Thursday, May 14, 2015

Scandal in the Social Security Institute in Honduras: Key Witness Shot This Afternoon in San Pedro Sula

Today in San Pedro Sula, Juan Charles Bográn Velasquez, a key witness in the IHSS scandal was shot 14 times while driving in his vehicle with his body guard, Julio César España Chinchilla. It is suspected that Bográn Velasquez will not survive given the extent of his injuries.

David Romero of Globo TV announced this information over his radio and TV program this afternoon. The man that was shot was a witness in the IHSS corruption scandal that involved the looting of $350 million dollars from the Social Security Institute (IHSS) in 2012 and 2013 during the Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo administration. The IHSS provides medical care and pensions to approximately 600,000 public and private sector workers and their families around the country.

Photo caption: Banner reads, "Punishment for the corrupt individuals that looted the IHSS funds to finance the political campaign of the National Party." Source: El Heraldo

The IHSS scandal is not new in Honduras but has received a lot of national and international attention over the last few days because of new evidence that has emerged that allegedly proves that the money stolen from the IHSS was transferred to the National Party. The money was then suspected to have been used to finance the National Party's campaign in the 2013 Elections. The evidence that has recently emerged via David Romero from Globo TV includes a series of cheques - some actually written to the National Party of Honduras - and others in the name of ghost companies that were suspected to have been created to launder the money. The evidence also includes the names of individuals involved with the ghost companies, many of which are closely tied to the National Party. Bográn Velasquez - the man just shot today - was involved himself in one of the ghost companies and was expected to testify (if the case ever moved forward in the Ministerio Publico) about the link between the stolen money, the high level government officials including the President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernandez that are allegedly involved in the scandal, and the role of the ghost companies.

Last week, a new Social Protection Law was approved in the Honduran National Congress that dramatically transforms the IHSS and essentially privatizes the institution. The reforms of the IHSS under the new law were one of the Structural Adjustments demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that approved a loan to the Honduran government in December 2014. Interesting, Mauricio Oliva of the National Party, the current President of the National Congress oversaw the approval of the new IHSS law last week, and was also part of the Health Commission in the Honduran Congress that oversaw the approval of the millions of dollars of contracts to the ghost companies during the last administration.

The new IHSS law passed last week (but that has not been published), reduces the monthly contributions the Honduran state is required to make to the IHSS; dramatically transforms the way that pension funds are managed; and significantly reduces medical and pension benefits for public and private workers. Under the new law, the IHSS will simply act as an administrating body that will subcontract health care services to private clinics and hospitals.

Since the $350 million dollars were stolen from the IHSS, the services in the IHSS hospitals have deteriorated significantly. Once known as the best hospitals in the country, patients and their family members are now required to purchase medications and all medical supplies from private pharmacies and medical supply companies before receiving adequate medical attention in the IHSS. The implications of the $350 million stolen from the IHSS have meant a major deterioration of healthcare services, but also contributed to the public discouragement in the IHSS and most recently, been used as a justification to privatize it's services.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

May Day 2015 in Tegucigalpa: Snap shots from the street

Waiting for the May Day march to get started in the La Granaja neighbourhood in Comeyaguela (Tegucigalpa).

Street theatre by Honduran women drawing attention to the high levels of violence against women and femicide. Sign reads "Sorry for the inconvenience but they are murdering us". The women lying on the ground represent the 14-year old high school student Soad Nicole Bustillo Ham thought to be killed by death squads; Margarita Murillo, campesina leader murdered in Villanueva (northern Honduras) in August 2014; Maria Jose Alvarado known as Miss Honduras murdered in November 2014 days before she was set to participate in a world beauty contest; and a woman killed after being sexually assaulted.

14-year old Soad Nicole's body was found on the side of a dirt road wrapped in a sheet. Sign reads "Soad Nicole Ham, Student of the Vicente Caceres Central Institute, 13-years old, March 25, 2015, strangled, "student struggle"". Throughout the march, University students carried what people call an encostalado or a murdered body found wrapped in either a sheet or in a sack. A costal in Spanish means a sack and an encostalado refers to a person that has been murdered and their body has been put into a sack normally found deposited at the side of a road/street.

Workers from the Workers' Union of the National Property Institute (STEPIP) carry signs that read "Mr. President. You lied to the people and the working class, promising a better life [using the infamous name of Juan Orlando Hernandez's social program "Vida Mejor"] and each day, we are worse". Sign on right "Why are you hitting and killing us students?, Because you are student beasts"

Another creative and awesome presence by women and feminists groups that danced, sang, made noise and banged drums throughout the march. Signs (from left to right) read: "Vanessa Zepeda, born on April 29, 1981, nurse by profession, part of SITRAIHSS [Workers' Union of the National Social Security Institute], Victim of feminicide by her parter, Dr. Rafael Alejandro Sierra. She would have been 34 years old two days ago if she were still here" [Vanessa is known as one of the martrys of the FNRP that was killed shortly after the military coup] and "Women are a revolution inside the 'revolution'".

Workers from STIBYS (Workers' Union of the Beverage and Related Products Industry) dancing around with matching t-shirts that read "STIBYS: 61 years in the anti-capitalist struggle, No to the dictator", "Venezuela is not a threat, its hope"

Yes, this is a picture of a wall but couldn't help myself - the message is so awesome. "Get out foreign/US troops!"

Hondurans living in the 19th Department of Honduras (outside of the country), Lynn, Tito Meza, and Oliver Hernán Valladares and members of the Honduras Solidarity Network. Signs read "Department 19, struggling with the people" and "Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) and Department 19 in solidarity with the working class"

Youth spray paint the front of the National Party headquarters as the march passes by. Painting reads "Julieta Castellanos [Rector of the National Public University (UNAH)] is a national party supporter"

After a long walk, we arrived to the National Congress, and then to the park in the center for speeches.