In Negroponte’s Footsteps?

April 1st, 2006
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] v4-4-Interview-Ambassador Charles Ford
Charles A. Ford began his duties as US Ambassador to Honduras in November, 2005. He joined the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1982 after working for eight years in the private sector and has extensive experience in Latin America. He served as Commercial Attaché at the US Embassy in Guatemala, a Commercial Consul at the US Consulate in Barcelona, Spain and Commercial Attaché at the US Embassy in Argentina.

Ambassador Ford was born in Dayton, Ohio. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from the College of William and Mary in 1972. At George Washington University he received his Masters Degree in Latin American Studies in 1975. Mr. Ford has been the recipient of the Department of Commerce’s two highest awards: the Gold and Silver Medals, for his work on Europe and Russia.

Bay Islands VOICE: This is your first ambassadorship. Why did you choose Honduras?
Ambassador Charles Ford: President Bush chose me for Honduras more than [it was] me choosing Honduras. The President, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Commerce were looking at the Central American Free Trade Agreement. I’ve also worked in Honduras 30 years ago in the Inter American Development Bank and I have a background in Central America.
B. I. VOICE: The residency procedure in Honduras has frustrated hundreds of foreigners and Americans. Many US citizens living in Honduras spent thousands of dollars trying in vain to get it, or they remain in limbo corrupting immigration officials with bribes to remain in the country more than 90 days. Some have left Honduras altogether. Can the US government put pressure to simplify and regulate the Honduran residency requirement?
Ambassador C.F.: There is no more important goal at the embassy then supporting the interests of American citizens and businesses. (…) We’d like to sit down with the new authorities and see how we could work through some of these issues. (…) President Zelaya made it clear that he wants a smaller, more efficient state. He wants it to be an attractive place for tourists to come, live and spend money. So I think the good will is there.
B. I. VOICE: What is the US government doing to protect Honduran children from the US child molesters? Can a list of convicted child molesters be made available to Honduran immigration authorities for checking against US citizens who enter the country?
Ambassador C.F.: Whether it’s trafficking persons, child molesters, the whole range of trans national issues, we have a close cooperation with Honduras. Honduras has improved, it still has a lot to do in terms of these areas. [Consul Ian Browne: US is a party to a convention within the Organization of American States and we’ve urged the government of Honduras to sign on to the same convention. That would greatly expedite the sharing of information on criminal cases]
B. I. VOICE: There were 13 US citizens killed in the last 15 months in Honduras. Your own embassy staff is often afraid to travel around Tegucigalpa on public transport or in taxis. Has Honduras become a country too dangerous to move to?
Ambassador C.F.: Honduran government has developed a special unit to look into investigation and prosecution of crimes against Americans. [The crime problem] is not unique to Honduras. Neighboring countries have similar issues. Embassy staff has guidance from the embassy [as to] what areas are better, what times of day and how to travel around. There is a recognized public security issue however.
B. I. VOICE: Hundreds of Honduran citizens that were involved in gang activity in the US were returned to Honduras where they turned to organizing the ‘maras.’ Does the US government have any responsibility towards creating this problem in Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador?
Ambassador C.F.: I don’t know about responsibility. Returning many people may have started some gangs. Some people returned to the US and started gangs on their own. When we return someone that has been caught involved in criminal activity we coordinate that closely with the Honduran authorities.
B. I. VOICE: How do you feel about the Cuban government helping Honduran health services with doctor volunteers? How come Cuba has done more for Honduran healthcare then the US has?
Ambassador C.F.: We treat about 30 thousand patients a year in Honduras just with our military. When you add on volunteer organizations: there is an enormous amount of American governmental, military and volunteer effort here in the health care area, which is just impressive. The fact that there 200 Cuban doctors here is a decision that the government of Honduras and Cuba have made and is up to them to make.
B. I. VOICE: With Honduras’ left leaning government coming to power, could there be a scenario where president Mel Zelaya joins the US bashers like pres. Evo Morales, pres. Hugo Chavez and pres. Fidel Castro? Even though Honduras has no oil, coca plants or the strategic location, what would be the worst thing that could happen?
Ambassador C.F.: I don’t have a scenario like that. Honduras is a country at historic crossroads. [Even though it will take] a lot of hard work and high costs, it’s a unique opportunity that Honduras faces. With debt pardoning and a strong macro economic picture [Honduras can] make some huge investments in education and healthcare and attract investment under the free trade area. Despite problems, Honduras needs to work at a faster pace to strengthen security and justice system and democracy.
B. I. VOICE: Would you not agree that the infrastructure of Honduras: its roads, electric grid, sewers are perhaps the worst built and maintained in all of Central America? Why do you think Honduras keeps being the last in this already poor region?
Ambassador C.F.: I don’t want to be getting into who is last and first…. Honduras or Nicaragua. On the road issue there has been progress as far as designing. We, through the Millennium Challenge Account, are going to be funding the “dry canal” from Salvador to Puerto Cortez. Puerto Cortez is only the second port in Latin America that has received a container security initiative from us, so our customs has people in Puerto Cortez inspecting and facilitating shipments. Panama is growing, but has constraints as far as building expansion of the canal. With the volumes going between Asia and US and Europe it is not as much taking business away from Panama, but offering another way of moving [goods]. (…) Monopoly of Hondutel expired in December, and the cost of international calls went down 50 percent. (…) I don’t think there is a country in the region that has managed its macroeconomics better in the last three, four years. The discipline, the debt relief, the lack of inflation, [and the] relatively stable exchange rate are all great indicators to attract investment. To make that happen you need to have physical and legal security.
B. I. VOICE: That was done during the four years under president Maduro’s administration. Do you feel Maduro is not appreciated for these accomplishments very much?
Ambassador C.F.: I hope he is appreciated. You don’t get anywhere without having a stable economic program. With theses indicators in place and debt relief, the government of president Zelaya has an extraordinary opportunity to put all that to a use that serves better the good of all the people. [/private]

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