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Updated 08/18/2008

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

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

1. Exiled victim of torture in 1980s returns to Honduras to seek justice
2. Government inaction sparks land dispute resulting in 11 deaths
3. Biofuel projects taking hold in Honduras
4. Other news in brief…

1. Exiled victim of torture in 1980s returns to Honduras to seek justice

On July 31 journalist Oscar Reyes Baca, 26 years exiled from Honduras, returned to Tegucigalpa to present a US$26 million claim before the Ministry of Defense for a litany of wrongs done to him and his family in 1982. On July 8 of that year, military intelligence officers raided the home of Reyes and his wife, Gloria Flores de Reyes, ransacking, and later looting, the home and abducting the couple. The Reyes were accused of being leftist guerrillas and were interrogated, beaten and tortured. Reyes Baca was a reporter and founder of the Journalism School at the Autonomous University of Honduras. The couple was jailed for more than five months while charges of "attempts against state security" were investigated. After family members threatened to go public with the crimes committed against the Reyes, the military finally let the couple free on condition that they leave the country and remain silent about what had happened to them. By late December 1982, the entire family had fled the country to seek political asylum in the United States.

The Reyes were plaintiffs in the successful 2006 U.S. Federal Court case against Juan Evangelista López Grijalba, former army intelligence chief who was deported back to Honduras and never paid the family the US$26 million that the court awarded as damages. The family’s current suit is based on the findings of the Miami, Fla.-based court. Their lawyer, Mauricio Salazar, has said that they will exhaust all means of satisfying the suit, even if it means taking it to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. [La Tribuna, 8/1/08; La Prensa, 8/1/08; Conexihon, 7/15-31/08; background info: MISF]

2. Government inaction sparks land dispute resulting in 11 deaths

On Aug. 3, 200 to 300 members of a peasant farming cooperative involved in a longstanding land dispute stormed the house of Henry Osorto, a local police official in the town of Silín, Trujillo, shooting at family members and employees, and ultimately torching the house. Eleven people inside the house, which sits on land the peasants lay claim to, were killed. According to initial reports, a group of armed men firing their weapons—apparently sent by the neighboring landholders—had stormed the cooperative, and the peasants in turn chased them to the Osorto home. Police later said there was no evidence to support the claim of the initial attack; however, burnt weapons, presumed to be AK-47 assault rifles, were found in the remains of the house. A government commission has been established to investigate.

The disputed land, 79 acres of which were seized by some 400 peasant families in 2000, has a troubled history. For several years, beginning in 1983, it was the home of the U.S.-funded and -staffed Regional Military Training Center, where Salvadoran and Honduran soldiers received counterinsurgency training; it was later revealed that the center had also served as a clandestine jail for suspected subversives who had been "disappeared." In 1991, after the center had closed and the territory reverted to communal land, the municipality of Trujuillo illegally sold it, in lots, primarily to government officials and public functionaries. Peasant activists successfully pressured the Honduran government to indemnify these landholders so that they would turn the land over as part of a wider agrarian reform effort; however, unsatisfied with the compensation, the landholders stayed. Most recently, in response to demands by the Aguán Peasant Movement, Congress ordered an expropriation of the lands and the decampment of the landholders. They haven’t left, nor has the National Agrarian Institute, which handles all agrarian reform, forced them to. Relatives of the deceased say the family has continued reside on the land because they have not received compensation.

Peasant leaders, including Rafael Alegría, member of the International Coordinating Committee of Via Campesina, have distanced themselves from the tragedy, asserting their commitment to nonviolent resolution and calling on the National Agrarian Institute to immediately resolve the conflict. Since the event, peasant leaders say they have received death threats from landholders and members of the national police. [El Tiempo Digital, 8/4/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 8/4/08; AP, 8/4/08; La Tribuna, 8/5/08, El Tiempo Digital, El Tiempo Digital, 8/5/08; Via Campesina, 8/7/08]

3. Biofuel projects taking hold in Honduras

Three separate reports of biofuel production indicate a potential green revolution in Honduras. The north-central department of Yoro recently broke ground on construction of the first biodiesel production plant in the region. Once in operation, the plant, funded in part by a nonprofit association and run jointly by a private company and local government efforts, will recycle used restaurant cooking oil to be used for fueling cars and trucks. Moisés Starkman, governmental economic advisor, said in a separate report that the increased growth of pine nut and African palm agriculture is also a good sign for the viability of biodiesel for the country, though he indicates that additional planting, especially of the latter, is still necessary. He made clear that agriculturally supported bio-diesel is a long-term project, saying, “It’s not a matter of six months or a year—it takes longer than that. We’re planting African palm right now and four years from now, we’ll have the oil we need.”

Contributing to more immediate energy independence is sugarcane-based energy production, which the Sugar Producers’ Association of Honduras (AHPA) is making plans to increase, more than doubling its current production of 130 megawatts to 350. Using technology called turbo vapor condensation, sugar mills capture the steam let off by the processing of sugar and convert it into electricity, sending it directly to the national energy company. AHPA is also currently lobbying Congress to pass a biofuel law that would subsidize sugarcane-based ethanol production, which will increase the operation’s overall energy production capacity. [Hondudiario, 8/10/08; Hondudiario, 8/12/08; La Prensa, 8/6/08]

4. Other news in brief…

Jari Dixon, vice-president of the prosecutor’s group critical of the Public Ministry’s handling of certain corruption cases, raised suspicion against the independent auditor hired by Attorney General Leónidas Rosa Bautista to look over those cases. Dixon said the auditor was chosen unilaterally without the consent of all the involved parties, which casts doubt on the impartiality of his findings and raises the possibility that political expediency was once again at play, since a finding of innocence in the cases would pave the way for the Attorney General’s reelection. [El Tiempo Digital, 8/08] A report by the NGOs Civil Rights Association (Argentina) and the Pro-Justice Initiative for an Open Society (New York) found that Honduras is among one of several Latin American countries that inappropriately uses government favors, such as press passes on presidential trips, to persuade news media organizations to provide favorable coverage. [Hondudiario, 8/11/08]

1. Victima de tortura en los 80 vuelva a Honduras para buscar justicia [La Tribuna, 8/1/08; La Prensa, 8/1/08; Conexihon, 7/15-31/08; background info: MISF]
2. Muerte de 11 en conflicto de tierras descubre inacción gubernamental [El Tiempo Digital, 8/4/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 8/4/08; AP, 8/4/08; La Tribuna, 8/5/08, El Tiempo Digital, El Tiempo Digital, 8/5/08; Via Campesina, 8/7/08]
3. Proyectos de biocombustibles se afianzan en Honduras [Hondudiario, 8/10/08; Hondudiario, 8/12/08; La Prensa, 8/6/08]
4. Fiscal general contrata consultor arbitrariamente [El Tiempo Digital, 8/08]
5. Informe denuncia injerencia de gobiernos en medios de prensa [Hondudiario, 8/11/08]


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