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Updated 06/17/2008

Honduras News in Review—June 1-15, 2008

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

1. Twenty-one guilty verdicts handed down in 2003 prison massacre case
2. Negroponte makes controversial stop in Honduras
3. National Congress dismisses complaints against attorney general, deputy
4. Prosecutors’ group investigates payments to Congress
5. Former natural resources minister subpoenaed
6. Police say murdered labor leaders were victims of car-theft ring


1. Twenty-one guilty verdicts handed down in 2003 prison massacre case

On June 4, the Sentencing Tribunal of La Ceiba handed down 21 guilty verdicts to police and military personnel involved in the massacre of 57 prisoners and 12 visitors at the El Porvenir penal farm on April 5, 2003. Human rights prosecutor Sandra Ponce declared it “an historic verdict that creates a sense of jurisprudence” among government officials. Bertha Oliva, coordinator for the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, which helped victims’ families manage the case, remarked that the verdicts fell short of historic because “those giving the orders were not convicted.” While the exact sentences will not be decided until a hearing on June 17, some of those convicted face up to 740 years of prison, a symbolic number since Honduran law forbids anyone from serving more than 30 years in prison at any given stretch. In addition to the 21 guilty verdicts, 12 others were exonerated of any wrongdoing, and 17 more are still pending trial as they are currently on the run from the law.

Among those found guilty is the former prison director, Luis Beltrán Ramos, who will be jailed for three to seven years for abusing his authority when he moved 204 gang members from the national penitentiary to other prisons without an emergency having been declared. The transfer of so many gang members to El Porvenir was one of the causes of the riot that led to the massacre. Ramon Custodio, head of the National Human Rights Commission, said that the group’s detailed, scientific and independent investigation helped in the convictions. [El Heraldo, 5/28; La Prensa, 6/2/08; Hondudiario, 6/2/08; La Prensa, 6/4/08; Hondudiario, 6/4/08; La Prensa, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; Hondudiario, 6/5/08]

2. Negroponte makes controversial stop in Honduras

Protesters greeted U.S. Undersecretary of State John Negroponte on his 24-hour visit to Honduras on June 4 and 5, during which he discussed the war on drugs, organized crime, and police training and reform. Negroponte’s visit was part of a three-day Central America tour where he was, in part, building support for the proposed “Mérida Initiative” to fight drug-related violence, a three-year, $1.5-billion bill currently in committee in the U.S. Congress. The Central American Free Trade Agreement was also on his agenda. Among the protesters were the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, and the Convergence of Movements of Peoples of the Americas, as well as the newly formed Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, which carries on the work of last month’s hunger strikers. The groups expressed dismay that the “angel of death,” as some called him, would show up in a country that still bears much ill will towards his actions as U.S. ambassador during the early 1980s. Negroponte held that post from 1981 to 1985, during which time he helped establish the El Aguacate airbase, which served as a training site for Nicaraguan Contras and the infamous CIA-trained Battalion 3-16, which carried out repressive actions against citizens, including the “disappearing” of nearly 200 civilians. Protesters gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. [La Prensa, 6/4/08; El Heraldo, 6/4/08; Hondudiario, 6/3/08; Hondudiario, 6/4/08; Hondudiario, 6/4/08; Hondudiario, 6/4/08; La Prensa, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/6/08; Revistazo, 6/3/08; Red de Desarollo Sostenible, 6/3/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 6/3/08; Red de Desarollo Sostenible, 6/3/08; Red de Desarollo Sostenible, 6/4/08; background: MISF]

3. National Congress dismisses complaints against attorney general, deputy

On June 5, the National Congress voted with 124 ayes and 4 abstentions to approve a report generated by a specially appointed subcommittee dismissing all 41 charges of “shelving” corruption cases brought by striking public prosecutors and other concerned citizens against Attorney General Leónidas Rosa Bautista and his deputy, Omar Cerna. The subcommittee, appointed by Congressional President Roberto Micheletti, consisted of members, all lawyers, of the two leading parties and at least one from the minority Christian Democracy party. The latter abstained from signing the finished report because he didn’t agree with its conclusions. The abstentions in the general vote all came from minority parties. Because the charges were dismissed, the two head officials of the Public Ministry will not face the suspension that hunger strikers had demanded. Rosa Bautista took the opportunity to criticize the leaders of the concluded strike, now a civic organization called the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, by saying they merely wanted a power grab and had sown confusion among the masses “that don’t read newspapers.” He further accused them of spreading lies and trying to harm state institutions. The prosecutors, meanwhile, said that the subcommittee was formed of sympathizers and supporters of the Public Ministry officials. One prosecutor even alleged that the report was written by a core group of insiders and merely signed off by the subcommittee.

According to lawyer Claudia Herrmansdorfer, of the Center for Women’s Rights, the existence of the subcommittee itself goes against the agreement that ended the strike. Herrmansdorfer, a negotiator for the strikers, said that review of these cases was to be the responsibility of a Technical-Jurist Oversight Committee as part of the Committee of Notables, which was to explore the charges. “What we feared, happened—Congress shelved the cases,” she concluded. Micheletti said the next step is for President Manuel Zelaya to appoint the Committee of Notables to continue the investigation. [La Prensa, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/6/08; El Heraldo, 6/10/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 6/9/08]

4. Prosecutors’ group investigates payments to Congress

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice asked for a full accounting of payments and subsidies received by all Congressional deputies. “This is part of our effort to watch over the transparency of government funds, not just in Congress, but in all the places where the people’s money has been skimmed in the past,” said Luis Javier Santos, movement member and prosecutor. The movement filed a similar request for the Superior Audit Tribunal earlier and plans to do the same for the Finance Ministry. [Revistazo, 6/4/08]

5. Former natural resources minister subpoenaed

On June 2, the Superior Audit Tribunal subpoenaed Patricia Panting Galo, former minister of natural resources, for irregular payments concerning a project the agency headed in Comayagua under her tenure. If found guilty, she could face a fine of one to two million lempira, or U.S. $50,000 to $100,000. A separate case, charging Panting with fraud and perjury, is one of the so-called shelved cases that public prosecutors protested during a hunger strike in May. Panting, who is currently living in the United States, has 15 days to appear before the panel. [El Heraldo, 6/2/08; background: HNR, 05/08]

6. Police say murdered labor leaders were victims of car-theft ring

Union leaders Altagracia Fuentes and Yolanda Sánchez and their chauffeur, murdered on April 24, were victims of a gang of car thieves known to operate in the area, according to a statement by San Pedro Sula police on June 3. Ballistic evidence matched the shells at the scene with recently confiscated AK-47s and nine-millimeter handguns known to belong to the gang. Police theorized that the women were shot only after their driver got out of the car in self-defense, which they said was supported by the fact that Fuentes received the fewest bullet wounds. [La Prensa, 6/4/08]


1. Condenan a veintiuna personas por masacre carcelero en 2003 [El Heraldo, 5/28; La Prensa, 6/2/08; Hondudiario, 6/2/08; La Prensa, 6/4/08; Hondudiario, 6/4/08; La Prensa, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; Hondudiario, 6/5/08]

2. Negroponte llega a Honduras en visita controversial [La Prensa, 6/4/08; El Heraldo, 6/4/08; Hondudiario, 6/3/08; Hondudiario, 6/4/08; Hondudiario, 6/4/08; Hondudiario, 6/4/08; La Prensa, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/6/08; Revistazo, 6/3/08; Red de Desarollo Sostenible, 6/3/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 6/3/08; Red de Desarollo Sostenible, 6/3/08; Red de Desarollo Sostenible, 6/4/08; background: MISF]

3. Congreso Nacional declara inadmisible denuncias ante el Fiscal General y su diputado [La Prensa, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/5/08; El Heraldo, 6/6/08; El Heraldo, 6/10/08; Honduras Laboral/Comun Noticias, 6/9/08]

4. Grupo de fiscales pide cuentas ante Congreso Nacional [Revistazo, 6/4/08]

5. Citada ex-ministra de recursos naturales [El Heraldo, 6/2/08; background: HNR, 05/08]

6. Policía informa que sindicalistas fueron víctimas de un banda de robacarros [La Prensa, 6/4/08]


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