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Updated 06/17/2008

Honduras News in Review—May 2008

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

1. Hunger strike ends as National Congress meets prosecutors’ demands
2. Cases brought against heads of Public Ministry
3. Death threats, retaliatory firings for strikers
4. Reporter’s life threatened for covering hunger strike
5. Labor-leader murder suspect apprehended
6. Another labor leader killed
7. Police reform bill touches off controversy
8. Maquila accused of human rights abuses
9. After 30 years, expropriation bill gives farm workers their lands

1. Hunger strike ends as National Congress meets prosecutors’ demands

After a 38-day hunger strike that brought national attention to government corruption and heard a manifold public outcry against it, public prosecutors ended the protest on May 14, while making clear the struggle was not over. The declaration came shortly after the National Congress passed two measures meeting many of the hunger strikers’ demands, among them independent review and oversight of the Public Ministry by a special commission; reform of the Law of the Public Ministry, Article 25, allowing for the investigation and removal of the attorney general; and Congressional President Roberto Micheletti’s promise to hold future selections of heads of the Supreme Court, Public Ministry and magistrates for various tribunals and superior courts in complete transparency. Still left outstanding are the demanded reforms in prosecutorial autonomy as well as calls for the dismissal of Attorney General Leonidas Rosa Bautista and his deputy, Omar Cerna.

All parties expressed satisfaction with the outcome. Striker Víctor Fernández, president of the Prosecutors’ Association, said, “Today marks the conclusion of the hunger strike phase, but the nonviolent and civic resistance has just started, in the form of a peaceful protest against a corrupt political class that advocates its continued control using execrable methods to oppose the civic will of an honorable Honduras.” He called for a citizens’ “justice” assembly on May 24 with the purpose of planning the next steps of the organized resistance. The meeting, dubbed the Popular Assembly for Dignity and Justice, mainly dealt with the agenda of the movement: oversight of political appointments, carrying on the fight against corruption, as well as organizational structure. Symbolically headquartered in the lower halls of the congressional building—site of the strike and subsequent meeting—the movement’s leaders are the strikers, with regional branches spread throughout the country to deal with issues on a local level. [La Prensa, 5/15/08; El Heraldo, 5/15/08; El Heraldo, 5/15/08; Hondudiario, 5/15/08; Cimac Noticias, 5/15/08; Revistazo, 5/14/08; Hondudiario, 5/23/08; Hondudiario, 5/24/08; Revistazo, 5/26/08]


2. Obstructed cases brought up in investigation of heads of Public Ministry

Hours after Congress passed a reform on May 13 allowing investigation of Attorney General Leonidas Rosa Bautista and his deputy, Omar Cerna, the office was presented with a flood of cases from various sources, some of which constitute the now-famous “shelved” cases for which public prosecutors went on a 38-day hunger strike. Rosa Bautista and Cerna are accused of having obstructed the cases, which implicate high-ranking officials in a variety of alleged wrongdoing, in a move to protect said officials. The cases include the following: abuse of authority and misappropriation of public funds, filed against Elias Lazardo, minister of health under President Ricardo Maduro; abuse of authority and fraud, filed against Ana Belen Castillo, rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras; misappropriation of public funds, filed against Miguel Rodrigo Pastor, former mayor of Tegucigalpa; racketeering, filed against Victor Bendeck, main shareholder of Bancorp; misappropriation of public funds, filed against Ovidio Navarro Duarte, former attorney general; abuse of authority, filed against the general manager (unnamed) of the Honduran National Cement Company; and fraud and perjury, filed against Patricia Panting Galo, former minister of natural resources, and various ministry officials. Rosa Bautista and Omar Cerna have expressed willingness to respond to the charges against them and defend themselves in these cases. [Hondudiario, 5/14/08; Revistazo, 5/13/08; Revistazo, 5/9/08; Revistazo, 5/12/09]

3. Death threats, retaliatory firings for strikers

During an April 17 march supporting the striking prosecutors, a man armed with a machine gun got out of a pick-up truck, threatened educational leader Sergio Rivera, and attempted to force him to get in the vehicle. Rivera was able to get away with the help of the protesters around him. Witnesses say that the truck was full of government Elite Special Forces agents. Rivera’s case is one of many stories that the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared has been collecting about death threats to prosecutors and others involved in the recently ended anticorruption hunger strike. Others reports include a home invasion of popular televangelist Evelio Pedro Reyes, who has also been tailed since his involvement in the strike, and strikers Víctor Fernandez and Jari Dixon, who received a death threat by phone.

Dixon, whose name is also reported as Dickson, was the object of an apparent retaliatory firing, as was Appellate Judge Tirsa Flores. Flores recently received a summons to appear before a disciplinary panel within less than 24 hours for a case she and fellow appeals-board members have been adjudicating for over four years. Flores joined the hunger strike partway through. The summoned judges did not appear in front of the panel, instead writing a letter stating they hadn’t been clearly informed of the charges nor had time to put together any documentation in their defense. The case involves a series of people implicated in a customs corruption scandal. The appeals board overruled a stay of proceedings that they considered illegal, and they believe this is why they are being disciplined. [Revistazo, 5/26/08; Revistazo, 5/22/08]

4. Reporter’s life threatened for covering hunger strike

Sandra Maribel Sánchez, reknowned and controversial news director for the independent Radio Globo station, has been receiving death threats since she started covering the prosecutors’ hunger strike last month. During a recent broadcast, she made it known she was being threatened by phone and followed in her car. She said, “I lost my fear a long time ago,” and vowed to continue covering the strikers’ cause, which she believes is of great importance to the country. While she says she knows who is behind the threats, no names have been made public. Radio Globo has become an important alternative news source since Sánchez started coordinating its news-gathering. Honduras was recently ranked one of the most dangerous places in Latin America for journalists, according to the International Press Institute. [Revistazo, 5/8/08; Honduras This Week, 5/19/08; La Prensa, 5/9/08]

5. Labor-leader murder suspect apprehended

Maynor Celín Hernández Matute, a suspect in the shooting death of labor leaders Altagracia Fuentes and Yolanda Sánchez, was arrested on May 17 on an unrelated robbery charge. Fuentes, who was secretary general of the Honduran Workers' Federation, and Sánchez were shot and killed April 23. Two other men, Maynor Alberto Serrano Maradiaga and Denis Geovany Guevara, were released for lack of evidence after being detained for a few hours in connection with the murders. Otherwise, investigators, who did not search Fuentes’ office until 14 days into the investigation, haven’t turned up much. The murders were protested by all three major labor unions at the May Day rally on May 1, as well as denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. [La Prensa, 5/1/08; La Prensa, 5/5/08; La Prensa, 5/6/08; El Heraldo, 5/8/09; La Tribuna, 5/17; El Heraldo, 5/18; past story: HNR, April 2008]

6. Another labor leader killed

Israel García, leader of the National Association of Honduran Farmworkers (ANACH) labor group, was shot to death in the early morning of May 23 by Julio Paz, manager for the company Diesel Express, according to witnesses on the scene. The murder was apparently motivated by a favorable land-use ruling for ANACH by the National Agrarian Institute. Diesel Express had refused to hand over the land. This marks the third union leader killed in the space of a month. (See above story.) [El Heraldo, 5/23/08]

7. Police reform bill touches off controversy

In a press conference on May 2, Human Rights Commissioner Ramon Custodio declared that the proposed Police Reform Law being discussed by Congress would hand over the country to a police force infiltrated by drug traffickers and make the current National Security Council no more than a shadow puppet. According to Custodio, Public Security Minister Alberto Rodas Gamero said that the police force was infiltrated by no less than three different drug cartels. The National Security Council, Custodio said, “is an instance of genuine citizen participation, the only one capable of trying to bring an end to the impunity enjoyed by organized criminals and their hit men.” In a May 19 interview, he expanded on the subject, saying he believed the police force had been overly militarized and turned into a tool of political repression. On May 4, Rodas Gomero, calling into question Custodio’s memory, said he had never met with Custodio to discuss such things. Furthermore, he said, the meeting he had with the National Security Council did not address the topic. “On the other hand, I want to state publicly that within our institution there are a few corrupt policemen, [but] they are a minority,” Rodas Gomero said, adding that they have been dealt with by the same police force. [Hondudiario, 5/2/08; La Tribuna, 5/4/ 08; La Prensa, 5/19/08]

8. Maquila accused of human rights abuses

The Honduran Women’s Collective (CMH) on May 12 denounced a textile factory for human rights and labor law violations. In addition to citing unpaid overtime, strictly controlled eating and bathroom breaks, and frequent verbal abuse and sexual harassment, CMH outlined a systematic covering up of work-related health and injury reports at the Productos San José plant, in San Pedro Sula, designed to obtain a “safe workplace” designation, which brings along with it a cash bonus from the factory’s U.S.-based owner. Workers claim the company bullies them out of going to state-sponsored clinics and even forbids the clinics from taking them as patients, instead directing them to the company infirmary, which is reportedly in poor condition. The company, which makes clothes for Athletic, Jerzees and BVD, among others, punishes employees who defy this policy with pay cuts—up to half a day’s wages for multiple “infractions”—and reneging on their lunch tickets. The CMH claim details physical hardships, including induced miscarriages due to heat at ironing stations, respiratory diseases and urinary tract infections. Despite federal law allowing the right to organize, the company has put down multiple unionization attempts with massive retaliatory firings. [Hondudiario, 5/13/08]

9. After 30 years, expropriation bill gives farm workers their lands

Nearly 14,000 acres will soon revert to the 700,000 campesino families who have been farming the land for over 30 years, once the order given by President Manuel Zelaya is published as law. The occupied lands, which house entire communities, including churches and schools, are owned largely by absentee landlords and banana companies, who will be paid 25 percent of their value in cash and the remainder in government bonds by the National Agrarian Institute (INA), which helped craft the final bill. Among other things, this will help clear the nearly 600-case land dispute backlog at the INA. These disputes have often turned violent, with landowners harassing and physically threatening tenant families. (See story No. 6, above.) Over 1,000 campesinos have died in the struggle, which started with their taking over these lands on authority of an old land-reform bill. Private-property advocates, needless to say, are not happy with the decision. Rigoberto Espinal Irías, advisor to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, called the measure unconstitutional, saying that it would scare away investment and halt the growth of the agricultural sector. In a related measure, lands lying fallow during this growing season will be expropriated by the government and handed over to campesinos with a minimal investment to grow basic crops. [El Heraldo, 5/6/08; Revistazo, 5/6/08; La Prensa, 5/8/08; El Heraldo, 5/29/08]


1. Concluye huelga de hambre tras acuerdo del Congreso Nacional [La Prensa, 5/15/08; El Heraldo, 5/15/08; El Heraldo, 5/15/08; Hondudiario, 5/15/08; Cimac Noticias, 5/15/08; Revistazo, 5/14/08; Hondudiario, 5/23/08; Hondudiario, 5/24/08; Revistazo, 5/26/08]

2. Presentan casos obstruidos en investigación de titulares del Ministerio Público [Hondudiario, 5/14/08; Revistazo, 5/13/08; Revistazo, 5/9/08; Revistazo, 5/12/09]

3. Amenazas de muerte, despedidos reactivos les esperan a huelguistas [Revistazo, 5/26/08; Revistazo, 5/22/08]

4. Amezada con muerte periodista por cobertura de huelga [Revistazo, 5/8/08; Honduras This Week, 5/19/08; La Prensa, 5/9/08]

5. Preso un implicado en muerte de sindicalista [La Prensa, 5/1/08; La Prensa, 5/5/08; La Prensa, 5/6/08; El Heraldo, 5/8/09; La Tribuna, 5/17; El Heraldo, 5/18; past story: HNR, April 2008]

6. Matan a otro dirigente sindicalista [El Heraldo, 5/23/08]

7. Ley de reforma policial al centro de polémica [Hondudiario, 5/2/08; La Tribuna, 5/4/ 08; La Prensa, 5/19/08]

8. Maquila en violación de derechos humanos [Hondudiario, 5/13/08]

9. Decreto de expropriación le regresa tierras a campesinos después de 30 años [El Heraldo, 5/6/08; Revistazo, 5/6/08; La Prensa, 5/8/08; El Heraldo, 5/29/08]


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