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Updated 03/03/2008

Honduras News in Review—February 2008

1. Suspects arrested in murder of human rights advocate
2. Former security contractors acquitted while government officials await trial in Your Solutions case
3. U.S. signals concern over corruption in Honduras
4. Foreign Affairs Committee initiates anti-torture law
5. New special unit investigates violence against women
6. Human rights envoy criticizes failure to investigate, prosecute murder of journalists
7. Anticorruption council head, Honduran cardinal urge responsible journalism
8. Journalists train in governance and transparency issues
9. Farms receive sound agriculture certification
10. Women at forefront of microbusiness
11. Maquiladores, small businesses worried about fuel monopoly


1. Suspects arrested in murder of human rights advocate
On Jan. 31, more than a year after the murder of "lawyer for the poor" Dioniso Diaz Garcia, two men were arrested as the alleged perpetrators. César Daniel Amador Estrada, an assault unit agent for the underfunded General Office for Criminal Investigation, was apprehended in Tegucigalpa, and Ramón Eusebio Solís, a former security guard for SETECH—the company Diaz was suing for labor-rights violations—was arrested in La Ceiba. Both men were arraigned on Feb. 1 and had their initial hearings on Feb. 5. The judge in the hearing remanded them to custody without parole pending trial. If convicted, the men could receive 20 to 30 years in prison; they are being held in separate facilities. Diaz, a lawyer for the social justice organization Association for a More Just Society (ASJ), was murdered on Dec. 4, 2006. In a statement, ASJ thanked the many national and international organizations that helped keep pressure on the government to pursue the case, including the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras, the Committee of Women for Peace Visitación Padilla and Amnesty International, as well as the thousands of individuals who wrote letters to the authorities. ASJ noted, however, that the intellectual authors of the crime remain at large. [La Prensa, 2/2/08; Revistazo, 2/1/08; Revistazo, 2/6/08; background: MISF, “Lawyer for the Poor is Murdered”]


2. Former security contractors acquitted while government officials await trial in Your Solutions case
In a flurry of judicial activity, four former officials for the defunct security company Your Solutions Honduras were provisionally acquitted of charges of operating illegally in Honduras and failure to honor work contracts, including payment for duties performed. YSH, a subsidiary of U.S. military contractor Triple Canopy, began operating in Honduras in April 2005 to train Hondurans and other Latin Americans as military security personnel in the U.S. war in Iraq. Human rights prosecutor German Enamorado, who had been seeking arrest warrants for the four men, said he would appeal the decision. Meanwhile, three Honduran government officials, arraigned separately due to a lack of material evidence at the time, still await trail. Ismael Mendoza and Selvin Pineda, representing the Labor Board and the Labor Inspector General, respectively, are being charged with failure to discharge duty; Luis Ángel Méndez, currently a fugitive from justice, was involved as a recruiter for the organization. A fourth government official, Roger Cáceres Torres, the former commander of the Honduran Center for Military Training of the Army, where some of the secretive training was allegedly conducted, was acquitted of pending charges after his death certificate was certified by the court. YSH had been controversial from its inception, variously drawing the attention of the FBI and the U.N. Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, and finally ceased operations in February 2006. Enamorado has accused those involved of corruption, abuse of power, violation of sovereignty and even terrorism. The prosecution is counting on the testimony of Mario Urquía, a former troop coordinator for YSH in Iraq, who was recently flown in from the United States as a protected witness. He will testify directly regarding the involvement of the first two aforementioned government officials and possibly others. [El Heraldo, 2/13/08; La Tribuna, 2/12/08; El Heraldo, 2/14/08; La Tribuna, 2/15/08; La Tribuna, 2/16/08; La Tribuna, 2/18/08; La Tribuna, 2/19/08; past story: HNR, 4/23/07]


3. U.S. signals concern over corruption in Honduras
The United States, worried about continued high levels of corruption in Honduras, said that it would continue to sanction officials suspected of corrupt activities. Speaking on condition of anonymity a State Department official said, “Our country is worried about the level of corruption, not only in Honduras, but also in the whole region of Central America. We are currently investigating several cases, including some that involve the United States.” The United States has revoked visas and denied entry to a number of high-ranking officials including former Honduran president Rafael Callejas, whose executive measures while in office have been strongly criticized, and Marcelo Chimirri, former manager of Hondutel, the government agency that oversees the nation's telephone system. The U.S. official said that while they have President Manuel Zelaya’s word that issues of corruption will be taken seriously, they will continue to send similar messages regarding areas of concern. [La Prensa, 2/11/08; El Heraldo, 1/26/08]


4. Foreign Affairs Committee initiates anti-torture law
On Feb. 21, the Congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Honduran National Congress set in motion a bill to create a national mechanism to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Having ratified the U.N. international treaty on torture in May 2006, Honduras is bound to pass a formal mechanism for its implementation. The bill establishes measures to regularly examine the treatment of prisoners in the country’s jails as well as its psychiatric institutions, according the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, Sandra Ponce. According to government statistics, seven out of every 10 Hondurans detained by police are tortured. In part, the bill aims at cutting this number down and quickly apprehending responsible parties. The law goes before the National Congress next month. [El Heraldo, 2/14/08; La Prensa, 2/22/08; background: MISF, 6/23/06]


5. New special unit investigates violence against women
On Feb. 5, the Ministry of Security inaugurated the Special Unit for the Investigation into the Deaths of Women. In the short time it has been active, the unit has solved seven cases and detained all the suspects requested by the Public Defendant’s office, according to Security Minister Jorge Rodas. An increase in violence and murder against women gave rise to the need for this unit, according to police officials. General Office for Criminal Investigation (DGIC) files show there are currently two to three incidents a week. "There are approximately 520 open cases and with the opening of this office, we will close them all,” said the unit head, lawyer Gladis Borden. “The most common deaths arise from the use of firearms, where the prime suspects are relatives, boyfriends, husbands and lovers, for different motives,” she added. The unit is a collaboration between the DGIC, the Women’s Prosecutor’s office, and the Forensics Department. The deaths of three more women on Feb. 6 underscored the unit’s challenge. [La Prensa, 2/6/08]


6. Human rights envoy criticizes failure to investigate, prosecute murder of journalists
Ignacio Álvarez, special envoy on freedom of expression for the Organization of American States, concluded his visit to Honduras on Feb. 14 with a scathing speech calling for action in the case of the murder of two journalists, among other topics. “There have been no arrests or convictions to date for either mastermind or perpetrator of the assassinations of journalist Germán Antonio Rivas in 2003 or humorist Carlos Salgado in 2007,” he said. The envoy’s final eight-page report detailed concern about a pattern of intimidation against journalists in the country, citing multiple instances of death threats and forced emigration due to insecurity. Among the paper’s recommendations are the repeal of rules that require membership to practice journalism, an emphasis on journalistic ethics, and a call for transparent, obligation-free governmental advertising spending policy. [Revistazo, 2/15/08]


7. Anticorruption council head, Honduran cardinal urge responsible journalism
Juan Ferrera, head of the National Anticorruption Council, on Feb. 4 expressed concern that some members of the Honduran media aren’t living up to the values of freedom of expression. His remarks came after Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez, recognized as one of the most influential Catholic leaders working for social justice, delivered a homily in which he called for a stop to confusing reporting, personal attacks and mudslinging, especially in regard to the national political campaigns now starting up. According to Ferrera, the cardinal's homily urged the media to strive for excellence in the way it "serves to convey the news and to improve, educate and transform the nation." Ferrera noted that the country had seen a gradual deterioration in the way news is reported, and he stressed that media owners and journalists must be committed to accurate reporting. [Hondudiario, 2/4/08]


8. Journalists train in governance and transparency issues
On Feb. 11, 40 selected journalists began a governance and transparency reporting certification course sponsored by the National Anti-Corruption Council and the Democracy without Frontiers Foundation. Course topics include the inner workings of the Honduran government, access to public information, transparency, governance and accountability, budgetary processes, government bidding and contracting, ways to track public finances, political campaign financing and the role of the press in the electoral process. In addition, reporters will learn applied mathematics research methodologies and mathematical budget analysis and will be brought up to date on Internet-based research tools. The course will run till September. [Revistazo, 2/11/08]


9. Farms receive sound agriculture certification
In February eight fruit and vegetable farms received certification under the country's new Sound Agricultural Practices program. Juan Ramón Fúnez, manager of the Hortifruti (vegetables and fruit) division of the Agroindustrial Development Office, said the program follows every step of production on the farm, including the safe use of chemicals, as well as analyses of irrigation water, washed produce, and pesticide residue. Some 8,000 farms are expected to receive the new certification, which will facilitate the export of Honduran produce, including to the United States and Europe. [El Heraldo, 2/11/08]


10. Women at forefront of microbusiness
Viceminister of Small Business Ana Murillo said that women run 70 percent of Honduras’ micro-companies, according to previous years’ statistics. “This sector generates the most employment and income and is where all of Honduras’ productive and creative capacities come together,” she said. The companies, the majority of which make food products, enable the women to support themselves and their families. Still, Murillo added, these women need more financial support and business training, as well as access to legal resources. To this end, the government is working on a national strategy, expected to be launched soon, to assist women in these aspects. [Hondudiario, 2/11/08]


11. Maquiladores, small businesses worried about fuel monopoly
Benjamin Bográn, president of the Honduran Council on Private Enterprise, expressed worries about the recently decreed nationalization of the importation of bunker fuel. Speaking on Feb. 6, Bográn said the general nature of the decree is too general, covering fuel used in private enterprise as well as that used for the country’s energy generation. Seventy percent of Honduras’ electrical power comes from plants burning bunker fuel. At issue is steam generation—a process that relies on burning bunker—used by 95 percent of the country’s textile factories, known as maquiladores, and other small businesses. The Honduran government declared its monopoly in the wake of the deal with Venezuela’s Petrocaribe, which would supply the country with virtually all of its bunker fuel needs. Rixi Moncada, manager of the National Electrical Co., explained that nationalization was necessary because power companies were charging a fee to import the fuel. The Petrocaribe deal, a subject of heated debate in business and political circles, still awaits congressional approval. The president of the Honduran Association of Maquiladores, Jesús Canahuati, echoed the concerns of many in the highly polemicized debate, saying, “We're very worried, because it’s not good to depend on one [fuel] supplier. We ask ourselves what would happen if Petrocaribe were to fail us, who would we turn to for our supply?” The concern stems, in part, from supply issues that the Dominican Republic and others have had under similar deals with Petrocaribe. Bográn and Canahuati are asking that the government reassess the ruling. [El Heraldo, 2/7/08; Hondudiario, 2/4/08; La Prensa, 2/6/08]

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