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Updated 01/19/2009

Honduras News in Review—Jan. 1-15, 2009

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

1. Government compensation program for victims of 1980s human rights abuses draws criticism, possible corruption investigation
2. Transgender rights activist murdered
3. Public Ministry releases 2008 crime data
4. Zelaya signs Mérida Initiative
5. Minimum wage increase sets off business complaints

1. Government compensation program for victims of 1980s human rights abuses draws criticism, possible corruption investigation

An executive decree creating a national reparations program for victims and families of victims of illegal detention and forced disappearance in the 1980s has been an ongoing target of controversy since it was issued by President Manuel Zelaya on Dec. 10. At issue is the fact that out of some 184 documented cases, the decree names only seven people to receive monetary compensation, including Berta Oliva, coordinator of the Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (CODEH), and Milton Jimenez, who has held several positions in the Zelaya administration and is currently president of the National Banking and Insurance Commission. Oliva's husband, Tomas Nativí was abducted from their home by government forces and subsequently disappeared in 1981, and Jimenez was one of six university students illegally detained and tortured in 1982; the other five former students are also named to receive compensation.

Oliva said the Nativí and "six students" cases, which had been submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights several years ago, were specified in the executive decree with the aim of resolving them internally—achieving a "friendly settlement"—and thus avoiding them being remanded to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Oliva and Jimenez both said they have not received any money, and that none would be issued until the establishment of the National Reparations Program commission, which will determine the recipients and amounts of compensation awarded. Human Rights Prosecutor Sandra Ponce said that although the named recipients "have every right to be compensated," the executive order should take into account all affected families. Some of those families have themselves criticized the decree over the past several weeks. On Jan. 14 Andrés Pavón, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras, met with Governance and Justice Minister Víctor Meza to request that Zelaya amend the decree to make it more inclusive.

Oliva noted that the reparations program is voluntary and open to all affected families. On Jan. 12 COFADEH held a meeting, the first of several to take place nationwide, with over 40 families to review the text of the National Reparations Program. All families present agreed to commit to the program after seeing for themselves that "this was not an exclusive decree," according to Juan Barahona, a victim of torture and illegal detention. Barahona added, "There is an interest [out there] in manipulating and generating negative opinions about this decree and about Cofadeh." Karla Maldonado, daughter of disappearance victim Jorge Alberto Maldonado Padilla, said, "The families that came are all in agreement, and now the most important thing for us to do is to talk personally with those families that didn't come so that we can all be united. It's not that everything has been solved overnight, but we also want to avoid the disinformation that's been coming down, as well as give the media enough information to avoid mass confusion."

Adding to the controversy, on Jan. 15 it was announced that the national anticorruption prosecutor was investigating charges, submitted by Nativí family members, that Oliva had previously received government compensation for her husband's forced disappearance. It would be illegal for the state to compensate an individual twice for the same crime. [El Heraldo, 12/18/08; El Heraldo, 12/19/08; El Heraldo, 12/27/08; La Prensa, 1/12/09; COFADEH, 1/12/09; La Tribuna, 1/15/09; La Prensa, 1/15/09; past story: HNR, 12/1-15/08]

2. Transgender rights activist murdered

On Jan. 9 transgender rights activist Cynthia Nicole Moreno, born Cesar Moreno, was shot four times and killed by three men in a moving car. Moreno had long been involved in reaching out to and defending the rights of transgender sex workers. Her death follows three other attacks on transgender sex workers, two fatal, over the past two months—crimes that have yet gone unpunished. In addition, in December police assaulted a transgender activist doing HIV/AIDS outreach work in Tegucigalpa. The Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual Rainbow Association protested in the halls of Congress on Jan. 11, calling for a resolution in the case and improved safety for their community. The international organization Human Rights Watch issued a statement Dec. 12 urging the Honduran government to fully investigate Moreno's murder and other attacks on the transgender community. [Human Rights Watch, 1/12/09; Hondudiario, 1/12/09]

3. Public Ministry releases 2008 crime data

On Jan. 7 the Public Ministry published end-of-year numbers of reported incidents for each of its special prosecutors’ offices. The women’s special prosecutor's office had the highest number of incidences with 3,069 complaints, followed closely by the children and adolescents prosecutor, which reported 2,289 complaints. Neither office reported the number that became formal cases or resulted in convictions. Next was the consumer protection prosecutor, with 728 complaints, of which 80 cases came to trial, with five convictions; the organized crime prosecutor, with 432 complaints, 65 cases and 20 convictions; and the human rights prosecutor, with 325 complaints, 19 cases, three convictions, and five suspended cases. The corruption prosecutor received fewer complaints than in the prior year with 283, and three convictions. The environmental prosecutor had the fewest number of cases, 136, with 18 of those going to trial. The murder prosecutor's office did not report the total number of complaints, but did say it had brought forward 47 cases. [La Tribuna, 1/7/09]

4. Zelaya signs Mérida Initiative

On Jan. 9, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed the Mérida Initiative, a regional cooperation agreement with the United States that aims to reduce gang activity, prevent money, arms and drug trafficking as well as human trafficking between the countries of Central America, the United States and Haiti. Honduras will receive $11 million from the initiative this year, which it will use to strengthen agencies working against the laundering of proceeds from drug trafficking and other trafficking-related activities. [La Tribuna, 1/9/09]

5. Minimum wage increase sets off business complaints

After talks among business leaders last year failed to produce wage increases for Honduran workers, the government announced on Dec. 24 a monthly minimum-wage increase from 3500 lempiras (US$185) to 5500 lempiras (US$291) in urban areas and 4055 lempiras (US$215) in rural areas, effective Jan. 1. Responding to early pressure from business groups, President Manuel Zelaya said the increase was necessary “so that workers earning a decent wage can be more productive and competitive.” The Honduran Council for Private Enterprise (COHEP) has been vocal in its dissatisfaction, saying its members cannot afford to pay the new wages. COHEP President Amílcar Bulnes said that up to 15,000 jobs had been lost since the announcement. Long-time politician and business magnate Jaime Rosenthal warned that while unemployment was worrisome, the measure would likely lead to an increase in informal economy jobs that are not bound by the wage statute. COHEP businesses have started to file suit against the government to avoid paying the increased wage, though it’s not clear what consequences would follow from noncompliance. On Jan. 14, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tegucigalpa told its constituent members not to honor the wage increase so that it could bring a full appeal to the Supreme Court, warning that those who didn’t comply might not be eligible for benefits if the lawsuit is successful. Worker’s unions marched on Jan. 15 in support of the increase. [La Tribuna, 1/2/09; Hondudiario, 1/5/09; AP, 1/7/09; La Tribuna, 1/13/09; La Tribuna, 1/15/09; La Tribuna, 1/15/09]

1. Criticado e investigado por corrupto programa de reparaciones para victimas de abusos a derechos humanos de los años 80 [El Heraldo, 12/18/08; El Heraldo, 12/19/08; El Heraldo, 12/27/08; La Prensa, 1/12/09; La Tribuna, 1/15/09; La Prensa, 1/15/09; past story: HNR, 12/1-15/08]

2. Asesinado activista de derechos transexuales
[Human Rights Watch, 1/12/09; Hondudiario, 1/12/09]

3. Ministerio Publico da a conocer denuncias a las fiscalías del 2008 [La Tribuna, 1/7/09]

4. Zelaya firma Plan Mérida
[La Tribuna, 1/9/09]

5. Ajuste de salario mínimo trae quejas empresarias
[La Tribuna, 1/2/09; Hondudiario, 1/5/09; AP, 1/7/09; La Tribuna, 1/13/09; La Tribuna, 1/15/09; La Tribuna, 1/15/09]

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