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Updated 01/16/2007

Honduras News in Review—January 16, 2007

1. Witness disappears and others threatened following murder of two activists

2. Honduras relocates proposed airport farther from Copán ruins

3. Honduras takes temporary control of foreign-owned oil storage terminals

4. Statistics show decrease in violent crime in 2006

5. Women’s rights group criticize increase in “femicide”

6. New seniors’ law provides benefits for elderly

7. Honduran Constitution turns 25

1. Witness disappears and others threatened following murder of two activists

A key witness in the murder of two environmental activists has disappeared, according to the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). The witness, Sgt. Juan Lanza, is accused of capturing Heraldo Zuñiga and Roger Iván Cartagena and handing them over to four policemen who then executed the activists. COFADEH believes Lanza has deserted the police force. The four police officers, who were identified by eyewitnesses, have not been detained and continue their patrols in the department of Olancho. Witnesses and family members of the activists report being threatened and intimidated by the alleged assassins. COFADEH has asked the Public Ministry to take over the investigation. The two men were members of the Environmental Movement of Olancho, which has worked to stop illegal logging in Honduran forests. The group’s leaders believe the intellectual authors of the crime are from the logging company Sansone. [COMUN, 1/11/07; background info: HNR, 1/9/07]

2. Honduras relocates proposed airport farther from Copán ruins

President Manuel Zelaya announced that his government will alter plans for an airport near the Maya Site of Copán in order to avoid a conflict with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which placed the site on its World Heritage List in 1980. UNESCO was opposed to the airport’s original proposed location, saying its proximity to the ancient Maya city would damage the ruins and have a negative impact on the indigenous culture. The new proposed site is 30 kilometers from the site, in the town of Concepción. Zelaya said that both the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of Taiwan will provide financing for the project, which will also include new highways connecting the airport to the ruins. The plan represents a significant shift for the Honduran government, which had previously indicated that it would seek to remove the Copán site from the World Heritage List rather than relocate the airport. [EFE News, 1/10/07; El Heraldo, 1/10/07; past story: HNR, 12/4/06]

3. Honduras takes temporary control of foreign-owned oil storage terminals

President Manuel Zelaya announced on Jan. 14 that Honduras would take temporary control of oil storage facilities owned by transnationals Texaco, Shell and Esso and the national company DIPPSA. Zelaya made the move after the companies refused government requests to rent the facilities to U.S.-based Conoco Phillips, which was the winner in a November 2006 public auction aimed at securing lower gas prices for the country. Conoco has no storage terminals of its own. Texaco, Shell and Esso have supplied Honduras’ fuel for the past 80 years; they refused to take part in the November auction because they said it violated trade treaties. Zelaya justified the decision because the companies’ contracts contain a clause requiring them to rent their storage facilities for reasons of “national interest.” Honduras will pay the companies three cents per gallon of oil stored. Zelaya specified that the situation was temporary and that the country would begin taking bids for the construction of state-owned facilities. The president also announced that the attorney general was looking into the cause of a fuel supply shortage the previous week, which the oil companies blamed on a slow supply boat, but which Zelaya accused the companies of deliberately creating in retaliation for Honduras looking elsewhere for its fuel. [El Heraldo, 1/11/07; Hondudiaro.com, 1/14/07; Terra/EFE, 1/14/07; past story: HNR, 12/4/06]

4. Statistics show decrease in violent crime in 2006

The Honduran Ministry of Security announced crime statistics for 2006, which showed a slight decrease in most violent crime from 2005. Security Minister Álvaro Romero said there were 3,118 homicides in 2006, 94 less than in 2005. In 2006, there were 2,336 reported injuries—254 less than the previous year. At least 694 people died in traffic accidents last year, compared with 779 traffic accident deaths in 2005. There were 361 fewer robberies in 2006. However, not all statistics were down: There were 234 attempted homicides in 2006 versus 157 in 2005, and kidnappings rose from five in 2005 to 16 in 2006. [EFE News, 1/2/07]

5. Women’s rights group criticize increase in “femicide”

Women’s rights groups in Honduras reported a high number of “femicides” in the first few days of 2007. At least four women were violently killed in recent days. Activists say at least 142 women were violently killed in 2006, although the Public Ministry only recognizes 132. Women’s rights activist Gladys Lanza faults a lack of coordination between the Public Ministry and the Ministry of Security for the failure to prosecute femicide. She also contended that Security Minister Álvaro Romero has said he is not interested in the subject. Congressman Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro proposed the creation of a special unit to investigate women’s murders, but no decision has been made. [Hondudiario, 1/5/07]

6. New seniors’ law provides benefits for elderly

On Jan. 9 the Honduran Congress approved the Older Adult Law, replacing an outdated law for seniors. The new law provides Hondurans over 60 with a number of benefits including lower rates for doctors’ visits, hospital services and medicines, along with discounts of up to 50 percent for entertainment and recreational activities. [La Prensa, 1/10/07]

7. Honduran Constitution turns 25

The Honduran Constitution turned 25 on Jan. 11, marking the longest period of an uninterrupted constitutional democracy in the country’s political history. The current constitution was adopted by a National Constitutional Assembly installed April 20, 1980, marking the country’s return to democracy after nearly two decades of military rule. Honduras has had 13 constitutions since its independence from Spain in 1821. Six of the original 379 articles of the current constitution have been repealed, and several new ones have been added. [EFE News, 1/11/07]

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