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Updated 07/05/2006

Honduras News in Review—July 3, 2006

1. Two prisoners of conscience absolved of murder charges, another released from prison

2. Alleged “secret meeting” with Venezuela chills U.S. diplomatic relations with Honduras

3. U.S. Embassy suspends visa appointments

4. Garífuna leader receives death threat

5. Human Rights Commissioner receives most complaints against National Police

6. Government launches investigation into private security companies

7. Eighteen inmates have died in the National Penitentiary this year

8. Authorities implement new measures to combat organized crime within prison system

9. NGO files complaint against government forest office for illegal logging

10. Honduras faces shortage of antiretroviral drugs

11. Hundreds of protestors march for LGBT rights in Honduras

12. Government and ethnic leaders meet to kick off development program

13. Civil society reintegrates into poverty reduction board

14. World Bank warns Honduras of economic fragility

15. Optional Protocol to Convention Against Torture enters into force

16. Guatemalan heads of state testify in genocide case

1. Two prisoners of conscience absolved of murder charges, another released from prison

The Supreme Court of Honduras has absolved Amnesty International prisoners of conscience Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda, the indigenous Lenca activists from southwestern Honduras who were arrested and sentenced in 2003 to 25 years each for the murder of Juan Reyes Gomez. The evidence against the brothers was weak and largely considered a fabricated reprisal for their activism. The brothers are expected to be released in the next few weeks. In a press release announcing the court decision, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Civic Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) said, “This acquittal would not have been possible were it not for all the local, national and international solidarity and pressure.”

Copinh also announced that Lenca leader Margarito Vargas, another prisoner of conscience jailed in connection with the murder of Reyes Gomez, was released from prison on June 28. In prison since January 2006, Vargas was initially charged with murder, but the charges were later reduced to bodily harm. He has been granted "provisional liberty," which requires him to come before a judge every two months, and if he is found guilty of any other charge over the next five years, he will have to serve time for both charges. In addition to Vargas and the Miranda brothers, other Lenca leaders from the same rural community, Montaña Verde, have also been charged with the murder of Reyes Gomez; however, national and international human rights groups consider these charges a reprisal for the activists’ work on communal land titles. Feliciano Pineda was acquitted of murder charges earlier this year. [Copinh press releases, 6/22/06, 6/28/06, 6/29/06; background on Pineda and Miranda brothers cases: HNR, 3/15/06; HNR, 1/23/06; read more about defending human rights in Honduras]

2. Alleged “secret meeting” with Venezuela chills U.S. diplomatic relations with Honduras

U.S.-Honduran relations have grown tense over what the United States says was a “secret meeting” with a delegation from the state-run Venezuelan oil company. The Honduran government is in the process of arranging an open bidding for potential suppliers of gas to the country. U.S. Ambassador Charles Ford said the meeting was “dirty business” to give Venezuela an upper hand in the bidding process. Honduran officials, on the other hand, insist that the meeting was not secret and concerned possible investments in Honduras apart from the bidding. An angry President Mel Zelaya declared that Honduras was “no one’s colony” and insisted his administration would meet with anyone interested in investing in the country. [La Prensa, 6/19/06; La Tribuna, 6/20/06; La Prensa, 6/21/06; Hondudiario, 6/21/06]

3. U.S. Embassy suspends visa appointments

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras has temporarily suspended new appointments to apply for U.S. visas. According to spokespersons from the embassy, the suspension will continue until there are adequate migration reforms. The decision comes after a corruption scandal in the Honduran National Registry of Persons involving the purchase of legal documents such as birth certificates and passports. Honduran President Mel Zelaya classified the decision as “arbitrary, rude, and unjust.” Although the suspension announcement was made one week after an alleged secret meeting between Honduras and Venezuela, officials insist it is not a retaliatory measure. [EFE News, 6/19/06; EFE News, 6/20/06; Hondudiario, 6/21/06; EFE News, 6/22/06]

4. Garífuna leader receives death threat

An ethnic Garífuna leader in San Juan de Tela has received a death threat, allegedly by a person hired by Promotur, a tourist development company owned by businessman Jaime Rosenthal. The Garífuna community and Rosenthal have a long-standing dispute over property rights. On June 22, a man entered the home of Garífuna leader Jesica García and offered her money to sign a document recognizing Garífuna community lands as belonging to Promotur. When García refused, the man held a gun to her head and forced her to sign the document. Garífuna leaders also blame Rosenthal for the Feb. 26 murders of Epson Andrés Castillo and Yino Eligio López. The two young people were detained the previous night by soldiers assigned to protect a Promotur development project. The Garífuna community is demanding an investigation into the deaths and immediate protection for García. [Hondudiario, 6/28/06; Copinh press release, 6/29/06]

5. Human Rights Commissioner receives most complaints against National Police

According to Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio, his office has received more complaints against the National Preventive Police than any other government institution. The police are accused of abuse of authority, bribery, and violence against detained persons. Custodio believes the problem is that the institution has always been corrupt. The commissioner’s office has received around 20,000 complaints in the last two years, 9,000 of which were against the government. [EFE News, 6/22/06]

6. Government launches investigation into private security companies

Ongoing complaints against private security companies operating in Honduras have prompted the Honduran labor and security ministries to open investigations. Honduras has an estimated 1,000 private security companies, many of them run by former military officials, with a collective civil army of more than 50,000. The complaints include employee labor rights violations, operating without proper licenses, using unregistered firearms, and having links to groups of questionable legality. [Hondudiario, 6/18/06]

7. Eighteen inmates have died in the National Penitentiary this year

Honduran security officials announced the death of inmate Oscar Rodríguez in the National Penitentiary, bringing the number of violent deaths in that institution so far this year to 18. Rodríguez, who was jailed for his involvement in the 1998 murder of environmentalist Carlos Luna, was found shot to death in his high-security cell. Human rights groups have repeatedly denounced insecurity in the prison system. Most recently, a U.N. delegation concluded that Honduras did not have an authentic penitentiary system. [EFE News, 6/28/06]

8. Authorities implement new measures to combat organized crime within prison system

The Honduran Ministry of Security announced the construction of two new high-security prisons that could be completed by the middle of 2007. The ministry also announced the creation of an inspector general’s office that will be in charge of oversight of all prison officials. Authorities hope that these new measures will help control organized crime that operates within the prison system and often includes the participation or acquiescence of prison officials. [La Tribuna 6/27/06]

9. NGO files complaint against government forest office for illegal logging

Democracy Without Borders has filed a complaint with the special prosecutor for the environment against the Honduran Forest Development Office for abuse of authority. The complaint contends that government officials have facilitated and are linked to the illegal trafficking of wood. The organization points to certain resolutions by the government body that serve to legalize wood that is cut illegally and contends that the Forest Development Office has sold wood seized by the armed forces back to exploiters. The special prosecutor’s office has begun an investigation into the accusations. [El Heraldo, 6/29/06]

10. Honduras faces shortage of antiretroviral drugs

According to the Network of Persons Living With HIV in Honduras, there is a shortage of antiretroviral drugs for HIV patients. A spokesperson for the organization said that only one out of the nine clinics in Tegucigalpa that normally provide antiretroviral drugs currently has supplies. Patients in San Pedro Sula participated in a protest march and demanded answers from health authorities on the shortage. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health has announced a new system for providing antiretroviral drugs that will supply Integral Attention Centers with medicine sufficient for the number of registered infected persons in each center. Health officials believe this will decrease the disuse of drugs due to expiration. [El Heraldo, 6/26/06; La Tribuna, 6/27/06]

11. Hundreds of protestors march for LGBT rights in Honduras

Hundreds of protestors marched through the streets of San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second largest city, to demand an end to discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transvestites. Ramón Valladares, one of the leaders of the march, promised that Article 60 of the Honduran Constitution, which prohibits discrimination, would be used to proceed legally against those who continue to violate LGBT rights. Valladares referred specifically to religious and political leaders who discriminate against the LGBT community. [Proceso Digital, 6/19/06]

12. Government and ethnic leaders meet to kick off development program

The Honduran government and ethnic leaders held a meeting on June 21 to discuss plans for various development projects to be funded by the “Nuestras Raíces” (Our Roots) program. The program is funded by the World Bank and will invest around $13 million in development and cultural projects proposed by communities. The beneficiaries will include indigenous and other ethnic minority groups such as the Garífuna communities of the Caribbean coast. [Hondudiario, 6/21/06; El Heraldo, 6/22/06]

13. Civil society reintegrates into poverty reduction board

Eleven organizations representing civil society have reintegrated into the Consultation Board for the Poverty Reduction Strategy in Honduras. Civil society members quit the board in protest in May 2006 after Congress decided to filter poverty reduction funds through municipal governments with Congressional oversight. After the civil society protest, Congress amended the law to allow oversight by civil society representatives. Poverty Reduction Strategy funds are derived from debt cancellation of multilateral agencies. [Hondudiario, 6/26/06; El Heraldo, 6/27/06]

14. World Bank warns Honduras of economic fragility

Jane Armitage, World Bank director for Central America, said that Honduras’ macroeconomic situation is fragile and could become worse if the government increases teachers’ salaries and continues energy subsidies. Teachers in Honduras are currently on strike, demanding a salary increase. The Honduran government also provides subsidies to keep gas prices lower. On June 29, the World Bank officially approved debt relief to Honduras totaling $1.293 billion. [El Heraldo, 6/29/06; World Bank press release, 6/29/06]

15. Optional Protocol to Convention Against Torture enters into force

Thanks to simultaneous ratifications by Honduras and Bolivia on May 23, the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture entered into force on June 22. The Optional Protocol establishes an international system of detention monitoring, with a subcommittee of experts that will be allowed to visit all detention centers in states party to the protocol. The Optional Protocol was adopted in 2002 and currently has 51 signatures; it needed 20 ratifications to take effect. [Association for the Prevention of Torture, OPCAT page; read more about the Convention Against Torture]

16. Guatemalan heads of state testify in genocide case

Former Guatemalan heads of state Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt and Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejias Victores will be among those questioned in an investigation led by Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz. The case, known as the Guatemalan Genocide Case, will determine if heads of state and other leaders bear responsibility for genocide, torture and other human rights abuses during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war. The case was brought before the Spanish court by Nobel Laureate Rigoberta Menchú and Spanish and Guatemalan nongovernmental organizations. Key defendants began testifying in Guatemala City on June 26. [Center for Justice & Accountability, 6/22/06]


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