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Updated 06/09/2006

Honduras News in Review—June 9, 2006

1. Honduran President Zelaya meets with Bush, I.D.B. and others in U.S. tour

2. Defense Secretary announces increased U.S. military presence in Honduras

3. Human Rights Commissioner shows evidence of extrajudicial killing by police

4. Amnesty International denounces continued harassment of human rights defenders

5. Government tests show no contamination near mine

6. Debate suspended on mining law reforms

7. Government closes parts of Olancho forest

8. Loggers threaten violence against environmental activist

9. Wave of protests from different sectors in Honduras

10. Prosecutor denounces abuses against children in state homes

11. Congress presses for factory owners to provide childcare

12. Honduras’ human development stagnates, according to U.N. report

13. World Food Program sponsors anti-hunger march

14. U.N. to give $76 million to Honduras over 5 years

15. World Bank and I.D.B. to give $625 million in 2006

16. I.M.F. says Honduran economy has improved

17. U.S. will continue to watch Honduras-Venezuela relationship

18. Nicaraguan conservatives fail to unite, giving Sandinistas an advantage in the elections

19. DR-CAFTA countries create institution for environmental rights complaints 

1. Honduran President Zelaya meets with Bush, I.D.B. and others in U.S. tour

On June 6, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya completed a U.S. tour during which he met with U.S. senators, representatives of monetary agencies and oil companies, and U.S. President George Bush, among others. In a meeting with Luis Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Zelaya pushed for the forgiveness of $1.4 billion in external debt owed to the agency. The I.D.B. will vote on the debt forgiveness in July 2006. In talks with U.S. senators including Edward Kennedy, Norm Coleman and Henry Hyde, Zelaya advocated a humane face for U.S. immigration reform. Zelaya asked U.S. oil companies including Shell, Exxon and Texaco to participate in bidding for the provision of oil in Honduras. Zelaya has also asked Mexico, Middle Eastern countries and, most controversially, Venezuela to participate as well. 

Zelaya and President Bush discussed topics including free trade, the need for stronger democratic institutions free of corruption in Honduras, energy issues, and immigration reform. Some diplomatic tension arose when the international press reported that Zelaya had said President Bush would support Honduras’ commercial relationship with Venezuela. When the White House denied this, the Honduran embassy in Washington quickly declared the press had misquoted Zelaya. Honduran Foreign Minister Milton Jiménez later commented that Honduras would not ask permission from any country before making decisions. [La Prensa, 6/6/06; Hondudiario, 6/6/06; El Heraldo, 6/7/06; La Prensa, 6/7/06; Hondudiario, 6/7/06] 

2. Defense Secretary announces increased U.S. military presence in Honduras

Honduran Secretary of Defense Arístides Mejía announced the possibility of an increased U.S. military presence in Honduras. Under the proposed plan, military facilities would be created in the eastern zone of La Mosquita and the Caribbean zone of La Ceiba for U.S. operation. Mejía added that the bases would not necessarily be permanent but would be available for U.S. military use when necessary. The U.S. would also be able to use Honduras’ 200,000 square kilometers of maritime territory for military ships. U.S. military aircraft would also be allowed to use Honduran military bases, and a radar would be installed in La Mosquita to help combat terrorism and narcotrafficking. Mejía said one of the benefits to Honduras would be the possibility of civil and alternative uses at the Palmerola military base. Palmerola is currently shared by Honduras and the United States, which currently has 600 troops stationed there. Senior U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and military and civilian leaders from Honduras discussed the new military strategies during talks in the United States in May. The strategies are expected to be implemented starting in 2007 and are contingent on the approval of President Manuel Zelaya. [El Heraldo, 5/24/06; ACAN-EFE, 5/25/06] 

3. Human Rights Commissioner shows evidence of extrajudicial killing by police

Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio made public a testimony from a woman whose brother, an alleged gang member, was killed by police. After his death, the police harassed her and her family in their home, as well as attendants of her brother’s funeral. Custodio said that public security is in national crisis, and he blames the corruption and ineffectiveness of the National Police for much of the security problem. [La Tribuna, 5/29/06] 

4. Amnesty International denounces continued harassment of human rights defenders

The murder, torture and harassment of Honduran human rights defenders continued in 2005, according to the Amnesty International Report 2006. The annual report cited the violent death of labor leader Edickson Roberto Lemus in May 2005 as well as that of Lenca leader Feliciano Pineda, who was wounded and, upon arriving at the hospital, arrested and detained without medical treatment. The report also noted that 431 young people were violently killed in 2005 and that most of the perpetrators have not been punished. Domestic violence complaints also increased in 2005, and, according to the special prosecutor for women in Honduras, three of every 10 women who file a complaint are ultimately killed by their aggressor. (EFE News, 5/23/06; AI Report 2006) 

5. Government tests show no contamination near mine

The head of the Honduran Office for Mining Promotion announced that, according to a recent toxicity test, cyanide levels near a Canadian-run mine north of Tegucigalpa are below normal. However, he pointed out, “this is only one test, and I can’t say categorically that there is no contamination.” A full report by the government is expected soon. Communities near the mine have complained of hair loss and sores and have protested against the mining company, Entremares. Previous investigations found contamination in the area. Community leaders say they will continue to call for the mine’s closure. Meanwhile, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development has published a new report documenting the damaging effects of gold mining in Honduras on the population and the environment. [Hondudiario, 5/15/06; CAFOD, Unearth Justice: Counting the Cost of Gold, 5/06] 

6. Debate suspended on mining law reforms

The Honduran Congress has suspended debate on proposed reforms to the country’s mining law that would allow for the continued use of open-pit mining, among other things. Environmentalists opposed to the reforms say that allowing open-pit mining is harmful to the environment and to persons living near the mines. Representatives for mine companies say that prohibiting open-pit mining will discourage investment. Congressional representatives did not specify when the debate would reopen but indicated that it was first necessary to reach greater consensus among the affected parties. [El Heraldo, 5/17/06; La Prensa, 5/18/06] 

7. Government closes parts of Olancho forest

The government of Honduras has declared a closed season for logging in certain parts of Olancho, the most heavily logged department in Honduras. The closure went into effect on May 27 and affects the municipality of Salamá and the basin of the Telica River. These areas will remain closed until the government completes new land regulations. Loggers had seven days from the closing date to remove all equipment from closed parts of the forest without penalty. [Hondudiario, 5/27/06; EFE News, 5/29/06] 

8. Loggers threaten violence against environmental activist

Members of a logging cooperative in Salamá, Olancho, have called for the expulsion of environmental activist Father Andrés Tamayo. The loggers blame Tamayo’s efforts for the government’s decision to close certain parts of the forest in Olancho, a decision they say has left many without income. The cooperative representatives said that if Tamayo did not leave Salamá, they would expel him by force. Tamayo claims that the loggers are being paid and manipulated by their bosses and that only a small group is calling for his expulsion. President Manuel Zelaya has ordered the armed forces and police to protect Tamayo. [La Tribuna, 5/30/06; La Tribuna, 5/31/06; ACAN-EFE, 6/1/06] 

9. Wave of protests from different sectors in Honduras

Protests paralyzed many parts of Honduras on May 22. The biggest demonstration took place in Tegucigalpa, where teachers stopped traffic with a march to the Presidential House. Teachers are demanding the repeal of a law passed in the previous administration that freezes their salaries. On May 25, President Zelaya agreed to send a draft bill to Congress that would repeal the law. The teachers are also demanding free registration for students, and social security and contracts for teachers. Urban bus drivers in Tegucigalpa also went on strike to protest increased violence and “taxes” by gang members. Protesters jammed two highways north of Tegucigalpa as they demanded paved roads for their villages. In addition, 340 internal medicine residents have been on strike for a week, demanding the belated payments of their scholarships and an adequate supply of medicine for hospitals and clinics. [Hondudiario, 5/22/06; El Heraldo, 5/23/06; El Heraldo, 5/25/06] 

10. Prosecutor denounces abuses against children in state homes

The special prosecutor for children in Honduras, Nora Urbina, denounced the abuses against children that take place in homes run by the Honduran Institute for Children and Family (IHNFA). According to investigations, children are physically and sexually abused by other children and by those who work in the institution. Security guards are the principal sexual aggressors, and cases of sexual abuse are rarely prosecuted. Some attribute the chaos in IHNFA institutions to a lack of adequate funding; the government cut the institute’s budget by 37% this year. Nongovernmental organizations that work on children’s rights issues have called for IHNFA’s closure, saying that the institutions violate children’s rights rather than upholding them. They say, furthermore, that IHNFA only houses about 3% of at-risk children, while NGOs support the remaining 97%. [La Prensa, 5/22/06; Hondudiario, 5/22/06; El Heraldo, 5/24/06] 

11. Congress presses for factory owners to provide childcare

Congressional representatives in Honduras have asked factory owners to provide childcare for workers. The provision already exists in labor laws but has not been implemented. One congresswoman pointed out that just in the north of the country, 71% of the 110,000 factory workers are women, and the majority of those are mothers. [La Prensa, 5/25/06] 

12. Honduras’ human development stagnates, according to U.N. report

Honduras’ human development has stagnated, according to a report by the United Nations Development Program. Honduras remains in the middle range of the Human Development Index. Since 1975, Honduras’s index has increased, and in 1990, Honduras surpassed the human development growth rates of Guatemala and Nicaragua. But human development growth began to slow during the 2001-2004 period. The U.N.D.P. attributes the stagnation to low and unsustainable economic growth, lack of employment opportunities, disparities in access to social services and income inequality. According to the report, Honduras has the fifth highest rate of income inequality in Latin America. The U.N.D.P. uses indicators such as education, life expectancy and nutrition to determine a country’s position on the Human Development Index. [EFE News, 5/18/06; Hondudiario, 5/18/06; U.N.D.P. report, Honduras 2006] 

13. World Food Program sponsors anti-hunger march

Thousands of Hondurans marched against hunger in an event promoted worldwide by the World Food Program. Similar marches were held in over 100 countries, and marches in the two largest cities in Honduras brought around 15,000 participants. The events are aimed at promoting initiatives against hunger and malnutrition. Participants in Honduras paid a 25 lempira ($1.31) inscription fee, which will go to the country’s school meal program. One in three Hondurans suffers from malnutrition, and one in 10 Honduran children is chronically malnourished. [Hondudiario, 5/21/06; EFE News, 5/22/06]

14. U.N. to give $76 million to Honduras over 5 years

The United Nations announced it will direct at least $76 million for the 2007-2011 period to programs in Honduras. The money will be invested through various U.N. agencies in Honduras and will go toward programs in democracy, HIV/AIDS, human rights, the environment and risk management. [ACAN-EFE, 5/31/06] 

15. World Bank and I.D.B. to give $625 million in 2006

The World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank will provide Honduras with $625 million in loans for development in 2006. The World Bank will provide $225 million, and the I.D.B. will provide $400 million. The money will be invested in health and education programs as well as programs to strengthen the justice system. The objective of the loans is to increase competitiveness, develop human capital, and strengthen the government. The credits are 40-year long-term loans with annual interest rates at two percent. [Hondudiario, 5/19/06] 

16. I.M.F. says Honduran economy has improved

Macroeconomic indicators in Honduras have improved in recent months, according to the International Monetary Fund. An I.M.F. delegation was in Honduras from May 3 to May 11. The I.M.F. and the Honduran government are in continuing discussions involving the fourth revision of the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program. The three-year program, approved in 2004, provides $106 million for economic programs in Honduras. [Hondudiario, 5/15/06] 

17. U.S. will continue to watch Honduras-Venezuela relationship

Charles Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, said that as long as Honduras’ relationship with Venezuela is commercial and not political, the United States will respect the Honduran government’s decision to open relations with the South American country. The relationship between the United States and Venezuela has been increasingly adversarial. The statement comes after Honduras and Venezuela announced agreements between the countries aimed at assisting Honduras with its energy problems. Ford said the United States will continue to observe the relationship to ensure that it remains economic and not political. [Hondudiario, 5/17/06]  

18. Nicaraguan conservatives fail to unite, giving Sandinistas an advantage in the elections

Despite the efforts of the U.S. Embassy, conservative political parties in Nicaragua were unable to unite before the election alliance deadline on May 12. The United States and others had tried to ally the two largest conservative parties in order to defeat the leftist coalition led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The Sandinistas formed an alliance with 10 smaller political parties, giving them a distinct advantage in this year’s general elections, to be held Nov. 5. [Prensa Latina, 5/12/06] 

19. DR-CAFTA countries create institution for environmental rights complaints

Member countries of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement have decided to create a Secretariat of Environmental Issues. The secretariat would be based in Guatemala City and would provide a space for citizens and organizations in member countries to denounce environmental violations due to the trade agreement. The institution is expected to begin working on Sept. 1, 2006. [EFE News, 5/25/06]

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