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Updated 04/09/2009

Honduras News in Review—March 1-31, 2009

Para títulos en español con sus enlaces correspondientes ver al fondo de la página.

1. Convicted murderers of "lawyer for the poor" receive sentences while intellectual authors remain at large
2. Politically motivated murders, attempts continue unabated
3. Human rights leaders under threat
4. Environmental activist killed while protecting land
5. Police capture alleged murderer of campesino land-rights activist
6. Land reform moves forward
7. Health workers end weeklong strike after government negotiations
8. Public Ministry issues report, guidelines on corporal punishment
9. Other news in brief

1. Convicted murderers of "lawyer for the poor" receive sentences while intellectual authors remain at large

A trial court handed down sentences on March 19 for the two men convicted last month of the 2006 murder of "lawyer for the poor" Dionisio Díaz García. Ramón Eusebio Solís and César David Amador were sentenced to 21 and 20.5 years, respectively, despite a request by the special prosecutor for human rights that the men receive the maximum 30-year sentence. Díaz, who reportedly received several death threats before he was murdered, had been involved in very public and contentious lawsuits against private security companies for labor-rights violations. Both assassins were former employees of the security company SETECH, supporting the claim that Díaz was ordered killed for his work in protecting workers of that company. Among more than a dozen lawyers murdered over the past few years, Díaz is the first whose case has reached a conviction. The intellectual authors of the crime, however, remain at large. In a press release issued after the conviction of Díaz's assassins, the Association for a More Just Society, a Christian social-justice organization for whom the lawyer worked, said, "Ramón Solís and César Amador were simply acting out the will of other, more powerful people who preferred to farm out their 'dirty work.' These 'intellectual authors' of the murder must also be brought to justice in order to fully do justice for Dionisio, and to show Honduras that paying others to kill will be no more tolerated than murdering people oneself.” [La Tribuna, 3/20/09; Honduras This Week, 3/23/09; background: MISF, 1/22/07]

2. Politically motivated murders, attempts continue unabated

March proved to be a deadly month for those in or close to government positions. On March 6, Oscar Heberto Mejía Villafranca, Liberal Party candidate for congressional deputy and assistant to the mayor of San Pedro Sula, was gunned down by a masked man in that same city. On March 11, the same fate befell Raúl Ramírez Interiano, the cousin of a sitting Supreme Court Justice in Copán. A March 15 attempt on Inés Yadira Cubero, a former judge and prosecutor now serving as president of the local transparency commission, was the second on her life in several weeks. She was joined by judges Delmy Marina Martínez and Oscar Gevawer, who were driving home to eat when gunmen assaulted them, lightly wounding Martínez. Though the reasons for the attacks are not known, police in each case believe the victims were targeted because of their public positions or connections. [La Tribuna, 3/7/09; La Tribuna, 3/8/09; La Tribuna, 3/9/09; La Prensa, 3/12/09; La Tribuna, 3/17/09; La Tribuna, 3/18/09; La Tribuna, 3/20/09]

3. Human rights leaders under threat

On March 25, Carlos H. Reyes, leader of the populist activist group Bloque Popular, and Bertha Oliva, coordinator of the Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, filed complaints with the National Commission for Human Rights (Conadeh) reporting threats against their safety. According to the complaint, a witness informed Reyes that on March 16 two men had been following him, attempting to take his photo. Meanwhile, Oliva reported being under surveillance by a man in a car on March 11 while she dined with her daughter and a lawyer from the Center for Justice and International Law. The pursuer made threatening gestures when discovered, circling once more before fleeing the scene. Both leaders asked Conadeh Director Ramón Custodio to investigate the threats and ask authorities to take preventative measures to ensure their safety. Amnesty International reported that Oliva has been receiving police protection since March 14, but said, “It is inadequate and she and her colleagues are still in danger.” [La Tribuna, 3/26/09; Amnesty International, 3/31/09]

4. Environmental activist killed while protecting land

On Feb. 28, environmentalist José Miguel Pagoada Tercero was shot dead while working in a section of land he had helped reforest in the Hato de Enmedio community, outside Tegucigalpa. Pagoada was in his nursery when a man, identified by several neighbors as livestock owner Denis Matute, drove up in his vehicle and shot the victim. Matute had reportedly moved some of his cattle onto the protected land, despite Pagoada’s objections and reports to the national police and the human rights prosecutor’s office. According to one report Matute had previously threatened to kill Pagoada because of his intervention. The 78-year-old environmentalist had won local and regional recognition for his work. [La Prensa, 3/1/09; La Prensa, 3/3/09; El Heraldo, 2/28/09]

5. Police capture alleged murderer of campesino land-rights activist

Police in March apprehended a man allegedly responsible for the murder of one of three campesino land-rights leaders killed in October 2008. Elías Murcia, president of the Brisas de Occidente community of the Cofradía sector of Cortés, was gunned down by two men on bicycles outside his home on Oct. 9. Authorities charged Amilcar Antonio Hernandez with the crime, after he was identified by eyewitnesses. Neighbors and colleagues claim Murcia's murder was due to his activism on behalf of land-rights reform. [Revistazo, 3/18/09; past story: HNR, 10/16-31/08]

6. Land reform moves forward

The Honduran Property Institute, the governmental agency that, along with the National Agricultural Institute (INA), is in charge of the title transfers for a massive 2008 land-reform decree, announced on March 4 that it would hand over 2,237 landholder titles to campesinos by the end of March. The announcement was made by Property Institute Director Guillermo Rápalo, who said he expects to process 10,000 legal land-title transfers this year, most via forcible expropriation from the current landowners; 9,000 titles were turned over in 2008. At a March 8 ceremony, President Manuel Zelaya and INA Director Francisco Fúnez announced the immediate handover of roughly 1,100 titles in the western Lempira department of the country, for a total of more than 1,900 acres and indirectly benefiting 6,000 campesino households in the area. The transfers, backed by the European Council, were part of the "Strategic Plan for the Implementation of Food and Nutritional Safety," securing campesinos’ access to land and offering them legal recourse in its tenancy. The ceremony also featured donations of various consumable and nonconsumable items by First Lady Xiomara Castro de Zelaya’s charitable Solidarity Network and rations of basic grains to 5,000 families by the Italian government. The INA made the move despite the fact that the Supreme Court has not resolved a lawsuit brought by the National Federation of Farmers and Ranchers of Honduras challenging the constitutionality of the decree. [Revistazo, 3/4/09; Hondudiario, 3/8/09; El Heraldo, 3/9/09; El Tiempo, 3/9/09]

7. Health workers end weeklong strike after government negotiations

On March 9, representatives of the Health, Hospital and Similar Fields Workers Union announced an end to their weeklong strike over pay increases, having reached an agreement with the Health Ministry. The union had initiated the strike after the government announced a pay increase without having included union representatives in the talks and because the increase did not reflect a living wage. While the union asked for a 2,000-lempira-a-month increase, the government ultimately granted a raise of 1,224 lempiras—bringing the monthly wage to 5,500 lempiras ($291.31)—plus three additional vacation days, a 150-lempira increase to a shoe stipend, and a 3,000-lempira yearly bonus. Throughout the course of the week, 13,000 nurses, laboratory technicians, anesthetists and administrators shut down all but the essential and emergency functions at 28 hospitals and 982 health centers, including all elective surgery and vaccination programs. Union spokespeople repeatedly apologized to the Honduran people, whom they acknowledged were the most affected by the strike, explaining that it was a necessary move for their workers to be able to afford basic necessities. [La Tribuna, 3/3/09; La Tribuna, 3/3/09; La Tribuna, 3/4/09; La Tribuna, 3/5/09; La Tribuna, 3/6/09; La Tribuna, 3/7/09; La Tribuna, 3/9/09; La Tribuna, 3/9/09; El Heraldo, 3/9/09]

8. Public Ministry issues report, guidelines on corporal punishment

Corporal punishment continues to be used in Honduran schools, according to a report issued March 20 by the Public Ministry, through the special prosecutor for children’s issues. The Unicef-funded report, titled “Guarantees of Children’s Rights in the National Educational System," found punishments varied from region to region—including beatings with rulers and children policing each other with free rein to hit other children—and set forward guidelines for school systems to fall in line with children’s guaranteed rights. [La Tribuna, 3/20/09]

9. Other news in brief

18-year-old Delmer Joel Martínez, was beaten and killed, then dragged into a field outside of the Tegucigalpa suburb Nueva Suyapa on March 3, allegedly for being gay [La Tribuna, 3/4/09].


1. Asesinos del “abogado de los pobres” reciben condenadas mientras autores intelectuales siguen impunes [La Tribuna, 3/20/09; Honduras This Week, 3/23/09; background: MISF, 1/22/07]

2. Asesinatos y atentados políticos continúan sin cesar [La Tribuna, 3/7/09; La Tribuna, 3/8/09; La Tribuna, 3/9/09; La Prensa, 3/12/09; La Tribuna, 3/17/09; La Tribuna, 3/18/09; La Tribuna, 3/20/09]

3. Líderes de derechos humanos amenazados [La Tribuna, 3/26/09; Amnesty International, 3/31/09]

4. Ambientalista matado mientras protegía la tierra [La Prensa, 3/1/09; La Prensa, 3/3/09; El Heraldo, 2/28/09]

5. Policía captura supuesto asesino de dirigente campesino [Revistazo, 3/18/09; past story: HNR, 10/16-31/08]

6. Reforma de tierras echa hacia delante [Revistazo, 3/4/09; Hondudiario, 3/8/09; El Heraldo, 3/9/09; El Tiempo, 3/9/09]

7. Trabajadores sanitarios concluyen semana de huelga tras negociación con gobierno [La Tribuna, 3/3/09; La Tribuna, 3/3/09; La Tribuna, 3/4/09; La Tribuna, 3/5/09; La Tribuna, 3/6/09; La Tribuna, 3/7/09; La Tribuna, 3/9/09; La Tribuna, 3/9/09; El Heraldo, 3/9/09]

8. Ministerio Publico publica informe, guía a cerca del castigo físico [La Tribuna, 3/20/09] 

9. Hallan ejecutado a golpes a un supuesto homosexual [La Tribuna, 3/4/09]

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