community.
  2. Amnesty as a principle of reconciliation.
  3. The installation of a truth commission.
  4. To set up a 28-year National Plan.
  5. To generate wealth for all Hondurans.
  6. To set up a welfare program for 600,000 homemakers of the country’s poorest families.
  7. To get computers for public schools.
  8. To improve the health care system.
  9. To push for a public bilingual school.
  10. To reduce the unemployment rate.
  11. 200 days of classes (every year, I assume).
  12. To improve crime statistics, especially in the country’s large cities.
  13. To improve justice at all levels.
  14. To combat corruption.
  15. To attract foreign investment through a new law that will be sent to the National Congress soon.

Pretty standard fare for a politician. I’m more entertained by Reuters’ revelations about the 61-year-old president:

Lobo, which means “Wolf” in Spanish, has been married three times, is the father of 11 children and practices tae kwon do.

Maybe he and Putin could get together and spar.

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Run Mel, run

Porfirio Lobo’s first act after he’s sworn in as president of Honduras on Wednesday will be to grant safe conduct out of the country to ex-President Mel Zelaya, who was ousted last July and has been hanging out in the Brazilian embassy more or less ever since. He’ll now be spending some time in the Dominican Republic.

Mel Zelaya

Don't forget your hat.

This basically amounts to giving him a head start: The head of Honduras’ Supreme Court says Mel will still have to answer for the 18 charges that the public prosecutor is bringing against him.

Mel says he’ll be back to do that… some day. But definitely not right away. Which is why he’s looking to get himself some sweet, sweet international immunity by becoming a member of the Central American Parliament. Well played.

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  • DAILY LINKS

    • The Nation has a long, wonky, wonderful article on Mexican maize cultivation, the effects of NAFTA, and the dangers of genetically-modified seeds. Author Peter Canby backs up his excellent writing with piles and piles of meticulous research. Not to be missed. [link, via SM] (Image from Joel Penner.)

    • Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas ended his hunger strike yesterday after 134 days. Farinas decided to end his strike after the Cuban government said it would release political prisoners rounded up in the "Black Spring" crackdown of 2003. Get well soon. [link]

    • The Uruguayan selection, which has made it to the quarter finals of the World Cup, just received a shipment of half a ton of fine cuts of beef for the mother of all asados in preparation for a contest against Ghana on Friday: "450 kilos of lomo, 200 of entrecot, 75 of vacío, 75 of colita de cuadril, 150 of ojo de bife and 50 kg of picaña." [link]

    • Hitmen have assassinated the PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas State, Rodolfo Torre Cantú. Torre was gunned down along with six others at about 10:30 this morning on a highway on the way to a campaign event. Drug mafias are assumed to be responsible. [link]

    • From the days when coups were something of a regional sport, new documents detail a famous British ballerina's role in a plot to topple the government of Panama. The plan was to use her yacht to gather men and arms, then "land somewhere and collect in the hills." It didn't work. [link]

    • Mexico's Attorney General's Office has posted on its web site irrefutable evidence that gold-plated AR-15s and diamond-studded pistol grips are not nearly as cool-looking as they sound. The deadly knick-knack collection is said to belong to Valencia Cartel leader El Lobo. [link]

    • Two Brazilian ranchers were sentenced to 30 years in prison apiece for ordering the killing of an environmentalist nun: "Prosecutors said the pair offered to pay a gunman $25,000 to kill the 73-year-old [Dorothy] Stang because she had prevented them from stealing a piece of land that the government had granted to a group of poor farmers." [link]


    • This video of a kidnapping and car chase in Mexico is notable mainly for the bad-assitude of the TV journalists who were on this like white on rice. Well done, gentlemen.

    • The Economist takes a peak at the Mockus phenomenon in Colombia: "His moustacheless beard gives him the air of a Baltic pastor... He is financing his campaign with a bank overdraft. His supporters rely on Facebook and make their own posters; street vendors sell unofficial campaign T-shirts." [link]

    • Some cruise lines will cease traveling to Antarctica after this cruise season, as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil goes into effect next year. The ban came after a 2007 incident when a Gap Adventures ship got punctured by ice and sank, causing a mess. [link]