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Updated 09/02/2008

Honduras News in Review—Aug. 15-31, 2008

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

1. Gang-member reform program kicks off in Tegucigalpa
2. U.S. support to combat drug trafficking “insignificant,” Zelaya says
3. Zelaya signs Venezuela-led accord
4. Chavez security detail abuses press corps
5. Women’s groups protest Ortega, new minister
6. Civil society pressures government to open up poverty-reduction budget process
7. Other news in brief…

1. Gang-member reform program kicks off in Tegucigalpa

On Aug. 15 the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), along with a wide-ranging group of Tegucigalpa business organizations and nonprofits, signed the “Desafío 100” (Challenge 100) agreement to bring job opportunities to at least 100 young adults who were once gang members. Through vocational education and job training and placement, the program aims to help former gang members—who often have trouble obtaining jobs because of tattoos or past criminal records—to reintegrate into society. To qualify for the program, participants need to show that they’ve been out of a gang for a least a year, are drug-free and aren’t currently under indictment or other legal trouble, as well as take a series of psychological tests. Carlos Bueso, president of the Tegucigalpa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, noted the role that his and other signatory groups must play, saying, "We cannot dissociate ourselves from social problems and disharmony, because we're a part of this city and this country." Alejandro Álvarez, president for the Honduran Council on Private Industry, another signatory, affirmed the importance of ongoing commitment to the program, saying, “Not only do we need to give [former gang youth] a second chance, but also a third, fourth and fifth. Sometimes we’ll have 100 participants and 99 will return to the gangs, but with that one success, we’ve done excellent work.” The program is modeled on a successful program in Guatemala, also supported by USAID, through which more than 100 former gang members have become a part of the work force and society. The city of San Pedro Sula has initiated a similar program as well. [Hondudiario, 8/15/08; El Tiempo, 8/16/08; El Heraldo, 8/17/08]

2. U.S. support to combat drug trafficking “insignificant,” Zelaya says

On Aug. 19 President Manuel Zelaya declared that the United States’ recently passed Merida Initiative, which allocates funds to fight drug trafficking in Honduras and other countries in the region, was “weak and ill-considered.” Speaking from Mexico, where he was on hand for the national soccer team’s match against Mexico for the World Cup preliminary competition, Zelaya indicated he has a meeting scheduled with U.S. dignitaries to discuss the matter. “The United States isn’t responding to Latin America’s needs in the area” he said, adding, “We need to have a frank, open, comprehensive dialogue about the problems facing us mutually.” Zelaya was to discuss this and other areas of concern with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. [Hondudiario, 8/20/08; past story: HNR, 7/15-31/08]

3. Zelaya signs Venezuela-led accord

On Aug. 25 President Manuel Zelaya signed the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) accord while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, Bolivian President Evo Morales and Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage looked on. All five dignitaries spoke at length about the need to stand up against northern “imperialism,” referring to the free-trade agreements the United States has struck or has tried to strike with countries and regions in Latin America. Chavez struck the most strident note, calling anyone who questioned the agreement “sell-outs,” and any critical press “pitiyanquis,” a Puerto Rican term used to denote those beholden to American interests, “who pick up the crumbs and lick the hands [of their American masters].” Zelaya, for his part, sought to silence critics who fear the accord might endanger their participation in the U.S.-initiated Central American Free Trade Agreement by saying, “We do not need to ask the imperialist’s permission [to sign ALBA]."

The agreement, whose details have not been widely publicized, includes 100 tractors for peasant farm workers; a US$30 million line of credit (interest rate unknown) from the Venezuelan Economic and Social Development Bank to the Honduras Agricultural Bank to make affordable micro-loans available to small- and medium-sized farms; bonds totaling US$100 million issued by the Honduran government and purchased by Venezuela for low-income housing programs and the extension of credit to the informal sector of the economy; feasibility studies on oil production in the Caribbean, with subsequent development help to the Honduran government to carry out production; ALBA Petroleum Fund money to open a US$1.8 million Seed Fund to help small and medium farmers with their growing needs; technical assistance for a government-run television station for cultural and folkloric programming; broader social medicine assistance from Cuba; a Cuban-based illiteracy eradication program; scholarships to Cuban universities; and 4 million energy-saving light bulbs to replace incandescent ones. While President Zelaya says that Congressional approval is not needed, since no Honduras law is being changed, some members of Congress disagree, saying that any international treaty needs its approval. Other critics fear that there is an implicit military accord, since Chavez has made it well known he wants ALBA to act as a counterbalance to U.S. power in the region.

Approximately 30,000 spectators were on hand for the ceremony, many of whom had been offered 300 lempiras (US$15) by Zelaya’s Liberal Party for making the trip and showing up. Reports varied on how much of this money actually reached the hands of those who traveled. [El Tiempo Digital, 8/26/08; El Tiempo Digital, 8/26/08; Hondudiario, 8/25/08; Hondudiario, 8/25/08; Reuters News Service, 8/26/08; Inter Press Service News Agency, 8/26/08; La Tribuna, 8/28/08]

4. Chavez security detail abuses press corps

Hugo Chavez’s security forces did not deal kindly with some members of the press covering the Venezuelan president’s visit to Honduras for President Manuel Zelaya’s signing of the ALBA treaty. (See story above.) According to one photographer from an international press organization, the president's security detail, during an advance security survey on Aug. 22, forced the photographer to delete all the pictures from his camera, saying, “When you visit Venezuela, I’ll make you eat your camera." Once Chavez was in Honduras, it appeared that his security forces had completely supplanted the Honduran ones. Cristobal Sauceda, reporter for the HRN radio station, complained that his press credentials were confiscated and his work halted because he had asked President Chavez “the wrong questions.” His colleague Lucia Alvarado, who said he also was treated poorly, corroborated the story. [La Tribuna, 8/26/08]

5. Women’s groups protest Ortega, new minister

News of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s visit for the signing of the ALBA accord touched off a series of controversies that have yet to die down even after his departure. The possibility of Ortega’s visit originally set off protests among women’s rights activists, concerned about allegations that the dignitary sexually abused his stepdaughter Zoilamerica Narvaez for years, starting when she was 13. Ortega and his wife deny the allegations, which have never been taken up in court, since the country’s supreme court declared in 2003 that the statute of limitations had run out. In protest of Ortega's visit, Selma Ucles Estrada on Aug. 22 resigned from her cabinet-level post as minister of the National Institute for Women (INAM). President Manuel Zelaya accepted the resignation and appointed Doris García within four hours, swearing her in to the post four days later. Unhappy about the appointment, women’s rights groups, including the Center for Women’s Studies, the Honduran Lesbian Network, the Youth for Sexual and Reproductive Rights Network, and others numbering 20 in all, camped outside the INAM offices and refused to let García in the door, calling instead for Estrada to be reinstated. The protesters did not want Estrada to step down because she was in the midst of coordinating a comprehensive domestic-violence prevention policy, and they feared that this and other work the ministry was in the midst of would cease. As of Aug. 31, García had been unable to enter her offices, working instead out of an office at the Ministry of the Presidency. However, on Sept. 1 an agreement was reached whereby García would remain in the post for four months while a replacement was sought who would take over in January 2009. [International Herald Tribune, 8/22/08; La Tribuna, 8/26/08; La Prensa, 8/28/08; La Prensa, 8/29/08; El Tiempo Digital, 8/31/08; La Tribuna, 9/1/08]

6. Civil society pressures government to open up poverty-reduction budget process

Following an Aug. 14 meeting and consistent pressure from the Civil Society Working Group (GSC), government functionaries of the Consultative Council for the Strategy to Reduce Poverty (CCERP) agreed to allow civil-society members to be present during the 2009 budgeting process for the Strategy to Reduce Poverty (ERP). Since its inception in 2001, 93 billion lempira (nearly US$5 billion) has been spent with very little oversight or transparency, and without showing a significant change in poverty levels during that time. The GSC was set up as a constitutive part of the CCERP, but it has often been sidelined by the government’s representatives, who have handled the disbursement of funds for the project. A meeting was slated for Aug. 25, but there have as yet been no reports on the outcome. [Grupo Sociedad Civil, 8/15/08; Hondudiario, 8/16/08; Hondudiario, 8/22/08; past story: HNR, 7/15-31/08]

7. Other news in brief…

Luis Arturo Ayala, longtime environmental reporter and photographer in Choloma Cortes, announced that he has received threats from local businessman “Chucry” Andonie after reporting that Adonie, who had a permit to cut 70 trees, had in fact felled over 1,000 in the area [Honduras Laboral, 8/11/08]. On Aug. 27 the Ministry of Natural Resources launched a biodiversity project with the help of national and international environmental groups, including the World Wildlife Federation, which aims to preserve ecosystems in the country’s threatened areas [La Tribuna, 8/28/08].


1. Empieza programa de reforma de mareros [Hondudiario, 8/15/08; El Tiempo, 8/16/08; El Heraldo, 8/17/08]
2. Ayuda de EU “es débil e insignificante”: Presidente Zelaya [Hondudiario, 8/20/08; past story: HNR, 7/15-31/08]
3. Zelaya firma acuerdo Venezolano [El Tiempo Digital, 8/26/08; El Tiempo Digital, 8/26/08; Hondudiario, 8/25/08; Hondudiario, 8/25/08; Reuters News Service, 8/26/08; Inter Press Service News Agency, 8/26/08; La Tribuna, 8/28/08]
4. Fuerzas de seguridad de Chávez maltratan a la prensa [La Tribuna, 8/26/08]
5. Feministas protestan a Ortega, nueva ministro [International Herald Tribune, 8/22/08; La Tribuna, 8/26/08; La Prensa, 8/28/08; La Prensa, 8/29/08; El Tiempo Digital, 8/31/08; La Tribuna, 9/1/08]
6. Sociedad Civil presiona a que abra el gobierno el proceso presupuestario de la reducción de pobreza [Grupo Sociedad Civil, 8/15/08; Hondudiario, 8/16/08; Hondudiario, 8/22/08; past story: HNR, 7/15-31/08]
7. Amenazan a comunicador por denunciar tala de árboles [Honduras Laboral, 8/11/08]
8. Lanzan proyecto para preservar biodiversidad [La Tribuna, 8/28/08]


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