Friday, January 18, 2013

Murder in the city, daily life and tourism

Honduras took another hit this week when a British tourist was shot and killed in San Pedro Sula, the biggest city. 
The headlines in the British media, naturally, weren’t good. Most stories noted Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, which seems to be the main thing people know about the country.
Honduras, for tourists, isn’t dangerous. My partner’s son and his family - including boys 11 and 13 - just spent six weeks here, feeling secure and welcome everywhere they went.
But Kaya Omer, the 33-year-old British tourist, had a different, tragic experience. 
It’s hard to tell tourists there are two Honduras. Copan Ruinas, Tela, Santa Rosa de Copan, most smaller communities are completely safe for travellers. The big cities are dangerous. 
The risk is that people will either be scared from the whole country, or not scared enough where they should be.
Omer was walking and shooting video in a nice San Pedro Sula neighbourhood around 11 a.m. Accounts vary, but it seems two young men and a woman tried to steal the camera, and his backpack, which contained two more cameras, an iPad and money. He resisted, they shot him.
You can’t blame the victim. But when we go to Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula, we carry nothing when we walk. Certainy not a backpack of valuables; if you travel with possessions in the city, you take a cab, with a driver you know. (Most Hondurans do the same if they can.)
During our in-country Cuso orientation, we learned to be ready to avoid eye contact and hand whatever we had over to a robber if it came to that. (And to carry at least a reasonable amount of money so the bad guys wouldn’t get mad at a mingy payday.)
But how do you give tourists that kind of advice and still expect them to visit? We found the orientation, with its bleak scenarios, alarming, and we were committed.
The real solution, of course, is to reduce the crime and violence. Tourists almost never experience crime, but urban Hondurans - especially those without the money to insulate themselves - live with the risk every day. Small businesses, taxi drivers, vendors in the city pay weekly extortion to stay safe.
Two days after Omer was killed, President Porifirio Lobo said security has improved this year. “Everyone feels that has gotten better,” he said.
But it’s hard to find anyone who actually say that. Some groups are predicting the murder rate will be higher again for 2012. There might have been a few tiny steps on police corruption. Drug seizures are up. (But Canadians have learned giant seizures don’t make a bit of difference to the trade, supply or crime.) But life hasn’t changed, or security improved, for Hondurans.
The Observatorio de la Violencia just reported on 2012 massacres, events in which three or more people were killed in the same attack. There were 115, killing 432 people. Half were gang executions, and another eight per cent involved fights between gangs. Imagine a mass murder in B.C. every week, based on the relative populations.
There are no easy solutions. The enforcement and justice systems don’t work - more 90 per cent of murders go unsolved. “Impunity” is a big public complaint. Some people are just above the law.
Still, efforts could be made. El Salvador reported a 41 per cent drop in murders in 2012 as a result of a truce between the two major gangs. That took the rate to 38 murders per hundred thousand people, from 65 in 2011. The Honduran rate in 2011 was 87; Canada’s was 1.7. (The deal was facilitiated by Adam Blackwell, a Canadian diplomat now on the Honduran Public Security Reform Commission. He has raised the idea of a similar truce in Honduras.)
It’s far from a cure-all. But two or three fewer murders a day would free up a lot of police time.
The frustrating thing, again, is that Honduras is safe for tourists, or as safe as their home countries. You can walk the streets of Copan Ruinas late at night without fear, people are welcoming and they are eager for you to like their country. 
But it’s asking a lot to expect people to ignore the headlines.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Liberals suffer big self-inflicted damage in three ridings: What's gone wrong?

The Liberals’ fumbling in three potential swing ridings is baffling. They’re spending big money on political advisors and campaign staff (some from party funds, some from taxpayers).
But the Liberals have suffered self-inflicted wounds in three ridings - Vernon-Monashee, Boundary-Similkameen and Abbotsford-South. 
Polls point to an easy New Democrat victory. If the Liberals hope for a surprise win, they’ll need those seats.
Instead, they’re giving the advantage to rivals.
In Boundary-Similkameen, the Liberals have bounced sitting MLA John Slater. Publicly, they say he has “personal issues that, in our view, impact his ability to represent the party.” Privately, Liberal operatives have whispered he has a drinking problem.
Slater says no. He’s naturally outspoken, he says, and that’s uncommon in caucus. He concedes the interaction of prescription drugs and antihistamines and “a glass of wine” might have affected him on a few occasions, including in a caucus meeting after he had a glass of wine at lunch.
That’s not a great explanation. Many people have decided a glass of wine at lunch isn’t a great idea; certainly after one bad episode that would seem prudent.
But the party people could have convinced Slater to step aside. An delegation of MLAs could have talked to him. Or the party could have backed another candidate in a nomination contest and let party members in the riding decide.
Instead, Slater says, they came to him in December, claimed polls showed he couldn’t win and pressured to go quietly or else. He thinks the polls were fake. The riding association president quit in protest.  An Osoyoos Times editorial described the party’s treatment of Slater as “abhorrent, disgusting, amateurish, disrespectful and childish.” 
And now that he’s been turfed as a Liberal, Slater is running as an independent.
Which is bad news for the likely Liberal candidate, Oliver Mayor Linda Larson, who had been lined up in advance by the big guys. (Real nomination meetings have certainly become rare in some parties.)
Slater won the 2009 election with 38 per cent of the vote. The NDP candidate came second with 33 per cent, the Conservatives third with 20.
So if Slater takes 10 per cent of the vote and some Liberal supporters stay home because they don’t like the way their MLA was treated, the NDP wins easily.
These kinds of situations are difficult. There was likely no tidy outcome. But this seems a  good example of how not to do it.
The situation in Abbotsford-South is similar. Abbotsford Coun. Moe Gill was encouraged to run for the Liberal nomination. He signed up 1,500 members and had a lock on an open contest.
But then Rich Coleman and party brass told him they had decided Daryl Plecas, a Fraser Valley University crime prof, should be the candidate and there would be no real nomination contest.
Gill initially bowed to the pressure, changed his mind, and is now running as a motivated and angry independent.
Again, bad news for the Liberals. Plecas will compete with Gill, incumbent John van Dongen and a Conservative for the traditional Liberal vote.
In the last election, van Dongen won with 59 per cent of the vote, with the NDP candidate at 26 per cent. This time, the NDP actually has a chance, although van Dongen remains the favorite.
And then there is Okanagan North. 
Liberal MLA Eric Foster, chair of the legislative committee responsible for appointing an auditor general, has been under fire for his role in the decision not to re-appoint John Doyle. 
In part, because Foster remained chair even though he was singled out for criticism in an auditor general’s report last year.
The auditor general’s office raised concern about a potential conflict of interest, as Foster spent $67,000 on renovations for a new constituency office in a building owned by the family of his assistant. Foster referred that issue to the conflict commissioner, who found no wrongdoing.
The auditor general also raised concerns that Foster requested $78,000 in reimbursements for the landlord without any supporting documents - receipts, quotes, evidence of value for money. About $67,000 was eventually paid. (Foster says no one told him of the report.)
Foster refuses to provide the documents. And Conservative candidate Scott Anderson has questioned the spending, alleging the family of the constituency assistant bought the building a week before the election, and the downtown office used by Tom Christensen, Foster’s predecessor, cost taxpayers about 40 per cent less a year.
Not the Liberal party’s fault. But the leadership’s inaction - the bad decision on Doyle, the failure to make Foster produce the documents, the long delay in facing the problem - let the questions build. (Christy Clark finally tried to address the Doyle issue this week.)
In 2009, the Liberals won in Vernon-Monashee with 37 per cent of the vote. The NDP candidate came second with 32 per cent, Greens third with 17 per cent and Conservatives fourth with eight. 
Conservative candidate Scott Anderson has received good local media coverage on the constituency office issue. Even a small Conservative gain would mean a Liberal loss.
One blunder, you could chalk up to the nature of politics. Not everything goes right. 
Three strikes should worry Liberal supporters. 
Footnote: The other questions are how these missteps affect donors and volunteers. Top-down campaigns, where candidates are picked by a handful of party strategists, risk alienating the local troops. And no one wants to give money to a losing cause, or if there are doubts it will be spent competently.