Tag Archives: Honduras

Poorly written news release blows opportunity to educate on local-global issue

I got excited when I read the headline of a news release from the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide: Summer Fellows from Honduras and Germany

I went to the news release to learn more about how ELAW brought a couple of people from Honduras and Germany to maybe pick up a few pointers on how the USA does environmental law/cleanup and what things the Americans could learn from them.

Unfortunately, if any of my students in public relations writing turned in this news release, it would have been sent back with all sorts of comments that centered on how the writer missed the point.

Paragraph 1

ELAW Fellows from Honduras and Germany are busy this summer learning about waste management in Lane County and environmental tribunals around the world.

Good start. Here are the people and this is what they are going to do. Got the Who, What, When and Where all in the first sentence.

At this point I expect to then learn their names and a little bit more about why they want to know more about waste management.

Paragraphs 2

Paul Zepeda Castro is an attorney with the Instituto de Derecho Ambiental de Honduras (IDAMHO), based in Tegucigalpa where thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the alleged embezzlement of social security funds. “We are a warm and peaceful people,” says Paul who is part of a group of young Hondurans calling themselves “Los Indignados” (the outraged). The group is urging the U.S. to suspend funding to Honduras until the government purges corruption.

Our introduction to the guy from Honduras. Okay, he is a lawyer for the Institute for Environmental Rights in Honduras. And we know that there are demonstrations against corruption and that the U.S. should stop funding Honduras until the corruption ends.

So, why is the guy in the U.S. studying waste management? We don’t know.

We do know a bit about the politics of the the guy. And who can complain about demonstrating against corruption? But he is in the States to study waste management practices. How about telling us what Honduran waste management practices are? How about telling us what the guy hopes to learn from his time in the States?

So, we go on to the German.

Paragraph 3

Paul was recently joined by ELAW Fellow Sebastian Bechtel, a legal intern at UfU (Independent Institute for Environmental Concerns). UfU co-hosted the 2014 ELAW Annual International Meeting.

While in Eugene, Sebastian is exploring the feasibility of opening a Europe-based ELAW service center and also conducting research on environmental courts and tribunals.

Okay, we know a little bit more, but what the last paragraph says about what the German is doing in the States does not match up with what the opening paragraph said. Is he here to explore “the feasibility of opening a Europe-based ELAW service center and also conducting research on environmental courts and tribunals.”? Or is he here to study waste management practices?

And then we get the boilerplate about the group.

Wearing both my editor and professor caps at the same time, the writer of this news release threw away a wonderful opportunity to engage news organizations not only on the issue of the environment but also on how dealing with the issue of waste and pollution is something that requires global cooperation.

I would have had both participants discuss the wast management situation in their countries and describe what they hope to get from their visit to the States.

I would have kept the anti-corruption demonstrations out of the release (unless there is a compelling reason to do so). The politics in Honduras is not the focus of the release. The focus is the two guys coming to the States to study waste management.

All the background for the German is not needed until after he explains what is going on in Germany and how he hopes to learn about the American options to waste management.

Bottom line, this was an excellent opportunity to show the international nature of the work ELAW is doing. It would also help educate editors and reporters about the local-global nature of their work and of the issue. And this news release did not do that.

Getting local news organizations to do stories that show local-global connections is hard enough. Organizations, such as ELAW and so many others, need to smarten up their writing so that editors and reporters are drawn into the story and want to expand on it and publish it.

Local-global reporting is vital in an ever connected world. And yet most of local newspapers and broadcasters have little, if anything, about how international events affect their local readers/viewers/listeners. At the same time, these same news organizations are often ignorant of events and organizations in their own communities with international connections that have (or can have) an impact locally or globally.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

Honduras and Ayn Rand – One Author’s Look

Interesting piece in Salon today: My libertarian vacation nightmare: How Ayn Rand, Ron Paul & their groupies were all debunked

The greatest examples of libertarianism in action are the hundreds of men, women and children standing alongside the roads all over Honduras.  The government won’t fix the roads, so these desperate entrepreneurs fill in potholes with shovels of dirt or debris.  They then stand next to the filled-in pothole soliciting tips from grateful motorists.  That is the wet dream of libertarian private sector innovation.

The author —  — makes many good points. I particularly like how few Americans ever see the results of their idealistic vision.

Only 30 percent of Americans have passports, and if Americans do go places, it’s not often to Honduras.

And a few years ago, William Chalmers made an argument that only about 5 percent of the American people actually use those passports to travel to other countries.

The lack of international perspective is a real problem, especially for people promoting an ideology or political perspective. It is also a problem for reporters and editors who have to deal with immigrant communities in their local areas. (But more on that old chestnut another time.)

Lyngar makes a strong case that for all those promoting the libertarian views of Any Rand (and there are many in the GOP leadership), they should look carefully at what is happening around the world. In this case, Lyngar is looking at Honduras, but I bet examples can be found in many other countries around the world with weak governments and legal systems.

A disservice Lyngar does to Honduras, however, is take after them as if he were a fallen Catholic taking off on the Pope.

[Q]uestions about how best to provide a good society are not being asked in Honduras…

Actually they are being asked. The problem is asking such questions are new to Hondurans. Not because of political repression but rather because of a system that did not encourage it. Elites ran things and provided help to the poor to keep them in line. The breakdown in that system, along with a growing NGO community and rising expectations of more democratic participation, are now leading more Hondurans to question what is best for their country.

A good example of how a sector of society that was persecuted — not by the government but by the society as a whole — began to stand up for its rights is the LGBT community.

The LGBT community became natural allies with former president Manuel Zelaya and his LIBRE coalition. The rhetoric of LIBRE is all about helping the disenfranchised, with a strong dose of anti-USA and pro-Venezuela tossed in.

As the U.S. embassy began standing up in defense of LGBT organizers and inviting them to attend more embassy related events, the LGBT leadership saw that they did not have to put all their eggs in the LIBRE basket. The LIBRE leadership at times was so upset with the LGBT leaders at times that the LGBT leadership was told they might be bounced from the party if they keep attending US-sponsored events.

The LGBT leaders balanced the threats with the very public support from the US embassy and called the LIBRE leadership’s bluff.

In the end, LGBT activists learned it is possible to build coalitions with other organizations on one or two issues but still disagree on other. This revelation was a major step forward.

Along the way other NGOs also learned, through discussions and programs, that they do not have to agree with other NGOs all the time, just enough to get things done to improve society.

That is called progress and it is called thinking about what is best for the country, not just a small set of individuals.

All that said, I can understand Lyngar’s complaints. And his main point really does need to be stressed.

The view of government so many libertarians have does resemble what is happening in Central America.

If the no-tax, less-government people have their way, basic infrastructure will not be done. It will not be long before people start writing about American entrepreneurs filling in potholes with shovels of dirt or debris and then standing next to the filled-in pothole soliciting tips from grateful motorists.”


Here is John Oliver talking about infrastructure

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Filed under Central America, Connections

Honduras-Hong Kong connection

It’s not often such a clear connection occurs, but when it does I am so glad.

Seems the Hong Kong authorities arrested a couple of Hong Kongers for illegally importing Honduran rosewood.

Reports of the arrest made the newspapers in Honduras (Incautan en China madera hondureña) and Hong Kong. (Hong Kong customs seizes 92 tonnes of endangered rosewood)

The arrest is just one of many involving the endangered tree. According to the South China Morning Post:

China has long been considered the epicentre of the illegal timber trade, with Hong Kong often a convenient gateway due to the city’s status as a free port. As much as 30 per cent of the city’s timber imports were from illegal sources, a 2010 report by WWF Hong Kong found.

Rosewood is valued for its finish and resistance to rot. The tree is primarily found in Honduras and Madagasgar. It is protected under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

This case shows — once again — that there are so many connections between different countries, if only reporters would look for them.

Granted, if would be nicer if the connections did not include destruction of vital natural resources or criminal activities.

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Filed under Connections, Honduras, Hong Kong

Another Honduran journalist slain

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports another journalist murder in Honduras: Television station owner gunned down in Honduras.

Carlos Lauria, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas has it right:

“Honduras has a disturbing pattern of letting journalists’ murders remain unsolved and unexplained, perpetuating the cycle of impunity. Honduran authorities must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the murder of Reynaldo Paz Mayes, fully examine all possible motives, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Part of the problem fully investigating the deaths of journalists — and taxi drivers and lawyers and anyone else — is that the Honduran government does not have well-trained law enforcement officers.

Some of that is changing, thanks to the US, Colombia, the EU and other countries. Together these countries are training special squads of police and prosecutors to seriously investigate crimes and to go where the evidence takes them.

Unfortunately, there are still too few of these trained (and vetted) investigators. But the number is growing.

Another problem is the rhetoric once a journalist is killed.

In the case of Paz, he had no background as a journalist. He was a political activist who set up his television station a couple of years ago to air stories and commentaries against the current government of Honduras. (Unlike, US stations, Honduran TV and radio stations are highly partisan.)

Paz received threats for his comments. So when he was killed, the immediate reaction from others also opposed to the Hernandez government was that Paz was killed for his political beliefs.

Juan Ramón Flores, owner of the television station CTV Canal 48 and president of the city chapter of  [the opposition party] LIBRE, told CPJ that Paz had received threats for years in connection with his political beliefs and, most recently, in relation to his on-air criticism of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who he accused of having undue influence over all branches of government. Flores said the most recent threats had been made in anonymous phone calls the week before the shooting. Paz had talked about the threats on his program, Flores said.

Other journalists in Comayagua, where Paz had his station, say they are not convinced he was killed because of his political views.

Without a doubt there are ethical and courageous journalists who have been killed because of their adherence to the idea of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. They thrived on exposing the pandemic corruption in Honduras. They saw their mission as one to let the disinfecting light of truth help clean up Honduran politics and society.

And many of these journalists were killed because of their dedication to their craft.

However, too often many of the journalists killed in the past few years in Honduras may not have been slain because they were journalists but because of other factors in their lives.

The pay really sucks for Honduran journalists, so some have side businesses. Maybe a stall in a weekend market, or maybe a small store. Unfortunately for Honduras, extortion of vendors and merchants is wide-spread. Gangs demand a “war tax” from companies and many market vendors.

Refusal to pay the “war tax” is often enough of an excuse for gangs to kill someone.

In at least one case, the murder may have been a case of mistake identity.

There are also situations that can best be described as “wrong place, wrong time.” A journalist is in a bar or restaurant just as any normal person would be. And maybe, a gang leader is also in the same bar or restaurant, completely unrelated to the journalist being there. Rival gangs have been known to just spray a place with gunfire to get the one gang leader they were looking for. (Thankfully, these types of killings were few and far between. And now seem to have abated completely.)

When threats seem to come to journalist for their political comments, it is often because the journalist is looking into a local political leader who is in the hip pocket of a local narco. So the threat is not based on liberal v. conservative views but rather on the potential damage to a lucrative financial arrangement between a crooked politician and a drug dealer. And then, the murder is handled by the narco, not the politician. (Think of the Mexico situation, where — according to reports — a corrupt mayor handed over 43 students to the local narco.)

Politics has little to do with the threat. It is all about the money and the power.

Complaints by a local media outlet of the overreaching power of the national government are an annoyance, but not one that would lead to the killing of a journalist.

Will we ever know why Paz and most of the other murdered journalists were killed? I doubt it.

Again, because of the poor quality of criminal investigation in the country, we may never be able to get to the whole story about these murders. And if the funding and support for the special investigative units is cut — as many in the US opposed to the current Honduran government argue — we may never know.

The threats to the funding of training and vetting of honest police and prosecutors comes from the very people who scream the loudest about the poor system of justice in Honduras. If the U.S., Colombia and the EU withdraw their funding and training, there is little hope for full and fair investigations and prosecutions of murders.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption, Honduras, Killings

Few killers get caught

The Committee to Protect Journalists has a new report that is depressing.

Breaking the Cycle of Impunity in the Killing of Journalists looks at the how too many governments do little to seriously track down the murderers of journalists.

Of course, this failure also makes it nearly impossible to determine if the killing of a journalist was directly related to his/her profession or if there were other issues involved.

The demand for proof that a journalist was killed in the line of duty is one of the things I really like about how CPJ prepares its list of murdered journalists. Some organizations just list the names of journalists killed. They leave the assumption that they were killed because of their profession. But there is no way this can ever be verified.

The weak political and legal systems in the countries where this issues is the greatest are what need to be addressed along with the name and shame campaign of impunity. Perhaps a major step forward in finding the murderers of journalists (and human rights lawyers and taxi drivers and reform politicians) is finding ways to help those governments who want to improve and strengthen their legal systems, instead of cutting off aid and support.

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Filed under Harassment, Killings

Case against licensing journalists

In the United States the First Amendment protects journalists from being “banned” by government edict — or by any type of edict for that matter.

Journalists in other countries, however, are not so lucky. The latest example of why this is a bad idea comes out of Honduras.

Seems commentator Julio Ernesto Alvarado of Globo TV has been hit with a 16-month ban on “doing journalism” by the Penal Appeals Court in Tegucigalpa.

Now, I know the Globo people. They are serious anti-government types — unless the government is the leftist Libre party. The commentators are passionate in their denunciations of the ruling party. And even sometimes go over the edge of good taste.

But that all pales in the outrage that a government agency can tell a person he/she cannot be a journalist.

Whenever governments get involved, all sorts of bad things have the potential to happen. And Mr. Alvarado is seeing the results.

The issue stems from episodes of Alvarado’s show that discussed corruption in the national university. A dean was accused of corruption by teachers in the school on the show. The dean filed charges of defamation of character against Alvarado and the teachers and lost.

Under appeal the dean won , even though the court operated under the assumption that the dean had indeed engaged in corrupt practices.

With the dean’s victory came the ban on Alvarado from doing journalism.

So we have a cowonurt deciding who can be a journalist. Not a good idea.

And we have a system where truth is not an absolute defense for libel and defamation. (As it is in the States.)

In addition to the court ruling Alvarado has been receiving threats that — according to Globo — have not been taken seriously by the government. (On this point, I have serious questions. Some of the leadership brought in under the new government take protection of journalists VERY seriously.)

What is clear, however, that free and independent journalism is threatened by any law or system that allows a government agency of any type to determine who can be a journalist. Likewise, it is a danger when a court or other government entity can ban someone from “doing journalism.” And it is a danger when any private group — such as a journalism association — has the power to determine who can “do journalism.”

The bottom line is that the way to fight bad journalism is with more (and better) journalism, not by denying anyone who wants to from entering the fray.

Read more about the Alvarado case at PEN: Honduras: PEN member barred from journalism after covering corruption in state university

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Filed under Honduras, Press Freedom

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