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Updated 10/01/2008

Honduras News in Review—September 1-30, 2008

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

1. Undercover police discovered spying on rights and labor groups
2. Anticorruption prosecutor shot
3. Sentence handed down in El Porvenir prison massacre trial
4. Honduras delays reception of U.S. ambassador
5. Report: government influence threatens Honduran press freedom
6. Honduras rated second most corrupt Central American country
7. International community losing patience with poverty-reduction plan delays
8. Iberian-American attorneys general meet in Colombia discuss victims' rights
9. Other news in brief…

1. Undercover police discovered spying on rights and labor groups

A list representing a virtual who's who of Honduran human rights and union leaders was found on two undercover police officers captured Sept. 10 on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH), apparently spying on the UNAH Workers Union and its president René Andino. Union members surprised one of the officers in the act of photographing the union headquarters, and with the help of campus security handed the two men over to police custody. The list, which includes Andino, names leaders of trade unions and human rights, environmental, indigenous and other social organizations, as well as news reporters and congressional delegates. Although the exact purpose of the list—which carries the somewhat cryptic title “Organizatión Grupos de Presion Formal e Informal 2008” (Organization of Formal and Informal Pressure [Lobbying] Groups)—is unclear, it appears to be a list of surveillance targets and has been read by some as an enemies or death list. The police officers also reportedly had on their person a camera containing photos of the headquarters of various NGOs.

Among the 135 popular leaders on the list were Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio; Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared Coordinator Bertha Oliva; recently murdered union leader Altagracia Fuentes (indicated as deceased); Committee of the Defense of Human Rights President Andrés Pavon; environmental leader Father Andrés Tamayo; Juan Almendarez Bonilla, former university administrator and current director for the Center for the Prevention, Rehabilitation and Treatment of Victims of Torture; peasants’ rights activist Rafael Alegría; United Nations envoy and National Anticorruption Council member Rolando Sierra; and several leftist Democratic Unification Party deputies.

Andino said he has video of one of the police officers in which the man claims to be working under orders from Security Minister Jorge Alberto Rodas Gamero to "eliminate" union members. However, Rodas Gamero distanced himself from the acts and the list, saying, “It has never been the policy of the Security Ministry to spy on, follow and certainly not photograph a labor leader.” He said he could not immediately verify the authenticity of the list, and that it was up to the Public Ministry to determine its veracity. The Public Ministry's human rights prosecutor announced Sept. 13 that the officers had been presented with court summons and that an investigation was under way.

On Sept. 25 Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Kahn wrote an open letter to President Manuel Zelaya condemning the list, coming as it does in a general atmosphere of insecurity, impunity and vulnerability, especially for human rights workers. She asked him to take steps, through public pronouncement, specific policy and personal protection of the people involved. [La Tribuna, 9/11/08; La Tribuna, 9/12/08; La Tribuna, 9/12/08; La Tribuna, 9/13/08; Amnesty International (via RDS Listserv), 9/26/08; PDF of list]

2. Anticorruption prosecutor shot

On Sept. 1 unknown assailants shot anticorruption prosecutor Luís Javier Santos, wounding him in four places, including his right kidney, which he later lost, and his right arm. Despite having a bullet lodged too close to his spinal column to extract, Santos is expected to make a full recovery. Santos was traveling by car with his son, who was unharmed. He was supposed to have had armed protection, as ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2007 because Santos' anticorruption work put his life in danger. However, the policeman assigned to him was frequently called back to the force for entire days, as was the case on the day in question. Santos also had to pay the guard’s room and board.

 Santos is one of the original group of prosecutors, now known as the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ) that went on hunger strike last April to protest the Public Ministry’s inaction on certain official corruption cases. Víctor Fernández, president of the National Association of Prosecutors and MADJ co-founder said, “This makes good the threats we received for our fight against corruption.” Bertha Oliva, coordinator for the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, also made it clear that the shooting should not be considered a matter of the general state of insecurity in the country. “This is a clear case of an action foretold, where we can’t lose perspective, as [Santos] has been warning of harassment, threats and persecution,” she said. Santos was once even attacked in the courtroom by the former mayor of Santa Barbara, Edgardo Ramón Sabillón Castillo, whom he was prosecuting at the time. There have also been rumors regarding a contract on the MADJ prosecutors, allegedly led by an unnamed former member of the Battalion 3-16 death squad. [Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 9/1/08; Revistazo, 9/2/08; Revistazo, 9/2/08; El Tiempo Digital, 9/3/08; El Tiempo Digital, 9/3/08; El Tiempo Digital, 9/3/08; Revistazo, 9/3/08; La Tribuna, 9/4/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 9/9/08; La Tribuna, 9/11/08; El Tiempo Digital, 9/25/08; La Prensa, 9/25/08]

3. Sentence handed down in El Porvenir prison massacre trial

On Sept. 5 the Sentencing Tribunal of La Ceiba handed down sentences for 21 former prison officials, workers, police officials and inmate trustees involved in the El Porvenir prison massacre of 2003. The sentences ranged from three to 1,051 years. The three-judge panel reserved the maximum sentence for Dimas Antonio Benitez, who was one of the directors at the prison when 69 people, mostly gang members, were killed. Pavel Eduardo Flores, an inmate vested with supervisory authority, received 1,035 years, and José Rodríguez got 1,020 for setting fire to and killing several people. Adán Soto, Héctor Jiménez, Javier Solís, Jorge Caballero, Oscar Ocampo Luis Cruz, Santos Arteaga, Santos Banegas and Tomás Rivera, each received 993 years—740 for violent assassination and 253 for murder by fire. (Editor's note: News accounts did not specify whether these men were prison employees, police officers or inmate trustees; some accounts also differ slightly in the duration of the sentences.)

Luis Beltrán Arias, former director of the National Police’s special preventative forces, received a three-year sentence and a six-year disqualification from service for abusing authority. His transfer of gang members from the national penitentiary to El Porvenir without an emergency declaration is widely seen as having sparked the riot. Salomón Méndez received a similar sentence for neglecting official duties. National Commissioner of Human Rights Ramón Custodio, who had launched an investigation into the massacre and provided evidence to the Public Ministry to facilitate a trial court conviction, expressed satisfaction with the sentencing.  [Hondudiario, 9/5/08; Hondudiario, 9/6/08; AP, 9/6/08; past story: HNR, 6/1-15/08]

4. Honduras delays reception of U.S. ambassador

Citing solidarity with his fellow Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) presidents—Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia—Manuel Zelaya and the Honduran government decided to postpone the official reception of Hugo Llorens, the new U.S. ambassador to Honduras, from Sept. 12 to Sept. 19. Both Chavez and Morales expelled their U.S. ambassadors after Morales accused U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia Phillip Goldberg on Sept. 10 of fomenting the recent unrest and violent protest in his country. Morales said Goldberg was meeting with heads of the opposition—government leaders in states demanding greater autonomy—in an effort to overthrow the Morales government, while Goldberg said he had conducted the meetings in order to better understand what was happening in the country.

Honduran business leaders, meanwhile, met Zelaya’s cool reception of Llorens with outrage, fearing reprisals in trade and in the Temporary Protected Status, due for renewal this year, under which tens of thousands of Honduran citizens live and work in the United States. When Zelaya and Llorens finally met on Sept. 19, the ambassador attempted to put those fears to rest, saying he wanted to start with a clean slate and noting that the two countries have had a long history of cooperation. Recent history, though, has been a bit tumultuous under Zelaya. In addition to joining ALBA, Chavez’s contentious, anti-U.S. alliance, Zelaya had a rocky relationship with previous U.S. Ambassador Charles Ford, whom he accused of interventionism. [La Prensa, 9/10/08; La Tribuna, 9/13/08; La Tribuna, 9/13/08; La Tribuna, 9/13/08; La Tribuna, 9/14/08; La Tribuna, 9/15/08; El Heraldo, 9/16/08; AP, 9/16/08; Hondudiario, 9/19/08]

5. Report: government influence threatens Honduran press freedom

On Sept. 11 the NGOs Justice Initiative, Open Society Institute and Association for Civil Rights, along with Honduras’ National Anticorruption Council published two reports detailing threats to Latin American media freedom. The reports—"The Price of Silence: the Growing Threat of Media Censorship in Latin America" and "Subtle Censorship in Honduras"—focus on the practice of “official publicity,” whereby the government guides press coverage by giving greater access, exclusive stories and even windfalls in advertising revenue to reporters and news organizations who produce favorable reporting, and occasionally denying reporters access or threatening networks with legal action if they don’t. Lucila Funes and Thelma Mejía, the journalists responsible for the Honduras-specific aspects of the reports, found that while this is not a new practice in the country, it has grown sharply under Manuel Zelaya’s presidency. They said the problem is worsened by media concentration, as all major media in the country is owned by one of six families: Ferrari y Villeda Toledo, Rosenthal Hidalgo, Andonie Fernández, Flores Facussé and Canahuati-Larach. The report includes policy proposals to address these issues, such as oversight and reform of government advertising spending, which currently is unregulated and allows for discrimination in its distribution. [Revistazo, 9/11/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 9/12/08; Honduras This Week, 9/11/08; Conexihon, 9/15/08]

6. Honduras rated second most corrupt Central American country

Honduras received low scores in the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, released Sept. 23 by the NGO Transparency International. The annual index, which measures perceived levels of public-sector corruption in 180 countries based on a composite of expert and business surveys, gave Honduras a score of 2.6 on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 10 (highly clean). Among the 180 countries on the list, in which the number-one slot—a tie between Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden—represented the "cleanest" country and 180, Somalia, the most corrupt, Honduras ranked 126. Honduras was the second most corrupt Central American country on the list, better only than Nicaragua, which scored a 2.5. Other low-scoring Latin American nations included Venezuela (1.9), Ecuador (2.0), Paraguay (2.4), and Argentina (2.9). Latin American countries faring better included Chile and Uruguay, both at 6.9, and Costa Rica at 5.1. In 2007 Honduras scored a 2.5. [La Prensa, 9/23/08; Transparency International, 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index]

7. International community losing patience with poverty-reduction plan delays

International community groups warned on Sept. 18 that aid to the Strategy for Poverty Reduction (ERP) is in jeopardy due to Honduras’ lack of progress in updating the document, as well as its failure to meet IMF macroeconomic goals. Germano Straniero, the European Commission’s representative, said that after two and a half years, Honduras has failed to update the foundational document on which the strategy is based, which means the 2001 agreement, which gives the government too much leeway to spend the funds elsewhere, is still in effect. The ERP, he said, “is the cornerstone of international cooperation with Honduras,” and without it the international funding is at risk. The European Commission has already had to delay funds, some of which were nonrenewable, because of the stalled legislation. Honduran officials indicated that the rewrite would be completed within a month. The Civil Society Group, set up for said organizations to monitor and influence the ERP, has said that much of the 124.5 billion lempiras (US$6.5 billion) spent since the program’s 2001 start has not reached the poor. [Conexihon, 9/08]

8. Iberian-American attorneys general meet in Colombia discuss victims' rights

On Sept. 10, the attorneys general and heads of prosecutor’s offices from 24 Latin American and Iberian Peninsula countries convened to discuss victims’ rights in the penal process in Cartagena, Colombia. Mario Iguarán, Colombia’s attorney general, addressed topics including his country’s Constitutional Court jurisprudence regarding victims’ reparations; the features of the country’s Victim Assistance Program; and challenges and successes in victims’ rights in the face of the rollout of Colombia’s Justice and Peace Law, which gives leniency to armed groups that willingly put down their weapons, confess and help with reparations to their victims. Honduran officials attended the event, along with representatives from Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Portugal, the Dominican Republic, Spain and 17 other countries. [La Prensa, 9/10/08]

9. Other news in brief…

The National Observatory on Violence released a report finding a 38 percent increase in violent deaths in the first quarter of 2008 (a total of 1,882 deaths), which would extrapolate to 55.6 homicides per 100,000, compared to the World Heath Organization’s estimated worldwide rate of 8.8 per 100,000 [Conexihon, 9/15/08]. Honduras’ latest kidnapping victim, American hotelier Thomas Jacobson—at least the 40th kidnapping victim this year—was set free by his captors on Sept. 27 after being held captive for a week; it is unclear if any ransom money was paid [La Tribuna, 9/28/08]. With the help of Caritas Honduras, Catholic Relief Services and the U.S. Department of Labor, Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga on Sept. 1 inaugurated a workers’ rights center that will train workers to stand up for their rights in the workplace [La Tribuna, 9/2/08]. On Sept. 25 the Honduran Congress passed a bill called the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture, designed to adhere to Article 17 of the United Nations’ Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, which requires each state party to establish at least one independent national mechanism for the prevention of torture at the domestic level [CPTRT press release, 9/25/08]. Luis Antonio Pérez, imprisoned for the 2007 murder of judge Alba Leticia Bueso, escaped from prison on Sept. 29, apparently walking out the front door without detection [La Tribuna, 9/30/08]. The Appellate Court of San Pedro Sula issued an arrest warrant on Sept. 2 for former Environment Minister Juan Francisco González, for having illegally accepted an SUV in return for dropping charges against an illegal logging operation [El Tiempo Digital, 9/2/08].


1. Descubren policia vestidos de civil vigilando sindicalistas y defensores de DDHH [La Tribuna, 9/11/08; La Tribuna, 9/12/08; La Tribuna, 9/12/08; La Tribuna, 9/13/08; Amnesty International (via RDS Listserv), 9/26/08; PDF of list]

2. Atentan contra fiscal luchador anticorrupción [Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 9/1/08; Revistazo, 9/2/08; Revistazo, 9/2/08; El Tiempo Digital, 9/3/08; El Tiempo Digital, 9/3/08; El Tiempo Digital, 9/3/08; Revistazo, 9/3/08; La Tribuna, 9/4/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 9/9/08; La Tribuna, 9/11/08; El Tiempo Digital, 9/25/08; La Prensa, 9/25/08]

3. Sentencian a los responsables del masacre de El Porvenir [Hondudiario, 9/5/08; Hondudiario, 9/6/08; AP, 9/6/08; past story: HNR, 6/1-15/08]

4. Honduras suspende recepción de credenciales a embajador estadounidense [La Prensa, 9/10/08; La Tribuna, 9/13/08; La Tribuna, 9/13/08; La Tribuna, 9/13/08; La Tribuna, 9/14/08; La Tribuna, 9/15/08; El Heraldo, 9/16/08; AP, 9/16/08; Hondudiario, 9/19/08]

5. Informe: presión gubernamental amenaza libertad de prensa en Honduras [Revistazo, 9/11/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 9/12/08; Honduras This Week, 9/11/08; Conexihon, 9/15/08]

6. Honduras el segundo país más corrupto de Centro América [La Prensa, 9/23/08; Transparency International, 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index]

7. Comunidad internacional perdiendo paciencia con demora de proyecto contra pobreza [Conexihon, 9/08]

8. Fiscales Ibero-Americanos se reúnen en Colombia para hablar de derechos de víctimas [La Prensa, 9/10/08]

9. Muertes violentas crece en 38% en Honduras [Conexihon, 9/15/08]

10. Liberan a empresario estadounidense secuestrado en Honduras [La Tribuna, 9/28/08]

11. Cardenal inaugura centro de Derechos Laborales [La Tribuna, 9/2/08]

12. Nuevo Mecanismo para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos actuará en Honduras [CPTRT press release, 9/25/08]

13. Se fuga homicida de jueza [La Tribuna, 9/30/08]

14. Confirman auto de prisión para ex fiscal del Ambiente [El Tiempo Digital, 9/2/08]

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