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Updated 04/13/2006

Honduras News in Review—April 13, 2006

1. Former military leader ordered to pay $47 million for human rights violations

2. CAFTA enters into force amid praise and protest

3. U.S. Senate drafts compromise immigration bill, but opposition stalls its passage

4. Central American military chiefs create peacekeeping unit

5. Politicians threaten two journalists in western Honduras

6. Zelaya asks debt forgiveness from IDB

7. World Bank approves debt forgiveness measure

8. Minimum wage in Honduras increases

9. Family members protest on third anniversary of El Porvenir prison massacre

10. Violence in Honduras similar to civil war, according to security minister

11. Nearly 300 women violently killed during Maduro administration

12. Women’s rights group says media coverage of rape case proves machista culture

13. Black community angry over racist comments

14. Honduras will ask UNESCO to put biosphere back on cultural heritage list 

1. Former military leader ordered to pay $47 million for human rights violations

A federal judge in Miami has ordered a former Honduran military intelligence chief, Col. Juan Evangelista López Grijalba, to pay a total of $47 million in damages to two torture survivors and four family members of murdered civilians. The crimes occurred in the early 1980s, when López Grijalba controlled two military units responsible for a systematic program of disappearance and political assasination.The San Francisco-based Center for Justice and Accountability initiated a civil suit against López Grijalba in 2002, when it learned that he was living in the United States and had been arrested by the INS for immigration violations. An immigration judge ordered the former colonel to be deported in October 2004, before the civil trial could take place, but a federal judge ultimately heard testimony from the plaintiffs in a trial on damages on March 16, 2006. The special prosecutor for human rights in Honduras, Sandra Ponce, said she will use the information from the U.S. case in existing cases against López Grijalba in Honduras. [CJA press release; Hondudiario, 3/4/06; La Tribuna, 4/5/06; La Tribuna, 4/7/06; MISF, Efforts to Prosecute Honduran Human Rights Abusers and Human Rights Abuses in Honduras in the 1980s: Select Case Histories] 

2. CAFTA enters into force amid praise and protest

The Central American Free Trade Agreement entered into force in Honduras on April 1, 2006. President Manuel Zelaya and U.S. Ambassador Charles Ford marked the agreement’s entrance with a ceremony at the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya emphasized the trade agreement would bring trade opportunities, employment generation and economic development to Honduras. Hundreds of protestors, however, condemned the agreement, saying that only the rich would benefit and that CAFTA will generate massive unemployment and increase poverty. [Hondudiario, 3/31/06; Hondudiario, 4/1/06] 

3. U.S. Senate drafts compromise immigration bill, but opposition stalls its passage

The U.S. Senate reached a compromise immigration legislation that allows for some illegal immigrants to move toward citizenship but eliminates some of the more lenient provisions present in a Judiciary Committee draft of the bill. The new legislation would create a temporary worker program and would allow illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years to legalize their status after paying a fine, paying back taxes, learning English and other requirements. Those who have been in the country between two and five years would have to apply for a new temporary work visa. The provision would not apply to immigrants who have been in the United States less than two years. Supporters of the bill wanted to send it to the Senate floor for a vote, but Republicans opposed to the bill insisted on more debate. The Senate will address the issue again after a two-week spring recess.  [Washington Post, 4/6/06; Washington Post, 4/7/06] 

4. Central American military chiefs create peacekeeping unit

During the Central American Armed Forces Conference in Tegucigalpa, military chiefs agreed to create a regional peace-keeping battalion. This battalion will also be available for United Nations peacekeeping missions. In addition, participants agreed to strengthen the existing Humanitarian and Rescue Unit, which responds to natural disasters. [EFE News, 3/27/06] 

5. Politicians threaten two journalists in western Honduras

According to the Committee for Free Expression in Honduras (C-Libre), two rural journalists from the western department of Intibucá have recently received threats and harassment for their work. Rural journalist and student Ivonne Rodríguez published an interview with Congressman Ángel Gámez. The racist statements Gámez made against black Hondurans caused an uproar in the country. As a result, Rodríguez has received threatening letters warning her not to return to her home. Unidentified persons have also thrown rocks at her house. During a meeting between indigenous Lenca leaders and the minister of health on an alternative health agreement, Congressman Bueso Melghem, vice president of the government’s Commission on Ethnic Groups, interrupted the meeting and began insulting participants. Melghem was allegedly angry for being excluded from the proceedings. Lenca journalist Martha Vásquez was covering the meeting and recorded Melghem’s interruption. Melghem then destroyed Vásquez’s tape and, according to Vásquez, physically attacked her. Lenca leaders have called for Melghem’s ouster. [C-Libre press release, 4/5/06; Proceso Digital, 4/6/06] 

6. Zelaya asks debt forgiveness from IDB

In a speech before the General Assembly of the Inter-American Development Bank in Bello Horizante, Brazil, Honduran president Manuel Zelaya asked the institution to forgive Honduras’s $1.4 billion debt. The bank is already considering debt forgiveness in Latin America’s poorest countries, and Zelaya pushed for Honduras’s proposal in that regard. He emphasized that democracy could not be strong with so much poverty and hunger. [Hondudiario, 4/3/06] 

7. World Bank approves debt forgiveness measure

The World Bank has approved a debt forgiveness measure passed by G-8 countries last year that would cancel a total of $37 billion in debt to 17 poor countries, including Honduras. In order to qualify for debt forgiveness, countries must complete certain requisites, including privatizing some state agencies. Under the measure, an estimated $1 billion in Honduran foreign debt will be forgiven. The measure is expected to enter into force in July 2006. [La Prensa, 3/29/06] 

8. Minimum wage in Honduras increases

After nearly three months of deliberation, the Special Commission for the Minimum Wage signed an agreement on March 26, 2006, allowing for salary increases between 8.4% and 11%. The commission consisted of representatives for workers and for business owners. The increases are retroactive from January 2006 and will benefit an estimated 500,000 workers. [EFE News, 3/27/06; El Heraldo, 3/27/06] 

9. Family members protest on third anniversary of El Porvenir prison massacre

Family members of the 68 people who were killed on April 5, 2003, in El Porvenir prison protested in front of the court house in the port city of La Ceiba, Honduras. Protestors demanded justice,  arguing that none of the high-ranking officials in the prison have been accused. Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio has said both police and military personnel participated in the massacre. The case has been stalled in the Honduran courts for one year. The fire in El Porvenir killed 60 gang members, five common criminals and three visitors. At least 25 inmates died locked in their cells. [EFE News, 4/6/06] 

10. Violence in Honduras similar to civil war, according to security minister

Honduran Minister of Security Álvaro Romero admitted that violence in the country is statistically similar to that of a civil war. An average of 10 to 12 people are violently killed every day in Honduras; these numbers do not include traffic accidents. Romero announced the launch of “Operation United Family.” While no details were made public, Romero said the operation would include all police forces and would attack organized crime, common delinquency and gangs. The announcement came after an association of business owners in Honduras formally complained about the effects of violence in the country. [Hondudiario, 3/27/06] 

11. Nearly 300 women violently killed during Maduro administration

According to the Honduran Committee on Human Rights (CODEH), 294 women were violently killed during the administration of President Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006). CODEH president Andrés Pavón said that most women who are murdered have a low socioeconomic status, making poor women in Honduras particularly vulnerable to violent deaths. Around 40% of cases of violence against women are never investigated. [Hondudiario, 4/4/06] 

12. Women’s rights group says media coverage of rape case proves machista culture

The Center for Women’s Rights in Honduras (CDM) has criticized the media’s handling of a rape case involving a famous musician. Leonardo Reyes of the Dominican group “Aventura” was detained for raping a 15-year old Honduran girl after a concert in Tegucigalpa; he was later released. CDM has accused the media of blaming the girl through blaming her parents, questioning the way she was dressed and questioning her prior virginity. The organization says that such coverage is indicative of a “machista culture” in Honduran media. [CDM press release, 4/6/06; EFE News, 4/5/06] 

13. Black community angry over racist comments

Members of the Community Ethnic Development Organization in Honduras are asking the government to open a legal case against a member of Parliament who made racist statements to the press. National Party member Miguel Angel Gámez told the press that he “did not like black people” and declared that Honduras’s soccer team did not qualify for the World Cup because the team was “full of black people, because they are not smart, because they don’t think, and they do everything physically.” Gámez, an ethnic Lenca, apologized for his statements. The laws of Honduras allow for penalties of three to five years in prison and fines up to 50,000 lempiras (US$2,600) for discrimination. [La Prensa, 3/30/06] 

14. Honduras will ask UNESCO to put biosphere back on cultural heritage list

The government of Honduras is planning to ask the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to remove the Río Plátano Biosphere from its “red list” and return the area to the list of World Heritage Sites. The biosphere was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 but was removed in 1996 and placed on the “List of World Heritage in Danger” because of illegal logging, encroaching agriculture and lack of protection. In order to restore its UNESCO designation, the government will have to appoint a commission to develop specific protection strategies for the biosphere. [El Heraldo, 3/29/06; UNESCO List World Heritage in Danger]

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