[News] Congress’ Last Stand: Privatizations among New Laws in Honduras

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Jan 29 11:31:10 EST 2014

Forwarded by Porfirio Quintano. Yesterday was inauguration day for the 
fraudulently elected president in Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez. The 
street name for him is "Juan Robando" - "John the robber."  What if they 
gave an inauguration, and nobody came???

(Maybe everyone was in the streets protesting.)

Charlie Hinton

*Congress’ Last Stand: Privatizations among New Laws in Honduras *
Written by Sandra Cuffe
Tuesday, 28 January 2014 12:11

A new President has taken the helm in Honduras, but the more significant 
developments took place in Congress, where outgoing representatives 
spent their last few days passing a barrage of laws in a frantic final dash.

Dubbed a “legislative hemorrhage,” more than 100 laws and almost as many 
contracts were passed between January 17 and January 20 following two 
weeks of already unprecedented activity that included Constitutional 
reforms. The new laws cover substantial ground, from electoral and 
police reform to shrimp farming and classified documents. The avalanche 
of legislation also includes the privatization of public utilities and 

“In no way do they stand to benefit the living conditions of the 
Honduran people. These laws were made to favour the local groups of 
power first of all, and secondly, transnational corporations,” Carlos 
Amador, a teacher and resistance movement activist, told Upside Down World.

The National Party maintains control of the executive branch, following 
the November 2013 elections that took place amid widespread reports of 
fraud and intimidation. On January 27, Juan Orlando Hernández, former 
President of Congress until he stepped down to run, took the reins from 
Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who was elected in contested elections held after 
Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a June 2009 coup d’état.

In Congress, though, new political parties have disrupted the country’s 
long-standing two party status quo. The ruling National Party took 48 
seats, while the Liberal Party, reduced to the factions that supported 
the coup, came out of the elections with only 27 seats. The Libre party 
that grew out of resistance to the coup and includes both former Liberal 
Party members and social movement activists gained 37 representatives in 
Congress, including Zelaya. The new Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) won 13 
seats, and three minor parties each have one representative in Congress.

The last-ditch effort to ram new laws through Congress in the final days 
of the Lobo Sosa administration wasn’t entirely unforeseen. Bertha 
Cáceres, General Coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and 
Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), saw it coming back in 
November 2013.

“These are the same people that passed the Charter Cities, the mining 
law, the intelligence law, the illegal mining, hydro and oil concessions 
– everything,” Cáceres told Upside Down World in an interview in 
Tegucigalpa around election time. “What they’re going to do is safeguard 
the illegal legislative framework that they have created to guarantee 
the interests of corporations.”

Still, the scope and sheer quantity of legislation passed within a few 
days was staggering. Decrees placing the national power and telephone 
companies on a path to privatization were included in the mix.

The outgoing Congress passed the General Law of the Electrical Industry 
in a single debate on January 20, literally on the eve of the transition 
of Congress. The law mandates the conversion of the National Electrical 
Energy Company (ENEE) into a private corporation and then into separate 
generation, transmission, and distribution companies – all by mid-2015.

Shares in the new ENEE subsidiaries will be, at least initially, owned 
by the State, but they won’t be the only players in the ring. The 
legislation allows for other companies to participate and compete in the 
transmission and distribution of electricity, and creates an Electrical 
Energy Regulatory Commission (CREE) to regulate the market.

HONDUTEL, the State telephone company, met a similar fate. On January 
19, Congress approved a contract handing the financial administration of 
the company to a banking institution. Aside from managing finances in 
trust, the institution will be tasked with a proposal to restructure the 
company. Once a new business model has been determined, HONDUTEL is to 
become a private corporation in which the government, workers, “or other 
entities” may participate.

“These companies were created to serve the Honduran people,” said 
Amador. “Right now the policy of the government is to privatize any and 
all State institutions, and this goes against the interests of the people.”

Along with all the laws, several new public-private partnership 
contracts were passed in January 2014, some of them in closed Cabinet 
sessions. They include immigration services, such as issuing passports,, 
the Property Institute’s property administration system, road 
infrastructure in San Pedro Sula, and the recuperation of losses in 
water and sewer management.

The contracts are regulated by the Commission for the Promotion of 
Public-Private Alliances (Coalianza), created in 2010 during the Lobo 
Sosa administration. Coalianza’s portfolio also includes port 
facilities, aerodrome construction, energy generation, stretches of 
highway around the country, and more.

Amador points out that along with basic services, key strategic assets 
for the sovereignty and security of the country – tax collection, 
passport issuing, ports and airports – are now either privatized or in 
the hands of public-private partnerships.

Coalianza commission members were determined by the outgoing Congress, 
months before the existing commissioners’ terms were up. Coalianza 
commissioner José Antonio Pineda’s term was renewed by Congress, but he 
was caught on camera voting – as though he were an elected Congress 
representative – for public-private partnership contracts managed by 
Coalianza. He has since resigned, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office is 
investigating what many consider a blatant usurpation of office.

After days of almost nonstop legislation, the new Congress 
representatives convened on January 21 to begin the process of 
transition required in order to swear in the President the following 
week. Despite the organization of an opposition bloc by Libre and PAC, 
the Liberal Party supported the National Party’s steering committee 
nominations in exchange for revisiting the list of products covered by 
an increased sales tax. When members of Libre and PAC were not allowed 
to speak or present their own nominations, a loud and energetic display 
of opposition ensued.

Union, social movement, and Libre activists protested in the plaza below 
Congress before and during its transition, denouncing the slew of laws 
and the silencing of the new opposition. Thousands of people also took 
to the streets on January 27, to protest Hernández’ swearing in 
ceremony. The Libre party did not attend the official event, marching 
instead with their National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) bases.

“What’s coming in Honduras are major struggles,” said Amador. Community 
struggles to defend their natural resources from exploitation are on the 
rise, he says, but the country may also reach a breaking point in terms 
of insecurity and unemployment, with the impoverished majority 
increasingly unable to meet basic needs for subsistence.

With greater organized struggles, Amador expects increased repression, 
possibly with the involvement of new specialized military and police 
units, not to mention the new president’s campaign promise of  putting 
“a soldier on every corner.”

“The country is militarized more now than ever,” Amador told Upside Down 

If the Liberal-National Party alliance formed to elect the new 
congressional steering committee remains intact during the Hernández 
administration, they will retain the majority needed to ensure the 
onslaught of new laws are not repealed. With an energetic opposition in 
Congress, there will undoubtedly be more debate. However, in order to 
put a halt to the wave of privatizations and effect real change, 
pressure from below will be more vital than ever.

Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist with a penchant for coffee and 
geckos. She tweets as @Sandra_Cuffe <https://twitter.com/Sandra_Cuffe>.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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