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Updated 10/16/2008

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

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

1. Honduras among most violent countries in the world: U.N.D.P. report
2. Liberal party activist killed while putting up campaign posters; another kidnapped and assaulted
3. Garífuna group asks human rights commission for help in wake of murder, ongoing pattern of intimidation
4. Four campesino land-rights activists illegally arrested, imprisoned
5. Prison commissioner allegedly paid off to allow prisoner escape; new precautionary measures fail to deter another escape
6. Honduras hosts anti-militarization summit
7. Other news in brief…

1. Honduras among most violent countries in the world: U.N.D.P. report

Honduras is among the most violent countries in the world, according to a United Nations Development Program report presented Oct. 1 at an international conference on the structural causes of violence in Central America. The Regional Human Development Report, which analyzed data on violence in Central America for the year 2007, found that Honduras had 42 violent deaths per 100,000 citizens—the third highest in Latin America, exceeded only by El Salvador and Guatemala. The primary sources of violence were drug trafficking and gang activity. The study noted that spiral of violence in the country has roots in political, economic and social factors, but that globalization and other international factors also have had an impact. The report identified the weakness of state institutions to punish crimes as one of the most important roots of the problem, but not the only one, as the situation is far more complex. Criminal organizations take advantage of institutional weakness and continue to commit crimes with impunity; citizens, in turn, lose faith in the state's ability to combat crime and wind up taking the law into their own hands, which leads to further violence. In considering global factors, the study noted that the insertion of the global economy into Central American countries, the weakening of the welfare state and resulting break-up of families due to massive immigration to the United States and Europe has "detonated the spiral of violence." Such violence takes the lives of at least nine Hondurans a day, according to the report. Extortion, kidnapping, vehicle theft and the trafficking of minors are also elements of the overall problem. [La Tribuna, 10/2/08; EFE, 10/2/08].

2. Liberal party activist killed while putting up campaign posters; another kidnapped and assaulted

On Oct. 2 Fredy Sorto, a political activist for the Liberal Party’s “Micheletista” movement, was shot dead in front of his San Pedro Sula home by three men armed with 9-milimeter and .45-caliber weapons, while his family looked on. Sorto, who had been very involved in the campaigns of presidential candidate and current congressional president Roberto Micheletti Baín and San Pedro Sula mayoral candidate William Hall Micheletti, was returning home to retrieve more campaign posters when he was killed. Hall Micheletti made an appearance a few hours later, nearly in tears, decrying the murder as politically motivated by “people in power.” He linked it to an incident the previous week, when activist Janeth Fuentes was assaulted in her car and briefly kidnapped, during which time the assailants threatened her life and her family’s if she didn’t cease her support for the politicians in question. One of the assailants reportedly received a call while Fuentes was crammed in the back-seat floor of her car, saying, “Yes we have the [expletive deleted], but she doesn’t seem to have the forms.” Fuentes was released, naked, a few hours later. [La Tribuna, 10/3/08, El Tiempo Digital, 10/3/08]

3. Garífuna group asks human rights commission for help in wake of murder, ongoing pattern of intimidation

Spurred by a fisherman’s murder at the hands of the armed forces last month, the Black Hondurans Fraternal Organization (Ofraneh), a Garífuna rights group, renewed its request for help to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Oct. 3. The latest incident occurred on Sept. 24, when armed forces personnel patrolling the Cuero y Salado wildlife preserve shot at eight Garífuna fishermen with M-16 assault rifles, killing Guillermo Norales Herrera. The incident forms part of a broader pattern of discrimination—harassment, death threats and murders—on the part of local officials acting in conjunction with business interests aimed at driving this African slave-descended ethnic group from valuable lands they have occupied for decades so that industrial and hotel ventures can be built.

Commercial fishing fleets trolling the seas with nets have transformed the northern coast of Honduras, forcing traditional small-scale Garífuna fishermen to range further for their catch, as this group did. But Cuero y Salado is not exactly foreign territory. Originally Garífuna land, these two townships were silently evacuated at the beginning of the 1990s, when the area was converted into a wildlife preserve without prior consultation. Management of the wetlands was turned over to the Cuero y Salado Foundation, which was reportedly found multiple times to be conspiring with the Standard Fruit Co., which has a nearby palm oil production facility. Runoff from that facility has been polluting the local watershed. Similar “environmental protection” schemes have been used to force Garífuna populations off other lands. Ofraneh is scheduled to meet with the Inter-American Commission on Oct. 24. [Revistazo, 9/25/08, Revistazo, 10/3/08]

4. Four campesino land-rights activists illegally arrested, imprisoned

On Sept. 29, policemen wearing ski masks arrested Mario Álvarez, Nelson Álvarez, Heliodoro Amador and Alonso Andino, peasant land-rights activists with the "Unión y Fuerza" (Union and Strength) Campesino Association, and threatened villagers in the town of Suntule. The following day, another police squad came to the house of the group’s secretary general and forced his wife to sign documents at gunpoint, without giving her the chance to read them first. The group later learned that the documents handed over the group’s lands in 60 days. The arrests and forced signing contradict Article 10 of Degree 18/2008, a land-reform measure that expropriates certain lands in favor of the campesinos currently occupying them and stays any prior land claims. The imprisonment of the four men is a violation of human rights as well as of the right against arbitrary arrest, according to the human-rights organization FIAN Honduras, which has petitioned the special prosecutor for human rights to intervene to free the prisoners and bring a case against the perpetrators. [Revistazo, 10/3/08]

5. Prison commissioner allegedly paid off to allow prisoner escape; new precautionary measures fail to deter another escape

On Oct. 3 National Penitentiary Director Daniel Zepeda was relieved of duty while he undergoes an investigation for allegedly letting a prisoner escape in return for 360,000 lempiras (US$19,000). On the night of Sept. 29, Zepeda let one guard leave his shift early and asked another to bring in Luis Angel Pérez, imprisoned for aggravated bank robbery and for killing Judge Alba Leiticia Bueso. When the guard returned an hour later to escort the prisoner back to his cell, Zepeda yelled at him to “keep his trap shut,” and threatened harm to him and his family if he spoke. Zepeda’s payoff was reportedly as high as 500,000 lempiras (US$26,500), but the police investigating the case believe the 360,000-lempira figure is more accurate.

In the wake of the Pérez escape, a set of 15 new precautionary measures were put in place this month to avoid more prison breakouts, including a new hierarchy level of guard captains who can give guards orders, a reordering of key ownership, and restriction of vehicles and animals on the property. Nevertheless, another escape occurred Oct. 7 when Héctor Manuel Paguada Vides broke out of the National Penitentiary. Paguada Vides was imprisoned for bank robbery; he had also allegedly threatened judge Lilian Maldonado’s life because she was familiar with the details of the case. [La Tribuna, 10/3/08; La Tribuna, 10/3/08; La Tribuna, 10/3/08; La Tribuna, 10/8/08, La Tribuna, 10/13/08]

6. Honduras hosts anti-militarization summit

The second Hemispheric Encounter Against Militarization was held in Intibucá, Honduras from Oct. 3 to Oct. 6. The conference, with 800 delegates from 175 organizations and 27 countries throughout the Americas, addressed issues of militarization as they affect a whole range of issues, including women’s and indigenous rights, political prisoners, torture, forced disappearances, migration and agrarian reform, among others. The final day culminated with a march on the U.S. military base in Palmerola, with calls for the United States to withdraw its forces from the country. A detailed 19-point document resulting from the conference outlined the ways in which militarism, specifically that of the United States, affects the hemisphere, it and called for demilitarization and an end to war. [Revistazo, 10/1/08; Adital, 10/2/08; Revistazo, 10/6/08; text of the declaration: Honduras Laboral/COMUN Noticias, 10/7/08]

7. Other news in brief…

Tegucigalpa bus driver Nery Omar Molina was shot dead on the morning of Oct. 11 for refusing to pay a so-called "war tax"; the killers are members of a gang that has been operating in the area extorting money from urban transit workers [La Tribuna, 10/12/08]. Corruption in Honduras accounts for annual loses of US$270 million in gifts, nepotism, embezzlement and the improper use of government facilities, according to a recent National Anticorruption Council report [El Tiempo Digital, 10/15/08]. Although President Manuel Zelaya signed to join the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), the Venezuela-led trade block, on Aug. 25, the Honduran Congress has not yet reached full accord on ratifying membership; meanwhile, the presidents of Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador have each announced they do not plan to join ALBA [La Tribuna, 10/9/08; La Tribuna, 10/6/08; Hondudiario, 10/4/08]. Transvestites and gay rights groups have filed a complaint with the Honduran Committee on Human Rights to be able to have their national identity card picture taken with make-up and feminine accessories, which authorities currently forbid [La Prensa, 10/15/08].

1. Informe: Honduras entre los países mas violentos del mundo [La Tribuna, 10/2/08; EFE, 10/2/08]
2. Activista liberal asesinado mientras montaba afiches políticos; otra secuestrada y abusada [La Tribuna, 10/3/08, El Tiempo Digital, 10/3/08]
3. Grupo Garífuna pide convocatoria ante comisión de derechos humanos después de asesinato e intimidación sistemática [Revistazo, 9/25/08, Revistazo, 10/3/08]
4. Cuarto activistas campesinos capturados y encarcelados ilegalmente [Revistazo, 10/3/08]
5. Supuesto soborno de director de cárcel para dejar reo huir; nuevas medidas cautelares no impiden otra fuga [La Tribuna, 10/3/08; La Tribuna, 10/3/08; La Tribuna, 10/3/08; La Tribuna, 10/8/08, La Tribuna, 10/13/08]
6. Honduras es anfitrión de encuentro frente a la militarización [Revistazo, 10/1/08; Adital, 10/2/08; Revistazo, 10/6/08; text of the declaration: Honduras Laboral/COMUN Noticias, 10/7/08]
7. Matan a cobrador por no pagar “impuesto de guerra” [La Tribuna, 10/12/08]
8. Más de cinco mil millones se pierden por corrupción [El Tiempo Digital, 10/15/08]
9. Costa Rica, El Salvador no se integrará al Alba [La Tribuna, 10/9/08; La Tribuna, 10/6/08; Hondudiario, 10/4/08]
10. Quieren aparecer en la cédula como travestis [La Prensa, 10/15/08]

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