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Updated 07/31/2006

Honduras News in Review—March 15, 2006

1. Honduran court opens case of activists disappeared in the 1980s

2. Political prisoner and indigenous activist Feliciano Pineda released

3. 1,000 soldiers to be transferred to police forces in 2006

4. U.S. military’s “New Horizons” program inaugurated in Honduras

5. U.S. State Department report denounces extrajudicial killings in Honduras

6. Honduras may pay fine for delayed reparations payments

7. Maduro administration did not pay fees to UN, OAS and others

8. Zelaya to pardon nearly 1,000 inmates

9. Nicaragua requests more information on Honduran troop expansion

10. Zelaya creates “citizen security boards”

11. Environmental group denounces “armed hit men” protecting logging sites

12. Zelaya joins with environmental activist to solve illegal logging problems

13. Airport could damage Mayan ruins, according to prosecutor

14. Mine permits suspended for one year

15. IMF delegation visits Honduras, encourages more efficient social spending

16. Illegal emigration of Honduran minors increases

17. March participants protest violence against women

18. Over half of Hondurans excluded from health-care system

19. Women make up nearly half of labor force in Central America, but inequities remain

1. Honduran court opens case of activists disappeared in the 1980s

A Honduran court has opened an investigation into the disappearance of two activists, Tomás Nativí and Fidel Martínez, who were abducted from Nativí’s home in Tegucigalpa in 1981. Nativí’s wife Bertha Oliva, who is now the coordinator for the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), testified before the court. She said on the night of June 11, 1981, six hooded men broke into their home, beat Nativí and Martínez, threw them in the back of a car and drove off. Martínez’s body was later found outside the city, but Nativí was never seen again. The two men were leaders of the People’s Revolutionary Union in Honduras, a leftist organization that questioned the policies of foreign intervention in the country. [EFE News 2/17/06; Tiempo, 2/17/06; read more about disappearances in Honduras in the 1980s]

2. Political prisoner and indigenous activist Feliciano Pineda released

Amnesty International praised the release of Honduran prisoner of conscience Feliciano Pineda but insisted that the government of Honduras guarantee his security, pay reparations for his unjust detention, investigate his detention and investigate threats and intimidation against him. Pineda is an indigenous activist in the Lenca village of Montaña Verde who was attacked in June 2005 by three men with machetes. Because of his serious injuries, Pineda was taken to a hospital in Tegucigalpa where he was arrested—before receiving medical attention—for murder and other charges. A prison guard reportedly pointed a gun at Pineda and forced him to sign a confession. The charges were later dropped and Pineda has been granted provisional freedom. His medical injuries remain serious. Fellow indigenous activists and prisoners of conscience Marcelino and Leonardo Miranda remain in prison. (Amnesty International press release, 2/10/06; Pineda case background, HNR 1/23/06; read more about human rights defenders in Honduras)

3. 1,000 soldiers to be transferred to police forces in 2006

As part of the Honduran government’s new security plan, 1,000 soldiers will be transferred this year from the armed forces to the police foreces, in order to assist police with common and organized crime. Two-hundred and fifty soldiers have already been transferred and another 250 are expected to be transferred every three months over the next four years. By the end of President Manuel Zelaya’s administration in 2010, 4,000 soldiers will be military police. Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio has backed the plan, saying it will strengthen police forces, while other human rights leaders such as Andrés Pavón of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras are concerned about increased militarization of society and argue that soldiers are trained to kill, not to prevent crime. [Hondudiario, 2/14/05; La Prensa, 2/15/06; Hondudiario, 2/15/06]

4. U.S. military’s “New Horizons” program inaugurated in Honduras

U.S. Ambassador Charles Ford inaugurated “New Horizons Honduras 2006,” a program of the U.S. Southern Command. According to spokespeople, the program will provide humanitarian support in areas such as health and education as well as military training. In Honduras, soldiers, mainly from the Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, will assist in constructing schools and health clinics while medical brigades will help with training and heath care. The nature of the military training is unclear. The initiative will take place in 13 areas of the departments of Atlantida and Gracias a Dios in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The initiative began on February 13 and was scheduled to end March 13. [Hondudiario, 3/2/06]

5. U.S. State Department report denounces extrajudicial killings in Honduras

The U.S. State Department has released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The Honduras country report denounced extrajudicial killings by members of the police and current and former security forces as well as harsh prison conditions including overcrowding, lack of adequate sanitation and malnutrition. [La Prensa, 3/9/06; 2005 Honduras Country Report]

6. Honduras may pay fine for delayed reparations payments

Andrés Pavón, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras, has warned the government that the state could be subject to a fine of 80 million lempiras ($4.2 million) if it does not fulfill its obligations under sentences of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The government has failed to include in its budget reparations for victims of forced disappearances in the 1980s and 1990s. [Hondudiario, 3/3/06; read more about disappearances and reparation payments in Honduras]

7. Maduro administration did not pay fees to UN, OAS and others

According to Milton Jiménez, Honduras’s new foreign minister, the previous administration of Ricardo Maduro left the state in debt to various international organizations including the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Jiménez claims that the Maduro administration did not pay fees to these and other international bodies, thereby endangering Honduras’s right to participation and voting in those bodies. [EFE News, 3/7/06]

8. Zelaya to pardon nearly 1,000 inmates

President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras confirmed on Feb. 14 that he will pardon some 980 prison inmates in the coming year. Pardoned inmates will include those nearing completion of their sentences and those suffering from illnesses. Around 10,000 inmates currently reside in the 24 prisons that comprise the Honduran penitentiary system. [La Prensa, 2/14/06]

9. Nicaragua requests more information on Honduran troop expansion

The foreign minister of Nicaragua, Norman Caldera, has requested official information on Honduras’ decision to increase its military by 4,000 troops over the next 4 years. Caldera reminded the public that Central American countries have promised to maintain a reasonable balance in their armed forces as part of a regional initiative pushed by Nicaraguan president Enrique Bolaños. Caldera will address the issue of Honduras’s increasing military during a meeting with the foreign ministers of Central America and Panama. [Hondudiario, 3/3/06; La Prensa, 3/3/06]

10. Zelaya creates “citizen security boards”

President Manuel Zelaya has inaugurated his new “citizen security boards” program in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the two largest and most dangerous cities in Honduras. The boards will make security decisions about their neighborhoods with the assistance of the police. The first phase of the program involves creating at least 1,000 citizen security boards, which will include representatives from various sectors of the community. [EFE News, 3/7/06]

11. Environmental group denounces “armed hit men” protecting logging sites

Members of the Olancho Environmental Movement denounced the company Sanzone for using groups of “armed hit men” to guard a phantom forest cooperative. The group says that the loggers are protecting three cut sites near the Telica River and that the destruction of these forests will negatively affect both the environment and the local population. The environmental group also denounced the participation of the state Honduran Corporation for Forest Development in the logging deals. [La Prensa, 3/9/06; Olancho Environmental Movement press release, 3/8/06]

12. Zelaya joins with environmental activist to solve illegal logging problems

President Manuel Zelaya met with environmentalist Father Andrés Tamayo to discuss illegal logging in Honduras. The two men agreed to form a commission of government officials and civil society members that will seek solutions to logging problems in Honduras. Zelaya also promised to restructure the Honduran Corporation for Forest Development (Cohefor), the government entity responsible for issuing logging permits. Cohefor has developed a reputation for corruption. [Tiempo, 2/15/06]

13. Airport could damage Mayan ruins, according to prosecutor

The special prosecutor for the environment in Honduras, René Zúniga, announced that he will challenge the proposed construction of an airport near the Maya ruins of Copán in the western part of Honduras. A report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) advised against an airport near the ruins, citing possible damages to the archeological site due to contamination and noise. The Copán ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist sites in the country. [EFE News 2/12/06]

14. Mine permits suspended for one year

The Secretariat of Natural Resources and the Environment in Honduras announced that, by executive order, mine exploration permits would be suspended for one year in order to study possible effects on the environment. Only 15 of 188 mine exploration requests were granted. [La Prensa, 2/14/06]

15. IMF delegation visits Honduras, encourages more efficient social spending

A delegation from the International Monetary Fund led by Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato visited Honduras to meet with President Manuel Zelaya, his economic cabinet and others. Rato recognized recent economic growth in Honduras but admitted that there was not a strong relationship between economic growth and poverty reduction in the country. He encouraged more efficient social spending by fighting corruption and structural reforms. Rato insisted that the country refrain from increasing public salaries, but he dispelled rumors that the IMF would encourage privatization of public services. After visiting a center for at-risk youth, Rato offered the IMF’s assistance with programs aimed at gang prevention and rehabilitation. [EFE News 2/28/06; Tiempo, 2/28/06; El Heraldo, 2/28/06]

16. Illegal emigration of Honduran minors increases

The Honduran Institute of Children and Family (Ihnfa) has expressed alarm at the apparent increase in the numbers of minors attempting to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. In 2005, 46 Honduran minors were deported by Mexican officials; this year, 25 Honduran young people between the ages of 14 and 18 have been deported from Mexico. Ihnfa officials say that while some of the minors are being deceived by human traffickers, others are being sent on the dangerous journey by their families because of economic hardship. [El Heraldo, 3/3/06]

17. March participants protest violence against women

On March 8, International Women’s Day, around 500 women marched from the Supreme Court building in Tegucigalpa to the Presidential House to denounce violence against women. At least 437 women have been violently killed in Honduras in the last three years, and gender violence is one of the three leading causes of death in women of reproductive age, according to participants. Few of these crimes have been properly investigated or resolved. Participants called on President Manuel Zelaya to increase methods of violence prevention and improve investigation of violent crimes against women. [EFE News, 3/9/06]

18. Over half of Hondurans excluded from health-care system

A recent study by the National Commission of Human Rights in Honduras revealed that 3.9 million Hondurans are excluded from the country’s health-care system. The study concludes that the current system does not respond to the different needs of the population and that the high percentage of excluded Hondurans shows a systematic denial of the right to health care. Chronic malnutrition affects 80% of Honduran children under 7, mainly in indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities. The study recommended that the state adopt a health-care policy that would address inequality as well as the diverse needs of its population. [EFE News, 3/6/06]

19. Women make up nearly half of labor force in Central America, but inequities remain

According to the International Labor Organization, women make up 42% of the work force in Central America, but differences remain in how much they are paid in comparison with their male counterparts. Honduras and Costa Rica have the lowest levels of female participation and the largest gaps between women and men. On a regional level, the unemployment rate for women is 10.5% for women and 6.7% for men, and men are paid between 16% and 50% more than women. [EFE News, 3/8/06]

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