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Updated 10/02/2009

Honduras News in Review—September 2009

1. Zelaya returns to Honduras, de facto government escalates repression
2."Peaceful solution" on horizon?
3. More protesters killed by security forces
4. Further arrests of protesters, dissenters
5. Other incidents of media repression
6. Court summons Army chief for disappearance
7. International human rights bodies, NGOs issue reports, statements
8. Library of Congress report says coup was legal, but report sources were limited, biased
9. Competing U.S. House resolutions on Honduras remain neck-and-neck
10. Further U.S. visa revocations for coup participants, supporters
11. Millennium Challenge aid to Honduras cut
12. De facto government officials rebuke U.S. pressures
13. OAS maintains that de facto government is illegal, continues to support Zelaya’s reinstatement
14. Uncertainty surrounding Nov. 29 presidential elections
15. Other countries take action against Honduras
16. U.N. General Assembly debate on Honduras
17. Honduras envoy expelled from U.N. Human Rights Council session
18. Colombian militias allegedly providing security to Honduran businessmen

1. Zelaya returns to Honduras, de facto government escalates repression
 
The return of deposed president Manuel Zelaya on Sept. 21 set off a sequence of events that has further escalated the violation of human rights and civil liberties on behalf of the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti. In addition to now-familiar crowd control measures like selective curfews and violent dispersals of largely peaceful protests, including the vigil that congregated in front of the Brazilian embassy in the morning hours of Sept. 22. The military and police resorted to large-scale power outages targeting the embassy, where Zelaya and 60 supporters are still ensconced as of this writing; resistance station Radio Globo (prior to its shutdown; see below) and several resistance-heavy neighborhoods. At least 100 protesters were injured in the actions of Sept. 22. Detainees from the day's police actions—140 or thousands, depending on the source—were rounded up in nearby Chochy Sosa baseball stadium. Subsequent actions proved even fiercer as military and police deployed water cannons, more virulent tear gas and even high-tech sonic cannons against protests, private homes, the offices of Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, and the embassy itself in an effort to suppress popular emotion over Zelaya’s return. [CNN, 9/21/09; Hondudiario, 9/21/09; El Tiempo, 9/22/09; El Tiempo, 9/22/09; El Tiempo, 9/22/09; La Tribuna, 9/23/09; La Tribuna, 9/25/09; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 9/22/09]
 
The Micheletti government also temporarily sealed the borders of the country, shutting down air traffic during a 48-hour period immediately following Zelaya's return, making it extremely difficult for any independent verification or documentation of alleged human rights abuses. [Hondudiario, 9/25/09] In the aftermath, consumers descended on stores and banks throughout Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula to hoard food, gasoline and the cash with which to buy them in preparation for an expected continuous curfew during which businesses would remained closed. [El Tiempo, 9/23; El Tiempo, 9/23/09]

The de facto government formally increased its level of repression on Sept. 27, when Micheletti announced an executive decree of emergency measures [http://hondurasemb.org/2009/09/28/honduras-coup-leader-micheletti-decrees-45-day-suspension-of-constitution-guarantees/ ] suspending civil liberties of free association and enabling warrantless arrests (in violation of the Honduran Constitution), as well as the ability to shut down news media for ''statements that attack peace and the public order, or which offend the human dignity of public officials, or attack the law.'' Immediately following, authorities shut down Radio Globo and TV station Canal 36, both of which had been vocal critics of the government’s actions, confiscating all of their broadcasting equipment and kicking all staff out of their facilities. After much internal resistance to these measures from both the National Congress and business allies, Micheletti apologized and offered to annul the decree, but has subsequently appeared resistant to lifting it. [El Libertador, 9/27/09; Christian Science Monitor, 9/28/09; CNN, 9/28/09; NY Times, 10/1/09]
 
Also on Sept. 27, Micheletti gave Brazil 10 days to end Zelaya’s stay in its embassy, threatening to decommission it otherwise. A five-member team of the Organization of American States, which had come to observe the situation on the ground in advance of the arrival next week of a formal delegation aimed at negotiating a peaceful conclusion to the crisis, was detained for six hours, and four of its members returned home. [NY Times, 9/28/09] A timeline of events since Sept. 21 can be found on La Tribuna.

2.“Peaceful solution” on horizon?

Following the U.S. suspension of several visas of Honduran business leaders who supported the coup (see story below) and continued pressure on the de facto government, as well as a meeting last week with U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens, OAS official John Biehl and representatives of the different factions in the political conflict in Honduras, there is more conversation about a “peaceful solution” to the standoff, but very few specifics of a proposal that might be acceptable to all parties.

Gen. Romeo Vazquez, the chief of the Honduran armed forces, said this week, “We are quickly approaching a solution that is what we all are longing for,” but offered few specifics. What he did say seemed to echo the proposal of Adolfo Facussé, president of the National Association of Industries of Honduras, who is among those business leaders whose visas were revoked. Among other terms, Facussé proposed that Zelaya would be reinstated with limited powers, a broad coalition government and a multinational military force to ensure a peaceful transition—and that he would face trial on corruption charges but would be under house arrest rather than serve prison time if convicted. Nelson Ávila, an economic adviser to Zelaya, said the “plan was stillborn” and that “the dialogue is based on the presumption of guilt of President Zelaya.” [LA Times, 9/30/09; Mercopress, 9/29/09; NY Times, 9/29/09]

A dialogue to end the crisis—a process which Zelaya said he came back to revive—had its fits and starts during the first couple of days of the ousted president's return, as both Zelaya and Micheletti positioned themselves with the various stakeholders. [El Tiempo, 9/23/09; El Tiempo, 9/25/09; El Tiempo, 9/25/09; Hondudiario, 9/25/09]

3. More protesters killed by security forces

When Elvis Jacobo Euceda Perdomo, 18, yelled “golpistas” (coup supporters) while cycling past a police patrol car on Sept. 22, officer Denis Omar Montoya got out of the car and shot him, killing the teen instantly. The special prosecutor’s office on corruption announced that it would be asking for Montoya’s arrest. [El Tiempo, 9/23/09; La Tribuna, 9/23/09]
 
Francisco Alvarado, 65, was hit in the stomach with a bullet from a police-issue M-16 when he stepped into the street during a confrontation between police and resistance members on Sept. 22, and died on the way to the hospital. According to one report, he was taken there by a police unit who tried to pass off the fatal blow as a knife wound. Resistance leaders say there have been as many as 10 deaths associated with post-coup violence, but the official government tally is three. [El Tiempo, 9/23/09; El Libertador, 9/23/09]
 
4. Further arrests of protesters, dissenters

A Sept. 6 political rally in Choluteca for Liberal Party presidential candidate Elvin Santos turned violent as Santos supporters and members of the resistance traded threats and threw rocks. As fighting spread, security forces were called in; two people were injured, and five resistance members arrested and charged with sedition and illegal demonstration. [El Tiempo, 9/6/09; La Tribuna, 9/10/09]
 
Bartolo Fuentes, a local alderman of the municipal corporation of El Progreso Yoro, was arrested on Sept. 15 for denouncing the coup while speaking at a public Independence Day event. [Vos el Soberano, 9/15/09]
 
In the evening hours of Sept. 10, René Chávez Centeno, a resistance leader, former teacher’s union president and Garífuna activist, was arrested for sedition, illegal protests, grievous damage and threats. He was cleared of all charges on Sept. 18. [Pacific Free Press, 9/12/09, El Tiempo, 9/18/09]

5. Other incidents of media repression

Prior to its recent shutdown (see top story), Canal 36 was the victim of a smoke bomb attack on Sept. 12, and had its signal interrupted in an intentional and high-tech manner that the broadcaster attributed to government interference on Sept. 22. The station has only been able to broadcast in Tegucigalpa proper since its transmitter was destroyed in an earlier attack. [C-Libre, 9/12/09; El Tiempo, 9/23/09]

The offices of the Committee for Free Expression, a press-freedom watchdog organization, were sacked over the weekend of Sept. 5; desk drawers and shelves were obviously searched, but nothing of value was taken. [C-Libre, 9/8/09]

Newspaper El Tiempo and broadcasters Canal 11 and Cable Color, all properties of the same owner, were the object of multiple acts of harassment over the week of Sept. 14, including power surges at El Tiempo that forced the paper to miss its first day in over 20 years, and a raid on the TV stations by government telecom agency Conatel, which was trying to prevent the conglomerate from lending satellite time to pro-resistance Canal 36 and Radio Globo. An early-shift delivery driver had been missing the entire week, and was unable to deliver the newspaper to much of the central part of the country. The three media outlets have been the only mainstream news outlets to present balanced reporting and not bow to the de facto government’s pressure to put out exclusively Michelleti-friendly coverage. [El Tiempo, 9/18/09; El Tiempo, 9/19/09; El Tiempo, 9/19/09; El Tiempo, 9/21/09]
 
The Sustainable Development Network-Honduras (RDS-Honduras), a public bulletin-board service, was visited by government telecom agency Conatel with four unidentified personnel, later assumed to be military men in civilian clothes, in an effort to shut down the community portal.
[Vos El Soberano, 9/24/09]

6. Court summons Army chief for disappearance
 
The Constitutional Court issued a summons on Sept. 21 to Gen. Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez to produce information on disappeared protester Pablo Humberto Mejía Guifarro. A writ of habeas corpus concluded that an arrest made by the National Directorate of Criminal Investigation, one of the police agencies that has been collaborating with the Army in the government’s street-level response to the daily protests sparked by the coup. [El Tiempo, 9/21/09]

7. International human rights bodies, NGOs issue reports, statements

International Observatory of Human Rights Situation in Honduras indicated in a report on Sept. 9 that minimum conditions for a free and fair election in Honduras do not currently exist. [El Tiempo, 9/10/09]

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued precautionary protective measures on Sept. 10 for 11 Hondurans, including some of Zelaya's cabinet members. On Sept. 23, the commission also asked permission to visit the country on an emergency mission to verify reports of human rights abuses in the wake of the ousted president's return. [El Tiempo, 9/11/09; El Tiempo, 9/23]

The permanent council of the Organization of American States condemned the forceful breakup of the vigil in front of the Brazilian embassy on Sept. 22 and called for government forces to respect the diplomatic status of the building. [El Tiempo, 9/23/09]
 
Human Rights Watch also issued a statement on Sept. 22 expressing concern over reports of violence in front of the embassy, and a statement on Sept. 28 urging the restoration of press freedom following the government's emergency decree. [Human Rights Watch, 9/22/09; Human Rights Watch, 9/28/09]
 
Amnesty International issued a statement on Sept. 23, calling the Honduran human rights situation “alarming” and calling for the international community to come together to end the crisis and its attendant rights abuses. [http://www.tiempo.hn/secciones/crisis-politica/4306-amnistia-internacional-qalarmadaq-por-la-situacion-en-honduras El Tiempo, 9/23/09] On Oct. 1 it said the emergency decree had given a "green light" to increased abuses. [AI, 10/1/09]
 
On Sept. 23, the United Nations, concerned over reports of state-sponsored violence, issued a call to the de facto government to ensure the protection of life, liberty and security for all its citizens—rights guaranteed by international treaties to which Honduras is a signatory, as well as the country’s constitution and laws. [El Tiempo, 9/23/09]
 
Honduran congressional members against the coup also voiced their concern over the violence, on Sept. 23 calling for the de facto government to sign the San José Accord immediately. [El Tiempo, 9/23/09]
 
A report by the Sisters of Mercy Institute Justice Team, which organized a U.S. religious delegation to Honduras on Aug. 18-25, cited "multiple reports of horrific human rights violations inflicted by Honduran military and 
police forces upon ordinary people peacefully exercising basic rights"; abuses included "beatings, rape, harassment and intimidation, arbitrary arrest, disappearances and even death." Delegation members said people they met with described "three major powers behind the coup: the business elite … the old guard of the army connected to U.S. military power … and organized crime—narco traffickers." [Sisters of Mercy, 9/28/09]

On Sept. 28, May I Speak Freely joined other NGOs and faith groups in calling on the Honduran government to respect civil liberties and human rights. [Latin America Working Group, 9/28/09]

The Committee to Protect Journalists on Sept. 28 urged the de fact government to allow pro-Zelaya broadcasters to reopen. [CPJ, 9/28/09]

On Sept. 29, Reporters Without Borders also expressed concern over the shutdown of media outlets and repression of journalists. [RSF, 9/29/09]

8. Library of Congress report says coup was legal, but report sources were limited, biased

A report published by the U.S. Law Library of Congress last month titled “Honduras: Constitutional Law Issues” was heralded by some Republican Congressional representatives and in a Sept. 21 Wall Street Journal editorial as substantiation that the removal of President Manuel Zelaya was constitutional and that U.S. response has undermined Honduran democracy. According to the report, "available sources indicate that the judicial and legislative branches applied constitutional and statutory law in the case against President Zelaya in a manner that was judged by the Honduran authorities from both branches of the government to be in accordance with the Honduran legal system." However, the report relied heavily on one legal analyst who, in turn, relied on the Honduran Supreme Court’s own analysis and that of an outspoken coup supporter who testified before Congress last month. [WSJ, 9/21/09; Upside Down World, 9/25/09; Upside Down World, 9/25/09; Narco News Bulletin, 9/28/09]

The report was commissioned by Rep. Aaron Schock, R.-Ill., who publicized the report on Sept. 24. In a press release, Schock said the report "contradicts the State Department on Honduras" and offers his own plan for a compromise resolution of the standoff that includes “resuming U.S. aid, international aid and ending the VISA sanctions.” [Rep. Schock press release, 9/24/09; Baltimore Sun, 10/2/09]

9. U.S. House divided on Honduras support

The U.S. Congress is divided along party lines in its support of two competing resolutions on the legality of the ouster of President Zelaya. H. Res. 630—which Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., introduced July 10—"condemns the June 28 coup d'etat," "refuses to recognize the de facto Micheletti government,” and calls for Zelaya's reinstatement. H. Res. 619, put forth July 8 by Rep. Connie Mack, R.-Fla., condemns Zelaya "for his unconstitutional and illegal attempts to alter the Constitution of Honduras,” and calls the actions of June 28 legal and constitutional. H. Res. 630 currently has 49 co-signers, while H. Res. 619 has 46 co-signers. [Library of Congress, H. Res. 619; Library of Congress, H. Res. 630; past story, HNR, July/Aug 2009]

A Republican delegation that includes Rep. Aaron Schock (see above story) and Sen. Jim DeMint, R.-S.C., plan to meet Oct. 2  with Micheletti and other members of the de facto government, in defiance of Washington policy barring contact with architects of the coup. In response, a group of Congressional Democrats, led by James McGovern and Bill Delahunt, sent a signed letter to Honduran Congress President José Saavedra urging the de facto government to "restore constitutional order and respect freedom of expression and internationally recognized human rights," and to restore Zelaya to the presidency as outlined in the San José Accord. "The United States government has one position, which has been a repeated call for dialogue between both sides, and support for the San José Accord," the letter continued. [Baltimore Sun, 10/2/09; Open Letter to the Congress of Honduras, 10/2/09]

10. Further U.S. visa revocations for coup participants, supporters

On Sept. 11, the United States revoked the diplomatic and tourist visas of de facto President Roberto Micheletti, the foreign minister, the attorney general, the armed forces chief, and 14 Supreme Court judges. [NY Times, 9/12/09] Four other officials, including Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio, had their visas revoked on July 28. [HNR, July/Aug 2009] An unknown number of business leaders supportive of the coup have also had their visas cancelled, including the coordinator of the National Convergence Forum Leonardo Villeda Bermudez, and Adolfo Facusse, president of the Honduran Manufacturers' Association. [AP, 9/12/09; El Tiempo]

The State Department has not revoked the visa of Micheletti government security advisor Billy Joya, who is accused of the illegal detention, torture and murder of civilians in the 1980s, when he was a commanding officer in the military intelligence Batallion 3-16. In a February 2000 interview with MISF, Joya admitted his involvement in the illegal detentions of suspected subversives during the 1980s, but denied his involvement in torture. In an Aug. 8 interview with the New York Times, Joya said that, because of death threats received since the coup, he has been residing in the United States and only "returns to Honduras only intermittently to meet with clients."  [NY Times, 8/8/09; HNR, Aug 2009]

11. Millennium Challenge aid to Honduras cut

At its scheduled Sept. 10 meeting, the board of the Millennium Challenge Corp., a U.S. government agency, cut off $11 million in funding to Honduras. Prior to the vote, the board had only suspended the aid. Martín Ochoa, Honduras director for the MCC, said that at least 1,000 people will lose jobs as a direct result of the MCC monies going away, while another 1,000 jobs will be indirectly affected. [El Tiempo, 9/10/09, El Tiempo, 9/10/09] Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio, who supported the coup, criticized the suspension of MCC aid as unfair to the poor. [El Tiempo]

12. De facto government officials rebuke U.S. pressures

Interim President Micheletti insisted that his administration be recognized just as regimes have in other countries where coup d'états have taken place, followed by a "constitutional succession." [Hondudiario, 9/9/09]. And in response to the U.S. government revoking his and other officials' visas on Sept. 11 (see story above), Micheletti said it "changes nothing because I am not willing to take back what has happened in Honduras." [AP, 9/12/09] Earlier this month, almost three months after the coup, the de facto government hired well-connected Washington public relations firm Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter & Associates to “advance the level of communication, awareness and media/policy maker attention about the political situation in Honduras.” [The Hill, 9/27/09]

13. OAS maintains that de facto government is illegal, continues to support Zelaya’s reinstatement

At a Sept. 28 Special Meeting of the OAS Permanent Council to continue considering the situation in Honduras, the body passed a declaration calling for "the immediate signing of the San José Agreement,” demanding full guarantees to ensure the life and physical integrity of President Zelaya, and supporting the initiatives undertaken by the Secretary General José Miguel Insulza to facilitate dialogue and restoration of the constitutional order in Honduras. [OAS, 9/28/09]

14. Uncertainty surrounding Nov. 29 presidential elections

The Honduran presidential elections, scheduled for Nov. 29 elections, may not be internationally recognized if carried out by the de facto government. [Baltimore Sun, 9/29/09] The resistance movement in Honduras has planned to boycott elections, despite a 2004 law making it illegal to organize a boycott of an election. [MISF interview with Honduran legal scholar Leo Valladeres]. The Honduran business community, led by National Association of Industries of Honduras President Adolfo Facussé, has proposed that voters would get a discount at Honduran businesses “so that people will go to the stores with the ink on their fingers [after voting] and get an automatic discount on any purchase they make anywhere in the country.” [La Tribuna, 9/9/09]

On Sept. 13, the U.N. announced it had suspended technical assistance to Honduras’ electoral court, saying the elections scheduled for Nov. 29 would not be credible because of the turmoil in the country. The European Commission also announced that the EU would not send election observers because it doesn't believe the elections would be free and fair. [AP, 9/23/09; EFE]

15. Other countries take action against Honduras

On Sept. 15, the EU threatened further sanctions against the de facto government if it didn't find a peaceful solution to the country's crisis. Budgetary support payments from the 27-nation bloc have been put on hold, and EU ministers agreed to continue to restrict political contact with the Micheletti government. The ministers also expressed "deep concern" about reported human rights violations. [Reuters, 9/15/09]

On Sept. 16, Spain announced it would prohibit entry and suspend diplomatic visas to 10 officials associated with the coup government, including the congressional president, various ministers and the attorney general. [El Tiempo, 9/16/09]

16. U.N. General Assembly debate on Honduras

As the U.N. General Assembly meeting was held immediately after President Zelaya’s return to Honduras, Latin American leaders voiced their support for his reinstatement. Zelaya himself briefly addressed the General Assembly by cell phone. [VOA News, 9/23/09; video of Zelaya’s cell phone address to General Assembly]

17. Honduras envoy expelled from U.N. Human Rights Council session

Honduran ambassador to the United Nations José Delmer Urbizo, who has rebuked ousted president Zelaya and is supporting the de facto government, was ordered out of the Sept. 14 opening session of the U.N. Human Rights Council after Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Cuba insisted he could not be present because he was not authorized by Zelaya to represent the country. [Reuters, 9/14/09; Reuters, 9/14/09]

18. Colombian militias allegedly providing security to Honduran businessmen

Colombia’s Diario El Tiempo, the country’s principal news daily, reported on Sept. 13 that unnamed Honduran businessmen have hired Colombian paramilitaries, some of whom are known to have drug trafficking connections, to act as security personnel for their ranches or factories during the present crisis. Honduras business officials have denied it. [El Tiempo (Colombia), 9/13/09; La Tribuna, 9/14/09]