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Updated 12/08/2005

Honduras News in Review—December 8, 2005

1. Opposition Liberal Party leader Zelaya wins Honduran presidential election

2. U.S. congresswoman asks administration to investigate illegal logging in Honduras

3. Honduran human rights defender harassed

4. Illegal weapons arsenal found in house of former military officer

5. Youth accused of DEA agent’s death escapes from detention and is recaptured…again

6. Farmer killed by Contra-era landmine

7. Germany and Japan forgive $539 million of Honduran debt

8. Report shows reduction in Latin American poverty

9. Honduras, Belize and Guatemala have highest prevalence of AIDS in the region

10. Tropical Storm Gamma affects 41,000 in Honduras 

1. Opposition Liberal Party leader Zelaya wins Honduran presidential election On Dec. 6 the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) in Honduras made the long-awaited announcement that Liberal Party candidate Manuel “Mel” Zelaya Rosales had won the country’s presidential election, held on Nov. 27. Zelaya campaigned on promises to fight government corruption and push for life sentences for violent criminals. Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo Sosa, of the ruling National Party, conceded defeat on Dec. 7. Although only 88.66% of the votes had been counted at the time of the TSE announcement, officials said the remaining votes will not sway the results significantly.  

Zelaya has received 49.9% of the votes and Lobo has garnered 46.16%. Among the three smaller political parties, Juan Almendares Bonilla, of the Democratic Unification Party has received 1.51% of the votes; Juan Ramón Martínez of the Christian Democrat Party, 1.4%; and Carlos Sosa Coello of the Innovation and Unity Party, 1.02%. The Organization of American States and the U.S. Embassy declared the elections fair and transparent. The TSE resumed counting on Dec. 5 after suspending the count for 48 hours to review suspected irregularities in 300,000 votes. 

Of the 298 mayoral races throughout the country, the Liberal Party won 55%, including many of the major cities in the country, and the National Party won 42%. Among the minority parties, the Innovation and Unity Party won six mayoral races and Democratic Unification Party won one. The votes are still being counted for congressional seats, but as of Dec. 3 the Liberal Party had 62 seats; the National Party, 54 seats; Democratic Unification Party, 5 seats; Christian Democrat Party, 5 seats; and the Innovation and Unity Party, 2 seats. [Associated Press, 11/28/05; El Heraldo, 12/3/05; Hondudiario, 12/6/05; La Tribuna 12/7/05; El Heraldo 12/7/05; TSE website]   

2. U.S. congresswoman asks administration to investigate illegal logging in Honduras 

The Liberal Party in Honduras presented a letter from U.S. Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.) to Secretary of State Condolezza Rice expressing concern over the recent report from the Center for International Policy and the Environmental Investigation Agency that shows the pervasiveness of illegal logging in Honduras. (See Honduras News in Review, 11/10/05.) The report documented mounting environmental destruction as well widespread corruption in Honduras and linked various high-powered businessmen and politicians to illegal logging, including National Party presidential candidate Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo. Rep. Schakowsky said that the information deserved a careful analysis and appropriate response from Congress and the Bush administration. [Hondudiario, 11/21/05] 

3. Honduran human rights defender harassed

According to a press release from the Center for the Prevention, Treatment, and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Families, the organization has been threatened and harassed during the months of October and November 2005. On October 13, two men on motorcycles were circling and observing the clinic. Witnesses overhead the men say “He hasn’t left yet; let’s come back later,” a supposed reference to the clinic’s founder and director, Juan Almendares. That evening, the clinic was broken into, though nothing was taken. The men were seen once again on motorcycles, observing the clinic several days later. During the month of November, the clinic began receiving after-hours calls and endured repeated attempts to break into the office. The Honduran Public Ministry responded by providing extra security for Almendares. [Americas.org, 11/20/05 press release; read more about attacks on human rights defenders in Honduras] 

4. Illegal weapons arsenal found in house of former military officer

Police found an illegal arsenal of weapons in the house of Miguel Angel Ramírez Lanza, a retired colonel in the Honduran Armed Forces. Agents went to Ramírez’s house to question him about a 9-millimeter weapon registered to him that was used in a violent assault on an attorney for the Public Ministry. When they entered the house, police found an array of unregistered weapons including AK-47s, hand grenades, TNT, and other explosives hidden in various parts of the house. Ramírez is the owner of a private security company in Tegucigalpa. On Nov., a judge sentenced Ramírez to house arrest on charges of illegal arms trafficking. Patricia Domínguez, the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime, says she will appeal the decision. Ramírez claims he is an arms collector. [La Tribuna, 11/24/05; La Tribuna, 12/1/05] 

5. Youth accused of DEA agent’s death escapes from detention and is recaptured…again

The 16-year-old gang member accused of killing a DEA agent in Honduras in July 2005 escaped from prison on Nov. 17 and was recaptured 10 days later in Tegucigalpa after a search involving more that 1,000 police officers. This is the fifth escape in 3 years for Herlan Fabricio Colindres, also known as “El Chelito.” The first lady of Honduras, Aguas Ocaña de Maduro, visited Colindres after he told a local newspaper that he was being tortured. After her visit, the government built Colindres a new cell with a private bathroom. Six guards were in charge of watching the boy. Colindres is accused of involvement in 16 other murders in addition to that of DEA agent Timothy Michael Markey. [Hondudiario, 11/19/05, Associated Press, 11/27/05] 

6. Farmer killed by Contra-era landmine

Jesús Velázquez Cruz, a farmer living near the Nicaragua border in Honduras, was buried Nov. 22 after being killed by a landmine explosion in the border area. The landmine is believed to be left over from the Nicaraguan Contras, an insurgency group operating within Honduran territory in the 1980s with the support of the United States. The Mine-Clearing Program of Central America, supported by the Organization of American States, concluded its official cleaning of the border area on Oct. 8, 2004, after a 10-year operation that destroyed 2,191 landmines and 214 other explosives. (EFE News, 11/23/05, read more about the Contras) 

7. Germany and Japan forgive $539 million of Honduran debt

Japan and Germany have forgiven a total of $539 million in respective bilateral debt with Honduras. The agreement with Japan will forgive $434 million of the debt that Honduras owes that country. Germany forgave $105 million in debt, leaving Honduras with an existing bilateral debt of $20 million. The debt forgiveness from both Germany and Japan is part of an agreement Honduras has with the Paris Club, a group of creditor nations. Honduras’s external debt has been reduced from $5 billion to around $2 billion in 2005 because of debt forgiveness from industrialized countries. [EFE News, 11/24/05] 

8. Report shows reduction in Latin American poverty

According to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 13 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have risen out of poverty in recent years. The report, entitled “Social Panorama of Latin America, 2005,” attributes the poverty reduction to factors such as increased investment in social programs, more favorable internal economic conditions, and an increase in money sent from immigrants living in the United States and other countries. Family members sending money from outside their countries accounted for 2.5 of the 13 million people who rose out of poverty. In 2004 alone, immigrants sent $4.5 billion back to their home countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The report also warns that poverty is still an urgent issue in the region, affecting 213 million people (40.6% of the subcontinent’s population), 88 million of whom live in extreme poverty. According to ECLAC, the highest indices of extreme poverty are seen in Honduras, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. [Hondudiario, 11/25/05] 

9. Honduras, Belize and Guatemala have highest prevalence of AIDS in the region

According to the annual report of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization, Honduras, Belize and Guatemala are the three countries with the highest prevalence of HIV in Latin America. Argentina, Colombia and Brazil have a higher number of infections because of their large populations, but approximately 1% of the adult population in Honduras, Belize and Guatemala are HIV positive. Statistics in Honduras show that HIV prevalence is just under 2%. According to the report, AIDS is the leading cause of death in Honduran women, and it is believed to be the second-largest cause of hospitalization and death in the country. Official numbers show around 21,000 persons infected in Honduras, but experts estimate that the actual number is closer to 60,000. [El Heraldo, 11/22/05; UNAIDS/WHO report] 

10. Tropical Storm Gamma affects 41,000 in Honduras

Tropical storm Gamma, whose rains began hitting northern Honduras on Nov. 16, caused floods and landslides that affected more than 41,000 people. According to the Permanent Commission of Contingencies in Honduras, of the 41,086 affected, 38,009 were evacuated and 25,620 are currently in shelters. The official death toll stands at 34, though authorities believe that number will rise as rescuers reach isolated communities. Honduras has received humanitarian aid from various countries including neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador as well as the United States, Spain, Japan and Taiwan. In addition, the government has requested an evaluation of damages from the United Nations Development Programme. [EFE News, 11/24/05]

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