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Updated 02/02/2009

Honduras News in Review—Jan. 15-30, 2009

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

1. Supreme Court selected after political standoff
2. Former human rights commissioner’s son murdered

3. Same alleged killers responsible for 2008 murders of labor leader and congressional vice president
4. Human rights, labor leaders demonstrate support for government reparations program
5. Human rights prosecutor responds to reported abuse at women's penitentiary
6. Committee to Defend Human Rights criticizes corruption within police force
7. Environmental NGO condemns illegal logging in protected preserve
8. Public Ministry gains independence
9. Other news in brief

1. Supreme Court selected after political standoff

After months of political wrangling that has dominated news in Honduras, the National Congress selected 15 new judges to ascend to the Supreme Court of Justice. The final slate was confirmed shortly before midnight on Jan. 25, averting a Constitutional crisis as the previous court’s term was set to expire that same day. The final issue to be resolved was an attempt by the executive branch to reelect Sonia Marlina Dubón de Flores, a sitting member of the court who wasn’t on the slate of 45 candidates. The standoff included alleged threats from Defense Minister Arístides Mejía to surround the congressional building with tanks if members didn’t comply with the request to reseat Dubón, and an angry retort from Congressional President Roberto Micheletti, who said that the legislature abided by democracy and rule of law, not military threats or pressure. Mejía later denied making such threats. President Manuel Zelaya appeared before Congress shortly after the standoff to quell rumors started by National Party opponents that he was attempting a coup over the issue. Ultimately, the two majority parties in Congress decided to split the court between eight Liberal and seven National Party candidates—a switch from the previous court, in which the National Party held a one-member majority.

The leftist Unified Democracy and Innovation and Unity parties abstained from the final vote in protest of the system used to select the court. Instead of voting on a block of candidates pre-selected by the two majority parties, they would have preferred to vote on each candidate individually. Additionally, Unified Democracy Congresswoman Doris Gutiérrez lamented the low numbers of women, saying, “We now have a scant 20 percent of women on the court, where we’ve always had seven or eight [of 15].” Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio and several evangelical leaders said the new court would be less partisan and politicized than it had been in the past, despite Congress’ final selection method. U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens called the selection “a great step forward for democracy, the judiciary and transparency in Honduras.”

The new court, which began its seven-year term on Jan. 26, consists of Jorge Rivera Avilés, who will be court president, José Tomás Arita Valle, Rosalinda Cruz Sequeira, Raúl Enrique Interiano, Víctor Manuel Martínez Silva, Jorge Reyes Díaz, Rosa de Lourdes Paz Haslam, Francisco Ruiz Gaekel, Oscar Francisco Chinchilla, José Antonio Gutiérrez Navas, Jacobo Cálix Hernández, Carlos David Cálix Vallecillo, Marco Vinicio Zúniga Medrano, Gustavo Enrique Palma Bustillo and Edith María López Rivera. [La Tribuna, 1/25/09; El Tiempo, 1/25/09; Revistazo, 1/25/09; La Tribuna, 1/26/09; Hondudiario, 1/26/09; Hondudiario, 1/26/09; Hondudiario, 1/26/09; Revistazo, 1/27/09]

2. Former human rights commissioner’s son murdered

Rodrigo Eugenio Valladares Pineda, son of former Human Rights Commissioner Leo Rodrigo Valladares Lanza, was killed along with two other men in an apparent carjacking attempt on Jan. 24. The car was found crashed on the side of the road not too far from the murder scene; the carjackers had allegedly been on their way to Guatemala. On Jan. 31, police arrested Norman Gilberto Reyes and two other alleged members of a carjacking gang, all of whom they believe to be directly responsible for the murder and theft. The Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared noted that the timing of Vallardes Pineda’s death was suspicious, coming as it did on the eve of Supreme Court selections by the National Congress in which his father, a respected figure in the human rights community, was among the 45 finalists for the 15-member court. However, no evidence of political motivation has surfaced. [Revistazo, 1/25/09; La Tribuna, 1/26/09; La Tribuna, 2/1/09]

3. Same alleged killers responsible for 2008 murders of labor leader and congressional vice president

A police report released Jan. 19 names José Omar Fúnez Cruz, alias “el Lágrima,” and three fellow gang members as the perpetrators of the 2008 murders of labor leader Altagracia Fuentes and Congressional Vice President Mario Fernando Hernández Bonilla. Armed and masked men shot and killed Fuentes, who was secretary general for the Honduran Workers’ Federation, and two companions while they were traveling by car on April 23 of last year. Hernández Bonilla and two companions were killed in a similar scenario on Nov. 22 while campaigning during the country's primary elections. The report details a three-week planning process in the latter crime. The four suspects are still at large. [La Prensa, 1/20/09; past stories: HNR, 4/08; HNR, 11/15-30/08]

4. Human rights, labor leaders demonstrate support for government reparations program

In a Jan. 21 press conference at the offices of the Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (COFADEH), representatives of human rights, labor and activist groups expressed support for a recent executive decree creating a national reparations program for victims and families of victims of illegal detention and forced disappearance in the 1980s. The decree, issued by President Manuel Zelaya on Dec.10, has been criticized as exclusive because it orders monetary compensation in relation to only two cases, including that of Tomás Nativí, husband of COFADEH coordinator Bertha Oliva. “We want to recognize that [the decree] is broad and inclusive, and sufficiently clear in stating that it is the country’s obligation to compensate … the victims of its authorized agents acting outside the law," the groups announced in a signed statement. They called on all victims to “come to COFADEH offices to be properly informed” of their rights under the program. Signers included representatives of the Bolivarian Congress of the People, the National Coordinator for Popular Resistance, the Popular Block Friendship Association Honduras-Cuba, Campesino Way, the Beverage Workers’ Union, the National Agrarian Institute Workers’ Union and the Revolutionary People’s Union. [La Tribuna, 1/22/09; Listas RDS-HN, 1/19/09; Cofadeh, 1/21; past story: HNR, 1/1-15/09; full text of the decree (PDF)]

5. Human rights prosecutor responds to reported abuse at women's penitentiary

On Jan. 19, the prosecutor’s office for human rights asked the Supreme Court for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the women detained at the National Women’s Penitentiary, acting on a report that prison officials were excessively and inhumanely punishing the inmates. Sandra Ponce, the special human rights prosecutor, said the motion doesn’t preclude the Public Ministry from bringing suit against any of the perpetrators at a later date. [El Heraldo, 1/20/09]

6. Committee to Defend Human Rights criticizes corruption within police force

Some 400 police officers are working in conjunction with organized crime in Honduras, according to Andrés Pavón, coordinator for the Committee to Defend Human Rights. This figure, which accounts for nearly 3 percent of the 13,000 police nationwide, includes chiefs at high levels who have intimidated much of the police force in a manner exceeding their numbers, Pavon said. His pronouncements came on the heels of a recent corruption purge in which 265 police officers were reportedly removed but were not identified, as the government had originally promised. “I have my doubts,” Pavon said. “As long as they don’t show us this supposed purge list, it will remain as a smoke screen over this internal conflict at the police force.” Héctor Iván Mejía, spokesperson for the security ministry, said the purge was part of a larger process that may have started with 265 officers but includes all 13,000. [Conexihon, 1/15-3-/09]  

7. Environmental NGO condemns illegal logging in protected preserve

According to a report by the environmental NGO Global Witness, between 2006 and 2007, illegal logging claimed more than 8,000 cubic meters of mahogany from the UNESCO-designated Plátano River Biosphere and received up to a million dollars in indirect government money to do so, despite President Manuel Zelaya’s 2006 promise to stem the practice. According to the Jan. 28 report, the illicit logging “decimated the value of the forests and undermined the development of viable community forestry initiatives” as well as the legal logging efforts of forestry cooperatives. “This is a clear example of how impunity and bad governance still prevail in Honduras,” said Laura Furones, Global Witness Latin America manager. She said the new forestry law approved in 2008 is “a golden opportunity to establish inclusive processes and assure transparency in [the country’s] forests.” Ramón Álvarez, former director of the Honduran Forestry Corporation, claimed that the rate of illegal logging in the area is the same as in years prior to the report, if not slightly better. [EFE, 1/29/09]

8. Public Ministry gains independence

On Jan. 24, Honduras’ National Congress ratified a 2007 decree calling for the Public Ministry to be elevated to a constitutionally recognized department. Because the decree required an amendment to the constitution, it would have been null and void without congressional approval. The move allows the Public Ministry greater latitude in pursuing its prosecutions as well as a constitutionally mandated budget, variously reported as 3 percent or 4 percent of the national budget. Previously, the Public Ministry operated as a subset of the Supreme Court of Justice. [La Tribuna, 1/25/09; La Prensa, 1/26/09]

9. Other news in brief

On Jan. 18, unknown assailants killed lawyer Marlene Suyapa Gavarrete, known to have defended gang members in court, in Rubí de Choloma, where she was also a school director. [La Prensa, 1/21/09] Alberto Rosales Isaula, justice of the peace on Guanaja Island, was arrested on Jan. 27 for child pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor after police tracked down the transmission of pornographic pictures of minors to his home computer, which was searched under warrant. [La Prensa, 1/28/09]


1. Seleccionada Corte Suprema de Justicia después de enfrentamiento político [La Tribuna, 1/25/09; El Tiempo, 1/25/09; Revistazo, 1/25/09; La Tribuna, 1/26/09; Hondudiario, 1/26/09; Hondudiario, 1/26/09; Hondudiario, 1/26/09; Revistazo, 1/27/09]

2. Asesinado hijo de excomisionado de derechos humanos
[Revistazo, 1/25/09; La Tribuna, 1/26/09; La Tribuna, 2/1/09]

3. Mismos los supuestos asesinos responsables por las muertes del 2008 de directora laboral y vicepresidente del congreso
[La Prensa, 1/20/09; past stories: HNR, 4/08; HNR, 11/15-30/08]

4. Grupos laborales y de derechos humanos demuestran apoyo por el programa gubernamental de reparaciones
[La Tribuna, 1/22/09; Listas RDS-HN, 1/19/09; Cofadeh, 1/21; past story: HNR, 1/1-15/09; full text of the decree (PDF)]

5. Fiscalía de Derechos Humanos investiga denuncia de maltrato en cárcel femenina
[El Heraldo, 1/20/09]

6. Codeh denuncia corrupción dentro de policía
[Conexihon, 1/15-3-/09]

7. ONG ambientalista condena tallo ilegal en biosfera protegida
[EFE, 1/29/09]

8. Ministerio Publico realiza independencia constitucional
[La Tribuna, 1/25/09; La Prensa, 1/26/09]

9. Asaltantes ultiman a profesional del derecho; el crimen de Marlene Suyapa Gavarrete ocurrió en Choloma [La Prensa, 1/21/09]

10. Capturan a juez por explotación sexual; el acusado es Alberto Rosales, titular del juzgado de Paz de Guanaja
[La Prensa, 1/28/09]

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