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Updated 11/18/2008

Honduras News in Review—Nov. 1-15, 2008

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

1. Disaster underreported, flood relief slow in coming
2. Witness to disappearance of prosecutor, police agent murdered
3. La Lima vice mayoral candidate murdered
4. Judge dismisses charges against police accused of spying
5. Campesinos still waiting for help in land dispute, despite VP's promises
6. Honduras to implement pilot community policing programs with help from Brazil, Japan
7. OAS to monitor primary elections
8. Officials without declarations of goods sanctioned
9. Criminal suit filed against perpetrators of El Salvador’s “Jesuit Massacre”
10. Other news in brief

1. Disaster underreported, flood relief slow in coming

Despite reportedly being the worst disaster since Hurricane Mitch 10 years ago, the floods and landslides caused by Tropical Depression 16 and subsequent rainfall have been underreported and the international community has been slow to respond, according to an officer for the disaster-relief agency Christian Aid and others. An estimated 320,000 people have been displaced or otherwise affected and nearly half of the country’s crops have been devastated, as all but one of the 18 provinces in Honduras have seen the effects of severe flooding and landslides. The United Nations has issued a $17 million Flash Appeal, which is thus far only 10 percent funded. Other aid has come in the form of $2.560 million worth of soy flour from the United States, $1.5 million from the U.N. Central Emergency Relief Fund, and $13 million from the G-16 countries, including France, Spain, Germany, Canada, Holland, Italy and Japan. Aid groups are assisting in home reconstruction and relocation and crop replacement, but they say that food security will remain an issue for months to come, considering the large amount of crops lost. The country’s primary elections, originally slated to take place on Nov. 16, have been pushed back to Nov. 30. The general elections will take place in November 2009. [CNN, 11/5/08; Hondudiario, 11/7/08; Hondudiario, 11/7/08; Hondudiario, 11/8/08; Reuters Alertnet, 11/11/08; United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs via ReliefWeb, 11/11/08; Mercycorps via ReliefWeb, 11/13/08]

2. Witness to disappearance of prosecutor, police agent murdered

The sole witness to the disappearance last month of a public prosecutor and a former police agent was murdered Nov. 11 after giving official testimony. Hooded men in black clothes and bulletproof vests entered the San Pedro Sula home of Cindy Johana Ramírez Romero, abducted and shot her, and left her body on the side of a dirt road. Earlier that day, Ramírez had testified before the Criminal Investigations Directorate as a witness to the disappearance of temporary prosecutor Juan Bautista Vargas (also reported as Borges) and Addy Elner Medrano Cruz (also reported as Membreño), a former agent of the directorate. The two men, who have been missing since Oct. 23, were supposedly working on sensitive cases, possibly involving organized crime. [La Prensa, 11/13/08; La Prensa, 11/14/08; background: La Tribuna, 10/30/08]

3. La Lima vice mayoral candidate murdered

Danilo Edgardo Castro Hernández, a vice mayoral candidate for the Nationalist Party in La Lima, near San Pedro Sula, was shot and killed by two armed gunmen on Nov. 12. Castro Hernández and his ticket mate, mayoral candidate Héctor René Arita, were getting out of a vehicle at Arita’s home when the assailants, weapons in hand, took them by surprise, asking insistently, “Which of you is René Arita?” When the two politicians stood silent, the gunmen shot at them, killing Castro and wounding Arita. A friend of the two, Oswaldo Martínez, speculated that the killings might have been politically motivated, as the two were returning from the prosecutor’s office after filing a complaint against current mayor Dilcia Fernández. Fernández has denied the allegations. Neighbors report having seen the two assailants reconnoitering the neighborhood in the hours and days before the murder. Police believe that Óscar David Serrano Manueles, an 18-year old who was found dead on Nov. 13, was one of the perpetrators. [La Tribuna, 11/13/08; La Prensa, 11/14/08]

4. Judge dismisses charges against police accused of spying

Two policemen accused of spying on labor and human rights leaders in September were set free on Nov. 4 after a first appellate judge in Tegucigalpa dismissed the charges on grounds of insufficient evidence. Nahum Sauceda Pineda and Henry Roberto Jiménez were caught photographing labor leaders on the campus of the Honduran National Autonomous University (UNAH) and subsequently found to possess a typewritten list of 135 leaders of trade unions and human rights, environmental, indigenous and other social organizations, as well as news reporters and congressional delegates. Some of the listed individuals had been victims of violence and intimidation in the past, and the list was read by some as a death list; in response, Amnesty International had issued a public statement urging the Honduran government to fully investigate the case and, in general, to do more to protect the work of human rights defenders. Upon their dismissal, the policemen said they found it absurd that they would be charged with photographing activist leaders with the intention to murder them, as their pictures are “easy to find, they’re in the newspapers all the time, and even on the Internet.” René Andino, president of the UNAH Workers’ Union and target of the alleged spying act, described it as a “serious plot” to assassinate these leaders. [La Tribuna, 11/4/08; past story: HNR, 9/1-30/08]

5. Campesinos still waiting for help in land dispute, despite VP's promises

On Nov. 3 a group of campesino activists from Cofradía, who had visited Tegucigalpa the prior week to seek government response to a land-rights dispute that has resulted in at least two murders, were disappointed when a Property Institute investigative committee did not show up as promised. Vice President Elvin Santos had made the promise to the group in a written statement, citing his close ties to the Property Institute, where he at one time served as president of its executive council. The institute is responsible for managing the handover of thousands of land titles to campesinos who have occupied lands in various parts of the country; in some cases, the current landholders have violently resisted the handover, despite government compensation. “No, they didn’t come,” said Danilo del Arca, president of the Federation of Cofradía Trustee Boards. “We were awaiting the commission—the vice president even has our phone numbers—but we’ll keep waiting. Maybe they’ll appear, because we really need them to correct our situation: we’re 11 months into this process, and all it’s brought us is two deaths.” Carlos Fúnez, assistant to the vice president, maintained that a Property Institute delegation did make a trip to the Cofradía area that day, “but you’d have to verify where they went—it’s a big area." [Revistazo, 11/5/08; past story: HNR, 10/15-31/08]

6. Honduras to implement pilot community-policing programs with help from Brazil, Japan

On the heels of a successful pilot program in Sao Paolo, Brazil, representatives from Brazil and Japan met on Nov. 7 with Honduran Security Ministry officials to discuss an innovative community-policing program trial for two urban Honduras neighborhoods. The program, which originated in Japan and is known as KOBAN, places three dedicated police officers in a community, where they run a regular beat, visiting house to house on a regular basis and getting to know the neighborhood and its activities. According to the Brazilian Cooperation Agency, the KOBAN program has met with success in Sao Paolo, after some cultural differences were worked out from the original Japanese model. The joint agencies estimate that the lessons learned in Brazil can be applied to Honduras. The communities chosen, Barrio Guadalupe in Tegucigalpa’s Central District and the Chamelecón area in central San Pedro Sula, fit specific profiles of average crime rates, which should allow the experiences there to be replicated later in other communities across the country. The agencies met in order to work out ways of cooperating in the implementation of KOBAN in Honduras. [Hondudiario, 11/7/08]

7. OAS to monitor primary elections

The Organization of American States named Raúl Alconada Sempé to head its team of 30 international election monitors to be on hand for the Nov. 30 primary elections for the two major Honduran political parties, the Liberal Party and the National Party. The delegation, requested by the Honduran government, will be on the ground from Nov. 21 until the results are certified. Alconada Sempé was on hand in advance, interviewing and meeting with electoral authorities, government officials, candidates, members of the international community, and civil-society groups. [La Prensa, 11/12/08, Hondudiario, 11/13/08]

8. Officials without declarations of goods sanctioned

Some 9,000 public officials face sanctions and possible firing if they do not pay fines resulting from having failed to submit sworn asset declarations by an April 2008 deadline, according to Fernando Montes, president of the Superior Audit Tribunal. Certain international aid that Honduras receives is tied to benchmarks including transparency regarding officials' assets, thus these failures to declare have put monies at risk. Montes said the fines were to be published in the days following the announcement. In addition, the tribunal's website reports that 2,500 officials will be suspended without pay. Previously, the tribunal had refrained from taking official sanctions, opting only to publish the names of the individuals in the hope of shaming them into action. In a separate statement, Jorge Aguilar, president of the minority Innovation and Social-Democratic Union Party urged the auditing body to determine whether any of the delinquent officials were standing for office in the upcoming primary elections on Nov. 30. According to the statute, an official who has not filed asset declarations is ineligible to stand for elected office. “It’s an issue of transparency and accountability,” Aguilar said. [Hondudiario, 11/10/08; Superior Audit Council; past story: HNR, 7/1-14/08]

9. Criminal suit filed against perpetrators of El Salvador’s “Jesuit Massacre”

On Nov. 13, human rights lawyers filed a lawsuit against former Salvadoran president Alfredo Cristiani Burkard and 14 former members of the Salvadoran military for their roles in the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her daughter on the campus of the University of Central America. The Center for Justice and Accountability filed the suit along with the Association for Human Rights in Spain under the Spanish principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity—the same principle on which the case against Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was started. The Spanish High Court will decide whether to press charges against the men and whether they will be extradited to Spain. According to a 1991 report by the U.N. Truth Commission on El Salvador, the Salvadoran military, under orders of then army chief Gen. René Emilio Ponce, intended to blame the murders on the opposition party, FMLN, and destroyed evidence in order to do so; President Cristiani was involved in the cover-up. An initial trial in 1991 found two officers guilty, a verdict upheld by the Truth Commission but later reversed by a 1993 amnesty law. “We hope this case helps to reawaken the memory and the conscience of El Salvador’s people,” CJA lawyer Almundena Bernabeu said, noting that even if the suspects aren't extradited, the Spanish case could force a trial in El Salvador and lend support for repeal of the amnesty law. [New York Times, 11/14/08; CJA press release, 11/13/08]

10. Other news in brief...

While driving home on Nov. 2, José Enrique Barrera, an alderman in La Jigua, Copán department, was shot six times and killed by hooded men driving a pick-up truck and using AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles. While relatives said Barrera had no known enemies, the investigating officer noted, "From the weapons used, everything points to death on demand." [La Prensa, 11/4/08] Omar Cerna, deputy prosecutor at the Public Ministry, said he has received notice of threats against at least 30 different prosecutors working on anticorruption and other cases, calling them “occupational hazards.” [La Prensa, 11/3/08] In a joint statement of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), presidential legal council Milton Jimenez accused the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua of political destabilization and inciting protests against the Sandinista National Liberation Front’s recent victories in that country’s municipal elections. [La Prensa, 11/14/08] The United Nations Population Fund released a report on Nov. 11 finding, among other things, that Honduras has the second highest infant-mortality rate in Central America, with 28 out of every 1,000 children dying before reaching age 1. [La Prensa, 11/13/08]

1. Catástrofe sufre de poca cobertura internacional, ayudas lentas a los damnificados [CNN, 11/5/08; Hondudiario, 11/7/08; Hondudiario, 11/7/08; Hondudiario, 11/8/08; Reuters Alertnet, 11/11/08; United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs via ReliefWeb, 11/11/08; Mercycorps via ReliefWeb, 11/13/08]

2. Testigo al desaparecido del fiscal y policía asesinada [La Prensa, 11/13/08; La Prensa, 11/14/08; background: La Tribuna, 10/30/08]

3. Precandidato a vice alcaldía de La Lima ultimado [La Tribuna, 11/13/08; La Prensa, 11/14/08]

4. Jueza dicta sobreseimiento definitivo a policías acusados de espionaje [La Tribuna, 11/4/08; past story: HNR, 9/1-30/08]

5. Campesinos todavía esperan ayuda en conflicto de tierras, a pesar de promesas vicepresidenciales [Revistazo, 11/5/08; past story: HNR, 10/15-31/08]

6. Honduras a implementar programa piloto de policía comunitaria con ayuda brasileña y japonesa [Hondudiario, 11/7/08]

7. OEA viene a observar elecciones internas [La Prensa, 11/12/08, Hondudiario, 11/13/08]

8. Funcionarios públicos sin declaración jurada de bienes serán sancionados [Hondudiario, 11/10/08; Superior Audit Council; past story: HNR, 7/1-14/08]

9. Pleito criminal entablado contra los autores del "masacre jesuita" Salvadoreño [New York Times, 11/14/08; CJA press release, 11/13/08]

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