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Updated 07/14/2010

Honduras News in Review—June 2010


1. Coup anniversary remembered as Honduras remains polarized; demonstrations are largely peaceful
2. Resistance repression continues unabated
3. Another journalist killed; Congress blames spate of murders on organized crime
4. Aguán activist killed
5. Radio station shut down in apparent connection with land dispute
6. Honduras inches toward OAS readmission
7. Commission of Truth kicks off
8. More than half a million signatures for constitutional assembly
9. Lobo announces new human rights commission
10. Congress ignores IACHR request, passes military assistance law
11. Congress asks for report on fired judges
12. Public Ministry says Zelaya can return without
imprisonment
13. Trial for Aguán Campesino Movement leaders
14. FNRP outlines purpose, goals of resistance movement
15. Other Honduras news in brief
16. U.S. policy update
17. Bill Clinton and "world's richest person" to travel to Honduras to promote private investment

1. Coup anniversary remembered as Honduras remains polarized; demonstrations are largely peaceful

June 28 marked the year anniversary of Manuel Zelaya's ouster from the Honduran presidency and forced exile from the country. The date has been less-than-heavily commemorated in mainstream media, but a few editorials, round-ups,  and commentaries have chronicled the past year's events and questioned U.S. policy in Honduras and normalization of relations as repression continues. (See next story, below.)

According to many accounts, Hondurans remain polarized over the removal of Zelaya, the current government of President Porfírio Lobo, reports of political repression, proposals from the resistance for a constituent assembly, reintegration into the intetrnational community, and the state of the country in general.

But the resistance remains strong. Anniversary demonstrations were held all over the country, including, according to an international observer's report, a gathering of at least 10,000 in Tegucigalpa. There was a militarized police presence, but the event remained largely peaceful, with one reported exception: 19-year-old Emil Saul Suarez, along with several other people from the department of Paraíso, was assaulted by police while participating in the demonstration. Suarez and others immediately went to Radio Globo, which broadcasted the story of their assault and then accompanied them to a police station to file a complaint. Suarez subsequently disappeared, reappearing on July 3, badly bruised and disoriented.
 
Teachers who had been fired for opposing the coup continued their hunger strike, the anniversary of the coup marking their 35th day without solid food.

Also marking the anniversary, Amnesty International accused the Honduran government of failing to address serious human rights abuses that followed the coup and reiterated concern about ongoing abuses. “President Lobo has publicly committed to human rights but has failed to take action to protect them, which is unacceptable. He needs to show he is serious about ending the climate of repression and insecurity in Honduras—otherwise the future stability of the country will remain in jeopardy,"  Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International's Americas deputy director, said.

2. Resistance repression continues unabated

June saw a wave of repression—dentention, kidnapping, murder, or attempted murder or kidnapping—against Hondurans associated with the resistance movement, including a six-day stretch with at least one crime per day.

On June 10, masked men attempted to kidnap Carolina Pineda, lawyer for the Teachers' Association of Middle Education in Honduras, an association active in the resistance, but she escaped unharmed.

Also on June 10, unknown gunmen shot and killed Oscar Molina, brother-in-law of Beverages Workers' Union (Stibys) Vice President Porfírio Ponce. Molina was in a car with Ponce's sister and father, neither of whom was gravely injured under the hail of bullets. Members of Stibys have been consistently harassed since the coup. (See HNR, May 2010.)

On June 12, José Luís Baquedan, lawyer for the United Confederation of workers and an National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP) leader, was chased and shot at by men in a minivan while driving with his children and grandchildren. No one was harmed; however, Baquedan was subsequently stopped by police and accused of being the shooter, which allowed the assailants time to get away. Baquedan has complained of previous threats and of his home being under surveillance.

Also on June 12, Ruy Díaz, a FNRP coordinator, Germán Zepeda, president of the Honduras Banana Pickers Syndicate and Héctor García, from the Choloma, Cortés resistance, were arrested at a FNRP gathering and charged with graffiti vandalism.

On June 13, Oslin Obando Cáceres, a young taxi driver, was kidnapped. His father, Eliodoro Cáceres, is coordinator for the FNRP in Tela, Atlántida.

On June 14, police attempted to arrest Sergio Rivera, vice president of the Center for the Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, as he entered a hospital, merely for being associated with the resistance. Rivera started yelling and eventually got on the phone with Radio Globo to make his plight known. The police fled the scene when they heard the media might be involved. Rivera's identity was disclosed to the police by a security guard at the hospital.

On June 15, Rolando Valenzuela, former minister of the National Program for Sustainable Rural Development under Manuel Zelaya and an active member of Liberals in Resistance, was shot and killed as he left a restaurant. The shooter was identified as Carlos Alberto Yacamán Meza, a businessman with whom Valenzuela allegedly had a dispute over money. The prosecutor's office eventually released an order of capture for Yacamán Meza on June 23.

On June 18, José Conrado Moreno, a university professor who has been collecting signatures for the constitutional assembly, was nearly run down along with his family. Threats against his person have persisted since, he said in a statement to Cofadeh.

Mauricio Nahún González Coello, son of labor leader Mauro Francisco González, was killed by unknown men as he went through a car wash on June 20.

On June 30, police detained resistance member Edwin Espinal for driving without a license and subsequently sprayed pepper gas in his face while they threated his life in his jail cell. Espinal's wife, Wendy Ávila, was killed last fall by the same pepper spray as she protested in front of the Brazilian embassy while Zelaya was there. Espinal was released once Cofadeh's Berta Oliva showed up to defend his right to a phone call.

3. Another journalist killed; Congressional report blames spate of murders on organized crime

Channel 19 local news director Luis Arturo Mondragón was murdered June 14 on the sidewalk in front of his house in El Paraíso while with his son. Mondragón had reportedly been critical of several local public officials and congressmen for acts of corruption.

A week earlier, a leaked confidential report to Congress on the series of journalist killings over the past few months revealed some of the Security Ministry's findings to date on the cases. According to the report, the majority of these murders were unrelated to the victims' work as journalists, and five of the seven cases were tied to organized crime. The report flatly denies that there is any threat to freedom of speech as a result of these murders.

4. Aguán activist killed

On June 20, Oscar Geovanny Ramírez, a campesino teen, was killed, and five others swept up in a military and police morning raid in the La Aurora Cooperative of Aguán, during which the combined forces reportedly fired indiscriminately and without warning. Jairo Rubén Murillo Gutiérrez, Miguel Ángel Ramírez Reyes, José María García, Jaime Noel Ramos Ramírez were among the youth rounded up on charges of carrying illicit arms and of conspiracy.

5. Radio station shut down in apparent connection with land dispute

On June 3, 300 military and police shut down La Voz de Zacate Grande 97.1 FM, a community radio station in southern peninsula of Zacate Grande, in the same procedure used to shut down Radio Progreso immediately after last year's coup and Radio Globo and Canal 36-Cholusat during the state of emergency preceding last fall's elections. In this case, the radio station has been the voice for a small community involved in a land dispute with agro-industrial tycoon Miguel Facussé, who is also one of the purported landowners in the lower Aguán dispute. Five Zacate campesino leaders were arrested, and the radio station taped off as a "crime scene." The Committee for Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (Cofadeh) decried the action, as did the Platform for Human Rights.

6. Honduras inches toward OAS readmission

At the 40th General Assembly of the Organization of American States on June 7 in Lima, Peru, chancellors in a closed-door meeting decided they could not yet readmit Honduras into the trans-American body, relegating the decision to a high-level group "to assess the political and juridical situation of Honduras," according to Peruvian Foreign Affairs minister Jose Antonio García Belaúnde.

Perú and Colombia are the only two South American countries that support Honduras' readmission. High-profile figures advocating Honduras' return include U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza. According to Insulza, reintegration "will be the best way to address the human rights situation in this country." Deposed and exiled former President Manuel Zelaya took issue with Insulza's statement, saying, "We don't accept your denial of the tragedy that Hondurans are currently living."

Proponents of reintegration cite the San José-Tegucigalpa Accord, which, in the estimation of the U.S. State Department, has been fulfilled. Critics disagree, citing  election irregularities under what they consider a "coup regime" (see MISF, 12/1/09); an amnesty agreement that leaves coup actors in impunity (see HNR, January 2010); ongoing detentions, intimidation and killings of social activists, human rights defenders and journalists; widespread impunity and undermining of the rule of law and legal institutions; a government-sponsored truth commission with a limited mandate that was created and convened by those they consider "coup supporters" (see HNR, April 2010); and outstanding warrants for Zelaya's arrest, among others.

On July 7, Insulza confirmed that he had met with Lobo and with Zelaya, and said the organization is "near a solution, but I don't yet think I can speak about a solution or be too optimistic." He also confirmed that an international commission had been formed to report by July 30 on the situation in Honduras since Lobo's innauguration in Janaury. This report will help to inform "what scenario could decide Honduras' return to the OAS."

The OAS commission has until July 31 to issue a recommendation on Honduras' status. U.S. Under-secretary of State for Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, said that Honduras' reentry into the OAS is only "a matter of time."

7. Comisión de Verdad kicks off

On June 28, the Platform for Human Rights officially launched the Comisión de Verdad ("Commission of Truth" or "Real Commission") it has assembled as a counterbalance to the government-sponsored Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tasked with the investigation and verification of human rights violations that have occurred since the coup on June 28, 2009, as well as the identification of responsible individuals and institutions, the commission will not adjudicate cases, as Spanish judge Luis Carlos Nieto, one of the newly installed commissioners made clear. "The Commission of Truth isn't a tribunal, and will not try anybody. Our report will be made public, and it will be up to the judicial branch to judge those responsible," Nieto said.

In addition to Nieto, the commissioners will include Nora Cortiñas, founder of the Movement of Mothers of la Plaza de Mayo, Argentina; Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Argentine Nobel Peace Prize recipient; Mirna Perla Jiménez, Salvadoran Supreme Court justice and human rights defender; Craig Scott, Canadian law professor and human rights expert; Elsie Monge, a Catholic nun and director of the Human Rights Front of Ecuador; Francois Houtart, a Catholic priest from Belgium; Francisco José Aguilar, Costa Rican lawyer and human rights defender; Helen Umaña, Honduran writer and university professor; and Fausto Milla, a Catholic priest and founder of Honduran Ecumenical Institute of Services for the Community.

In a statement before the installation, the FNRP gave its approval to the Commission of Truth, saying it firmly believed the commission would reach the objectives of "clarifying the facts from the perspective of the aggrieved, ... identifying the responsible parties and presenting policy recommendations to guarantee these human rights violations won't be repeated."

In a July 6 daily press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner, when asked if the United States supports or acknowledges the alternate commission, said, "We welcome any efforts to clarify the events before and after the June 28, 2009 coup d’état, including documenting the reported human rights abuses." However, he went on to reiterate support for the government-led commission and added, "We hope the alternative truth commission will collaborate with the truth commission established as a result of the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord."

8. More than half a million signatures for constitutional assembly

The number of signatures calling for a constitutional assembly topped 600,000 as of June 28. The organizers of the consulta, as the petition drive is known, were hoping to turn in 1.5 million signatures by the anniversary of the coup, but are now aiming for having that number by Sept. 15, the date marking Central America's independence.

On June 27, Bertha Cáceres, human rights defender and director of the Council for Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh), was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer while collecting signatures along with other Copinh members. Although she was released without charges shortly after her capture was made public, the roughly 400 signatures her group had collected remained in police custody.

9. Lobo announces new human rights commission

On June 23, following allegations that members of the resistance were being selectively murdered, President Porfirio Lobo announced the creation of a new Presidential Human Rights Commission, with a complete legal, administrative and investigational structure. Lobo had recently named Ana Pineda as presidential commissioner for human rights, but human rights groups and the international community had complained that the post lacked the supporting organizational structure to enable it to investigate human rights abuse allegations. Lobo said he is seeking help from Spain to establish the new commission, which will be separate the national Human Rights Commission, headed by Ramón Custodio. Lobo, however, dismissed the possibility that there was a pattern of repression against the resistance or that the government, police or military were at all involved, saying "To my knowledge, we're not politically persecuting anyone."

10. Congress ignores IACHR request, passes military assistance law

On June 10, the National Congress passed a law allowing military forces to patrol the streets, despite strong objections from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In its report, based on a mission in May, the regional human rights body pointed out the increased tension in Aguán brought about by militarization of the conflict as a compelling counterexample to the Congress' stated desire to "decrease the violence currently experienced" in Honduras by passing this law. The law was put into force June 18.

11. Congress asks for report on fired judges

The Supreme Court decision to fire three judges, a magistrate and public defender in May (see HNR, May 2010) is still causing ripples politically, as the Congress asked the high court for a full accounting of the incident on June 8. Congressional President Juan Orlando Hernández, expressed displeasure at the court's action, saying it negatively affects international recognition of the Lobo government. To whit, the G-16 group of countries made a formal declaration to Congress on June 10, expressing concern over that matter as well as with other human rights concerns.

Meanwhile, the Association of Judges for Democracy and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) have filed protests with the Honduran Judicial Council and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for alleged violations of the Judicial Law.

12. Public Ministry says Zelaya can return without imprisonment

On June 29, the Public Ministry confirmed that it would allow Manuel Zelaya to return to Honduras without capture, and that he could stand trial without imprisonment. President Lobo said Zelaya now had no excuse to not come back. Nevertheless, Zelaya said that Lobo can't guarantee anything, due to his tenuous position in the country, referring to the alleged coup threats against Lobo recently made public. (See brief item below.) Resistance leaders say this is a trap for Zelaya, and that he should not return.

13. Trial for Aguán Campesino Movement leaders
 
On June 14, the trial began for Isabel Morales and Carlos Maradiaga, two leaders of the umbrella Aguán Campesino Movement, who've been jailed for nearly two years in connection with a standoff on disputed land in Sillín that led to the murders of 10 to 12 people. (See HNR, Oct. 16-31, 2008.) As of June 22, the trial was still ongoing, despite a predicted four-day length, and was closed to media and the public.

14. FNRP outlines purpose, goals of resistance movement

In June, the FNRP released a publication called "We Are All Resistance," in English and Spanish, outlining the development, makeup, motivation and intention of the resistance movement. According to the document, the FNRP "is the platform on which all political and social sectors in Honduras have agreed to unify to build a just society, without discrimination ... The ultimate goal is the refounding of the State ... Across the country there is resistance; communities, villages, departments and regions are holding assemblies through which they are building the pillars to support the new society. The goal is clear: to convene a National Assembly to create a new Constitution that will be democratic, popular and participatory."

15. Other Honduras news in brief

On June 8, President Porfirio Lobo said he knew of a plot to overthrow him in a coup. According to reports, he sent out a memo to various ministries to not align themselves with the far right or left movements, and that "their mandate is with the Honduran people."

A new, yet unpublished, report by Cofadeh puts human rights violations under the Lobo government at over 700, including 12 murders.

Judges dismissed corruption charges against former Zelaya officials Rebeca Santos, Arístides Mejía and Rixi Moncada for lack of evidence. (See HNR, February 2010.) The three had been forced into hiding after the coup, fearing a lack of due process.

16. U.S. policy update

Hillary Clinton continued to advocate for the Lobo administration this month, giving a speech at the June 7 meeting of the OAS General Assembly to encourage Honduras' reinstatement. "We saw the free and fair election of President Lobo, and we have watched President Lobo fulfill his obligations under the Tegucigalpa-San José Accord, including forming a government of national reconciliation and a truth commission. This has demonstrated a strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order."

On June 24, 27 U.S. representatives marked the anniversary of the coup by sending Clinton a letter expressing concern about ongoing rights violations and impunity in Honduras. "It is our belief that the State Department should rise to this occasion and assign Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner to visit Honduras and make a prompt assessment of what is occurring there with regards to human and political rights. Without an early and accurate report, we would be reluctant to see U.S. support for Honduras to continue wihtout significant restrictions."

The same day, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens and ambassadors of other countries met with the head of the Honduran Supreme Court, Jorge Rivera, and other judges to discuss conditions for the possible return of former President Zelaya to Honduras.

In early June, Llorens and U.S. military leaders met with Honduran leaders and military officials to discuss future military cooperation between the two nations.

On June 29, the U.S. accepted credentials from Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro, Lobo's new ambassador to the United States, signaling a normalization in relations between the two countries. During the ceremony, President Barack Obama said, "The United States supports and expects the quick and full readmission of Honduras to the international community."

Earlier in the month, the United States rejected three consuls, including Cecilia Callejas (Atlanta) and Vivian Panting (Los Angeles), because of their role in the coup government of Roberto Micheletti. The United States has joined a number of other countries in rejecting diplomatic appointments of anyone it deems to have been involved in last year's coup. Honduras announced on July 6 that it will replace the consuls.

17. Bill Clinton and "world's richest person" to travel to Honduras to promote private investment

Honduras' Deputy Foreign Minister Alden Rivera announced that former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Mexican businessman Carlos Slim will be in Honduras Nov. 4 and 5 to encourage private investment. "The visit is aimed at promoting the country as a tourism destination to the world, thereby attracting foreign investors," Rivera said. Forbes Magazine ranks Slim as the world's richest person, with a net worth estimated at $60.6 billion. Clinton oversees the William J. Clinton Foundation, which has an endowment estimated at $46 billion.