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Updated 01/23/2006

Honduras News in Review—January 23, 2006

1. Amnesty International adopts Honduran indigenous leaders as prisoners of conscience

2. Government criticized for failure to comply with Inter-American Human Rights Commission obligations

3. Honduras and the U.S. will participate in joint military exercises

4. Security guards shoot at indigenous Garífuna leaders

5. Garífuna leaders encourage Zelaya to uphold campaign promise

6. Honduras reactivates “green battalions” with help from U.S.

7. Authorities seek to curb destruction of forests in northern Honduras

8. Special Prosecutor begins illegal logging lawsuit

9. New law provides security for former government leaders

10. Honduras requests extension of Temporary Protection Status in U.S.

11. Latin American governments respond to proposed U.S. immigration reform

12. Thirteen inmates killed in National Penitentiary

13. HIV/AIDS activists denounce shortage of medicine

14. National Institute for Women increases women’s access to justice

15. Workers protest possible telecommunications privatization

16. Thousands of Honduran children will not attend school due to lack of resources, teachers say

1. Amnesty International adopts Honduran indigenous leaders as prisoners of conscience
On Jan. 19 the human rights group Amnesty International launched a campaign for the release of indigenous leaders Feliciano Pineda, Marcelino Miranda and Leonardo Miranda, from the remote Lenca village of Montaña Verde in southwestern Honduras. The Miranda brothers were arrested three years ago for the 2001 murder of Juan Reyes Gomez, in an alleged land dispute. In December 2003 they were convicted and sentenced to 25 years each, despite evidence that the charges were fabricated in reprisal for their efforts to secure a communal land title for their community. Pineda was arrested in June 2005 on charges of theft, housebreaking, and the murder of Reyes Gomez. In December 2005 Pineda was acquitted of the murder charge, but he remains imprisoned on the other charges even though the legal period for bringing him to trial has elapsed. Amnesty International said, “The criminal charges against Feliciano Pineda and the Miranda brothers are part of a campaign against indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in Honduras that aims to deter them from their work to secure land titles and to protect the environment.” The organization called for the immediate release of Pineda and the Miranda brothers as well as an investigation into the murder of Reyes Gomez. [Amnesty International press release, 1/19/06; Rights Action newsletter, 1/18/06; read more about human rights defenders in Honduras] 

2. Government criticized for failure to comply with Inter-American Human Rights Commission obligations

Andrés Pavón, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras, announced Jan. 17 that the state of Honduras will be summoned before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for failure to follow through with the contracts mediated by the regional commission. Pavón criticized the Maduro administration for leaving many unfulfilled obligations for the new government, including paying reparations to families of the disappeared. The human rights activist is also seeking a dialogue with the government on the prevalence of inmate deaths in jails throughout the country. [Hondudiario, 1/17/06; read more about government obligations through the Inter-American system] 

3. Honduras and the U.S. will participate in joint military exercises

Honduras and the United States will participate in joint military exercises in an unspecified part of northern Honduras. According Honduran Minister of Defense Federico Brevé, Honduras will not only benefit from military training for soldiers and officials but also because the American troops will implement infrastructure projects in that part of the country, which was affected by several tropical storms this year. The projects include improving highways, and building three schools and a health center. [La Prensa, 1/16/06] 

4. Security guards shoot at indigenous Garífuna leaders

Armed security guards fired shots at Garífuna leaders in the community of San Juan, on the Caribbean coast, on Jan. 15. The Garífuna leaders, all of whom escaped unharmed, claim their attackers were security guards of a tourism company, owned by Jaime Rosenthal, which is attempting to take over communal land. Community leaders say Rosenthal has been attempting to acquire their lands for several years now, pressuring the government and using the legal system. On Nov. 9, 2005, one Garífuna leader’s house was burned, but leaders say the shooting incident is the most violent to date, and they fear escalating violence. Leaders say the Garífuna have lived on the land for 200 years. [Community press release, 1/17/06; Hondudiario, 1/18/06] 

5. Garífuna leaders encourage Zelaya to uphold campaign promise

Members of the Ethnic Community Development Organization met with president-elect Mel Zelaya to encourage him to uphold his campaign promises to the Garífuna community in Honduras. The demands of the Garífuna, who live mainly on the Caribbean coast, include legal titles to their land, job creation, the construction of schools and highways, and other basic services often not found in many ethnic communities. Zelaya responded that he would do everything possible to meet their demands, and he congratulated the representatives for having three Garífuna leaders elected to the Parliament this year for the first time. Ethnic groups make up about 10% of the seven million inhabitants of Honduras. [EFE News, 1/10/06] 

6. Honduras reactivates “green battalions” with help from U.S.

Honduran Minister of Defense Federico Brevé announced the reinstatement of “green battalions” in 2006 to protect the country’s forests by fighting forest fires, illegal logging and drug trafficking. The United States is helping to build fuel supply units and other logistics to install bases in La Mosquitia, in eastern Honduras. [La Prensa, 1/16/06] 

7. Authorities seek to curb destruction of forests in northern Honduras

Mayors in the Honduran department of Copán have sought help from the Public Ministry and the Interior Ministry to halt the excessive destruction of forests in the area. Officials say that while some of the wood is illegally transferred to other countries, many of the trees are cut by locals for firewood, and there is a lack of education in the area about the environmental impacts of cutting down too many trees. One town in the department, Santa Rosa de Copán, uses an average of 15 trees per day. Public prosecutor Marvin Arias said they will begin investigating and prosecuting those responsible for the environmental destruction. [La Prensa, 1/16/06] 

8. Special Prosecutor begins illegal logging lawsuit

Honduran Special Prosecutor for the Environment Aldo Santos announced a criminal lawsuit against three businessmen in the logging industry and one technician of the Honduran Corporation for Forest Development. The men are accused of illegal logging in the biosphere of the Plátano River. [El Heraldo, 1/18/06] 

9. New law provides security for former government leaders

On Jan. 9 the Honduran Parliament approved a new law providing security for former presidents, vice presidents and other high-level authorities, including ministers of security and defense, attorneys general and parliamentary leaders. Some have criticized the law, saying government security forces should be protecting the population at large without granting special privileges to anyone. The law was passed eight days after President Maduro gave former Security Minister Oscar Alvarez a diplomatic position in the United States with a salary between $5,000 and $6,000 per month, a move condemned by some human rights groups. Alvarez contends he runs a high risk of retribution from gangs and organized crime. [EFE News, 1/10/06] 

10. Honduras requests extension of Temporary Protection Status in U.S.

The Foreign Ministry of Honduras will apply for an extension of the Temporary Protection Status granted to Hondurans living in the United States since 1998. The TPS has been extended five times and affects around 80,000 Hondurans. The current TPS will expire on July 5, 2006. The Foreign Ministry encouraged Hondurans under the system to look for legal alternatives to the TPS since the country no longer has sufficient reasons, such as natural disasters or civil conflict, to ask for the temporary status. [El Heraldo, 1/17/06] 

11. Latin American governments respond to proposed U.S. immigration reform

The governments of Central America, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Colombia have asked the United States to “protect in full the human rights” of immigrants, regardless of their legal migratory status. The foreign ministers of these 10 Latin American countries met Jan. 9 in Mexico City to discuss the proposed U.S. immigration reforms, which include building a wall along the Mexican border and criminalizing illegal entry into the United States. The final agreement produced from the meeting encouraged the establishment of temporary work laws and reminded the public that immigration is often a result of labor demand. The foreign ministers also agreed to create a migration working group, open to other Latin American countries that did not participate in the meeting, in order to promote joint policies in response to U.S. immigration reform. [EFE News, 1/10/06] 

12. Thirteen inmates killed in National Penitentiary

Honduran president Ricardo Maduro released two officials from their duties at the National Penitentiary following the murders of 13 inmates on Jan. 5. The director of the prison, Marvin Rajo, was indefinitely suspended while Domingo García, the director of security was dismissed. Initial reports blamed the killings on a shoot-out between rival gangs, but Special Prosecutor for Common Crimes Hary Dixon Herrera said the 13 men were attacked by other inmates while watching television. An inspection following the attack revealed that inmates had various weapons including nine-millimeter handguns, mini Uzis and grenades. Human rights groups in Honduras have sharply criticized the government for failing to ensure the security of persons in their custody, and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights sent a communiqué requesting that the government take measures to ensure the life and integrity of persons in the prison system. [EFE News, 1/7/06; EFE News, 1/8/06; Hondudiario, 1/10/06; Hondudiario 1/11/06] 

13. HIV/AIDS activists denounce shortage of medicine

HIV/AIDS activists in Honduras have been protesting a shortage of antiretroviral medicine in the country, blaming the Ministry of Health for the problem. On Jan. 17 activists denounced the shortage in a local newspaper, saying the government is risking the lives of the 3,500 people who need the medication, and the following day they participated in protests. Honduran Minister of Health Merlin Fernández denied the existence of a drug shortage Jan. 17 in the daily newspaper Tiempo, saying only that there were problems with the delivery dates of 5 of the 22 medicines needed for basic treatment. Just under 2% of the adult population in Honduras has HIV/AIDS, one of the highest rates in the region. [EFE News, 1/17/06; EFE News, 1/19/06] 

14. National Institute for Women increases women’s access to justice

The National Institute for Women in Honduras announced that it opened 64 new municipal offices during the Maduro administration. The institute works to promote gender equity in the country. The minister of the institute, Marcela del Mar Suazo, said that because the offices gave women in the country greater access to the judicial system, the numbers of complaints about issues such as domestic violence has increased. The ultimate goal of the institute is to open a total of 298 offices nationally. [Hondudiario, 1/13/05] 

15. Workers protest possible telecommunications privatization

An umbrella group of workers unions, the Popular Block, protested the proposed Telecommunications Law, which would allow for privatization, in Tegucigalpa on Jan. 19. Participants say the law would allow for a private monopoly and would not be beneficial for the average Honduran. [Hondudiario, 1/19/06] 

16. Thousands of Honduran children will not attend school due to lack of resources, teachers say

According to teachers in Honduras, thousands of children will not attend school this year due to a lack of facilities and materials. Teachers say that the 15,500 schools in the country are insufficient, and 70,000 children will not be able to attend middle school. In addition, teachers say 250,000 children will not attend primary school because their families do not have the economic resources for school supplies. Teachers estimate that 95% of middle schools lack sufficient furniture, chalkboards and roofs while nine out of 10 primary schools lack desks, educational materials, sufficient space and adequate bathroom facilities. The Honduran daily El Heraldo was unable to reach officials from the Ministry of Education for comment. The newspaper is accepting donations of school supplies for poor children. [El Heraldo, 1/11/06] 

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