|Wednesday 10th of November 2021
Is the President of Honduras a Narco-Trafficker? @NewYorker By Jon Lee Anderson
Law & Politics
Outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse, in lower Manhattan, police stood watchfully behind yellow “Do Not Cross” tape.
An agitated crowd had gathered: people chanting, jostling, shouting into megaphones.
Some waved blue-and-white Honduran flags. Others held up signs in English and Spanish: “No Clemency for Narcopolitics.”
It was March 30, 2021: sentencing day for Juan Antonio (Tony) Hernández, a former Honduran congressman who had been arrested in Miami in 2018, on suspicion of drug trafficking.
After a trial in the Southern District of New York, Hernández had been found guilty of taking part in the smuggling of at least a hundred and eighty-five thousand kilos of cocaine into the U.S.—enough to supply five doses to everyone living in America.
On the street, protesters waved a huge hand-painted banner that read “Extradition for the Narcopresident”—a reference to the most explosive aspect of the trial.
According to witnesses’ testimony, Hernández had been aided in his criminal enterprise by his brother Juan Orlando Hernández, the President of Honduras.
Prosecutors charged that the Hernández brothers had been on the take for a decade or more, and that Tony had used his proximity to power to help move Colombian cocaine through Honduras and toward the United States, sometimes in collaboration with Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel.
Inside the building, Hondurans packed an overflow room, intently watching a monitor that showed the interior of the court.
As they waited for Hernández to be brought in, a middle-aged woman complained about conditions back home:
“The price of beans has risen so much, only the rich can eat them.”
Another woman announced that her grandfather had been murdered—a victim of the drug-related violence that has overwhelmed the country.
Peering at the monitor for signs of Hernández, she said angrily, “I just want to see his face before I die.”
A moment later, Hernández was led to his seat. A clean-shaven man of forty-three, he is known at home as a blustering extrovert.
Now, surrounded by guards, he was subdued. A man observed, “Look how these people, who had so much power in Honduras, end up here like rats.”
The prosecutors’ case described a career of corruption that had helped transform Honduras into a virtual narco-state.
Hernández, they said, had sold weapons to drug traffickers and tipped off dealers about U.S. efforts to train Honduran pilots for night raids.
He had used millions of dollars from drug sales to finance his party’s elections; on behalf of his brother the President, he had accepted a million-dollar bribe from Joaquín (El Chapo) Guzmán, the head of the Sinaloa cartel.
The lead prosecutor called Hernández a “uniquely bad character, who, along with his brother, is at the center of years of state-sponsored drug trafficking.”
His criminal behavior, the prosecutor said, had left Honduras “one of the principal transshipment points for cocaine in the world” and “one of the most violent places in the world.”
President Hernández has strenuously denied any involvement, and defense lawyers dismissed the key witnesses—several confessed drug traffickers—as serial killers who were looking for “get-out-of-jail-early cards.”
Prosecutors pointed out that the evidence included a ledger of drug proceeds containing the President’s initials: J.O.H., as he is universally known in Honduras.
They also noted that Tony sometimes carried an Uzi inscribed with the name Juan Orlando Hernández and the title Presidente de la República.
When Tony Hernández was given time to speak, he raised procedural objections: crucial evidence had not been reviewed, and his lawyers did not meet his standards.
He said he felt that the U.S. had “betrayed” him, by failing to uphold his constitutional rights.
The judge, P. Kevin Castel, a slender, white-haired man, spoke with restrained outrage.
He said that he had tried many defendants for drug crimes, from small retailers to drivers of go-fast boats.
“Many are unskilled and impoverished, and are endeavoring to support their families,” he said.
Hernández was different. “He makes an excellent appearance,” Castel went on, “well dressed and wearing a warm and engaging smile. He is well educated.”
But, rather than use his advantages for productive work, “he became a major facilitator of the movement of cocaine,” going so far as to have his initials emblazoned on shipments of his own brand.
Castel listed some of the men who Hernández was believed to have put to death. Among them was his former business partner Nery López Sanabria, who reportedly had planned to coöperate with the D.E.A.
In October, 2019, eight days after Hernández was convicted, López Sanabria was shot and stabbed to death, by assassins who had been allowed to breach an area of the maximum-security Honduran prison where he was being held.
Six weeks later, his lawyer was killed. Three days after that, the warden of the prison was killed, too.
Hernández sat with hands clasped as his crimes were enumerated. Castel sentenced him to life plus thirty years in prison, and ordered him to forfeit a hundred and thirty-nine million dollars.
He concluded, “We can hope that, looking back in years to come, today will have been an important step in eliminating the corrupting influence of narco-trafficking.”
The Honduran spectators were in a celebratory mood, but they were skeptical about the prospect of immediate change.
In the overflow room, a young man blamed the United States for supporting corrupt Latin American governments, and for imposing “neoliberal policies” that had led to hunger and misery.
The U.S., he said, bore responsibility for allowing a pícaro—a rascal—like Juan Orlando Hernández to remain in office.
In the U.S., Tony Hernández’s trial garnered less publicity than El Chapo’s had, in 2019, but in some ways its implications were more significant.
Honduras is a longtime American client state, the recipient of billions of dollars in foreign aid and the home base of a strategically critical U.S. military force.
Its President was allegedly actively involved in a large-scale trafficking operation, while the American government counted him as an ally.
When I asked a U.S. official with extensive experience in the region how Hernández got away with it, he replied bitterly, “Because we let him. We looked the other way.”
For a powerful politician in Latin America, Juan Orlando Hernández is an unimposing figure.
At fifty-three, he is a bespectacled man of medium height, medium weight, medium everything.
He seems to have spent a lifetime following the most conventional route available.
The fifteenth of seventeen children, he attended a military high school and studied law at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, where he was student-body president.
After college, he worked as a lawyer and a notary public. His most visible adventure as a young man was a stint abroad in Albany, New York, studying public administration at the state university there.
When Hernández entered politics, in the nineties, he joined the conservative National Party, a rival to the centrist Liberal Party.
In 1997, he was elected as a congressman from Lempira, his rural home province.
Married with four children, he opposes same-sex marriage and abortion and favors compulsory Bible readings in public schools.
In his first term as President, he led a purge of the corrupt Honduran police force, and agreed to coöperate with the U.S. on counter-narcotics operations.
Was this really the same man who promised to help drug traffickers ship cocaine to the United States, in order to, as one witness put it, “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos”?
A few hours after Tony’s sentence was handed down, Hernández recorded an audio message for his loyalists.
“What happened today is hard for the family, hard for me personally,” he said, in a brooding voice.
“It makes me indignant, and it seems incredible that the false testimony of confessed murderers was credited in such a way.”
He went on, “Sooner or later, it will be shown who is who in Honduras, what we have done and stopped doing, because between Heaven and earth nothing is hidden.”
Despite the suggestion of transparency, Hernández’s appearances since then have been mostly limited to tightly controlled events: addressing the United Nations General Assembly, inaugurating a new Honduran Embassy in Jerusalem.
Government-funded media outlets avoid mentioning the allegations against him.
Before going to Honduras, I corresponded for months with Hernández’s communications ministers, but once I arrived his officials refused to speak to me.
Hondurans are mostly unconvinced by Hernández’s denials.
In the capital, Tegucigalpa, the walls are marked with graffiti deriding the President: “Fuera J.O.H.” (“J.O.H., get out”) or simply “J.O.H. Narco.”
On Avenida Francisco Morazán, a commercial boulevard named for Honduras’s nineteenth-century national hero, the graffiti share space with billboards for Popeyes, McDonald’s, and K.F.C.—a small sign of the symbiosis with the United States that has defined Honduras for a century.
The relationship has brought little apparent benefit.
When I first visited Tegucigalpa, in the nineteen-seventies, pine forests covered the surrounding mountains, but they were cut back as the city sprawled.
In their place, slums have grown in red-dirt swaths gouged from the hillsides.
More than a million people live in the city, and many of them are poor. Gangs run life in most neighborhoods.
Tegucigalpa is a city of security walls and razor wire, where the wealthy move around in armored cars.
The U.S. Embassy is protected by reinforced walls, of a kind more commonly seen in the Middle East; a vast new embassy is under construction nearby.
Over the years, Hernández has proved adept at cultivating American politicians. Tim Rieser, an aide to Senator Patrick Leahy who has worked for decades on foreign policy, recalled that Hernández visited Washington and invited him to meet at the Willard InterContinental, a Beaux-Arts hotel near the White House.
“He told me how much he loved human rights—he actually used the term ‘love,’ ” Rieser said.
“J.O.H. is a polished politician. He calls you by your first name and tells people in Washington what they want to hear. With me, it was about human rights. With others, it’s about capturing drug traffickers.”
Under the Trump Administration, American officials hailed Hernández as a trusted partner on sensitive issues, including counterterrorism and anti-narcotics efforts.
Perhaps most significant was Hernández’s willingness to help Trump curb immigration—especially from Honduras, from which a succession of highly publicized migrant “caravans” had set out toward the U.S.
According to estimates, there are at least five hundred thousand Hondurans in the United States, more than half of them undocumented; most have come in the past two decades.
Always a poor country, Honduras has been increasingly beset by entrenched corruption, devastating hurricanes, and a persistent lack of jobs.
As Mauricio Díaz Burdett, the director of a leading Honduran think tank, told me, “People don’t immigrate to the United States in search of the American Dream. They go there in order to survive.”
Nevertheless, Hernández signed a “safe third country” agreement, which allowed immigrants who arrived at the U.S.’s southern border, seeking asylum, to be sent instead to Honduras, to file claims there.
Activists pointed out that Honduras, which has one of the hemisphere’s highest murder rates, was by no means a safe country, but Trump was pleased.
Chad Wolf, the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, met with Hernández in Tegucigalpa and praised Honduras as a “valued and proven partner.”
The Administration’s most important assistance to Hernández came at the beginning of his second term, in 2017.
The country’s constitution historically limited Presidents to one term, but a controversial Supreme Court ruling had lifted the stricture, allowing him to run again.
The election was marred by claims of fraud, and by protests that resulted in at least twenty-two civilian deaths.
Nevertheless, after a recount, the rubber-stamp Honduran electoral tribunal affirmed Hernández’s victory.
A few days later, so did the Trump Administration. In 2019, as prosecutors pleaded their case against Tony Hernández, the U.S. Embassy tweeted out praise for its “strong relationship” with Honduras.
Cresencio Arcos, a former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, described the transactional nature of American officials’ relationship with the government there:
“The most important thing to our people is their access to the élites. It’s not important whether they’ve committed human-rights abuses, or even if they’re drug traffickers. J.O.H. is an evil scoundrel, and he outsmarted us because he figured out that by supporting us on drug interdiction and migrants he could blackmail us into going along with him.”
s the President of Honduras a Narco-Trafficker? @NewYorker By Jon Lee Anderson [continued]
Law & Politics
In January, 2021, a few days after Kamala Harris was sworn in as Vice-President, she was briefed about the allegations against President Hernández.
An official who was present said that Harris, a former prosecutor, had an immediate response: “Let’s go get him now.”
(A White House official said that the Vice-President’s team has never heard her say anything like this.)
The attendees informed Harris that the U.S. government had a long-standing unwritten policy against indicting sitting heads of state—though the official added that he personally would like to “cut him off at the knees.”
A senior Biden official told me that the Administration intended to work around Hernández, by engaging with other levels of the Honduran government, and would avoid sending officials to visit while he remained in office.
Much of this awkward work will fall to Ricardo Zúniga, the newly appointed special envoy for the Northern Triangle—as Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are called.
On several trips this year, Zúniga has refrained from stopping in Honduras. Instead, he has held Zoom meetings with leaders in civic society and in the private sector.
The Administration defined Central America as a priority early on, not least because of the way that Trump had weaponized concerns about immigration.
A few days after Joe Biden’s Inauguration, a Presidential adviser on U.S.-Mexico border issues told me, “It’s not a case of if there will be a crisis but when.”
Since then, hundreds of thousands of people have been detained trying to cross the southern border.
It is a chronic emergency with growing political ramifications.
The senior Biden official told me, “The thing is, these countries have the ability to change the outcome of the next U.S. elections. If we can change things just a little bit for the better, we’ll have done a lot.”
Soon after taking office, Biden handed the Central America portfolio to Harris.
The new Vice-President had little experience with international diplomacy and no special expertise in Latin America.
Biden seemed unconcerned, pointing out that he had carried the same brief when he was Vice-President.
But many policymakers and analysts in Washington told me that the situation in the Northern Triangle has deteriorated significantly since the Obama era.
Eric Olson, a Central America expert at the Seattle International Foundation, noted that decades of U.S. intervention had in many ways made things worse.
“Central America has not landed well, and it’s hard to argue that U.S. policy has been a success,” he told me.
The United States has aided governments in this region, while ignoring corruption and abuses of power.
“We didn’t regard these things as important as long as they stayed on our side in the Cold War,” Olson said.
“A lot of foreign aid has been wasted, and now there is a lot of cynicism” about U.S. intentions.
“The new Administration knows that it can’t do business as usual in Central America. Will they be successful? In the long run, possibly. In the short run, I fear not.”
Roberta Jacobson, who worked for decades as a U.S. diplomat specializing in Latin America, called the Northern Triangle “a poisoned chalice.”
Harris and Zúniga need reliable partners, but the United States’ willingness to encourage despots has left the region largely in the hands of corrupt autocrats. As Jacobson said, “Who is there to trust?”
The senior Biden official acknowledged that even the old playbook of propping up ruthlessly effective autocrats didn’t seem feasible anymore.
“If there was an efficient authoritarian like Lee Kuan Yew out there, maybe we’d look the other way,” he said. “But there isn’t.”
In his view, the most worrisome Central American leader is Nayib Bukele, the President of El Salvador.
“He’s hitting the whole authoritarian punch list—demonizing your enemies, dominating the legislative assembly, and then controlling your population through the media,” he said.
Bukele, a forty-year-old former night-club manager, is an abrasive populist who tweets without restraint. (He got along notably well with Trump, whom he once described in a press conference as “very nice and cool.”)
Bukele took office in 2019, and has become enormously popular, through an effective crime-reduction program and a relatively efficient response to the covid-19 pandemic.
But he has also relentlessly undermined democratic institutions. In 2020, he ordered armed troops into the Salvadoran Congress to coerce legislators into facilitating the purchase of new security equipment.
This past May, he fired the country’s attorney general and replaced five senior Supreme Court justices with his own picks.
After Vice-President Harris, among other critics, registered “deep concerns about El Salvador’s democracy,” Bukele tweeted, “We’re cleaning our house . . . and that is none of your business.”
A few weeks later, Bukele ended his country’s coöperation with the International Commission Against Impunity in El Salvador—a group, backed by the Organization of American States, that had been investigating corruption in his government.
In September, Bukele’s Supreme Court ruled that Presidents can serve two consecutive terms, allowing him to run for reëlection in 2024.
The top U.S. diplomat in El Salvador lamented the move as a “decline in democracy.”
Days later, Bukele changed his Twitter bio to “The Coolest Dictator in the World.”
In late June, Harris made her first foreign trip as Vice-President, with a stop in Mexico and a visit to Guatemala.
With Hernández a pariah and Bukele openly defiant, Guatemala was the only Northern Triangle country where the Administration could hope to muster a semblance of official coöperation.
Is the President of Honduras a Narco-Trafficker? @NewYorker By Jon Lee Anderson [continued]
Law & Politics
The trip did not go well. In a press conference with President Alejandro Giammattei, Harris announced a new U.S.-led task force, to oversee anticorruption efforts.
“I can tell you from my work on this issue—follow the money,” she said. There was surely money to follow.
In 2007, the U.N. had created an investigative commission in Guatemala, which helped secure the prosecution of two Presidents, a Vice-President, and dozens of other officials, before being dismantled by Giammattei’s predecessor.
Now the country’s primary anticorruption body was the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, which Harris pointedly mentioned, promising the support of the United States government.
Giammattei, visibly uncomfortable, denied malfeasance by his administration, and vowed to assist the U.S.’s efforts.
But, when I talked with Giammattei several days later, he complained about the intrusiveness of international judicial systems, and said that he objected to calling the new anticorruption unit a “task force.”
He said, “It reminds me of the eighties”—a decade when the U.S. used the prospect of foreign aid to try to restrain Guatemala’s military during a bloody civil war.
Not long afterward, I met with Juan Francisco Sandoval, who at the time led the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity.
When I described Giammattei’s concerns, he replied diplomatically: “The President is entitled to his opinions, and he’s a temperamental man.”
Sandoval was grateful to Vice-President Harris for offering support, though. Laughing, he said, “At least now I know there’s a place to which I can escape.”
A month later, Sandoval was removed from his post, and fled to the United States.
In a press conference before leaving the country, he suggested that he had been pushed out because his office was looking into evidence that Giammattei had taken bribes from shadowy Russian investors. Soon after that, a warrant was issued for Sandoval’s arrest.
In Nicaragua, democratic norms are under even more direct assault. During the summer, the longtime Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and his wife and Vice-President, Rosario Murillo, arrested scores of civic activists and opposition politicians, including eight candidates in this fall’s Presidential election.
Even old comrades have become targets. Ortega issued an arrest warrant for his former Vice-President, the seventy-nine-year-old novelist Sergio Ramírez, accusing him of money laundering, inciting hatred, and “conspiracy to undermine the national integrity.”
A senior White House adviser said he believed that Vladimir Putin, a close ally of Ortega, was instigating the crackdown, “just to undermine the U.S.”
The United States has had little incentive to change the situation in Nicaragua; historically, most migrants from there have headed south, to Costa Rica, rather than toward the U.S.
In much of the region, the Biden Administration has tried to apply pressure with targeted sanctions.
This past July, Congress authorized the State Department to sanction several officials close to Bukele, as well as others from Guatemala and Honduras.
The Engel List, as the register of names became known, has since grown to include sixty-two people in the region.
Those on the list had their U.S. visa rights revoked; they may also face frozen financial assets and, potentially, criminal prosecution.
These are more aggressive steps than the previous Administration took, but they are unlikely to produce radical change.
Edgar Gutiérrez, a former Guatemalan foreign minister who is now a political strategist, told me, “One of the characteristics of mafia states, like the Central American ones, is that they are increasingly impervious to this sort of international pressure.”
Migration and remittances prevent citizens from becoming desperate enough to demand change; complicit militaries protect corrupt leaders from real threats.
“Their sources of enrichment and power—the corruption of the public budget, the flourishing trade in drug and people trafficking—are left intact,” Gutiérrez said.
In 2015, when Biden was Vice-President, he visited Capitol Hill to promote his solution for emigration, which encompassed the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America and the Alliance for Prosperity.
“As far as I could tell, it was mostly a slogan, a repackaging of what we had been doing,” Rieser, the congressional aide, said.
“I recall telling him we didn’t have credible partners in the national governments of those countries. They went ahead with it anyway.”
The programs tripled U.S. expenditures on Central America, to more than $3.6 billion.
But, despite some local successes, the plans didn’t halt the region’s decline. In 2019, Trump restricted the aid for seven months, as leverage for new migration strictures.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden renewed his efforts, with the optimistically named Plan to Build Security and Prosperity in Partnership with the People of Central America.
The plan called for spending four billion dollars to address conditions that encourage emigration—everything from corruption and violence to poverty and climate change.
This past May, Harris issued a “Call to Action,” urging international companies and organizations to pledge “significant commitments to help send a signal of hope to the people of the region and sustainably address the root causes of migration.” Chobani and Nespresso signed up.
Microsoft promised to expand Internet access and to invest in technology for greater transparency in government spending. Mastercard committed to digitizing a million small businesses.
To succeed, though, the Administration will need support from civil society in the countries of the Northern Triangle.
One afternoon in Tegucigalpa, I attended a meeting hosted by Fredy Nasser, an industrialist who is thought to be one of Central America’s richest men, at the local offices of his conglomerate, Grupo Terra.
In an expensively tasteful boardroom, Nasser suggested that Grupo Terra could help the Administration’s plan for the region; perhaps unitec, a private university that his family had recently acquired in Tegucigalpa, could be transformed into an educational hub, with a think tank working on Central American problems.
With the right sort of backing, he said, it could also provide Hondurans with improved access to education, through scholarships for rural students.
We were joined by Nasser’s brother-in-law, Miguel Mauricio Facussé, an amiable, sandy-haired man in his early fifties.
Facussé was excited by the possibility that the Administration’s goals might jibe with those of his company, Dinant—a consortium with interests in palm oil, snack foods, and detergent.
He pointed out that Dinant employed nearly eight thousand Hondurans directly, and provided livelihoods for twenty-two thousand more.
With U.S. government support, he said, the company could expand its operations and improve the lives of many others.
There was a potential complication: for much of the past decade, Dinant was notorious among human-rights organizations.
The company was founded by Facussé’s father, Miguel, who died in 2015 as one of the country’s wealthiest men.
His business was built in part on a vast network of African-palm plantations, acquired with the help of a law, passed in 1992, that allowed small personal plots in peasant coöperatives to be sold to private owners.
As Facussé bought up thousands of acres, activists accused him of malfeasance and began invading his land.
In the ensuing conflict, dozens of people died, most of them activists and farmers killed in executions that human-rights groups have linked to Facussé’s private security force.
“It was like a civil war,” Miguel Mauricio Facussé told me, in the Grupo Terra offices. But, he argued, the violence had really been carried out by farmers and activists, not by the company’s security men.
Seventeen Dinant guards had died, he said, and land invaders had occupied nearly a third of the family’s palm groves.
He conceded that the conflict had eased after Dinant consented to disarm its guards.
But he noted with pride that the company had agreed to a strict code of conduct, monitored by a law firm in Washington, D.C.
He told me that the land invasions continued, some of them apparently backed by organized crime. This was where the U.S. could help Dinant, he suggested—by encouraging the Honduran government to uphold the rule of law.
He offered to show me the situation at his main palm-oil plantation and food-manufacturing facility, in Tocoa, in the north.
We could go there by helicopter. It wasn’t a long ride, and we could stop at his family’s wildlife preserve nearby.
The Facussés’ preserve, known as Farallones, is twelve thousand acres of wild coastline and jungle-covered hills, home to jaguars, tapirs, and howler monkeys.
It sits just down the coast from Trujillo, one of the ports used by the United Fruit Company to ship out bananas.
It was a stay in Trujillo that inspired O. Henry to write “Cabbages and Kings,” the story in which he coined the term “banana republic.”
In the first half of the twentieth century, United Fruit was the largest employer in Central America, with such comprehensive control over the region that it evoked the East India Company’s dominion in Asia.
In Guatemala, it abetted the C.I.A.-backed overthrow of President Jacobo Árbenz, after he expropriated the company’s land during an agrarian reform.
In Honduras, it bought and sold leaders. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission revealed in 1975 that the company had bribed the government of the Honduran dictator General Oswaldo López Arellano to lower export taxes on bananas.
Soon afterward, the general was overthrown in a military coup.
In Farallones, there are a few visible reminders of that era, including the track bed of a railway operated by a United Fruit subsidiary called the Truxillo Railroad Company.
When I lived on the nearby Honduran coast, in the seventies, it was said that, if you murdered someone and dumped his body on the tracks, it was the banana company’s responsibility to deal with the ensuing legalities—a burden of its kingmaker’s role.
The railroad tracks in Farallones have long since been pulled up, and the banana farms in the area have mostly been replaced by African palm.
There have been other changes, too. For the past two decades, the airstrips of the local plantations have become a preferred venue for drug traffickers seeking to discreetly land shipments of cocaine on the way to the United States.
Bananas have ceased to be Honduras’s main source of corruption; now it is cocaine.
In 2004, one such plane, likely bearing a ton of cocaine, was destroyed on the airstrip in Farallones.
Facussé, the family patriarch, scoffed at suggestions that he was complicit, saying, “The narcos are building airports all over the place.”
In a State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks, the U.S. Ambassador reported that Facussé claimed that his guards had spotted the plane and shot at it, causing it to burst into flames.
But the Ambassador also presented a different story, from a source in law enforcement: the plane had landed on the Farallones airstrip, while Facussé was present at the estate, and its cargo was unloaded onto a convoy guarded by heavily armed men.
Only then was the plane burned and buried with a bulldozer, as if to hide the evidence.
In Tocoa, I was given a tour of the palm-oil installations and introduced to employees, who spoke of their gratitude to Dinant for providing jobs.
One woman wept as she recalled being menaced by land invaders.
A sturdy young man who ran the security forces spoke loyally about Dinant’s human-rights record, and condemned the “terrorists” who had invaded its plantations.
But, at a meeting with community leaders in a settlement just outside one of the plantations, people were more concerned with poverty.
One man, who asked for anonymity, said that many people who didn’t work for Dinant earned no more than three or four dollars a day—not enough to sustain a family—and so it was tempting to flee.
Eight of his relatives had already immigrated to the United States. “The dilemma is between staying here without anything or taking to the road and heading north, and possibly losing one’s life in the process,” he said.
It was difficult for small farmers to support themselves. When Facussé’s father bought up much of the surrounding area, the man said, some farmers felt pressured to sell their land.
His own father had sold, he said: “When he saw it was either his land or his life or that of his family, he gave it up.”
In Farallones, Facussé showed me his family’s collection of imported red stags and axis deer, as well as a stable that housed a pair of fine white stallions.
He explained that they were the offspring of a stud horse that Fidel Castro had given his father, when the two of them began working together to bring palm plantations to Cuba. (The program reportedly ended after U.S. officials asked Facussé to stop.)
Along a dirt track, Facussé pointed out the notorious airstrip. It was largely overgrown, and had heavy metal cables stretched across, to thwart drug traffickers.
Despite the obstacles, a narco plane had landed there a couple of years earlier. The compound’s guards had cut the cables.
Edgar Gutiérrez, the former Guatemalan foreign minister, told me, “I think the Biden idea of working with civil society and not the governments is romantic but not very realistic.”
Washington, he suggested, was paying the price for its intermittent attention to Central America.
“It tends to deal with immediate crises in the zone, and when they become systemic ones it doesn’t know how to tackle them,” he said.
“The four years of Trump compounded this, and left these countries in a state of even greater disrepair.”
In the absence of strong governance, civil society might provide some modest achievements in development, he said, but “it cannot replace the functions of a nation-state.”
Is the President of Honduras a Narco-Trafficker? @NewYorker By Jon Lee Anderson [further]
Law & Politics
In recent months, the Americans’ tolerance seems to have ended. On July 1st, Lobo and his wife were included among the “corrupt and undemocratic actors” on the State Department’s Engel List.
They would no longer be able to travel to the United States, and Lobo seemed more likely to face drug-trafficking charges in the Southern District of New York.
Lobo threw up his hands; he said that it was what he had expected. “I’m on that list for presumption of guilt, for supposedly doing favors to Los Cachiros,” he said.
“But Juan Orlando Hernández isn’t on it. Without him, it’s a churro”—a joke.
He noted that the Hernándezes, unlike his family, had displayed an “exaggerated” accumulation of wealth.
“There’s corruption in every government, but nothing like this one,” he said.
The evidence was visible in Gracias, Hernández’s home town. “If you go to Gracias,” he said, “you’ll see there was a big leap in his income.”
Gracias lies nestled in pine-covered mountains, a six-hour drive west of Tegucigalpa; the road is winding and badly pitted, except for the last twenty miles, which are beautifully paved.
This is where Tony and Juan Orlando Hernández and their fifteen brothers and sisters were raised, the children of a thrice-married former Army colonel who owned a coffee finca there.
Gracias does not look like a narco-trafficking town. It has a feeling of rustic prosperity, with cobblestone streets, a whitewashed sixteenth-century church, and a plaza with enormous shade trees and quiet cafés.
Nearby is the Posada de Don Juan, a gracious Colonial-style hotel owned by the Hernández family.
There are no flashy cars or mansions in sight, and the homes of two Hernández siblings that were pointed out to me looked doughtily middle-class.
A Honduran friend introduced me to a man in his fifties who grew up with Juan Orlando Hernández.
When we sat down, he was visibly nervous. In a halting voice, he confirmed that he and Juan Orlando had gone to school together, but said that his parents had moved him to a different school and they had lost touch.
When I asked what else he could tell me, he mentioned that J.O.H.’s father had been a colonel.
“What about Tony?” I asked. “Oh, yes, Tony!” the man exclaimed, as if he had forgotten all about him.
After a pause, he said, “When it comes to the President, nobody around here will speak ill of him.”
No one he knew had ever laid eyes on a drug shipment in Gracias, so the testimonies that had been given against the Hernández brothers in New York seemed like so many falsehoods.
Was he saying that the New York justice system—the judges and prosecutors and witnesses—was making things up?
He thought for a moment and conceded, “Everything is known here in the pueblo.”
There had been a time, he said, when narcotráfico owned the town and everyone looked the other way, so as not to end up dead.
There had been a lot of rumors about Tony, who held bullfights and threw expensive parties with his friends—people whom U.S. authorities have identified as drug traffickers. (A spokesperson for President Hernández denied this.)
After we talked, I drove to an area outside of town where I’d been told that the Hernández brothers and some of their cronies had built homes.
A new road led up a verdant hillside, where expansive villas looked out over the red-tiled roofs of Gracias and the mountains beyond.
When I asked two local women how to get to the President’s house, they smiled knowingly and pointed to a dirt road, leading into a deep pine forest.
I followed it until I found myself next to a high fence covered with green cloth. It extended all along the roadside, concealing everything inside from view.
Before leaving Gracias, I asked Hernández’s former schoolmate what he thought would happen to the President.
Honduras has elections scheduled for this month, and, with Hernández ending his final term,
American officials believe that he may be indicted by the Southern District of New York as soon as he leaves office.
Many speculate that he will try to circumvent the constitution and run again, or will even cancel the elections.
“He’s got power, and he knows that’s his only protection, so he’s not going to give it up,” the schoolmate said. “Whatever he does, he’s not going to let himself be taken by the gringos just like that.”
In June, the Organization of American States called a vote to condemn abuses perpetrated by Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua.
A large majority of the members approved the resolution, but Hernández’s government abstained.
Hondurans speculated that he was trying to ingratiate himself with Ortega, hoping for refuge in Nicaragua when his term is up.
It is not an unthinkable scenario: two former Salvadoran Presidents who were accused of corruption now live in Nicaragua, under Ortega’s protection.
With his options narrowing, Hernández has seemed eager to prove his value to the United States. In late October, Honduras extradited the drug lord Fredy Donaldo Mármol Vallejo to the U.S. In response, the American prosecutor in charge of the case issued a press release expressing gratitude to the Honduran government.
Hernández may also be looking for support from China. In recent years, several countries in the region, hoping to cultivate the Chinese, have abandoned their diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.
El Salvador has done so, and has been rewarded with the promise of major investments (a fact that Bukele enjoys using to taunt the Biden Administration).
Several prominent Central Americans told me that they believed Hernández was considering a similar move.
He has recently been endorsing a closer relationship with China, ostensibly to seek covid-19 vaccines.
If the elections proceed, Hondurans have little hope of a radical break from the past.
One leading candidate is Xiomara Castro—the wife of Mel Zelaya, the ousted former President, who is helping her campaign.
Her strongest ally is Salvador Nasralla, a sixty-eight-year-old television host who lost to Hernández in the contested election of 2017.
The nominees for the country’s two major parties have their own links to previous administrations.
The National Party candidate is Nasry (Tito) Asfura, the mayor of Tegucigalpa. Asfura, a contractor and businessman, is a hyperkinetic man who bills himself as “Papi a la Orden”—Daddy at Your Service.
As mayor, he has spent years tearing up and rebuilding roads, to relieve gridlock; Tegucigalpa is a mess of construction sites and bulldozers.
He is under investigation for allegedly embezzling public funds, but so far no one has accused him of links to cocaine traffickers.
Asfura met me in Tegucigalpa one morning, a mustachioed man in jeans and work boots. He gave me a bear hug and greeted me as “papito lindo”—pretty little daddy.
For more than an hour, he spoke in an exalted baritone, rarely pausing or even blinking, as he described his work to renovate the city.
Whenever I brought up the allegations against the President and his brother, Asfura talked over me.
He preferred to dismiss the “fake news” about Hondurans migrating. “It’s not true that everyone is fleeing,” he boomed.
“Insecurity has decreased. Juan Orlando has done a good job.”
His solution was to give the poor microcredits, so that they could open small businesses.
“What the people need is work,” he said. “More security has to be given to investors. We have to open our doors to them.”
His opponent from the Liberal Party is Yani Rosenthal, the disgraced former member of President Zelaya’s cabinet.
Rosenthal recently returned to Honduras, after completing his prison term in the U.S., and reëntered politics, winning his party’s primary by more than a hundred thousand votes.
Biden officials told me that they were alarmed by Rosenthal’s rapid return to politics, and that they strongly opposed his candidacy.
Rosenthal’s victory in the primary displaced the leader of the Liberal Party, Luis Zelaya. A pensive man in his early fifties, Zelaya entered politics a few years ago, after more than a decade as the rector of unitec.
Zelaya was appalled that his party had chosen a convicted drug profiteer as its candidate.
But he was equally concerned that, if Asfura won, Juan Orlando Hernández would retain control of the country.
“Asfura can claim he is his own man,” Zelaya said, “but it’ll really be J.O.H.”
Zelaya saw little reason for Hondurans not to flee. He said, “The U.S. Embassy here tries to dissuade potential migrants by telling them, ‘Don’t venture into the unknown.’ But, the thing is, there is nothing here for them.”
Hondurans represent less than a third of the combined population of the Northern Triangle countries but nearly half of the people apprehended on the migration trail to the U.S. this year.
According to a recent study, six out of ten Honduran students would prefer to leave the country after finishing school.
At unitec, Zelaya once asked an assembly of students, “How many want to leave the country?” Almost all of them raised their hands.
Zelaya recalled this as a terrible moment of truth. “I was fortunate enough to study abroad, but I never considered not returning to the country,” he said.
“That’s changed now. Whether they go in American Airlines to Miami, like the kids I spoke to, or in caravans, everybody wants to leave. The danger is that this leaves the country in the hands of people who can do whatever they want with it.”
The Fragile State of Food Security in the Maghreb: Implication of the 2021 Cereal Grains Crisis in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco" @MiddleEastInst @michaeltanchum ·
North Africa has entered a food security crisis. Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco are witnessing food inflation levels not seen since the civil unrest of the Arab Spring a decade ago.
Then, soaring food costs, particularly skyrocketing bread prices, helped fuel the popular protest movements against corruption and injustice that ousted Tunisia's long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and toppled other autocratic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
In Morocco and other MENA countries, the social unrest prompted significant political and socio-economic reform.
Although the Maghreb's current food crisis was precipitated by the local and global economic shocks brought on by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and its 2021 aftermath, the structural fragility of the food systems in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco is responsible for severity of the problem.
At the core of this fragility is the failure to implement adequate measures to address the impact of increased water scarcity and debilitating climate change.
The Maghreb's main vulnerability is its high dependency on cereal grain imports, both for human consumption and for animal feed.
The global average price for cereals increased 27.3% in September 2021 compared to September of the previous year and prices have since continued to climb at an even faster rate.
In households across Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, the food crisis is felt most acutely in the price of bread.
The price of soft wheat used in bread manufacture stood at $271 per ton at the end of 3Q 2021, a 22% year-on-year increase.
The price in 4Q 2021 has shot up further as global inventories have shrunk as the U.S., Canada, Russia, and the rest of the Black Sea region producers have experienced crop damage due to droughts, frost, and heavy rain.
In the U.S. itself, for example, the wheat stockpile is projected to be just 580 million bushels by June 1, 2022, the smallest in 14 years.
The rise in grain prices has been compounded by the soaring costs of nitrogen-based fertilizers, which have been driven in turn by the climbing costs of the natural gas or coal used in their manufacture.
In the case of wheat fertilizer, about 80% of the production cost comes from natural gas, the price of which has risen five-fold for European fertilizer manufacturers and about 1.5 times for manufacturers in the U.S.
As a consequence of all these factors, the soft wheat price on the Chicago Board of Trade on Nov. 1, 2021 stood at $7.95 per bushel, representing a 57% spike from July 1, 2021 and a price not seen since January 2013.
When viewed as a stress a test of the state of economic, agricultural, and environmental management in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, the 2021 cereal grains crisis has revealed that the food systems across the Maghreb nations exhibit dangerous fragilities that could translate into social and political instability.
However, such outcomes are not inevitable and can be mitigated through appropriate policies, some of which have begun to be implemented in the region.
Rising food insecurity in Tunisia has become a driving factor in the country's precarious political condition since the 2014 adoption of a democratic constitution.
In the period following that landmark event in Tunisia's progress toward liberal democracy, food insecurity has been increasing at an accelerating pace.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) three-year average, 25.1% of Tunisians were in a state of moderate to severe food insecurity during 2018-20, compared to 18.2% during 2014-16.
Although Tunisia has attained self-sufficiency in dairy products, vegetables, and fruit, the country remains extremely dependent on foreign cereal purchases, importing 50% of cereals used for human consumption and 60% of those used for livestock feed.
Tunisian consumers have been somewhat sheltered from the high cost of these foreign imports through government food subsidies.
The economic shock of COVID-19 followed by the perfect storm of soaring global cereal grain prices in the face of local drought conditions means Tunisia's food subsidies are no longer tenable given its fragile public finances.
As a result of COVID-19, Tunisia's fiscal deficit in 2020 reached 11.5% of GDP, the largest deficit in almost 40 years.
Having experienced an 8.8% contraction in its 2020 GDP growth, Tunisia still needed to cover debt repayments of $5.8 billion, $1 billion of which was due in July and August 2021.
In late May 2021, Tunisia's Central Bank governor warned that not accepting further IMF assistance would lead to soaring, triple-digit inflation and result in a "Venezuela scenario."
In 2021, it has been estimated that Tunisia will need to import 70% of its total grain needs and 90% of soft wheat used to make flour for bread and baked goods.
Increasing Tunisia's domestic cereals production will be neither quick nor easy. Tunisia has a problem securing sufficient fertilizer supplies, amid a global supply crunch, as soaring energy prices have curtailed production in many countries across Asia, Europe, and North America and caused fertilizer prices to spike.
In October 2021, Tunisia could only satisfy 25% of its domestic fertilizer demand.
Water scarcity is an even larger obstacle to boosting Tunisia's agricultural production, dangerously exacerbated by the poor stewardship of the country’s scant water resources, about 80% of which are used for agriculture.
In September 2021, water volumes in Tunisia's dams stood 730 million cubic meters (mcm), down from 1.1 billion cubic meters (bcm) during the same period in 2020.
Algeria faces similar economic and climate challenges to Tunisia when it comes to ensuring food security for its population, but the challenges are on a more daunting scale.
With about 17.4% of its mostly desert territory consisting of agricultural land, Algeria is Africa's largest importer of food.
Prior to COVID-19, Algeria's food imports provided for nearly 75% of the needs of its population of 45 million.
Despite the scale of the challenge, Algeria had been making some progress in reducing food insecurity before the outbreak of the pandemic.
According to the FAO's three-year average, the percentage of the population experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity dropped to 17.6% for 2018-20 period, down from 22.9% for 2014-16.
Nonetheless, prior to COVID-19, an estimated 24 million Algerians spent over 60% of their incomes just to meet their food needs.
Despite its hydrocarbon wealth, Algeria's continuation of its current policy of food import subsidies amid runaway global food inflation and domestic production shortfalls brought on by drought has become a difficult burden for its public finances to manage.
Algeria's most critical food imports are cereal grains, which contribute 43% of the total calories and 46% of the protein in the Algerian diet.
Prior to the current global supply crunch, Algeria's annual expenditure on cereal imports was around $1.3 billion.
Even in years when its domestic production yields good harvests, Algeria still relies heavily on cereal imports, typically 70% of which is soft wheat used to make bread.
Algeria's cereals agriculture is highly vulnerable to severe weather events.
Its domestic grain production is expected to plummet by 38% for the 2021/22 marketing year (MY) due to insufficient rainfall.
Consequently, its wheat import requirements for MY 2021/22 are projected to be 8.1 million metric tons, 25% above last year's imports.
Unlike other countries in the Maghreb, Algeria is also facing a milk supply crisis. Milk is the main source of animal protein in the Algerian diet, providing an estimated 16% of average daily protein intake — outstripping red meat, white meat, and eggs combined, which account for only 10.24%.
Algeria is the world's second-largest importer of dry whole milk powder, with 2021 estimated imports of 255,000 metric tons, and the fifth-largest importer of nonfat dry milk powder, estimated at 160,000 metric tons.
Algeria's current approach to food security largely depends on the extent to which state subsidies can cushion local consumers from the impact of food price increases on the global market.
As a hydrocarbon rentier state in which oil and gas accounts for around 95% of export revenues, Algiers has relied on hydrocarbon revenues to fund its food subsidies.
The economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic severely reduced its capacity to finance these subsidies.
In 2020, Algeria's economy experienced a 4.6% contraction in real GDP, with the country's crude oil and liquefied natural gas exports each experiencing about a 30% drop.
While recovering energy prices should push Algeria into positive economic growth — the World Bank's spring 2021 forecast projected 3.7% growth in 2021 and 2.5% in 2022 — some of this growth could be offset by Algeria's soaring food import bills, aggravated by the sinking value of the Algerian dinar.
With the dinar having declined steadily from 118 against the U.S. dollar on Jan. 1, 2019 to 138 at the end of October 2021, it will become increasingly difficult for Algiers to meet the rising costs of its food imports and subsidies.
Like Tunisia, Algeria's increased fertilizer use and improved water management capabilities are critical for boosting domestic agricultural production.
Although Algeria is rich in natural gas and phosphates, two of the main resources used in fertilizer manufacturing, the country's agricultural sector typically uses much less fertilizer than its neighbors.
In 2018, fertilizer consumption for Algerian agriculture was 20.7 kilograms (kg) per hectare of arable land, compared to 44.2 kg in Tunisia and 74.9 kg in Morocco.
To help alleviate the problem, Algeria’s state-owned energy company Sonatrach signed an agreement in 2018 with China’s CITIC Construction to build a $6 billion integrated phosphate production complex.
The mega-plant would see Algeria’s annual phosphate output rise to 10 million metric tons, resulting in increased annual fertilizer output worth around $2 billion on global markets, while greater domestic use of fertilizer would lead to higher crop yields in the future.
Water scarcity is a more fundamental challenge for Algeria. Similar to Tunisia, Algeria has suffered from poor stewardship of its scant water resources. In 2012, its fresh groundwater withdrawal was 3 bcm, about double the annual recharge rate. According to the FAO, the withdrawal rate jumped to 8.1 bcm in 2017.
Morocco shares many of the same food security challenges as Tunisia and Algeria, but the manner in which it is experiencing the current crisis has been shaped by its unique emphasis over the past 10 years on developing high-value agricultural exports.
Morocco's agricultural planning over the past 20 years, and particularly during the past decade, has succeeded in boosting its export production while reducing undernourishment to below 5% of the population.
Despite these achievements, the three-year average for moderate to severe food insecurity in Morocco from 2018 to 2020 stands at 28%.
While self-sufficiency in food has been a fundamental tenet of the kingdom's development strategy since independence, Morocco's growing dependency on key subsidized food imports represents an increasing danger to its socio-economic fabric.
Similar to its neighbors, Morocco is heavily dependent on imported cereal grains.
In 2008, the kingdom launched its Green Morocco Plan (Plan Maroc Vert, PMV), a multi-faceted program running from 2010 to 2020 to promote socio-economic development by boosting production of high-value agricultural exports.
The PMV succeeded in raising the value of country's agricultural exports by 117% to roughly $3.5 billion and created 342,000 new jobs.
In 2019, Morocco's agricultural sector accounted for 13% of GDP and 38% of national employment — including 74% of jobs in rural areas.
Since the proportion of the population employed in agriculture in Morocco is higher than in any other Mediterranean basin economy, the development of higher-value-added agri-food production for export has been viewed as key to raising the living standards of a large swath of society.
As a result of the PMV, Morocco's agri-food sector now accounts for 21% of its exports.
Halfway through the PMV's implementation, imported cereals accounted for 54% of Morocco's total cereal consumption, over three times the global average of 16%.
Because of the PMV's emphasis on export agriculture, Morocco has continued to reduce the amount of agricultural land devoted to cereal production.
Even with these reductions, cereal production in 2019 still used 59% of Morocco's agricultural land.
To boost cereal yields, the PMV focused on modernizing production methods and introducing climate-tolerant wheat varieties.
In 2021, these efforts paid off and Morocco enjoyed a banner year for wheat and barley production, harvesting 5.06 million metric tons of soft wheat, 2.48 million metric tons of durum wheat, and 2.78 million metric tons of barley.
Its 2021 wheat production was three times that of the drought-stricken year of 2020 and 58% higher than the 2016-20 average.
Morocco's barley production outstripped previous years by an even wider margin.
Having already projected 2021 to be a record breaking year for domestic wheat production, Rabat sought to further promote the sector by imposing a 135% import duty on foreign soft wheat in April 2021 and a 170% import duty on durum wheat in June 2021.
As the world's 13th-largest wheat importer, Morocco has not made sufficient progress in boosting domestic wheat production to escape the current crisis.
As bread prices started climbing in September and October, the government was forced to change tack on Oct. 27, 2021, suspending the import duties on soft wheat and durum effective Nov. 1.
To ensure the stability of the price of bread manufactured from soft wheat, Morocco's Compensation Fund covers the difference through subsidies.
At the end of 2015, Morocco began to implement a phased program to reform the system as the Compensation Fund's ballooning subsidies since the 2008 global financial crisis had become an unbearable burden on state finances.
Although the program's second phase was supposed to liberalize the prices of Morocco's most consumed commodities, the government suspended the program indefinitely to ensure price stability during the current crisis, which may turn out to be protracted.
The Ministry of Economy and Finance anticipates that wheat subsidies alone will cost the government $161.1 million in fiscal year 2022.
The solutions for the Maghreb's food insecurity exist but they are neither quick nor easy. Agri-tech, including precision irrigation operating on power from renewable energy sources, would go a long way in improving the region’s agricultural yields, especially when combined with state-of-the-art water management technologies. Seawater desalination is energy intensive and would either add burdensome energy costs or require additional power generation capacity from renewable energy sources. All of these measures require significant capital investment. Morocco's National Water Plan 2020-2050, which envisages the construction of new dams and desalination plants as well as the expansion of irrigation networks, among other measures, to promote sustainable agriculture and the preservation of ecosystems, is estimated to cost approximately $40 billion.
While holistic approaches are optimal, more limited measures can also result in significant positive impacts. Expanded irrigation is essential to boost cereal production across the Maghreb. In Algeria, only 43% of the agricultural land under irrigation is planted with cereals. In late 2020, Algiers issued a 2020‑24 roadmap strategy for several key agricultural products to reduce its food import expenditures. In the wheat sector, the proposed modernization of irrigation is expected create a two- to three-fold increase over currents yields, potentially producing upwards of 7 million metric tons of wheat per year by 2024.
In addition, the Maghreb nations need to bolster their strategic reserves. Algeria has set a goal to construct 31 metal silos that would create 670,000 metric tons of additional storage capacity. On Oct. 8, 2021, Morocco's King Mohammed VI raised the issue to a public national priority in a televised speech inaugurating the country's new parliament. In his speech, the king "insisted" that Morocco establish an "integrated national system" of strategic reserves for essential food, medical, and energy supplies to manage shocks from future global supply shortages and other emergencies. Tunisia, which has been comparatively slower to take action commensurate with the scope of its food insecurity problem, signed an agreement in January 2021 with the United Nations' World Food Programme to establish a food security monitoring system.
The Maghreb's need to implement such large-scale measures opens possibilities for the U.S. and its European allies to deepen their partnerships with Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco — engaging in new areas of cooperation that, in some cases, could reset the terms of the relationship. In the absence of proactive engagement by the members of the trans-Atlantic community, China, the Arab Gulf states, and other nations are likely to fill the gap and increase their influence in the region.
The 2021 cereal grains crisis in the Maghreb should not be ignored by the international community. The crisis has revealed severe structural fragilities in the food systems of Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco that are ultimately caused by the failure to implement adequate measures to address the impact of increased water scarcity and debilitating climate change. The cost of inaction or too little action could be quite high, as the failure to begin implementing appropriate policies could result in dangerous social and political instability in the near future.
While some of the necessary policies have begun to be implemented to varying extents, good governance to carry out the required measures will be critical to determining the success of efforts in Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. Solutions to ameliorate the Maghreb's food insecurity exist, but as global food prices are likely to keep increasing in 2022 as climate-driven challenges to agricultural production continue to intensify, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco — along with their international partners — have little time to lose if catastrophic consequences are to be avoided.
January 15, 2011 Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution @csmonitor
Mr. Ben Ali in a speech on Monday called the riots “terrorist acts” that were the work of “masked gangs” operating for foreign parties.
"We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are afraid only of God," the crowds chanted on Tuesday in Tunis.
On Thursday, the American secretary of State said the following in Qatar.
“In too many places, in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand,” said Secretary Hillary Clinton.
“Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever, If leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum.”
“No presidency for life,” Ben Ali, 74, said in Tunis, pledging not to run after 2014.
By Friday evening he was gone in a puff of smoke. French President Sarkozy would not allow him to land on French soil and it was the Saudi Arabians who accepted the Ben Ali entourage.
The day’s seismic events in Tunisia were described by the broadcaster Abeer Madi al-Halabi as serving “a lesson for countries where presidents and kings have rusted on their thrones.”
Change is never incremental, it tips and surges. Looking at Tunisia and Africa, I see so many similarities.
There is the widest spread between the average age of the rulers and the average age of the ruled. Tunisia is but the first example of the elastic band snapping.
The demographic skew is such that an average of more than 60 percent Africans are under the age of 26.
And keep an eye on food prices. Those are sky high and not coming down and not unlike dry kindling, awaiting a spark.
The Jasmine Revolution feels like the story of Gulliver and the Lilliputians. Gulliver was the state. All powerful. You owned the levers to the state, you owned it all. L'état, c'est moi.
Then the Lilliputians got connected and that connection was the net with which to catch their Gulliver.
John Donne wrote:
"...Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee..."
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.
"At one point I decided to repeat some of the computations in order to examine what was happening in greater detail. I stopped the computer, typed in a line of numbers that it had printed out a while earlier, and set it running again. I went down the hall for a cup of coffee and returned after about an hour, during which time the computer had simulated about two months of weather. The numbers being printed were nothing like the old ones. I immediately suspected a weak vacuum tube or some other computer trouble, which was not uncommon, but before calling for service I decided to see just where the mistake had occurred, knowing that this could speed up the servicing process. Instead of a sudden break, I found that the new values at first repeated the old ones, but soon afterward differed by one and then several units in the last decimal place, and then began to differ in the next to the last place and then in the place before that. In fact, the differences more or less steadily doubled in size every four days or so, until all resemblance with the original output disappeared somewhere in the second month. This was enough to tell me what had happened: the numbers that I had typed in were not the exact original numbers, but were the rounded-off values that had appeared in the original printout. The initial round-off errors were the culprits; they were steadily amplifying until they dominated the solution." (E. N. Lorenz, The Essence of Chaos, U. Washington Press, Seattle (1993), page 134)
Elsewhere he stated:
One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a sea gull's wings would be enough to alter the course of the weather forever. The controversy has not yet been settled, but the most recent evidence seems to favor the sea gulls.
What Next for Ethiopia? @TuftsUniversity via Eritrea Hub ALEX DEWAAL
“The final demise of the Ethiopian empire is happening now. But there is a vacuum of political proposals.”
Amid the confusing political landscape in Ethiopia today, and the last-minute efforts to mediate a peaceful resolution, some things are clear.
The Tigrayan people have faced a campaign of extermination through massacre, expulsion, rape and starvation.
Many have perished. Many more are suffering. All are traumatized. As a people, they have survived.
The Tigrayan people have the sympathy of anyone with a heart on account of their unimaginable suffering.
In one of the most astonishing feats of arms in history, the Tigray Defence Forces built an army and comprehensively defeated their enemies within a year.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom that there is no military solution, this war has a clear loser: the Ethiopian National Defence Force and its commander in chief. Their loss is total and it is theirs alone.
The TDF has won respect and now has the potential to command the political stage in Tigray and in Ethiopia.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front is distrusted by many and hated by some—including in Tigray.
The three Tigrayan opposition parties whose members have joined the TDF have openly declared that the status quo in Tigray must change.
More than ever before, Tigrayans are aware that their primary task is resolving their own political issues through an all-inclusive process.
As a matter of urgency, Tigrayans need to attend to their political culture and its shortcomings regarding transparency, tolerance, inclusion and pluralism.
The Tigrayan leadership said it does not want to assume the burden of the Ethiopian state or the hazards of policing the national capital.
They know that Tigray’s security requires a stable Ethiopia, but they will invest little in that stability.
The TPLF has joined with the Oromo Liberation Army and seven other smaller groups to form the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces.
Both the process and the content of the deal are opaque. Many are alarmed, fearing that a political agenda is being set without consultation and imposed without negotiation.
The Tigrayans’ survival and victory owes nothing to the international community, and until the United Nations and African Union begin to reckon with their moral failures over Tigray, they will have little leverage over what the Tigrayan leadership decides to do.
In whatever political settlement emerges from the war, whatever the outcome of the Tigrayans’ exercise of their right of self-determination, the Tigrayans will be seeking permanent security and the rest of Ethiopia will have to defer to that whether they like it or not. Tigray will not disarm.
Tigray will also be seeking international assistance to rebuild. Not only will it retain its own security capability but it will demand direct access to international aid.
Abiy Ahmed has lost, totally. It was his war. And his militarism, his lies and his crimes have come back to destroy him.
It no longer matters whether he is a confabulist, a true believer, a megalomaniac, or a misguided dreamer. He has just one choice to make: either to negotiate his surrender or to fight on to the bitter end.
The Ethiopian National Defense Force lost the war in June.
Rather than recognizing the iron logic of the battlefield and seeking to negotiate, Abiy chose to fight on.
Since then, the TDF has been fighting a more-or-less conventional war while the rump of the ENDF, Amhara militias and their allies have been fighting an unconventional war involving human wave attacks, irregulars and air attacks, along with a starvation siege and a propaganda war.
The reconstituted divisions of the ENDF resembled a conventional army only in the uniforms worn by their conscripts and the labels attached to their formations.
This imitation army postponed military collapse by a month or two at the cost of enormous bloodshed. They may continue as guerrillas.
More significantly, the way in which a war is organized indicates the way in which a state is structured.
Abiy’s kind of war-making indicates that the centralized state had already failed and should the Prosperity Party remain in power, Ethiopia would no longer be an institutionalized state and would instead be a fragmented market in political loyalties in which ethnic demagogues, warlords and mercenaries competed for power.
Rather than a unified security sector, it already has a deregulated security arena.
Abiy inherited a state, dreamed of an empire, and will be remembered for having destroyed both.
Abiy’s facilitators are no single group. They include Amhara ethno-nationalists, the cronies of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization who smoothed his ascent to power and benefited from it, and businesspeople who saw the jewels of the developmental state for sale at bargain prices.
The Amhara have lost an empire and not found an identity. Amhara progressives in the student movement of the 1970s sought to build a civic nationalism that repudiated ethno-imperial chauvinism.
Under the EPRDF the Amhara national regional state within the federation adopted a progressive definition of citizenship, and Amharas in general benefited from the developmental state project.
Nonetheless a dominant section of the Amhara political elite still nurtured a vision of an Ethiopia made in their image.
The civic republican critique of ethnic federalism lapsed too quickly into an ethno-national agenda, its direction of travel set by an extremist fringe.
Doubtless the Amhara leadership will face an immediate future of recrimination. Families whose sons and daughters were sacrificed en masse at the front lines of the war will ask why they were lied to, their passionate patriotism channelled exploited to no good end.
Others who see their collective reputation soiled by the mass atrocities ordered by Addis Ababa and the vitriol of social media will also be traumatized, while non-Amhara—whether Tigrayans, Oromos, or numerous minority groups from Agaw, Beni Shangul or Qemant—are not likely to be forgiving.
Will the coming political reconfiguration be an opportunity for candid reflection or will it turn into a search for scapegoats who betrayed them and external enemies who conspired against them?
There can be no Ethiopia without a major role for the Amhara. It is crucial for them and for their neighbors—including of course the Tigrayans—that they regain their composure and secure a role.
Much will depend on whether those few members of the Amhara elite who stood up against the crimes and blunders of the Abiy administration are able to find a political voice.
Ethiopia is a nation of numerous minorities whose members have justifiable fears for their rights and even their survival.
The Oromo have the state at their feet. It is for them to determine the Ethiopia’s political settlement for a generation or longer.
They have one common cause with the Tigrayans: to bury the Ethiopian empire, once and for all.
That common cause is sufficient for them to be allies for now.
However, the Oromo will want to secure their potentially dominant position in Ethiopia without relying on Tigray and its military capabilities.
More importantly, the Oromo parties will want to renew the terms on which Ethiopia’s nations and communities come together to form a post-imperial polity.
Ethiopians may wish to have a federation, a confederation, a commonwealth of independent states, or other forms of association explored by the constituent parts of former empires around the world.
How to associate with neighboring states and communities—especially Eritrea and Somalia—will also be a topic for debate.
The constituent states of Ethiopia will probably want to follow Tigray in controlling their own security and seeking independent access to international finance.
It is better to spend more time discussing these options than rush to a formula that might cause more friction and even violence.
National dialogue is a project of transforming political culture as much as constitutional engineering.
It requires shifting political discourse from its obsession with legal exactitude into an embrace of messy uncertainties underpinned by norms of tolerance and civility.
It may be better served by a long transition that prioritizes open-ended discussion and consensus building rather than by expert efforts to design permanent constitutional settlement.
Are the Oromo leaders able to rise to this historic challenge? Division and opportunism have been the recurrent weakness of Oromo political organizations at critical junctures, such as 1974-76, 1991-92, and 2018, when they fail to seize the moment and grasp power that is there for the taking.
Oromo leaders are too often on the outside looking in (or inside prison looking out). The most principled and democratic Oromo leaders have been handicapped by their preference for dialogue and consensus, while those who are ready to be coopted by the power of the day find that they quickly disappoint their constituency, though they may gain personal and factional benefit.
The 2015-18 Oromo protest movement was a coalition whose promise of democratic reform exceeded the organizational capacity of its leaders. Its leadership faces three simultaneous challenges.
The first is to revive the spirit of that movement and restore its democratizing agenda.
The second is to demonstrate a capacity to govern, noting that much of the corruption and mismanagement of Oromiya region can be attributed to the senior members of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization themselves.
Third is that Oromo leaders need to assuage the anxieties of Ethiopia’s minorities, who fear that the demographic weight of the Oromo could lead to them seeking to dominate the country.
These issues converge on the explosive question of the identity, boundaries, constitutional status, and governance of the federal capital.
Ethiopia is a nation of numerous minorities whose members have justifiable fears for their rights and even their survival.
Any political settlement based on a variant of ethnic federalism could disadvantage them, while chaos and militarized politics can pose existential threats.
Among those most at risk we must count settlers and migrants who are minorities in the region where they live, notably Amhara settlers in south and west Ethiopia.
Any form of democracy in Ethiopia requires civility in cyberspace. Social media has become a battleground without moderation or mercy, where hatred and extremism can flourish.
Even if the project of restoring a mythical glorious Ethiopian empire is defeated in the real world it will probably continue to live in the virtual world, poisoning the country’s political discourse.
The taming of cyberspace requires new policies by Facebook and Twitter among others.
Ethiopian history has as many episodes of state fragmentation and dispersal of authority, as it has periods of centralized power.
The recurrent element of a weak or non-existent central government in the country’s political settlement has not been adequately studied by historians and is under-valued, dismissed as an anomaly when in truth it has often been the case.
Today, the diminution of the centralized state is inevitable and its collapse is possible. It may not be reconstituted in our lifetimes.
The real politics of a disassembled or fragmented state are likely to resemble rivalrous bargaining in a political market, using violence and money, rather than formal procedures in the institutions of common governance.
Instead of bemoaning this reality, it is better to explore how alternatives systems of governance can be made viable.
The current federal constitution begins, ‘We the Nations, Nationalities and People of Ethiopia: Strongly committed, in full and free exercise of our right to self-determination, to building a political community.’
Article 8 defines sovereignty: ‘All sovereign power resides in the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia.’
All in Ethiopia and internationally who speak of sovereignty in the context of the current crisis should take this as a starting point—sovereignty does not lie with the executive of the federal government.
The final demise of the Ethiopian empire is happening now. But there is a vacuum of political proposals.
Whichever political leaders have the imagination and courage to seize the opportunity and re-invent Ethiopia in its next phase, will be best placed to lead the country, hopefully in a peaceful and democratic way.
February 1st 2021 The genie out of the bottle @AfricanBizMag
“Everybody else is going to start wanting more freedom within the constitution. It’s impossible for the state to manage a guerrilla war up there and at the same time manage to control the rest of the country. If he put more resources into Tigray he’s going to lose more control of the other regions.''
Ethiopia Coffee Growers Expect Another Record Year for Exports @markets
A deteriorating political crisis in Ethiopia, Africa’s biggest coffee producer, hasn’t disrupted exports and growers expect another record year as foreign rivals struggle.
Ethiopia exported 86,000 tons of coffee during the three months through October, generating $327.9 million, 77% more than projected, according to the Ethiopia Tea and Coffee Authority.
The nation exported 250,000 tons during the marketing year that ended July 31, earning a record $910 million, according to authority figures.
Ethiopian coffee exports are forecast to reach 280,000 tons in the current fiscal year and generate $1.1 billion.
Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since fighting erupted in late 2020 between central government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
“Our exports haven’t been affected” by the conflict, Adugna Debela, director general of the tea and coffee authority, said during an interview from the capital Addis Ababa.
“There is no problem in Djibouti port and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti road is working peacefully; so the way we measure it is in our daily volumes.”
Africa’s largest producer and consumer of arabica coffee beans has increased output steadily over the past three years.
Last week, the central government declared a six-month state of emergency in a conflict that’s so far been confined to areas outside the main coffee-growing regions.
Meanwhile, shipping costs have risen so much in Asia that buyers of the robusta variety of beans are searching out alternatives to Vietnam, the top exporter of that grade.
According to Rabobank International, Uganda has benefited as robusta exports jump to the highest in 30 years.
Arabica prices have surged more than 60% this year in New York after frosts and drought slashed output in top producer Brazil.
Second-ranked Colombia is also struggling with too much rain.
Because of the higher world prices, some farmers have abandoned delivery contracts signed when markets were weaker.
Saudi Arabia, Germany, the U.S., Japan, and Belgium are the biggest buyers of Ethiopian beans.
“Some of the exporters are negotiating on those prices and there are companies that do that,” Adugna said.
Safaricom Ltd. reports HY 2021 EPS +12.1%
N.S.E Equities - Commercial & Services
Par Value: 0.05/-
Closing Price: 40.20
Total Shares Issued: 40065428000.00
Market Capitalization: 1,610,630,205,600
6 months results through 30th September 2021 versus 6 months through 30th September 2020
HY Service Revenue 138.433b versus 118.406b +16.9%
HY Total Revenue 146.368b versus 124.535b +17.5%
HY Direct Costs [44.536b] versus [37.021b]
HY Provision for expected credit loss (ECL) on receivables [1.012b] versus [2.404b] [57.9%]
HY Other expenses [23.414b] versus [21.226b] +10.3%
HY Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation & amortisation (EBITDA) 77.404b versus 63.380b
HY Depreciation and amortisation [19.492b] versus [18.412b]
HY Earnings Before Interest and Taxes (EBIT) 57.912b versus 44.968b
HY Profit before income tax 54.684b versus 44.747b +22.2%
HY Profit after Tax 37.055b versus 33.069b +12.1%
HY Basic and diluted earnings per share (EPS KShs)* 0.92 versus 0.83 +12.1%
We are pleased with our performance in H1 FY22 recovering from a suppressed H1 FY21.
Service revenue grew 16.9% YoY in H1 FY22 supported by strong execution, recovery in M-PESA revenue following the return to charging on Person to Person and Lipa na M-PESA transactions below KShs 1,000 beginning January 2021, and improved consumer confidence and business activity in the economy.
In the period, one month active customers grew 4.7% YoY to 31.75Mn adding 1.4Mn customers to the base.
Following the increase of excise duty on airtime and other telephony services from 15% to 20% effective 1 July 2021, we aborbed tax on mobile data and passed on tax on voice and fixed which slowed down industry momentum.
M-PESA revenue recorded strong performance growing 45.8% YoY in H1 FY22 following the return to charging at the beginning of January 2021.
Total transaction value grew 51.5% YoY to KShs 13.7Trn while volume of transactions grew 42.0% YoY to 7.3Bn.
M-PESA wallet to bank and bank to M-PESA wallet transactions continue to be free and these account for 18.1% of the total value of M-PESA transactions.
Chargeable transactions per one month active customers grew 91.9% YoY to 18.1 transactions.
Innovation in digital financial services has been a key growth driver for M-PESA.
We continue leveraging on technological innovation to enhance access to financial services for consumers and enterprise customers.
Mobile data revenue grew 6.3% YoY weighed down by price rationalization, absorbed tax from excise duty adjustment on data from August 2021 and a lapping effect of the accelerated growth recorded in H1 FY21 at the onset of the pandemic in Kenya.
Distinct data bundle customers grew 8.1% YoY to 17.0Mn, data customers using more than 1GB increased 26.7% YoY to 6.8Mn while Active 4G devices grew 37.3% YoY to 9.7Mn.
Effective rate per MB declined 27.0% YoY in H1 FY22.
Fixed service and wholesale transit revenue grew 21.1% YoY to KShs 5.5Bn supported by 20.1% YoY growth in enterprise revenue to KShs 3.5Bn and 22.9% growth in consumer revenue to KShs 2.0Bn.
FTTH customers grew 17.1% YoY to 153.4k while enterprise fixed customers grew 38.3% YoY to 44.9k.
Capital expenditure for the six months ended 30 September 2021 stood at KShs 22.81Bn growing at 0.3% YoY. 4G, 3G and 2G population coverage now stands at 95.9%, 96.3% and 96.9% respectively.
As at 30 September 2021, borrowings were KShs 77.00Bn while cash and cash equivalents stood at KShs 26.45Bn leaving a net debt position of KShs 50.54Bn.
To support the payment of license fees for the telecommunications license awarded to the Safaricom-led consortium by the Government of Ethiopia, we undertook a one-year bridge facility of USD 400Mn to finance this venture.
We are currently seeking to term out the bridge facility through a long-term debt arrangement so as to manage our working capital requirements in the short term and minimize the currency risk for the dollar loan.