DonateNow
Stay tuned for something new!
In the coming months, MISF Media will launch a redesigned website. In the meantime, continue to check here for new editions of the "Honduras News in Review" and "Remembering 25 Years Ago" features.
Human Rights
in the Global Community
Overview
Global Bodies & Treaties
Current Issues
Human Rights–War on Terror News Update
Human Rights in Honduras
Overview
History
Current Issues
Honduras News in Review
Remembering 25 Years Ago
Search the Site:
Updated 11/11/2008

Honduras News in Review—Oct. 16-31, 2008

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

1. Targeted prosecutor Santos flees country for his safety
2. Mistreatment, abuse reported in Honduran prisons
3. Campesino activists under secret indictment for land dispute-related deaths, fire
4. Land-dispute killings spark government promises
5. Transportation union leader’s family murdered
6. Experts weigh in on causes of violence, impunity
7. Former mayor convicted of abusing authority, faces further charges
8. Journalists complete training course in governance and transparency issues
9. Worst floods in a decade prompt national state of emergency
10. Reports find high levels of poverty, hunger
11. Other news in brief...

1. Targeted prosecutor Santos flees country for his safety

After a 13-day hospitalization and subsequent undisclosed whereabouts following an attempt on his life, prominent anticorruption prosecutor Luis Javier Santos fled the country Oct. 15. Spotted at the airport in San Pedro Sula, Santos took pains to avoid interviews, at one point calling airport security to escort photographers out of the passenger area, and he did not disclose his destination—variously speculated as a U.S. or European city—nor his state of health. Santos was shot on Sept. 1 in what has been widely characterized as a targeted assassination attempt. His son and partner, who were traveling in the car with him, were unharmed. Santos is one of the original group of prosecutors, now known as the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, that went on a hunger strike last April to protest the Public Ministry’s inaction on certain official corruption cases. In his role as anticorruption prosecutor, Santos brought cases against various former city mayors, including La Lima mayor Alejandrina Meza, whom he succeeded in having suspended, and former San Pedro Sula mayor Oscar Kilgore López, whom he had banned from serving as alderman. López is currently under indictment for mismanagement of funds and abuse of authority during his term as mayor of Honduras’ second-largest city. (See story below.) In a public statement, Santos said he would press on with the fight from afar and would soon begin naming names in corruption cases. “Now, corruption has a first and last name,” he said. [La Tribuna, 10/16/08; El Tiempo Digital, 10/16/08; Listas RDS-HN, 10/17/08; past story: HNR, 9/08]

2. Mistreatment, abuse reported in Honduran prisons

The Honduran penal system suffers from a pattern of mistreatment, abuse and torture, according to the Center for Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation for Victims of Torture and their Families and other human rights NGOs who presented their findings in a special session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 23. Their report, based on data compiled from 2006 to 2008, found that seven of 10 inmates are tortured or otherwise abused in, or on their way to, prisons and jails in the country. Illustrating the statistics were a story of a homosexual inmate raped by his cellmates while prison guards looked on and another of a young homeless man set on fire by a police officer.

The report also found that municipal and preventative police routinely conducted massive round-ups of vulnerable populations, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender people, sex workers, drug addicts, drunks and supposedly “delinquent” youth, who are incarcerated without cause or explanation of their rights. Additionally, the report detailed poor prison conditions, including small rooms with bedbugs in the mattresses and no natural light or potable water, and a food budget that breaks out to less than US$1 per inmate per day—low by Honduras standards.

The Honduran government, also present at the session, assured attendees that physical upgrades and an overhaul of the prison diet were taking place, and that it would have to verify the other data presented with police and prison forces. It also highlighted that several prison officials were currently under investigation—including Wilfredo Maradiaga Oseguera and Aldo Rodolfo Oliva Rodríguez, accused of abusing their authority for letting prisoners out on furlough—and that they were taking steps to ratify the Inter-American Convention to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Torture. The Inter-American Commission expressed concern over the report and promised to visit prisons over the next year to independently confirm the report’s findings. [La Tribuna, 10/23/08; Hondudiario, 10/24/08; El Tiempo Digital, 10/27/08]

3. Campesino activists under secret indictment for land dispute-related deaths, fire

On Oct. 16, 32 campesino leaders were charged with arson, aggravated assault and the murder of 10 to 12 people in the town of Sillín on Aug. 3, when several hundred members of a farming cooperative were incited to violence over a land-rights dispute. All 32 are directors in the Aguán Campesino Movement (MCA)—an umbrella organization of land rights groups—but the names are not known, as the prosecution prevailed upon the court to make the indictment secret. Eight of the accused bear the brunt off the charges as “principal actors,” while the rest figure as accessories to the crimes. The deaths occurred on lands formerly occupied by the U.S.-funded and -staffed Regional Military Training Center, where Salvadoran and Honduran soldiers received counterinsurgency training in the 1980s. The lands have more recently been subject to expropriation orders that have yet to be enforced. The victims were primarily family members of Henry Osorto, a local police official in Sillín. Three campesino activists have also been killed in the course of this conflict, but their deaths have not been investigated.

The Italia Central America Collective (CICA) filed a complaint on Oct. 28 outlining much of the MCA’s complaints of injustice in an ongoing conflict in which the Osorto deaths are the most widely reported aspect. A few days before Aug. 3, the MCA lodged a complaint about several heavily armed men at the Osorto house and asked that they be disarmed. Heavy weaponry was found in the burnt wreckage of the Osorto house after the incident. These same men, whom the CICA report deemed mercenaries, came into Guadalupe Carney, the campesino community where the activists live, on Aug. 3 and instigated the violence that later culminated in their retreat to the Osorto house and subsequent events. MCA members testify to having called the police to intervene before matters got out of hand, but got no response. The CICA report concludes, “The jailed MCA people were arbitrarily detained for being the movement’s leaders, and without legal recourse to lawyers: we therefore consider them to be ‘political prisoners’”; the organization demanded that the individuals be freed immediately. [La Tribuna, 10/16/08; El Tiempo, 10/17/08; Honduras Laboral/COMUN Noticias, 10/31/08; past story: HNR, 8/1-15/08]

4. Land-dispute killings spark government promises

After the killings of campesino leaders Fredis Osorto, Elías Murcia and Ubence Aguilar—on Oct. 2, 9 and 14, respectively—and death threats against several others, campesino rights activists from the Cofradía sector of the Cortes department met with officials on Oct. 30 in Tegucigalpa to discuss putting an end to the land disputes at the root of this violence. During the visit, which was organized by the Federation of Cofradía Trustee Boards and the Association for a More Just Society, the group met with the Property Institute, the Office of the Vice-Presidency, the Public Ministry, the Security Ministry and the National Human Rights Commission. From the Security Ministry, the campesino groups managed to secure protection for the threatened leaders, as well as a promise of a full investigation of the recent deaths within five days. In 10 days, the Property Institute, which is charged with handling aspects of the land-title handover, promised to have a completed plan for handing over titles in the sectors of Cofradía and Villanueva. For their part, the Public Ministry and the Human Rights Commission pledged support for the campesinos in their plight. In a separate announcement on Oct. 9, the Property Institute estimated it will have handed out over 10,000 land titles by year end to campesinos who have been waiting for them up to 30 years. [Revistazo, 10/9/08; Revistazo, 10/10/08; Revistazo, 10/15/08; Revistazo, 10/30/08]

5. Transportation union leader’s family murdered

Digna Herminia Valladares Flores and her daughter Evelin Flores were shot at point-blank range and killed in their home on Oct. 22 by assailants who approached and fled on a motorcycle. The elderly Flores was sister to Erasmo Flores, president of the National Syndicate of Heavy Equipment Drivers, a transportation union that has occasionally been in conflict with national business interests. The assailants’ motives are unknown, and neighbors did not know of any enemies the two tortilla sellers might have had. Erasmo Flores condemned the attacks and asked authorities to protect the citizenry. [El Tiempo Digital, 10/23]

6. Experts weigh in on causes of violence, impunity

Lenient arms regulations and structural deficiencies in the correctional system are the root causes of the state of impunity in Honduras, which in turn creates an atmosphere for increased criminality, according to U.N. Development Program spokesman Luca Renda. He said there is a “crisis of the social fabric,” which he blames for the increase in violence and insecurity in the country, and that significant gun-control policies are an easy first step to begin resolving the issue. Many high-profile murders or attempts, such as those of union leader Altagracia Fuentes and prosecutor Luis Javier Santos, are reported to be perpetrated by a growing number of professional hit men, trained in part by drug cartels like Mexico’s Cartel de Sinaloa, which runs a training program in the western part of that country. Rafael Fletes, a Public Ministry coordinator, said many such hits are reported, but few are investigated because of their complexity. Links between hit men and their employers are seldom uncovered, so even though individual murderers are sometimes jailed, the practice continues unabated. Prosecutors point to the case of Santos' attempted murder, in which the gunmen have been found, but not those who ordered the hit. [La Prensa, 10/28/08; ConexiHon, 10/1-15/08]

7. Former mayor convicted of abusing authority, faces further charges

On Oct. 23 former San Pedro Sula mayor Oscar Kilgore López was found guilty of abuse of authority and dereliction of duty to the detriment of public trust, and was sent immediately to jail. The unanimous guilty verdict delivered by a panel of three judges put an end to this historic public trial of an elected official, but only the first for Kilgore, whose second trial will be for misuse of public funds and falsifying public documents. In addition, Kilgore has a pending case dating back to his work as alderman, when he was involved in a questionable conversion of public green space. Recently expatriated anticorruption prosecutor Luis Javier Santos commented that Kilgore deserved the guilty verdict, but that he was “a guinea pig” for bigger players in the country’s corruption, indicating it was these people who had made away with the vast majority of the missing funds liked to Kilgore. [La Tribuna, 10/07/08; La Tribuna, 10/10/08; La Tribuna, 10/23/08; Listas RDS-HN, 10/23/08; La Prensa, 10/28/08]

8. Journalists complete training course in governance and transparency issues

On Oct. 15, 38 reporters from diverse Honduran media completed a first-of-its-kind certificate program jointly sponsored by the journalism program at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, the Democracy Without Frontiers Foundation and the National Anticorruption Council of Honduras. The course focused on training reporters in matters of public administration, governance and access to information, and consisted of hands-on training in topics such as government functions, separation of powers, the emerging transparency laws, public spending and budgeting, internal and external checks and balances, and following the money trail. The reporters also got virtual briefings from Argentinean investigative reporter and educator Sandra Crucianelli. The course culminated with a report from each of the participants on issues ranging from poverty and development to transparency and government waste. According to the World Bank, the program will be repeated in other Latin American countries in the near future. [Revistazo, 10/16/08; previous story: HNR, 2/08]

9. Worst floods in a decade prompt national state of emergency

Rains due to Tropical Depression 19 lashed Honduras for nearly a week, ending on Oct. 24, after at least 29 people were reported dead and 14 missing, while 40,000 lost their homes. The government called a national state of emergency on Oct. 20 to be able to bring emergency relief. Safe drinking water has been scarce as rivers overflowed their embankments, putting thousands of acres of crops underwater. One hundred bridges and 200 highways have been affected, while landslides have claimed at least 40 homes. This is the worst flooding since Hurricane Mitch in 1998. [El Tiempo, 10/21/08; La Tribuna, 10/24/08; AP, 10/24/08]

10. Reports find high levels of poverty, hunger

A recently published survey, conducted in May 2007, found that 60 percent of the 1,235,078 Honduran households surveyed had income below the basic cost of living. Although the rate of poverty was higher in rural areas (66.4 percent), it was not significantly different in urban areas (55.4 percent). Meanwhile, the annual report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations indicated that Honduras is among the countries most vulnerable to food insecurity and hunger in the region. According to Deodoro Roca, FAO Central America coordinator, the food crisis of 2007 has been compounded by the world economic crisis, putting Honduras and other nations at greater risk for sub- and malnutrition. Apart from Costa Rica, which has a subnutrition rate of only 4 percent, the populations of Central America are between 11 percent and 27 percent underfed. [La Tribuna, 10/17/08; La Prensa, 10/16/08]

11. Other news in brief…

Labor activists Lorna Redell Jackson García and Juana Leticia Maldonado Gutiérrez continue to be harassed, discriminated against, and even have their lives threatened for trying to organize a union inside the AFL maquila in Tegucigalpa, which shut its doors on Aug. 22. [Revistazo, 10/23/08]. José Manuel Lagos Ordóñez, a Preventative Police motorcycle patrolman assigned to the Tegucigalpa neighborhood of San Francisco de Comayagüela was arrested, along with four other suspects, on Oct. 23 by the General Directorate of Criminal Investigation for allegedly forming part of an armed home-robbery gang operating in the capital city [El Tiempo, 10/26/08]. Members of the Organization of American States conducted a meeting in San Pedro Sula on Oct. 15 to discuss the upcoming 39th General Assembly that will take place there May 31 through June 2, 2009, and whose theme will be nonviolence [La Tribuna, 10/16/08].

1. Santos, fiscal que sufrió atentado abandona el país por seguridad [La Tribuna, 10/16/08; El Tiempo Digital, 10/16/08; Listas RDS-HN, 10/17/08; past story: HNR, 9/08]
2. Maltrato, abuso se denuncia en cárceles Hondureñas [La Tribuna, 10/23/08; Hondudiario, 10/24/08; El Tiempo Digital, 10/27/08]
3. Activistas campesinos bajo acusación secreta por muertes, incendio debidos a polémica de expropiación [La Tribuna, 10/16/08; El Tiempo, 10/17/08; Honduras Laboral/COMUN Noticias, 10/31/08; past story: HNR, 8/1-15/08]
4. Muertes debidas a lucha por tierra traen promesas gubernamentales [Revistazo, 10/9/08; Revistazo, 10/10/08; Revistazo, 10/15/08; Revistazo, 10/30/08]
5. Asesinadas familiares de sindicalista transportero [El Tiempo Digital, 10/23]
6. Expertos opinan sobre causes de violencia, impunidad [La Prensa, 10/28/08; ConexiHon, 10/1-15/08]
7. Ex-alcalde condenado por abuso de autoridad, enfrenta mas acusaciones [La Tribuna, 10/07/08; La Tribuna, 10/10/08; La Tribuna, 10/23/08; Listas RDS-HN, 10/23/08; La Prensa, 10/28/08]
8. Periodistas concluyen con éxito diplomado sobre Técnicas de control a la gestión pública [Revistazo, 10/16/08; previous story: HNR, 2/08]
9. Peores lluvias en una década provoca estado nacional de emergencia [El Tiempo, 10/21/08; La Tribuna, 10/24/08; AP, 10/24/08]
10. Informes encuentran pobreza, hambre a niveles altos [La Tribuna, 10/17/08; La Prensa, 10/16/08]
11. Defensores de derechos sociales sufren hostigamiento y amenazas de muerte [Revistazo, 10/23/08]
12. Detienen a agente de la Preventiva sospechoso de asalta residencies [El Tiempo, 10/26/08]
13. La “no violencia” será tema de discusión de asamblea de OEA [La Tribuna, 10/16/08]

SUBSCRIBE to the Honduras News in Review e-mail update.

Go to the HNR archive for past editions of the News in Review.