Tag Archives: Honduras

Uganda’s anti-gay law has roots in USA

Sometimes finding a local-global connection is not hard.

Today Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed a law into effect that threatens jail terms up to life for anyone having gay sex. The law also allows authorities to toss into jail anyone failing to report any knowledge of gay activity. (Uganda’s Museveni signs anti-gay bill, defying donors, Washington)

On the bright side, the new law does not threaten death, as the first iteration in 2009 did.

And where did this great idea come from?

Well it seems that the religious right from the United States have moved their fight against “the gay agenda” from the States — where they are losing their bigoted/homophobic battle — to Africa, where already conservative societies are ready to show how tough they are.

Back in 2010, Jeffrey Gettleman reported for the New York Times on the influence of the U.S. religious right in creating  the atmosphere for the original legislation — that provided the death penalty for gays — to the version just signed into law. (Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push)

There is even a documentary of how the religious right pushed their agenda in Uganda: God Loves Uganda.

The BBC has a great piece from December 2013 about the law along with a map showing the dismal state of gay rights in Africa. (Ugandan MPs pass life in jail anti-homosexual law)

Besides activities of individual churches in Uganda, one of the main driving forces in setting the atmosphere for the legislation is a group known simply as The Family. One less kind term is The Christian Mafia(C Street politics: The Family sponsors death for homosexuals in UgandaThe Family is based out of a C Street house in Washington, DC and includes many of the power brokers in the city. 

And there is Jeff Sharlet’s account in his book The Family and in articles. (HarpersStraight Man’s Burden: The American roots of Uganda’s anti-gay persecutions)

Once the scope of the legislation was fully realized — and most likely the political fallout at home — The Family and many of its members came out against “Kill Gays” legislation. But did nothing to stop the legislation that is now law.

A major player in the religious right in the United States used its contacts and influence to promote an agenda that is the antithesis of peace and understanding — items I was taught are the foundations of Christian belief. I have seen hundreds of Christian organizations work in Honduras, Brazil and the Dominican Republic. It is true in some cases the individuals seemed to care more for passing out bibles than providing for the physical well-being of the people served. But by and large these are good people providing housing, medical care and education to people denied the basics by their own societies.

And The Family will say they also provide help to the poor. And they do. But they — and their followers/supporters — also bring hate and fear.

The link between what is happening in Uganda and the United States is direct. And it is a shame that an organization based in the United States with many members of Congress listed as members/associates has helped create an atmosphere of persecution that has now led to a law that could jail hundreds — if not thousands — for just being human.

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Filed under Africa, Connections, International News Coverage

Connecting corruption and traffic lights

I really like it when experts (and journalists) take a complicated issue and connect it to something John and Jane Doe on Main Street can understand.

And Alejandro Salas, Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International, has done just that: CPI 2013: TRAFFIC LIGHTS IN THE AMERICAS – LIFESAVERS OR URBAN DECORATIONS?

Salas notes that in Latin America there are some pretty tough traffic laws and really draconian laws against corrupt practices. And yet in most of Latin America a red light is a suggestion to stop rather than a command. Likewise, business and government officials see the need to engage in corrupt practices because, “it is the way to get things done” thus making the anti-corruption laws suggestions rather than anything that should be enforced.

If you look at the Transparency International Corruption Index for 2013, you can see a correlation between corruption and traffic deaths, granted not a perfect 1:1 but enough to draw some useful conclusions.

Country TI Ranking Deaths per 100,000
Canada 9 6.8
United States 19 11.4
Uruguay 19 21.5
Costa Rica 49 12.7
Brazil 72 22.5
Peru 83 15.9
El Salvador 83 21.9
Ecuador 102 27.0
Argentina 106 12.6
Dominican Republic 123 41.7
Honduras 140 18.8
Venezuela                160 37.2

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Filed under Connections, Corruption

Pot, meet kettle. Russian media question Honduran elections

It really is funny to see a Russian operation raise questions about the fairness of any election. (Four years after coup: Will Honduran elections be fair?)

And the reporter picked one of the least objective sources for the basis of the article. Opinions are fine if identified as such, but there was absolutely no effort at balance in this “news” story from Honduras.

 

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Filed under Central America, Honduras, International News Coverage

ICFJ working to improve journalism in Latin America

Too often too many journalists see government agencies as only the enemy. A place to attack for information.

Hell, I often think that way too. Way too many bureaucrats think that because they have a top-secret clearance (or just access to info that I don’t but need for a story) they have a god-given right to NOT talk to me and not release the information. Even though that information is a.) not classified and b.) the public’s property.

But every now and then a government agency (or two) does the right thing and actually promotes freedom of the press and increased access to government information.

In this case, the US Agency for International Development and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department are promoting all these good things in other countries. It is a good and proper thing they are doing.

Working with the International Center for Journalists, these two US government offices are running a multi-year program — which means it is exempt from the current government shutdown — “to build the capacity of investigative journalists in eight target countries, including Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.”

  • The participating journalists will attend series of country-specific workshops on digital and mobile security and developing investigative projects beginning later this month.
  • The journalists will also engage in a  four-week online training course on developing transnational investigative reporting projects along with security protocols for editors and reporters.
  • The ICFJ will help provide online resources and access to database sets that are useful for news reports and are searchable in Spanish.
  • Reporters, editors and media owners will get training in sustainability models and strategies so that what they learned will not go to waste. The training will include how to develop a Latin American Investigative Network of journalists and news organizations.
  • Lastly, the reporters will learn new digital research tools that will help them cover specialized topics of interest.

These are excellent countries for this program.

All of the countries suffer from government institutions that are even more hesitant than their USA counterparts to share information. They are in countries where moneyed interests don’t want their secrets revealed and who are often all to ready to pay for thugs to intimidate and kill nosy journalists. They also come from places where the news organizations often spend less on quality journalism training than even the most cash-strapped USA news group.

In the specific cases of Nicaragua and Ecuador, the journalists are facing hostile governments that have a long-distance relationship with the concept of free and independent media. The other countries do not face government intimidation, rather physical dangers come from gangs and thugs.

The US agencies are providing a leg up and a helping hand to the journalists who want to do their jobs properly and who want to hold their governments and business interests accountable to the public. (I know several journalists like this in Honduras. Their biggest problems are intimidation by the gangs. Many also face lack of proper financial and training support from their publishers.)

Rather than shy away from such US government support, American journalism organizations should embrace, encourage and work with these agencies to help improve the quality of journalism in the developing world. Between the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Radio, Television and Digital News Directors there are more than enough qualified journalists with the necessary journalism and language skills to help around the world.

And if the national organizations won’t step up, maybe some local chapters should.

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Filed under Central America, Connections, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, South America

Addressing impunity is a global issue not limited to just the media

Being a journalist has never been a safe job in many countries and the arrest rate and death toll makes that clear.

  • 984 journalists and media workers were killed since 1992
  • 19 journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year
  • 594 of the murders have not been investigated or prosecuted
  • 232 journalists are in jail for doing their job

The raw numbers of murders and jailings are frightening. What is especially frightening is the impunity that so many murders can be left unaddressed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a new report on Pakistan and the lack of follow-up in the murders of 20 journalists. (Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press And the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics)

According to the report, Pakistan ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the press today.

But just in case you think the problem is limited to the volatile area of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, think again.

Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, is also dangerous for journalists. (The numbers from the rest of Central America are not so great either. )

Murder Chart

The InterAmerican Press Association (SIPA in Spanish) sent a special team to Honduras to look into the situation. (Misión de la SIP llega a evaluar libertad de expresión) The IAPA/SIPA team is looking at more than just the murders of journalists. It is looking to see how the Honduran government is living up to its pledges of a year ago to protect journalists and to prosecute those who attack journalists.

(FYI: The IAPA/SIPA has a whole project on impunity. Going to its reports page you can see that Honduras is mentioned a lot but so is Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. No one country in the Western Hemisphere has a monopoly on impunity when it comes to the harassment and murder of journalists.)

One thing to remember is that impunity comes from a government’s lack of political will to deal with the situation. The inaction is not because of a government policy to target the journalists and other defenders of human rights. (Unlike places such as China, Venezuela and Cuba where the weight and anger of the rulers and their supporters are indeed targeted against independent media outlets.)

The CPJ report on Pakistan is clear about this:

The violence comes in the context of a government’s struggle to deliver basic human rights to all citizens. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laid it out succinctly when it said in its annual report in March 2012 that “militancy, growing lawlessness, and ethnic, sectarian and political violence exposed the government’s inability to ensure security and law and order for people in large parts of the country.”

In Honduras, the CPJ notes:

CPJ research shows that the authorities have been slow and negligent in investigating numerous journalist murders and other anti-press crimes since the 2009 coup

And

Journalists who report on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, government corruption, and land conflicts face frequent threats and attacks in a nation so gripped by violence and lawlessness that it has become one of the most murderous places in the world.

Unfortunately because Honduras is the murder capital of the world, journalists doing their jobs could be caught in the crossfire, be targeted for reasons other than journalism or maybe not even be targeted but just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

None of that dismisses the pain and suffering the families and a free society feels because of the killings. It just may be that the journalists are not targeted because they are journalists. But without vigorous and successful investigations and prosecutions we will never know.

And that brings up to the real point.

The main problem in Pakistan is the same as the problem in Honduras: Weak government agencies unwilling to do anything or who frightened into doing nothing.

Addressing the issue of impunity, therefore becomes more than complaining about how the media (or lawyers or reform politicians or students) are treated.  It is a problem of strengthening government agencies to allow them to step up and address the growing chaos in their societies. And it is a problem that requires the rest of society also to step up and demand better of their governments.

The prosecutors and judges in the countries are often afraid to order investigations and prosecute the killers of journalists because then their lives (and the lives of their families) are put at risk. Likewise, individual citizens could quickly become targets if they start demanding justice for those human rights defenders that are killed.

Yet, the only way to seriously address the problem of impunity is to strengthen civic society organizations while providing protection to the most outspoken of the society.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to the impunity situation from some influential circles is to cut funding that is designed to help strengthen and improve the very institutions needed to conduct the investigations. The logic seems to be: “You don’t have the resources to do proper investigations so we will pull the funding we were giving you to improve your resources to conduct proper investigations.”

Bottom line is that fighting impunity means addressing a wide range of issues at once.

  • It means addressing poverty — to prevent the narcos/religious fanatics from getting new recruits.
  • It means strengthening and supporting civic organizations so they can both stand up against fanatical and criminal elements AND demand more from their governments.
  • It means providing training and funding to the law enforcement agencies so they can weed out and keep out corruption, conduct proper investigations and then conduct proper prosecutions.

That is a tall order. And it costs money. Unfortunately too many government leaders in the developed world are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting the types of programs that are needed.

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Filed under Harassment, Honduras, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

FINALLY! Foreign trade seen as something good

A recent Gallup Poll shows that more Americans have a positive view of foreign trade than a negative one. (Americans Shift to More Positive View of Foreign Trade)

Fifty-seven percent view trade as “an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports,” while 35% see it as “a threat to the economy from foreign imports.” During the prior two years, Americans were evenly divided in their opinions about trade.

Why is this important?

In a globally connected world, international trade is the lifeblood of growth and development. And yet, so few people know anything how much international trade affects their individual lives.

There are the obvious connections, but few think about it:

  • Imported goods from China at the local Wal-Mart
  • All the Toyotas,Hondas, Hyundis, etc. on the road.

But there is also:

  • Iconic American beer is owned by the Brazilian company AmBev
  • The majority owner of Burger King is the Brazilian investment firm, 3G.
  • Columbia Records and Columbia Pictures are owned by Sony, a Japanese company
  • TomTom, the popular GPS firm is a Dutch company.
  • And, FYI: Holland is the 3rd largest foreign investor in the U.S. at $217.1 billion

The list goes on and on.

And none of that, the treaties that allow for protection of American companies making sales overseas or allowing foreign companies to invest in the US, can happen without a fully functioning and staffed foreign service. To be clear, my wife is a career diplomat, but the foreign service also includes people from the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Justice, Labor, etc.

A country does not remain prosperous unless it finds new markets for its goods and services. As more countries develop — Brazil — they become competitors. It is in the  economic well-being of the United States and its companies to help impoverished countries develop strong democratic institutions and strong economies. Helping farmers in Honduras come out of poverty and ensure their children are educated means fewer illegal immigrants to the United States but more importantly future clients for American products.

That means foreign aid is an important factor in the economic well-being and security of the United States.

Unfortunately, foreign aid and the foreign affairs budget in general always seems to be the target of budget cutters.

Phil Plait — The Bad Astronomer — wrote about the budgeting cutting mania aimed at NASA. His complaint could be just as true for the foreign affairs budget.

[I]f you have a hard drive full of 4 Gb movie files, you don’t make room by deleting 100kB text files! You go after the big targets, which is far more efficient.

In the case of NASA, the space agency budget is just a little less than 1% of the federal budget.

In a survey in 2010, the Program for Public Consultation asked people to estimate how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The average estimate was 21%. The average response for how much would be “appropriate” was 10 percent.

And the real number for foreign aid: About 0.5%

The real number for ALL non-military foreign affairs activities: About 1.5%.

Yep! That small amount accounts for all the salaries of all the U.S. diplomats and local employees in embassies around the world, the rent, maintenance and repairs for all embassies and consulates, all the costs for the State Department headquarters and related buildings in Washington, all the processing of passports, all the trade negotiations, all the Commerce Department assistance to American businesses looking to sell goods and services overseas, all the marketing of US agriculture goods to other countries and all the foreign aid that helps bring millions of people out of poverty.

Another way to look at it:

  • The U.S. military spends more on its marching bands than the State Department pays for its diplomats.
  • There are more soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in marching bands than there are U.S. diplomats. 

So why is the foreign affairs budget always under attack? Basically it is because there is no constituency for foreign affairs. The State Department does not build factories in just about every congressional delegation (as does the Pentagon). So the only people who care about the budget are either so-called “budget hawks” or people involved in international affairs. And because the issues of foreign affairs do not fit on a bumper sticker, few people care until something bad happens.

And this all gets back to the Gallup survey on the value of foreign aid.

If more reporters opened their eyes, they could see how their local economies are dependent on international connections. Or how international events have a direct impact on local events.

It would help if the State Department would also encourage its people to step out and start explaining to the general public about why having a foreign service is important to the economic well-being of the United States. Yes, some do, but too many do not.

It would be nice to see more discussions taking place in high schools and local news outlets about the local-global connections.

And — most importantly — how the economic well-being of the United States depends on international affairs and international trade.

Face it, this ain’t the 1950’s any more. It ain’t the 1960’s or 1970’s. This is the 21st century and that means reaching across borders for goods, services and accommodations.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Jobs, Trade

Social Councils/Media Democratization: Diversion or Danger?

Seems bad ideas keep coming back under new names.

A while back at the height of his popularity and at the tail end of his administration, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, organized a meeting called the Conference on Communications. The official purpose, according to Lula, was to get all forms of media to be less negative about Brazil. He wanted to create a “social council” to monitor and audit news reports.

In his opening address to the conference Lula said media “excesses,” “lies,” fabrications, political involvement and “slander and abuse” were a problem for the country and he intended to address that problem by making the press more responsible through “social councils.” He then said (I can only assume with tongue in cheek) that he had “a sacred commitment to freedom of the press.”

The conference was filled were representatives from social movements, government unions and businessmen. Few media organizations attended because they saw the conference as an attempt to create a framework for censorship.

“The proposal to create a ‘social council’ to audit press content implies modifications to the Constitution which guarantees free initiative and freedom of expression,” said National Magazine Editors (Aner) president Roberto Muylaert. He added “social control sends shivers anywhere in the world because it is incompatible with freedom of expression and a free press.”

Eventually the plan went nowhere as President Dilma Rousseff didn’t just put the planned government-run social council idea on the back burner, she took it off the stove.

The idea of creating social councils, or people’s councils is not a new one and it is not an idea that goes away.

The latest incarnation comes from Honduran president Porfirio Lobo.

Honduras is plagued with ineffective courts, prosecutors and police. (And rulings from the courts gutting efforts to clean up the police.) The resulting lack of ability to change the in law enforcement community more quickly means that violent crimes continue at an alarming rate — 92 murders per 100,000 people, highest murder rate in the world.

AS expected, the violence and murders make up the daily fare for the countries newspapers — as they would in any place where the government does not control the media. The problem for Lobo is that these reports show a country in deep trouble. The other day, Lobo became fed up with these constant reminders of the violence in his country and proposed a solution that is a non-starter as far as the media are concerned.

In lashing out at the problems he is facing, Lobo called for a plebiscite on media democratization.

At a meeting with the Council of Minister where 2013 was declared the “National Year of Violence Prevention,” President Lobo proposed a ballot initiative for the elections in November to hold a plebiscite on the democratization of radio and television frequencies, according to La Prensa.

Critics of Lobo’s call within the journalism and civil society communities spoke out quickly.

Rodolfo Dumas, a member of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA):

“I was not surprised at all these statements, because just look at the critical situation the country is living in security, investment, labor, health, education and especially in financial matters to understand that sooner or later the government would resort to what I have called an arsenal of mass distraction because these actions simply divert attention.”

Jimmy Dacarett, member of the Civic Democratic Union:

“The intention of the President is to distract the attention of the Honduran people and the vital issues that really are hurting the government disaster they have done to date. “

Chance are this plebiscite idea will go nowhere. But it is something to keep an eye on.

Already the Honduran media are under siege from non-government forces. The growing strength of narcos and other gangs in the country (because of the weak — and corrupted — legal system) means they — not the government — are threatening journalists.

Already some journalists admit privately that their news organizations self censor stories rather than face the wrath of a local gang. Others say they pay a “war tax” to local gangs to ensure “nothing happens” to them or their news organization.

What Honduran journalists need is what the rest of Honduran society needs: a competent, corruption-free legal system. (And that gets into the whole debate of foreign aid projects designed to do just that and civil society development.) And to be fair to Lobo, he also wants these same things but he is trying to undo decades of problems in just a few years. It takes more than just the president wanting to make changes.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption, Harassment, Honduras, Press Freedom