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Updated 07/03/2007

Honduras News in Review—July 3, 2007

1. Government declares state of emergency in prisons following 5 deaths
2. Ethnic Garífuna man killed in disputed territory
3. Rights group claims 70 percent of arrests are illegal
4. Officials believe death of presidential aide was a political assassination
5. Colonel accused of abuse of authority will not do prison time

6. U.S. to donate aircraft and speedboats to Honduran armed forces
7. Military takes over state energy agency

8. Honduran Congress passes renewable energy bill
9. Environmentalists say biosphere is being destroyed by illegal logging
10. Canadian-owned mining company will leave Honduras amid controversy
11. Honduras placed on Special Watch List in U.S. State Department’s human trafficking report
12. Honduras reduces poverty rate but is still far from Millennium Development Goals
13. Studies show maquila workers do not receive proper medical coverage after retirement
14. Official says emigration has doubled since CAFTA

1. Government declares state of emergency in prisons following 5 deaths
The deaths of five prison inmates within days of each other led the Honduran government to declare a state of emergency in the country’s prisons. At least three of those killed were accused of involvement in the machete deaths of two children, a crime that caused outrage throughout the country. Human rights groups and government officials condemned the inmate deaths, saying Honduras must follow the rule of law and protect the physical integrity of inmates in state custody. The country’s prisons director, Rafael Castro Avila, was dismissed, but Castro and others said changing directors will not resolve the prison problem if structural changes are not made. President Manuel Zelaya urged the Honduran congress to pass the Penitentiary Institute Law, which would allow for integral reform of the prison system. Twenty-two inmates have been killed so far this year. [Hondudiario, 6/19/07; La Tribuna, 6/20/07; Hondudiario, 6/20/07; El Heraldo, 6/21/07; Tiempo, 6/21/07; Tiempo, 6/22/07]

2. Ethnic Garífuna man killed in disputed territory
A Garífuna man belonging to the Punta Piedras community in Northern Honduras was murdered June 11, allegedly by two members of a campesino settlement occupying the Garífuna territory, according to a press release issued by the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras (Ofraneh). The organization said Luis and David Portillo are responsible for the death of Felix Ordoñez Suazo, but it did not give further details about the murder. The battle over Punta Piedras began in 1992, when campesinos, allegedly financed by a high-ranking military official, moved onto Punta Piedras land. The state mediated the dispute and the campesinos agreed to leave peacefully following payment by the government. Congress approved the payment in 2002, but the campesinos have not received the money and the dispute continues. The case went before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in February 2006, and a settlement was reached. However the government has to date failed to implement the conditions of settlement. [Ofraneh press release, 6/12/07]

3. Rights group claims 70 percent of arrests are illegal
According to the Center for the Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and their Families, seven out of every 10 people detained by Honduran police are arrested without a warrant. It identified certain police posts in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and other cities as posing a high risk of arbitrary detention. In response to the problem, the Public Ministry organized a program for police on detention best practices. However, Secretary General of Security Hugo Suazo questioned whether a problem actually exists, noting that there are only 12 cases against police under investigation. [El Heraldo, 6/19/07]

4. Officials believe death of presidential aide was a political assassination
Government officials said they believe the shooting death of Capt. Alejandro Motiño, an aide to President Manuel Zelaya, was politically motivated. Motiño was shot at point-blank range on June 22 after leaving his home in Tegucigalpa. Honduran Defense Minister Arístides Mejía said the assassination would have cost between 400,000 and 500,000 lempiras (about $21,000 to $26,000), and they are looking for people who could afford such a fee. Mejía said suspects included transnational oil companies, tax evaders, persons opposed to diplomatic relations with Cuba and persons linked to the energy sector. One human rights group announced that one of the shooters was killed by security forces the day after Motiño was murdered. Police believe one of the shooters was killed, although they do not know by whom, and his accomplice is thought to have left the country. [El Heraldo, 6/22/07; Hondudiario, 6/25/07; Hondudiario, 6/28/07; Tiempo, 6/28/07]

5. Colonel accused of abuse of authority will not do prison time
A court in Tegucigalpa granted substitute precautionary measures to a retired colonel accused of abuse of authority. The special prosecutor for human rights found Col. José Santos Chinchilla responsible for the illegal removal of 900 families from the town of La Estanzuela, just north of the capital. Chinchilla authorized the Sept. 30, 2004, evictions when he was head of the department of municipal justice in Tegucigalpa. The removal turned violent, and the families subsequently filed a complaint for injuries and property damage. The families had property ownership documents. Chinchilla will avoid prison by reporting periodically to the court and agreeing not to leave the country. [El Heraldo, 6/21/07]

6. U.S. to donate aircraft and speedboats to Honduran armed forces
U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Charles Ford announced that the United States plans to give the Honduran Armed Forces eight light aircraft and four speedboats, to be used to combat drug trafficking. The aircraft are intended for observation only and can be used to detect illegal logging as well as drug trafficking. The Armed Forces will receive the equipment by the end of this year. Ford estimated that the United States will give $40 million in economic and military aid to Honduras this year, half of which will finance education and health programs. [El Heraldo, 6/5/07]

7. Military takes over state energy agency
Fifteen high-ranking armed forces officials have taken over key posts at Honduras’s faltering state energy agency. The Honduran defense minister denied the agency was being militarized. The officials will take over administrative and investigative posts. Military intelligence will investigate complaints of energy pirating as well as a fire at a thermal energy plant. The new leadership began cutting off electricity to clients owing more than two months’ worth of payments and threatened legal action against anyone trying to reconnect power without authorization. [El Heraldo, 6/5/07; Hondudiario, 6/6/07]

8. Honduran Congress passes renewable energy bill
In an effort to reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil, the Honduran National Congress passed a renewable energy law that provides investment incentives for alternative energy generators. The law provides exemptions on sales and rent tax for renewable energy generators and entitles them to sell their services to energy distributors including the state energy agency. The state hopes to save 137 million lempiras ($7.3 million) annually. Some criticized the law, saying it serves the interests of energy businesses more than the average consumer. [El Heraldo, 6/1/07;La Prensa, 6/1/07]

9. Environmentalists say biosphere is being destroyed by illegal logging
Workers charged with protecting the Río Plátano Biosphere said they have few resources to protect the site from destruction by illegal loggers and drug traffickers. Six forest technicians with dilapidated equipment are in charge of protecting the forest, and the special prosecutor for the environment has only six lawyers to cover the entire country. The 800,000 hectares of the Biosphere have been on UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage Sites since 1996. Environmentalists accuse U.S. companies of complicity in illegal logging. Last year, 80 cubic meters of mahogany was seized from Millworks International, which exports primarily to the United States. Indigenous cooperatives have permits to log certain amounts of mahogany in the biosphere, but cooperative members said the market is so saturated with cheaper, illegal mahogany that they can’t sell the wood. Rampant corruption within the poorly paid police force and the state forest agency make it difficult to report illegal loggers. Indigenous cooperative members said that four people in the last three years have been killed after reporting illegal logging. [Hondudiario, 5/22/07]

10. Canadian-owned mining company will leave Honduras amid controversy
Mayra Mejía del Cid, Honduran secretary of Natural Resources and the Environment, announced June 27 that the Canadian-owned mining company Entremares had decided to leave Honduras, citing an “unfavorable” climate toward mining in the country. She confirmed that the company had been fined 1 million lempiras (about $53,000) because tests had confirmed that heavy metals released by the mining have contaminated the water and caused environmental deterioration. Contaminants such as cyanide and arsenic in the local water supply have caused a range of illnesses in nearby villages. A company spokesperson said the fine will be contested. Entremares has denied contaminating the environment around the mine and has challenged the studies providing such evidence. [El Heraldo, 6/26/07; El Heraldo, 6/27/07; El Heraldo, 6/28/07]

11. Honduras placed on Special Watch List in U.S. State Department’s human trafficking report
Because of Honduras’s failure to show evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking, the U.S. State Department placed Honduras on a Special Watch List in its 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, released June 12. The annual report places 164 countries into three tiers according to their efforts to combat human trafficking, with Tier 1 representing countries that fully comply with minimum standards, Tier 2 representing those making significant efforts, and Tier 3 representing those making no significant effort. Although Honduras was designated Tier 2, it was put on the Special Watch List to receive additional scrutiny. According to the report, the number of trafficking investigations, prosecutions and convictions in 2006 dropped from the prior year. The report noted that Honduras passed an anti-trafficking law in February 2006 but has yet to prosecute any cases under the new law. The report also noted a significantly high number of trafficking victims in Honduras: an estimated 10,000 victims, many of whom were children and most of whom were trafficked internally. The report warned that sex tourism is growing in Honduras but noted that Honduras has taken steps toward prevention, including anti-trafficking training sessions for police. [State Department 2007 TIP Report, Honduras Country Narrative]

12. Honduras reduces poverty rate but is still far from Millennium Development Goals
A U.N. progress report showed that poverty in Honduras has decreased, but analysts say the country is still “very distant” from meeting its Millennium Development Goals. The poverty rate decreased from 74.8 percent in 1991 to 62.1 percent in 2006. In the same time period, extreme poverty dropped from 54.2 percent to 42.3 percent. Despite these advances, analysts say the government must invest more in the poor if they are to meet poverty reduction objectives. The percentage of the population living on less than one dollar per day has dropped 17.1 percent since 1990; that rate must drop an additional 1.8 percent by 2015 to meet the Millennium Development Goal. The report estimated that Honduras will reach its hunger reduction goal with an additional 1.9 percent decrease by 2015. The report also noted that Honduras has lagged behind in protecting the environment, providing potable water and gender equity. [La Prensa, 6/8/07; Hondudiario, 6/6/07]

13. Studies show maquila workers do not receive proper medical coverage after retirement
According to a study by the National Autonomous University of Honduras, young women who contract illnesses as a result of working in maquilas are not entitled to medical insurance after retirement under the current government system. Researchers said that back and sight problems that often arise from the repetitive duties of maquila work are not recognized as work-related medical problems by the Honduran Institute of Social Security and therefore are not covered when the women have to retire young due to health problems. University representatives urged authorities to intervene and adjust the system to accommodate young maquila workers. [Hondudiario, 6/13/07]

14. Official says emigration has doubled since CAFTA
The director of the National Migration Forum in Honduras, Edith Zavala, said that emigration from Honduras has doubled since the Central American Free Trade Agreement entered into force in 2006. Zavala calculates that 100,000 Hondurans left for the United States in 2006 and more that 185,000 will leave in 2007. Most undocumented Honduran emigrants are between 17 and 37 years old. Zavala said that once Hondurans arrive in the United States, the majority do not trust the services offered by Honduran consulates, believing it will lead to their deportation. [Hondudiario, 6/26/07]

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