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.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It seems that the aid termination does hurt, however much money is at stake...

...although it is unclear if it is simply that the coup regime is so insulted at having its friends act even mildly against it, or if they are really thinking about the economic effects of being cut off from the world more rationally now.

In the continued absence of more decisive action by the US (e.g. declaring this a military coup and cutting off all aid, freezing bank accounts, stopping remittances...) the chances of the mild pressure being applied bearing any fruit probably depend on whether or not the reactions reported in the Honduran press are real concern or just hurt feelings.

An article in pro-coup La Tribuna quoting the de facto regime's designate to run the treasury, Gabriela Nuñez, tends toward the hurt feelings end of the spectrum. Repeating one of the themes of the coup regime, she asks that the international community respect the decisions that have been adopted in Honduras.

At the same time, unlike other voices from the regime, including Carlos Kattan suggesting that Canada or Japan could fill the gap a US withdrawal of economic partnership would leave, Nuñez today admits that as Hondurans we also should recognize that we also need them.

Nuñez' views may partly come from her assessment of the impact of the US aid cut-off, which she set yesterday at $122 million and today says could be $200 million. The latter figure matches one floated in New York Times reporting, attributed to a senior US official, although furiously contested by coup apologists trying to minimize the impact of the US aid cutoff.

Of course, Nuñez has her own reasons to paint the worst-case scenario. It seems that she, along with others in the coup regime, are suddenly realizing that there are poor people in Honduras who may suffer economically. The Tribuna article has her estimating these funds will harm 18,000 campesinos:
This is a problem that has great humanitarian implications, because it will affect campesinos in the departments of Intibucá, Lempira, Copán, Colón and in other zones of the country.
Curious choices of examples of affected departments, since the four named happen to include large indigenous and african-descendant populations (Lenca, Chorti, Pech and Garifuna), groups that have been among those most strongly protesting the coup d'etat and resisting the de facto regime.

And of course, if all US aid were cut off, those people would be among those affected.

But they are not the principal beneficiaries of the projects terminated yesterday. The funding cut hit the government, the military, and the owners of road-building companies and businesses dependent on road transport.

It affected development of roads that run from the Department of Cortés in the north through Comayagua, Francisco Morazan, and Choluteca in the south, the axis from Puerto Cortés to the port of Amapala, running through the cities of San Pedro Sula, Comayagua, and Tegucigalpa.

Nuñez's statement is a kind of shell game, trying to substitute a more sympathetic target for the one really hit yesterday.

What was eliminated? According to a US State Department briefing, one big piece was US AID funds for
trade capacity building and support for Honduran ministries of labor and education.
Altogether, US AID funding terminated was $9.4 million. (The State Department explicitly noted that while $2.7 million of US AID funds for child survival and health were terminated, other funds in the same category were continuing as humanitarian aid.)

An additional $8.96 million of State Department funds went to a variety of military purposes, and another $1.7 million was for "security-related funding".

Finally, there was $11 million of "already suspended" MCC funds. Here is where there seems to be a virtual free-for-all in estimates offered by government officials in Honduras and in the US.

According to the MCC's own website, funding approved for Honduras is destined for
Strategic investments in Rural Development and Transportation [that] will increase the productivity and business skills of farmers and their employees who operate small- and medium-sized farms, and will reduce transportation costs between targeted production centers and national, regional, and global markets.
In practice, the majority of projects included are road improvements, including the development of the Pacific to Atlantic trucking corridor called in Honduras the "dry canal" (canal seco) because it realizes on land the centuries-old dream of a Pacific-Atlantic corridor, the goal of canal-building schemes in the 19th century already described as a land route in letters to the Spanish Crown in the 1530s.

$125 million of the total approved MCC funding of $215 million was destined for the transportation project. Just over $72 million was originally allocated for rural development, including over $21 million for feeder roads through which farm products reach the main transport system.

(By August 2009, the amount directed to the rural development project had risen to almost $75 million, while the transportation project stayed just under $124 million. The remaining funding is directed to administration and monitoring.)

An update posted on August 28 on MCC's site says the as of "the last quarterly status report, over $191 million has been disbursed or committed to contracts" leaving $25 million to commit. The PDF quarterly report accompanying that statement clarifies that only $80 million had been disbursed by August 2009, leaving $111 million of the committed funding open to suspension or termination.

Or maybe not. Consider this from the September 3 briefing:
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. In terms of total money going into Honduras that was in the pipeline, which includes MCC, which is 135, was 200. Going to the Honduran – that amount going to the Honduran Government, a total of about a hundred, of which the 30 has been – the 22 – about 22, not counting the MCC, so – because the 30-plus that we’re talking about is the MCC 11 plus another roughly 22, and so another balance of about 70 or so that comes under that category of humanitarian assistance that we’re continuing. So roughly 70 would be the number. And we can get you more details on that if you’d like them of what that – what all that entails.
Crystal clear, right?

$135 million in the pipeline from MCC, and $70 million in continuing humanitarian aid.

Or maybe not.

Since the $70 million is what's left of $100 million "going to the Honduran Government" minus the $30 million being terminated, which itself is made up of $22 million of US government funding plus $11 million of MCC funding (yes, 22+11= 30: call it new new math).

So if there was originally about $100 million of aid going to Honduras, of which $22 million was just terminated, that would imply up to $78 million in continuing "humanitarian" aid.

And what does our humanitarian aid do? It supports a variety of programs, according to the State Department briefing, including
teacher training, basic education, girl's leadership skills training, food security, aid to small farmers, biodiversity, anti-gang, youth-at-risk activities... designed to assist the most vulnerable.
"The most vulnerable". That (inadvertently) echoes the way that Myrna Castro, coup regime functionary at the Ministry of Culture, described indigenous, rural, and african-descendant people in her famous rant against bookmobiles and libraries.

And maybe these are the people in Lempira, Intibucá, Copán and Colón who Gabriela Nuñez wants us to imagine are suffering most from the US aid termination.

But the real people hurting own the road construction companies, the shipping companies, and the businesses making money by selling products up and down Honduras. The same groups profiting from the splurge of legislation by the congress since the coup.

As La Tribuna notes,
In the preceding days, Núñez had indicated that what was pending for disbursement [from the MCC] in the rest of 2009 is around $28 million, to pay the construction companies.
And these are the people who shaped the coup d'etat.

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