Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

On oil and human rights

Two comments posted today to which I can only briefly reply:

Doug wrote:
I know you talked about Petrocaribe and the whole problem a few years back with Chevron/Texaco. Venezuela formalized the 20,000 barrel embargo today; that seems quite a big hole to fill considering consupltion is around 45-50K a day. Any thoughts?

Honduran sources claim that they have arranged contracts to cover the shortfall, as of July 16. But my partner notes that a Central American think tank did an economic analysis that found it unlikely that the de facto government can continue, financially, through until the elections.

The issue of access to oil is complicated by the condition of distribution infrastructure, including damage that occurred in the May earthquake, which left only two ports, on on the Gulf of Fonseca, the other Tela on the Caribbean, able to receive oil tankers.

This has been being dealt with by trucking oil in from Guatemala. Needless to say, if Guatemala cuts off commerce, that becomes difficult. And as takeovers of the highways are one of the principle protest tactics, it seems likely that oil distribution will become problematic rapidly.

Meanwhile, Nell, commenting on "Fear the Dark", draws attention to one of the odd ways the Honduran crisis is shifting what should be known actors into unfamiliar positions:
The freedom of expression is being violated in diverse forms, using methods of boycott, of persecution and intimidation, which is the object of strong denunciation with international organizations for the defense of human rights, although not in what corresponds to the national commission on human rights, for reasons known to everyone and that aren't worth the trouble to explain.
This paragraph of the editorial reminded me of a question I've had since learning of the dispute in Honduras just days before the coup. I have a reasonably good grasp on Central American politics generally, though most familiar with El Salvador. I have not followed events in Honduras closely for quite some time. So it came as a real shock to read the open support of Ramon Custodio for the coup, his denials that press censorship is happening, etc.

Can you give me an idea of when Custodio began to move to the right? My previous exposure was to his work at CODEH in the 1980s and 1990s.

I also find tantalizing the "for reasons known to everyone" phrase above. I expected some very obvious, single point of conflict between Custodio and Zelaya.

Instead, what I found is what seems to have been a constant and increasingly tense set of confrontations between them. They seem to be as much personal as substantive, although Custodio frames his support for the coup as a continuation of his anti-authoritarian position.

This illustrates one of the confusing things about current events in Honduras: divisions among the main political players are not primarily right/left, even though the de facto government and media allies tried to frame things in terms of a leftward move by Zelaya and the necessity of fighting the supposed coming wave of socialism. As the LA Times story I cite above notes, the two main parties differ less on ideology, and more on history and social connections.

Custodio came out publicly against the June 28 poll and his rhetoric at the time was extremely intemperate, claiming that to participate in the poll would make people look like "clowns".

Back in March of 2008, there were stories about him criticizing the Zelaya government for postponing action (one of the key criticisms of the Zelaya government is that it has been ineffectual). The same news reports describing Custodio being criticized in turn on government television, to which he took offense. And in January of this year, as a member of the committee selecting Supreme Court nominees, he complained publicly of pressure from the Presidency to favor some candidates.

I don't think his current support for the de facto government can be characterized so simply as a "move to the right"; rather, it looks like he simply has had a very long bad relationship with the President. That, perhaps combined with a real belief that Zelaya was somehow a Chávez equivalent, seems to have led him to declare for the coup.

At times things got very personal: Custodio gave an interview criticizing Zelaya for horseback-riding and told him to stop taking part in parades and start governing instead. While the press implied that this was in part a critique of his growing closeness to Nicaragua and Daniel Ortega, because the events critiqued were in Nicaragua, it seems pretty oblique as a critique of his association with the left. Instead, it looks like a very sharp criticism of Zelaya for being ineffectual, boiled down to a personal defect.

Custodio, in fact, originally supported the Petrocaribe deal due to its good effects on the poor, being quoted in Costa Rican media in January 2008 as criticizing the Zelaya government for taking too long to make the deal.

But by then he was already speaking out publicly about threats he saw from drug trafficking and his concern that the police were infiltrated by the drug trade. EFE News reported on April 25, 2006 that Custodio was calling for Zelaya to clean up the police.

The earliest hint of some discord between Zelaya and Custodio I know of actually dates to the campaign for presidency itself in 2005, when Custodio criticized both major parties for running a dirty campaign, then criticize the Electoral Tribunal for making an early call of the election for Zelaya.

There also were running points of tension between them about press freedom. Custodio criticized Zelaya's attempt to establish requirements for the media to carry a certain amount of government information every day in 2007, and covered what he said were rising threats against journalists from the Zelaya government. This last role makes his claims that there are no acts of suppression of a free press now quite hard to understand.

While I still assume there was some very obvious specific event that caused the tension between them, I missed it when it happened originally and now cannot locate any trace of it in the Honduran press.


Nell said...

Thanks very much for this, RAJ. It seemed clear that the hostility had been around for some time, so it looks as if it predated 2005.

The reason I describe it as a move to the right is that since the coup, Custodio has been pushing lines that only the rightists use (there's been no coup, it's a democratic transition, there's been no press censorship, there's no repression).

The latest is the ultimate, the end of anyone taking him seriously as a human rights spokesman ever again. La Prensa reports him making a huge fuss, claiming that the military couldn't have killed Isy Murillo because they were armed only with rubber bullets. That lie is so easily discredited that it makes him seem unhinged (mainstream press photos taken immediately after the shootings show shell casings, the BBC has video of the military firing into the crowd).

What a sad spectacle of disintegration.

Do you know when Custodio's term ends? Whoever wins the November elections needs to replace him with someone of integrity. Polarized as things are, I recognize that it's going to be difficult to find someone genuinely concerned about human rights that the anti-Zelaya faction won't smear as socialist, a Chavez puppet, etc.

RAJ said...

Custodio's current six year appointment began in 2008. Even before the Zelaya government, when it became obvious that he was veering into politics, a third-party assessment noted that he was moving away from concerns with traditional human rights issues and into more critique of government. As noted his current statements really do place him in a position lacking credibility.

RAJ said...

Further to the debunking of Custodio's claim that only rubber bullets were fired (as if that would be OK), today the DIN (Honduras' equivalent to the FBI) confirmed recovery of 146 or 170 5.56 caliber bullets-- M16 ammunition. This is the Honduran army weapon. None were crimped as they would be for rubber bullets. This from Honduran papers today.

Doug said...

Raj -

Thanks for the post on the Oil situation. Even if they can find the physical supply, I read somewhere that Petrocaribe gave Honduras half now, half later terms, in addition to a price break. If so, it would seem really hard to lose that.

Doug said...


Re "La Prensa reports him making a huge fuss", I remember reading that too from Tuesday and thinking, wha..

The line "Quien disparó quería que esa persona muriera" that he he used really perplexes me. I don't know if he's accusing someone in the crowd of intentionally shooting the young man in order to lay it at trhe military's feet, but if so, he's needs a lot of evidence to back that up. That's poison..

BTW, the "quien disparo queria" quote comes from here Can't link.

RAJ said...

Custodio's remark is almost certainly part of a thread of commentary circulating in Honduras that claims that the death(s) at Toncontin were the result of outside agitators who came prepared to shoot and kill to incite a riot. This is, as Doug says, poison, and in some news items, the blame is being directed at Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans. Needless to say, that is more than poison: it is incendiary.

RAJ said...

The conditions of the original Petrocaribe contract were reported on January 30, 2008, to include deferred payment of 40% of the bill, over the course of 25 years, at an interest rate of 1%. At that time, the new contract was projected to cover 70% of the oil used in generating electricity in the country, and 30% of the gasoline used in the country. That is what has been lost with the withdrawal of the contract.

The contract also involved credits back for the 40% that was paid, which could be used for development projects and grants. Payment could be arranged in forms other than currency, such as agricultural products.

Ironically, this January 2008 article was primarily about complaints by Custodio that Zelaya's government hadn't signed the contract quickly enough.