Sowing the Future

Right now, the Future of Honduras and Latin America is sown.

The Right

For three decades a project for modernizing Latin America with the help of neo-conservatism has been carried out. Pieces in this puzzle have been strong demands from IMF on the countries budgets, cutting social spending, and opening up for free trade, resulting in hardships for significant groups of the population in the countries in question.

This has led to much resentment and a growing leftist backlash.

The Left

The focus of the backlash is in the form of the Bolivarian Revolution, also known as Socialism in the XXI Century, and their alliance, ALBA. They speak about participatory democracy, and holding constituting constitutional assemblies (constituyente) to re-found countries. The other side of the coin is an undermining of the institutional structures that have been developed over the course of centuries, and whose role it is to safeguard both the rule of law and human rights. The result is a popular tyranny, lawlessness, and the only sectors of the economy that really benefit from the change are the drug cartels and the corruption.

President Manuel Zelaya took Honduras into ALBA. The main reason was the lucrative oil contracts. When the global oil prices went through the roof the other year, Honduras – which produces a lot of its electricity in diesel-powered plants – was in deep economical trouble. Zelaya’s foreign minister Patricia Rodas, who grew up in revolutionary Nicaragua, put Zelaya in contact with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the founder of ALBA. That opened the door to buying oil at a discount price from the South American nation, whose slogan now is “Fatherland, Socialism or Death!”

Chávez also offered a personal incentive to Zelaya, as he also does to Ortega and others. If Zelaya bought oil for say $100 millions for Honduras, he collecting that amount from the companies that actually sold it, but he only needed to pay $50 millions of it to Chávez. The rest was his to use as he pleased. Formally it was a loan that didn’t have to paid pack for over 20 years, but in private Zelaya admitted that it didn’t actually have to be paid back – ever. In other words, it was a kickback to him. From a foreign state, which in many countries risks falling under the definition of treason. At any rate he circumvented the budget process, which is in violation of the constitution.

This leftist project is closely connected to cocaine smuggling, not at least via the Colombian communist guerilla FARC. The cartels benefit greatly when people lose confidence in the police, or when a crime wave overwhelms the government.

Several ALBA presidents have changed their constitutions to enable themselves to remain in power. The process that they prefer is to hold a constituyente, which in itself is a circumvention of the constitutional democratic process. Through that stratagem Chávez, Correa, and Morales have managed to short-circuit the institutional checks and balances. However, when Mel Zelaya tried the same method in Honduras, he drew the shortest straw. The Supreme Court sent the army to arrest him.

Sowing the seeds of the future

The reaction of the world was to declare the event a military coup, but that was clearly a case of jumping to conclusions without having all the facts. Hardly surprising, the key country setting the tone of how to treat Honduras, is USA. However, the signals from USA have been anything but clear.

The foreign relations committee in the Senate is chaired by senator Kerry. It seems that they are taking the statements from Zelaya for truths. They call the deposing of Zelaya a coup, and thus side with the left.

On the other hand, the secretary of state in the US, Hillary Clinton, is engaging with the new president, “Pepe” Lobo. They recently signed a document of understanding. I am guessing that Clinton is continuing to use the same playbook as her husband in the 90’s, i.e., IMF, free trade agreements, and other things belonging to the agenda of the right. This has caused Zelaya and his allies to accuse the US of having been behind what they call a coup, in order to turn the clock back in Honduras, to the neo-conservative agenda.

If this analysis is correct, there is a conflict between Clinton holding on to the old Right, and Kerry embracing the new Left. But what is happening in Honduras itself? Which side will prevail?

Apparently Pepe Lobo from the Nacionalista party is dancing with the Right, while Zelaya, albeit deposed, from the left wing of the Liberal party, is dancing with the Left and with the resistencia, FNRP. But where is the majority of the people?

The Center

The majority does not have a well-defined political leader at present. However, we can probably find the majority as those who made up the camisas blancas, the white-shirts, in last year’s huge demonstrations that as the most basic common denominator had a call for the rule of law.

I think it would be a huge mistake to think that these are the same as the supporters of the neo-conservative agenda. Many of the white-shirts surely share the goals of many who demonstrated in red shirts, but they don’t agree with the methods of populism and “dictatorship of the majority”. They seem to want reform and a socially responsible government, but under the rule of law, with full respect for individual rights and freedoms.

This new center is still under the surface, but it is not inactive. They are working with hands-on tasks aimed at transforming Honduras – the transformation that the politicians have been unable or unwilling to bring. They fight corruption, they work for the rule of law, but they have to stay under the radar since they have very powerful enemies: The drug cartels and the criminal networks (which stretch into politics) have everything to lose if they succeed.

Honduras is staking out its own future, a new path in the center of Latin American politics.

If they succeed, and they just might, innovation and entrepreneurship will be driving the country’s economy in ten year’s time; not maquilas. Institutional reforms, a modernized public administration system, and stringent rules and principles for legislation, may make away with corruption as the governing principle of the republic. Education, free trade, consequence-neutral regulation, renewable energy, and a access to capital can propel the country into the realm of developed nations. Today all of this seems like a remote dream. But remember, why aim for the possible? It has already been done. It is only the impossible that remains to be done. And it is only the first one over the line that wins.

This new center has to grow from within. All that the international community can and should do is to get out of the way during the birth process. Unfortunately Chávez keeps spending money and diplomatic effort on sabotaging it, and the US is apparently fighting internally.

If I could have one wish, it would be that Obama took sides neither for the Right nor for the Left, but for the new Center, and dedicated his diplomatic effort to give that Center the space it needs to grow organically.

Why it was good that Sweden left Honduras

This summer Sweden closed its foreign aid office in Tegucigalpa. It was a move that was decided when Zelaya was president, and motivated by the corruption in his administration, from what I have heard. Although this means the gradual termination of assistance to human rights (including the ombudsman for human rights, who the zelayistas love to criticize), women’s groups, and higher education (millions go to UNAH, the strongly left-leaning national university), it may actually be for the better.

Why? Because foreign aid often cements the existing structures, much like government efforts to promote innovation tends to strengthen the existing market structure rather than lead to a re-orientation. It also corrupts.

Unless the aid is given in very specific ways, and with a high degree of understanding of what is going on behind the scenes, it is, IMHO, more often than not counter-productive. For instance, if UNAH gets $8M they are likely to use it for salaries first, building maintenance second, and only the crumbles left over will go to the thing that in the long run is most important: The library, the information, the communication.

Personally I would rather see the money spent on buying subscriptions and the infrastructure needed to use the electronic subscriptions. Also, supporting a domestic high-quality journal would seem important, so that Honduran scholars can start rising to the level where they become a force to count with. That is something that in 20 to 30 years really can make a difference, propelling the country forward as an innovative entrepreneurial center of excellence. Salaries, on the other hand, will just go to buy Chinese imports in the local mall.

During the time of transit all forces must be directed towards creating the conditions for change, for entrepreneurship, for innovation, for starting new businesses, for research. This requires using domestic resources, and the process must be driven by domestic forces. Foreign aid should only amount to goods or services that cannot be made in the country, or purchased for the local currency. Furthermore, it must never compete with local business. It is a problem that the US donates so much goods and services, as it undermines and corrupts the local economy. That has to be phased out, the sooner the better.

I realize that those involved with foreign aid of that kind are going to get on my case now, but somebody has to point out that the emperor is naked. Everyone making a living on aid to Honduras has a vested interest in Honduras remaining poor. For Honduras to rise to glory, she has to say “I am too proud to accept donations!”

Therefore, it was a blessing in disguise that Sweden and ASDI left Honduras, since that leaves the agents of change with a better chance of succeeding. The former US ambassador accurately analyzed the dynamics in June, 2010.

The right-wing push led by IMF over the past few decades was met with a backlash, a leftist, populist, pseudo-democratic movement led by Venezuela and Cuba. However, what happened in Honduras was the first step of a third way, a reaction to both the strong right policies, and the leftist-popular movement; a New Center that is based on the rule of law, strong democratic institutions, liberal trade agreements, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

This Nuevo Centro as I would like to call it is based in the white shirts of 2009, a movement that is full of energy, albeit under the surface at present, acting silently but efficiently to gradually transform the ugly duckling into a swan. They need to be in the shadows because they have no international backing.

USA apparently is split between supporting the IMF and FTAA order on the one hand, and punishing Honduras hand in hand with Chavez on the other. All the ALBA countries are of course for the populist leftist backlash. But wait and see. Honduras is not sleeping. A new center is growing in the ashes of last year’s crisis.

USA needs OAS more than Honduras does

Honduras president “Pepe” Lobo has gone to great extremes to placate OAS so the country can be allowed back in. In the process he seems to have lost almost all support at home.

Already before he was inaugurated he went overseas and signed a paper that said that the deposing of Manuel Zelaya, in an arrest ordered by the Supreme Court for violating the Constitution, was a coup d’état. This was his first major mistake.

For 7 months interim president Micheletti had held the moral high ground by insisting that Zelaya had committed an autogolpe (a self-coup) and that his deposing was constitutional. He had done so under international isolation and sanctions. He had taken over a country without a budget, with ransacked coffers, and all credit in the banks that Honduras was and is a member of was frozen. Yet, in spite of governing over a bankrupt country he held the hill, the moral high ground, to the very end.

The end came not the day that Lobo was inaugurated, but a couple of weeks before when he called the event on June 28th a coup. At that time Micheletti graciously stepped back, refrained from criticizing Lobo, and instead ceded to the president-elect. From the people, on the other hand, a roar of fury went up. Especially, of course, from those who had voted for him.

The others, led by Zelaya, just said “so he is a golpista, now he has admitted what we knew all the time.”

The strategic blunder of giving up the high ground and getting nothing in return was just mind-boggling.

The next precipitous fall in grace came about 10 minutes after he had sworn his oath of office. When giving his inauguration speech he thanked Honduras enemies, those who had harmed the country, but in spite of calls from the audience for him to thank Micheletti – who had made his election possible – he did not do so. At that point half the audience rose up from their seats and left the stadium in protest, according to a blog by an employee of the US embassy. This was hidden from the TV audience, since the cameras stopped panning over the galleries.

I would venture to say that Lobo probably set a new world record in losing support quickly after an election.

Today one would be hard pressed to find someone who defends his policies in Honduras. The redshirts see him as a golpista, and the whiteshirts see him as either a fool or a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

In fact, that is a position he shares with the US ambassador, Hugo Llorens, who is believed by some to be the one who dictates to Lobo what to do and not to do.

Lobo has bent over backwards to be allowed back in to OAS. He seems willing to go as far as to talk about holding a constituyente, even though that is completely anti-constitutional in Honduras, and he risks running afoul of article 239 in the Constitution – the one that says that an elected official who even suggests reforming certain paragraphs in the Constitution immediately loses his office.

But why? Why does he spend so much time and energy to please people like Hugo Chávez, Zelaya, and Insulza, even though it is obvious to any child that there is nothing, NOTHING, that Lobo can say or do that will please them.

Why doesn’t Lobo instead spend all his energy on transforming Honduras into a modern capitalist entrepreneurial country, ready to compete with the world on the global marketplace – but with a socially responsible face?

Maybe the answer is that USA is controlling Lobo, and USA needs the OAS. There are many regional organizations in Latin America that Honduras is a member of, and that can replace OAS, but OAS is the only one that the US is a member of. It is the strategy of Chávez to isolate the US from Latin America by making OAS obsolete.

If Honduras would turn its back to OAS it would contribute to making OAS obsolete, and thus isolate USA. That’s why Obama is so desperate for Honduras to return to OAS.

But is it worth the price?

I’d say no. Honduras and USA would be better off creating a new partnership, with Canada and other countries that truly are for democracy – unlike, as we have seen, OAS under Insulza.

Time for a new course. Stand proud, Honduras, and stop trying to placate your enemies, Obama!

Why the Dems may lose Miami -> Florida -> USA

This year Florida will elect a new senator, in a three-way race between the Democrat Kendrick Meek, the Independent Charlie Crist, and the Republican Marco Rubio. Chances are slim that Meek will win. This is usually attributed to Democratic voters voting for “anybody who can beat Rubio,” but there may be another factor that the pundits have missed.

It is the traditional Achilles heel of the Democrats: Softness on foreign policy. The one causing the dissatisfaction was not Meek, but president Obama, secretary of state Clinton, and Senate foreign relations committee chairman Kerry. And the constituency group that this particularly affects are the Latinos.

Keep in mind that Miami is a Latino city, predominantly. And that Miami is big enough to flip the vote in all of Florida one way or the other. And that Florida is big enough to flip the national vote of president one way or the other – but I’m sure nobody will ever forget that.

Obama did get a significant support by Latinos in 2008, but that support has completely dissipated by now. There may be several reasons, but it seems to me that one reason in particular has not been getting the attention it deserves: Obama’s Latin America policy.

The crucial issue is Honduras

Actually, Honduras is just the tip of the iceberg, the overall issue being the spread of communism in Latin America, which the Democrats seem to do nothing to stop. In fact, it appears to many as though they actually like this change. And that is a sure way to lose voters in Miami…

The different perspective does not come from a difference in world view, but in a difference in information. Latinos typically watch Spanish-language news, the biggest of which is of course Univisión. These networks cover Latin America closely, while English-language networks give about the same amount of coverage to Latin America as they give to Mozambique, or Mongolia, or the Moon for that matter. When it comes to foreign countries about 99% of their coverage has been devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan the last few years.

When the president of Honduras was deposed on June 28, 2009, it therefore came as lightning from a clear sky, for the English-speakers in the U.S. Naturally, they believed the network when they said it was a military coup. They had no reason to think otherwise. English-speaking Democrats either agreed with Obama’s policy, or thought he didn’t go far enough.

Latinos (and others who prefer Spanish-language news due to it having higher quality), on the other hand, knew that a severe political crisis was playing out in Honduras. They knew that the president was openly defying the Supreme Court, the popularly elected Congress, all other institutions of government, and that he was leading a mob against his own military. They had heard over and over that he was suspected of carrying out an auto-golpe, and they knew that he was ignoring the checks and balances of the constitution. They also knew that several other presidents in Latin America had done the same thing in recent years, and that nobody had stopped them: Chávez, Correa, Morales.

When Honduras stopped Zelaya, many, if not most, Latinos in Miami considered it an anti-coup rather than a coup. Honduras became “the little country that could.” Virtually overnight, Obama-stickers disappeared from almost all cars in Miami.

When it comes to Latin America, Washington is rather ignorant. It is clear that at least some of them believe the outrageous lies and spin, no matter how lunatic it really is, that is being prepared by Hugo Chávez and signed by Mel Zelaya. Perhaps they haven’t realized that Mel sold his soul to Chávez to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. Or perhaps they don’t understand what Chávez is up to. Or else, perhaps they haven’t been able to come up with a counter-strategy, so they just stall for time. Who knows.

Meanwhile, unless Obama clearly changes policy visavi Honduras within the next two weeks, my prediction is that Miami will vote for Charlie Crist. Marco Rubio is probably too extreme for the majority (“miamians” may be fiscally conservative, but they are socially progressive), so in an effort to make sure that he won’t win, I figure that many Dems will vote for Crist.

If Obama’s present policy continues for two more years, chances are it will be his last in the White House.

The option

What option does Obama have visavi Honduras? First and foremost, he must clearly distance himself from the outrageous lies that Zelaya is spreading. Secondly, he must make it clear that he understands that,

  1. the Supreme Court of Honduras had the legal authority to issue an arrest order for the president,
  2. there was due cause for the Supreme Court to issue that arrest warrant on June 26,
  3. that the military in Honduras is constitutionally authorized to carry out tasks only done by the police in most other nations (and that it was Zelaya who started using the military for police work on a systematic scale),
  4. that the expatriating of Zelaya was a crime, but that the expatriating of Zelaya does not in any way relieve Zelaya from responsibility for the crimes he carried out before being expatriated,
  5. that the behavior of the security forces during and after the expatriation of Zelaya has been the target of systematic demonization by a deliberately executed and very refined propaganda apparatus, directed by Venezuela’s ruler Hugo Chávez,
  6. that the interim president Micheletti did all that was in his power to maintain public order and security, and to safeguard human rights, in spite of an onslaught of attack by foreign agents, paid demonstrators, and vilification in international media,
  7. that the Attorney General did prosecute the military for the expatriation of Zelaya, and that the Supreme Court did take up the case, but dismissed charges, and
  8. that the Supreme Court of Justice, democratically and constitutionally selected, is the highest legal authority in the country, which means that their rulings are the final word in the matter, as regards the sovereign Republic of Honduras.

A speech to this effect would serve several important purposes: First, it would win back at least a part of the lost support among Latinos who don’t want to see communism take over their native countries. Second, it would assure Hondurans in Honduras that the world has not gone completely mad, and that the rule of law still is the principle upon which civilization is built. Third, it would send a message to president Ortega in Nicaragua that USA has not thrown in the towel to Chávez, so he better stop his plans for an auto-golpe.

Finally, and most importantly, it would set a firm base of law for negotiating a new social pact in Honduras. The spread of popular tyranny in Latin America can be stopped by making it clear that a “constituyente” (i.e., overthrowing the constitution and letting a few more or less self-appointed persons write a new one without democratic input) is totally unacceptable, and that stopping a constituyente by any legal means possible is not just acceptable, but the duty of all who have sworn an oath of office to defend the constitution.

Whatever Obama does, he has to evaluate the strategy carefully, as a seasoned chess player would. Unless he recognizes that Chávez is actively waging a cold war against him, he will stand no chance. Nor will the position of the United States of America in the World.

World pushes Central America towards disaster

Through their response, the nations of the world are contributing to pushing the Central American nations of Nicaragua and Honduras towards disaster. They are already the poorest and second poorest countries of Latin America, and they are both in deep political crises of credibility in the rule of law.

The Nicaraguan president, former revolutionary leader Daniel Ortega, has stacked the Supreme Court illegally, is altering the Constitution illegally, and wants to run for re-election illegally. Yet the reaction from the world is almost non-existing.

The former Honduran president, Manuel Zelaya, tried to stack the Supreme Court but was stopped by the president of Congress, Roberto Micheletti, tried to alter the Constitution but was stopped by the Supreme Court, and tried to make himself a dictator but was deposed by a near unanimous vote in Congress and the Supreme Court. The reaction of the world was to demand his reinstatement.

The stance of the world, including of course the U.S., seriously undermines the faith in the rule of law in Central America. The caudillo wannabe is rewarded, the democratic institutions are chastised.

If the world wanted to create chaos, conflict, even war, they couldn’t have devised a more efficient strategy than the one they are now implementing in Central America.

Several Viking time laws start with the statement “Countries are Built with Laws.” It reflects an understanding that functioning, peaceful societies require that there are rules that are universally accepted, and honored since there is confidence that they are enforced. What is going on in Central America is an undermining of these sentiments, since the presidents that attack the rule of law are seemingly rewarded, and the institutions and persons who defend the rule of law are punished by the world.

Yet, it may all be unintentional. As they say in Washington, never blame on malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

In the case of Zelaya, it is apparent to everyone that a crime was committed when he was sent to Costa Rica. Not knowing the background, the only possible conclusion would be that it was a military coup d’état. However, now that we all have had ample time to study the background, it is equally clear that the Supreme Court of Honduras had the legal authority to arrest the president; that they had due cause to arrest the president; and that they could relieve the president from office during the trials.

They issued an arrest order for the president, not an expatriation order. Expatriating him was a separate crime. Two wrongs don’t make one right. Yet the world demanded that Zelaya be reinstated. From a foreign perspective it seemed like a politically correct stance, not to say the only possible stance. I cannot criticize those who took that stance, since I would have done the same in their positions.

Yet, from a Honduran perspective it was impossible, since it would have meant disaster to reinstate Zelaya. He would rapidly have attacked those that acted to arrest him. To allow him to be reinstated and wield power would have been suicidal for the republic. Thus, I cannot criticize Micheletti either. Both sides did what they had to do.

Was there no possible compromise? The legally acceptable solution, to both sides, should have been to have Zelaya return to Honduras to face jail; to take up the process where it was interrupted. For him to turn himself over to the custody of the military, be brought before a judge, and the judge deciding if he should be removed from office or reinstated. In fact, this is exactly what Micheletti was proposing in the negotiations: That the Supreme Court decide on his reinstatement or not.

However, Zelaya responded by demanding that Congress take that decision, and Micheletti relented. As we know, Congress voted almost unanimously not to reinstate Zelaya.

In summary, although the process went bad when the military expatriated Zelaya, it was brought back on track with the Guaymuras agreement, where the topic of his reinstatement was decided (although it technically should have been done by the Supreme Court, one can argue that Zelaya gave up that right when he himself insisted that Congress should decide instead of the court).

Yet this resolution to the legal situation has not brought back peace and stability to Honduras. Why? It seems the largest problem is the lack of faith in the rule of law in Honduras.

It is very detrimental that other countries accuse the Supreme Court of violating the law.

For instance, the fact that the U.S. has revoked tourist visas for all members of the Supreme Court is a clear vote of lack of confidence in the highest judicial institution in Honduras. If the U.S. doesn’t trust the Supreme Court in Honduras, why would Hondurans? And if they don’t trust the Supreme Court, why would they obey the laws at all? It promotes the attitude that crime pays. And it does, in Honduras. The attitude is, I’m told, that if you don’t stuff your pockets illegally when you have a chance, you’re an idiot.

This attitude is reinforced by the policy of the U.S. and other countries.

So what to do instead?

First, the main principle in dealing with Honduras and Nicaragua must be to reinforce the faith in the rule of law, based, of course, on their domestic jurisprudence and experience, not on that of the U.S. All aspects of law enforcement and justice, including human rights, must be given top priority in institution-building support. This should be done with respect for the local conditions and experiences, to be effective.

A second point is respect for the democratic institutions, including direct diplomatic contacts that bypass the executive branch and go directly to the judicial and legislative branches. Name-calling must of course stop. It is so unprofessional for a staffer in the U.S. Senate to call Honduran Supreme Court justices and Congressmen “golpistas”.

A third point is how to deal with wannabe dictators. The OAS should intervene in the case of Nicaragua today. Once the court is stacked, the rule of law has ceased to exist. One cannot call Nicaragua a democracy any more; the coup d’état has already been sown and all that remains is to harvest it. The world should make clear that it will not accept having Ortega on the ballot, that it will lead to harsh sanctions.

The last point is to engage in the economy of these countries. Right now an environmental disaster is sailing up in Honduras. A beautiful and unique lake, Lago de Yojoa, is being destroyed by unsustainable fish farming. Within a few years the lake will die. Today it is still possible to develop eco-tourism as an alternate source of income in the community, but once the lake dies, so does that possibility. Yet the market forces inevitably drive the development towards that looming disaster. “Adult supervision” is desperately needed, but nothing can be done without risk capital willing to invest in tourism development, thus producing an opposing force to the one that is pressuring for unsustainable exploitation. For this to happen there must be stability and faith in the rule of law. See point 1.

Among those who benefit from the present policy is the military-industrial complex, who get to sell more weapons and security systems when the time comes to put out the fire in Central America, that the present policy promotes. Furthermore, those that sell systems for border security benefit, since ever more Central Americans are destined to migrate illegally to the U.S. Those who hire illegals in the U.S. will also benefit, because the supply of cheap labor will continue. Also the drug cartels in Mexico will benefit, since they can exploit the migrants and force them to work like mules, smuggling cocaine to the U.S. (and if they refuse, they are shot).

As you see, much is at stake also for the U.S. of A. It is time to wisen up.

Footnote: Former US ambassador to Honduras, Charles A Ford, wrote an analysis in June this year in which he – in my opinion – correctly and succinctly described the situation. Read it!

Parlacen does not give Zelaya immunity

Honduras deposed president Mel Zelaya has now been sworn in as a member of Parlacen. Some believe that this will give him immunity in Honduras. That is wrong.

A deputy in Parlacen has, in the other nations than his own, the same status as a diplomat. In his own country he has the same status as a member of the national parliament. The diputados in the Congreso Nacional in Honduras have no immunity. As we all know from last year, not even the president of Honduras has immunity.

Thus, Zelaya will be arrested if he returns to Honduras, since he is still wanted by the law – diputado o no.

On Jan 25 this year I wrote in “Zelaya’s flawed plan for immunity” that nobody can be a member in Parlacen who is not eligible to be a member of the national parliament of his own country. Given the arrest orders against Zelaya he is not, as far as I can understand, eligible to serve in the Congreso Nacional in Honduras. Thus, by swearing him in as a member of Parlacen, the regional congress has in effect said that they do not recognize the administration of Porfirio Lobo in action (only on paper). It appears to be a violation of the treaty. But that’s another story.

Axel Oxenstierna was right

In 1648, if I’m not mistaken, Swedish chancellor Axel Oxenstierna wrote to his son, who he was sending to negotiate the Peace of Westphalia after the Thirty Years War, “If you only knew, my son, with how little wisdom the world is run.”

Today that statement appears more true than ever.

Why? Because I’ve been exchanging some polite emails today with the person who handles Honduras in the U.S. Senate’s foreign relations committee. Instead of me telling you, let me just post it, in chronological order. [UPDATE 2010-09-27: The staffer asked that his words be removed, which I have now done. Just for the record, I did explain upfront when contacting the committee that I was doing research for a book, and I never implied that I intended for our exchange to be off the record.]

From: Ulf Erlingsson
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2010 11:46 AM
To: [withheld] (Foreign Relations)
Subject: Update on Honduras

First, thank you for taking the time to clarify the position of the committee. After our conversation I confronted the person who said that Kerry had stopped the planned arrest on June 25 and asked where he had got that information. He said he couldn’t remember, but it was for sure not from Llorens, “Llorens would never say anything”. He went on to say that he doesn’t think I will get any information from anyone until – pay attention – the truth commission has presented its report.

Incidentally, I proposed that truth commission to interim president Micheletti, and he put it in the proposal in San Jose. My intention was that the truth about why and how Zelaya was deposed should come out, but based on what this source said, it seems not likely to happen. That would be a shame.

What bothers me is WHY people would not talk until the commission is gone. I don’t believe it is because they are hiding a coup. Based on what I have heard in informal talks, it is rather because they are afraid that the truth commission is biased against them. And that the US is also biased against them, and will interfere with the sovereignty of Honduras, negatively affecting its democracy and the rule of law. I don’t know if this is true or not, I’m just telling you what impression I get, and it is disturbing to me.

I realize that you have come to a different conclusion, but let me tell you how I see it. When I grew up my neighbours had fled Germany, and I always wondered why the Germans had not stopped Hitler when he made himself a dictator. What happened in Honduras was that Zelaya in fact made himself a dictator. If the Congress and/or the Supreme Court had NOT deposed him, he would have been a dictator. A dictator is a dictator not because he says so, but because he oversteps his authority and THE OTHER BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT ALLOW HIM to do that. What Honduras democratic institutions did was NOT to allow him. They acted in defense of the constitution. If they overstepped the Constitution in some technical sense [it] is not a cause for reinstating Zelaya, Zelaya was already finished. If there was reason to depose also Micheletti, then the only one who could have taken the presidency was the next person in the succession line, the Supreme Court justice Rivera. And Micheletti made it clear that he was prepared to step down and let Rivera take over.

I have the impression that this view is shared by those who now will not talk about it… And I think you can understand why. If they feel they have done what they had to do for their country, but are being punished by the international community and the US for it, and not getting a fair deal, why talk?

Personally I believe that a judicial process would have been preferable, since it would avoid the political bias altogether. Unfortunately, as far as I know, the new president has effectively stopped all chances of judicial solutions. Incidentally, to me it signals that he has got something to hide himself – and it is for sure not being a part of any “coup” AGAINST Zelaya. As you surely know, he supported Zelaya’s ambition to overthrow the constitution, and many believe he still does.

My advise to you is to listen without prejudice to those involved, including not at least the attorney general and the supreme court. But how can you, when they have no visa to go to the US? There are many who suspect that the main reason to withdraw the visas wasn’t to punish them, but to avoid that they travel to the US and told the truth.


Ulf Erlingsson, PhD

From: [withheld] (Foreign Relations)
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2010 12:25 PM
To: Ulf Erlingsson
Subject: Re: Update on Honduras

[removed on the author’s request]

I later decided to try to focus on finding some common ground, to be constructive, and wrote the following:

From: Ulf Erlingsson
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2010 4:21 PM
To: [withheld] (Foreign Relations)
Subject: Re: Update on Honduras

If I may give you a piece of advice in all sincerity, I believe that it would be more constructive for a positive development of law and order, democracy, and prosperity, both in Honduras and here, if we all focused more on the things we agree on, and draw the dividing line to those that do not agree on the need for rule of law and democracy. Look at the simple diagram I made. Your view is in the red field, mine is in the white. Until recently I believed that those were the only two, but now I have got it pointed out to me by the author of the book “The Good Coup” that there is a substantial group of people who actually believe it was a coup to depose Zelaya, but who support that (the blue field). These are the golpistas; both the white and the red are democrats.

I think you will find it more fruitful to cooperate with the democrats. The difference in view just reflects a difference in legal analysis, while the two agree on the importance of following the law (well, except those who want to overthrow the Constitution, of course).

There will be people who disobey the law, but the main thing is to rally for the idea of following the law, and to acknowledge the arguments of the opponents as well. If we cannot do that, then we end up in a political situation dominated by loud-mouthed extremists, not unlike the situation today in, eh, the USA…


From: [withheld] (Foreign Relations)
Sent: Friday, September 17, 2010 16:27 PM
To: Ulf Erlingsson
Subject: Re: Update on Honduras

[removed on the author’s request]

I appreciate that he took the time to respond, but frankly, it might have been advisable to read the email he was responding to first, to avoid beating down open doors. As for the claims that he made in the first response, there is that little problem that in all the cases that I have tried to investigate, I have never found evidence to support it. It is not very professional to write the way he does, especially for someone employed by an actual government. Let alone in a superpower.

To Honduras I say, don’t try to become like USA. Put your ambition level much higher than that!

Innovation: The Sediment Spill Case

What creates competitiveness? How does a company, a region, or a country get an edge? The question is of concern for the European Union, since the US of A and parts of Asia typically outperform the EU in innovation. However, it is of even greater concern for a third world country. What is a country such as Honduras to do to catch up with the industrialized nations? Obviously there is no point in just copying what they have done, since the target is moving. The ambition must be to be ahead of the pack, and for that innovation is necessary.

Today I stumbled upon an interesting book, “The Innovation Platform – Enabling balance between growth and renewal” (VINNOVA Report VR 2009:25, by Niklas Arvidsson & Ulf Mannervik). The key concept is that the business cycle has two phases, exploration and exploitation.

Most of the time the economy is in an exploitation phase, gradually refining itself to maximize profitability. This is the part of the business cycle when the profits are raked, the conservative, cautious phase. However, if it stays too long in this phase it will stagnate, and the risk is that another actor, region, or country will out-compete it with a novel innovation. So every now and then the cycle has to shift to the explorative phase.

In the explorative phase more money is spent on pursuing ideas, trying novel things, not just in technology but also in rearranging the market, and generally in disassembling and recreating the structures in a part of the economy. The book mentions some examples from Sweden, including a new strategy for developing medicines, and the development of titanium screws for dental implants.

The authors write that policy-makers have to become aware of the two different modes of operation, because if they aren’t, they will typically end up inadvertently strengthening status quo when they try to stimulate innovation. They also argue that the key is the switching between the exploitation and the exploration phase, and back again, and point to the crucial role that social networks played in their case studies.

It is hardly surprising that in all three case studies the innovation was met with a significant resistance from established actors. It is rather self-evident that companies that are making a profit and are in the exploitation phase do not wish for change to come (nor do the trade unions for that matter, they have a vested interest with their employers). The ones to challenge the existing order are the entrepreneurs, one or at most a couple of persons who had the vision of a better solution, and who were fortunate enough to have access to the financing required to carry out their vision. Because it is not cheap. Innovation of a scale that changes a market model takes many years, it is not comparable to a simple invention of a new product, something that can be done within a year.

Spill Monitoring and the SediMeter

One reason I enjoyed reading this book so much was that I recognize my own situation, in a much more modest context, of course. Three factors combined to make me realize a few years back that an innovation was called for, and that I was in the position to make it happen.

First, I had been an expert for the Swedish government in auditing the sediment spill measurements from the largest and most ambitious such project in the world, the building of the Öresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. This had taught me the details of the measurement challenge, the statistics, and the regulatory implications. It had also made me realize that the present method of doing things was not optimal from a cost-benefit point of view.

Second, I had invented an instrument that would be useful for monitoring the siltation that sediment spill causes, the SediMeter. It was on the market but the model was not optimized for the task, having been developed for a different purpose.

Third, after coming to Florida, where I taught Environmental Science and Oceanography, and studied up on the local issues and regulations, I realized that change was needed. The Clean Water Act says that the turbidity shall be measured at a distance of 150 m (500 feet to be precise) in the center of the plume with a specific design of instrument. The method is highly subjective, cannot be audited, and since it is established in the law (not regulation, but law) there is no room for development. let alone innovation. At the same time, it seems clear that sediment spill has indeed caused environmental damage, e.g. to the coral reefs in southern Florida (the world’s third largest coral reef tract). The law benefits the polluters at the expense of the environment.

What I did was to start from the opposite end, looking at how biotopes can be affected by the spill. Based on that, and on an understanding of the regulation and auditing requirements, I designed a way to regulate that involves measuring as close to the impact as possible – and that uses stationary monitoring instruments rather than ships, since ship time is very expensive. With that regulatory framework defined, I went to the next step, to develop a SediMeter and software based on the requirements that followed from the specification.

With distributors around the world, this solution is now being actively marketed in many countries. Fortunately, in most countries implementing a new method can probably be made without legislative change. However, the U.S. is an exception.

Why does the U.S. have even the instrument design in the law? It is an obvious case of locking down technology for an exploitation phase. It allowed manufacturers to invest in a specific technology and optimize that for profitability. This created a de facto U.S. standard that is different from the international (ISO) standard. When it comes to the requirement for measuring 150 m away that is rather logical; the law was apparently written with rivers in mind, and there it is a reasonable rule. It was subsequently applied also in the ocean, even though the rule is, as I have said, quite inappropriate there. Thus the need for change.


Some conclusions that can be drawn, and that may be of use for policy-makers, are the following:

Laws should deal with principles, not details. Details should be left for the regulating agency, so that they can be modified as innovation takes place, and so that the law does not stifle development. The significance of this is to not put up obstacles for moving from an exploitation phase to an exploration phase.

For innovation to take place two things are required: An entrepreneur, and resources. Resources is more than capital, it is also information, communication, supplies, machines, raw materials, and access to people to ask advice from. Still, there must be risk capital available for the entrepreneur in this exploration phase, since there is a significant risk involved, and it may be many years before the full payoff comes.

For the switch back from the exploration to the exploitation phase the entrepreneur must be able to get acceptance for the novelty. This can be done by scientific publication. The implication for a third world country is that it is important to have qualified scholars who can get published in appropriate journals. In all three case studies in the Swedish book there were university scholars involved.

Finally, for the exploitation phase to be successful it is beneficial to have a social network with companies that can complement each other, and cost-optimize the service of the market. As the book I mentioned initially says, in at least one of the case studies the original developer company later specialized, which opened the field for a range of other companies that each one serviced a narrow segment, plus companies that serviced these companies. This created an environment, a cluster, which in turn leads to more chances for development.

If we look at Honduras, I believe the main problem is that the country is firmly locked in an exploitation phase, with virtually no possibility for shifting to an exploration mode; partly for administrative reasons, partly for economical reasons. Those that are making money today have made sure that the system does not change. If the country is to become a developed nation, and not an impoverished emigrant nation, permitting innovation is the first thing to do.

Why is TV Channel 8 so important in Honduras?

The situation in Honduras has not normalized. The new president, Porfirio Lobo, or “Pepe”, is continuing a policy of his elected predecessor Manuel Zelaya to ignore Supreme Court rulings. A couple of years ago the highest judicial authority in Honduras ruled that TV channel 8 was to be controlled by Mr Afiusa. However, president Zelaya refused to accept that verdict, wanting the frequency instead for a government channel. When Zelaya was deposed last year, for violating another Supreme Court ruling, interim president Micheletti started paying rent for channel 8 to Mr. Afiusa, and declared that the state channel started by Zelaya to propagate his plans for overthrowing the constitution was operated illegally, and should be shut down.

Manuel Zelaya in Costa Rica, with pajama over street clothes, June 28, 2009.
Manuel Zelaya in Costa Rica, with pajama over street clothes, June 28, 2009.

However, Pepe refuses to abide by the court decision, and sent the matter to Congress. Yesterday the Congress passed a motion declaring that channel 8 belongs to the state. A minority vehemently opposed the move, saying that it violates the Constitution and the separation of powers.

But why on earth is it so important for the government to have channel 8, as opposed to another channel, like 20 for instance, which it already has the right to?

About this one can only speculate. Is it a mere coincidence that their southern neighbor, the ALBA-country Nicaragua, earlier this year bought the private TV-channel 8? This temporarily forced off the air a debate program led by Carlos Fernando Chamorro (son of former president Violeta Chamorro), a strong critic of the present president and former revolutionary Daniel Ortega.

Or is it a mere coincidence that the state TV-network In Venezuela sends on channel 8 in all the country? Chavez’s Sunday TV show “Alo Presidente” is seen on Venezolana de Television (VTV) every Sunday, and so are the “news” broadcasts from TeleSur, the international satellite TV channel that staged “news” in Honduras last year.

Is it, furthermore, a mere coincidence that the vote in the parliament was accompanied by street violence targeting news media and the human rights ombudsman, and led by Zelaya’s local henchmen, people like Rasel Tomé, Rafael Alegría, and Juan Barahona? Tomé was intimately connected to the illegally run channel 8 during the Zelaya administration, and Alegría has been denounced as leading street violence with mobs paid by Chávez.

The eery feeling in Honduras under Lobo is of a “dejá vu all over again”. Lobo misunderstood the lesson from June 28 last year. Instead of learning that nobody is above the law not even the president, he understood that a president is an elected modern-day king. Why did he get it wrong? Simple. The international community reacted as if the president is a modern-day elected king, and that’s the lesson he learned.

The international community reacted all wrong, but not by chance. The news cycle was dominated by a Chávez channel, TeleSur. The UN General Assembly was controlled by a Sandinista revolutionary. The OAS was controlled by an Allende-friend. The deck of cards was stacked against the rule of law, and the majority of countries were sleep-walking, believing that someone else was in charge on the bridge, controlling the helm.

Let us hope and pray that there won’t be a next time, but above all, let’s work to avoid a repetition by spreading the news a bit better. Shall we?

Read more at La Gringa’s Blogicito – and check the comments too for more info.

Dick Emanuelsson i blåsväder – igen

Dick Emanuelsson är en svensk journalist som skriver för den fd kommunistiska tidningen Norrskensflamman, nu bara Flamman, från Honduras huvudstad Tegucigalpa. Han skriver också mycket på nätet på spanska. De som läser både svenska och spanska kan notera att det han skriver på respektive språk inte alltid verkar stå i så bra samklang med vartannat.

Detta, jämte observationer jag gjort då jag nära följt hans arbete i Honduras efter att de rättsvårdande institutionerna förra året avsatte president Zelaya, gör att jag betraktar Emanuelsson mera som en politisk infiltratör än som journalist. Hans journalistställning är, enligt min uppfattning, en täckmantel, och ett inträdespass till rum dit han annars inte skulle kunna ta sig.

När det gäller Honduras har jag konstaterat hur Emanuelsson, i intervjuer av ledare för dem som kallar sig “motståndsrörelsen” (men som alltså är de som stödde Zelayas – av högsta domstolen förbjudna – försök till konstitutionell statskupp), lagt ord och policy i deras mun. Genom att följa händelserna i landet i realtid kunde jag konstatera att denna rörelses strategi och inställning verkade komma från Emanuelsson, förmedlad i intervjuer med rörelsens ledare i vilka Emanuelsson skickligt styrde konversationen till den punkt han ville få fram. Eftersom Emanuelssons texter på spanska har mycket stor spridning i den latinamerikanska vänstern, medan rörelsens ledare har små möjligheter att nå ut med sitt budskap direkt utan är beroende av media, så har Emanuelsson kunnat inympa sin ideologi på utvecklingen i Honduras, enligt min analys.

Och var är då Emanuelssons ideologi, vilken riktning har han drivit rörelsen i? Jo, i konfrontationens riktning. Han har pushat för att inte prata med företrädarna för staten eller medelklassen, utan att ta en stenhård konfrontativ attityd, vilket har inneburit våldsamma demonstrationer på gatorna istället för en fredlig och konstruktiv dialog.

Detta har inte gynnat någon i Honduras. Det har varit en katastrofal policy, även för vänstern själv.

Förra året inbjöd interimspresident Roberto Micheletti representanter för alla grupper i Honduras – inklusive de som kallar sig “motståndsrörelsen” – till en dialog för att lösa den politiska krisen, och börja ta itu med de underliggande frågor som hade utlöst den akuta krisen. Detta var ett gyllene tillfälle för vänstern.

Jag har själv i många år argumenterat för att reformer är nödvändiga i Honduras. För att en dialog mellan företagarna och arbetarna är nödvändig. För att en ny social ordning är nödvändig, kanske med förebild av den svenska Saltsjöbadsandan. Men intresset från de rikas sida har varit svalt.

Tills i fjol höstas. Då förlorade de pengar i floder, och de insåg att de hade allt att vinna på att gå med på kompromisser. Krisen medförde en möjlighet till en ny nationell anda, till att Honduras skulle kunna enas som ett folk, med större solidaritet inom landet än till de olika gruppernas egna intressen. Tiden var mogen. Jag var bland dem som föreslog och argumenterade för att Micheletti skulle bjuda in till en stor nationell dialog, därför att jag hörde genom mina kontakter att de som tidigare varit mot dialog nu var beredda att samtala.

Men vad hände? Vänstern vägrade. De hade en unik chans, och kastade bort den! Nu är det för sent. Loppet är kört. De ekonomisk förlusterna har redan tagits, och arbetarna har inte längre något att erbjuda företagarna i en kompromiss. De spelade bort sina kort.

Och var stod Emanuelsson i detta? Jo, helt klart sympatiserade han med de kompromisslösa. Med de som i Sverige skulle kunna karaktäriseras som gammelkommunister, för vilka ingen dialog är möjlig, ingen kompromiss är önskvärd, och för vilka kapitalismen är ett otyg som måste utplånas. Som vi vet är det inte där framtiden ligger.

Så enligt min uppfattning har Emanuelsson skadat Honduras, men såvitt jag är medveten om har han i huvudsak gjort det genom att agera lagligt, om än moraliskt tveksamt. Till exempel har han skrivit saker som jag uppfattar som krigshets mot Honduras (och vilket jag bloggade om här). Men alldeles oavsett sådana saker, så har han skadat landet genom att sprida gammelkommunistiska idéer från historiens sophög. Han är en skam för Sverige, men så länge han agerar demokratiskt och lagligt så har han rätt att fortsätta. Detta har också Micheletti-administrationen varit medvetna om. De kände mycket väl till vad han gjorde, och från vad jag hört var instruktionen att låta honom arbeta ostört, med mindre han begick något uppenbart brott. Han måste ju själv ha insett att han var under bevakning, det är ju självklart, och något annat skulle vara tjänstefel av säkerhetstjänsten.

Den senaste tiden har dock en incident kommit fram i samband med en demonstration i Honduras. En pressfotograf som jobbat för Micheletti blev tydligen olagligt visiterad av demonstrationsledningen, enligt en bloggartikel av Jorge Copelan, och Dick Emanuelsson var tydligen intimt förknippad med denna händelse, att döma av Copelans text. Kanske Emanuelsson gått över linjen, som det heter på engelska. Kanske kände han sig provocerad, men det är ingen ursäkt. Om han sticker ut hakan så mycket som han gjort så måste han tåla att pressfotografer fotograferar honom. Det är ju faktiskt deras jobb!

Låt mig också påpeka att i Copelans artikel om Dick Emanuelsson finns direkta felaktigheter i sak, samt en partiell redovisning av vissa andra fakta som är gjord i propagandasyfte. Till exempel, mordfrekvensen i Honduras utelämnas. Den är skyhög, faktiskt världens högsta. Att 10 journalister strukit med är inte så högt över vad som gäller för andra yrkesgrupper. Dessutom har en studie gjord av en opartisk observatör i USA visat att det inte finns något mönster för vilka journalister som mördats, annat än att möjligen samtliga rapporterat om organiserad brottslighet. De mördade är både sådana som sympatiserat med Zelaya, med Micheletti, och politiskt neutrala, utan klar tendens.

Om Emanuelsson har gjort något olagligt eller ej kan inte jag svara på, men om han bor i Honduras så måste han underställa sig honduransk lag och acceptera deras rättsvårdande myndigheter. Vill han inte det så föreslår jag att han åker hem till Sverige, och har han inte råd med det så föreslår jag UD att de hjälper honom; dels för hans skull, dels för Sveriges skull, men även för Honduras och Latinamerikas skull. Han har ju tidigare tvingats lämna Colombia efter att ha haft alltför nära kontakter med den i Sverige terroriststämplade FARC-gerillan, känd för kidnappningar, knarkhandel och sin kommunistiska ideologi. Vill han inte till Sverige kanske Kuba kan ta emot honom.