Archivo para la categoría Honduras Weekly

Mr. Hernández’s Stranglehold on Power

  • Written by  Wendy Griffin

The new President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party, is a very well educated and intelligent man. Although from a large rural family in one of Honduras’s poorest departments, Lempira in western Honduras, President Hernández went to San Pedro Sula’s Polytecnico del Norte High School, a military style private school, partly because when he grew up there were no public high schools in all of Lempira. That would be akin to saying there were no high schools in the whole state of Connecticut, and so it would be necessary to attend junior and senior high school in Massachusetts. Mr. Hernández went on to earn his law degree from the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) in Tegucigalpa and was involved in conservative politics in student government.

Mr. Hernández had a brilliant career in law. He was a professor of constitutional law at the UNAH. He also has a Master’s degree in public administration, with a specialty in legislation from the State University of New York. In terms of academic preparation, he is definitely in the top 1 percent of Hondurans, and he seems to have very actively taken to heart what he learned. At 45 years of age, Mr. Hernández is young and robust.


Having approved about 100 laws since the general elections in November 2013, Mr. Hernández has impressed me with his energy, his understanding of the Honduran political system, and his sheer command of written Spanish, which is uncommon even among Honduran lawyers. A report published by the UNAH report 50 percent of university students in Honduras have to drop out due to insufficient Spanish reading and writing skills.


Mr. Hernández has surrounded himself with intelligent, well-prepared people. The new president of the National Congress is a medical doctor from Choluteca, Mauricio Oliva, who has done postgraduate work at Honduras’ teaching hospital, the Hospital Escuela. He is described as having been the person who actually ran the Congress during the last two years when Mr. Hernández, who was officially the leader of that body, was away campaigning for the Presidency during the Lobo adminstration. Mr. Hernández’s new General Coordinator of the Government (or “Super Minister”), Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro has been Honduras’ representative to the United Nations and Ambassador to the US.


The work of the legislative secretaries alone has impressed me. It takes a lot of work to type up and proof as many laws as the Honduran Congress has passed during the past 4-5 months. Apart from the President, I don’t know if anyone has found the time to actually read and analyze all these pieces of legislation. Most of the laws were passed with little or no debate.


I have seen Mr. Hernández’s leadership style only once before in Honduras — “The we will speak with one voice, my voice“ kind. (Then, of course, the leader proceeds to sell people down the river whenever it suits him.) When I saw that style of leadership before in Honduras I thought, “I know why Africans take up arms against their leaders. It is the only way to get them to listen if that is how they lead.”


It is well documented that a number of Hondurans took up arms against President Tiburcio Carias when he was power during 1933-1949 and did not permit any opposition. President Carias policy toward Liberals in Honduras was simple: exile, jail, or bury. The fact that a major new study of former Liberal President Carlos Roberto Reina (1994-1998), who was jailed under Carias, is being released now is as much a reflection of today’s reality as it is of times long ago.


Honduran government decisions about money are made in two places. One place is the National Congress, which determines the budgets for everything. The other place are the government’s ministries (officially called secretarías) which often manage the internationally-funded projects. After the initial counts for last year’s general elections were known, it was clear that the National Congress was going to be heavily divided, with about 60 percent of the seats going to political parties other than the President’s National Party. Everyone wondered, “How is the President going to govern with a divided Congress?” Some wondered who would decide the appointments to the new government posts.


If you have ever worked in a large organization in the US, you know the most important committee is the one that deals with the setting of agendas. If you cannot get what you want discussed placed on the prepared agenda, your issues will not be heard or have the chance to be voted on. In the National Congress, the committee that sets the agenda is called the Junta Directiva. Mr. Hernández was able to get a Junta Directiva where no opposition party had a voice — not Libre, not PAC, and not the Liberals. When the other members of Congress realized this move, they protested. But to no avail. For the next four years, the agenda in Congress will be determined by the Nationalists. No issue can be debated or vote be taken on anything unless it is pre-approved by the Junta Directiva. Period. Talk about power.


Before Mr. Hernández was president of the Congress during the Lobo years, he was assistant to the Secretary of the Congress, who just happened to be his brother. He thus learned firsthand how what gets approved by the Junta Directiva  gets discussed and what is written by the Secretary and is published by the government’s official newspaper, la Gaceta, becomes law even if it is different from the official congressional record. Leaves a lot room for tampering. These are some of the key tricks of the trade which Mr. Hernández is using to get what he wants. So far, he has done a masterful job. (4/24/14) (photo of Juan Orlando Hernández courtesy Internet)



Note: Wendy Griffin is the co-author of the book “Los Garifunas de Honduras” (1995) and was previously a reporter for Honduras This Week about Honduran ethnic groups including the Garifunas and an anthropology professor for the UPN in La Ceiba. Since 1996, she has split her time between living in the US and volunteering and living in Trujillo… in or near the Garifuna neighborhoods there.

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On Those Misguided World Bank Loans

  • Written by  Wendy Griffin

There is a Chinese curse which says, “May you live in interesting times.” Living in Trujillo, next to the lower or Bajo Aguán area which include the highway between Trujillo and the nearby Tocoa and the Garifuna area in the municipalities of Santa Fe, Trujillo, Santa Rosa de Guana, Limón and Irionia which includes Ladinos, Garifunas and Pech Indians, the foreign residents of Trujillo have had front row seats in a number of conflicts. These include the conflict with Miguel Facussé and his Dinant Corporation with the peasants of the Bajo Aguán valley and with the Garifuna towns which extend east of Trujillo, such as Limón/Vallecito. Since 2004, there have also been a significant and surprising stream of international and Honduran anthropologists who have shown up at my door in Trujillo associated with a minor part of this World Bank loan, a cohune nut oil processing project of Dinant in nearby Pech communities and the Garifuna communities of Limón and Guadelupe, also part of the financing of the World Bank oil palm project and supported also by SNV, a Dutch development organization.

Janaury 10, 2014 New York Times article about the criticizing of the World Bank for loans made to Hondurans was primarily about the US$30 million loan to Dinant. In the news monitoring reports by the Ombudsman of the World Bank who reacted to formal complaints filed by international organizations accompanying the Hondurans who were affected, it shows that a significant part of the financing for Dinant involved in these conflicts, both directly to Mr. Facussé and indirectly through the Honduran bank FICOHSA of which he is the largest client, is coming from a part of the World Bank that handles private company loans — the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The actual reports of the Ombudsman are linked to the New York Times  piece. This was described as one of the strongest reproaches of the Ombudsman office ever.


In the two reports, one for Dinant’s US$30 million loan to invest in African palm cultivation and its processing, of which they have already received US$15 million, and a separate one for FICOHSA which is now partly owned by IFC through an equity deal, the Ombudsman found that the IFC neither performed good due diligence prior to authorizing the loans, violating rules regarding evaluating social and environmental risk, nor did good follow-up to see if the social, economic, or security situation had changed or deteriorated after the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya, which they judged had grown significantly worse. As a bank, FICOHSA was also concerned that it unknowingly had a great deal of exposure to the problems of Mr. Facussé and his companies. In other words, the bank’s officials must have been thinking, “We are worried we could lose our shirts if things go badly for him.”


Indeed, things have not gone well in the Bajo Aguán since Hurricane Mitch in 1998, when the area saw widespread destruction. In 2000, Mr. Facussé, who sold his Cressida company — maker of Natura-brand tomato paste, fruit drinks and packaged nacatamales  — to the British company Unilever for around US$15 million, said at the time that he planned to put invest the money in African palms. He was already in conflict with Garifunas, for example, in the Limón/Vallecito area about African palms and in the Limón, Farallones area about a proposed resort where the Garifunas and Ladinos of Limón had had their cattle, but this resort did not open due to the drop in tourism after Mitch. He also bought just prior to Hurricane Mitch a ranch, Hacienda Tumbador, which during Mitch flooded so badly that the alligators at his alligator ranch all escaped and many cattle drowned. That area is now all planted in African palms and Ladino workers said the excavators made a cracking sound breaking and digging up all the ceramics and green stone carvings at the archaeological site there, which had previously been visited by archaeologists such as Gordon Willey of Harvard University.


According to the Honduran Cultural Patrimony law which is on the UNESCO Honduras page in English, it is illegal to knowingly destroy an archaeological site and there is a significant fine, but most Hondurans have never heard of this law, don’t read English, don’t access the Internet, and who would you report it to anyway if you wanted to? Where are they and what is their phone number? How would you know? And who would protect you if the person doing the developing got angry at you? Garifunas report similar destruction of archaeological sites now located in Garifuna villages for tourist developments such as in the Triunfo de la Cruz area, and remained silent for similar reasons. Betulia, the area currently being developed west of Trujillo for Canadian investors has been a source of archaeological finds for years, and the pre-Columbian path over the mountains in the municipality of Santa to the larger archaeological sites in the Aguán valley is now blocked by Canadian housing and a new road planned in the area to connect Betulia directly to La Ceiba, being able to bypass Trujillo and Tocoa.


The Ombudsman report said the IFC knew, or should have known, that releasing significant levels of funding like US$30 million to Dinant’s owner, Mr. Facussé, could have significant social and environmental impact in the area. If the people at the IFC had read the Tegucigalpa newspapers, for example, they could have read the reports of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) students regarding the water quality of the Choluteca rivers over the years — often performed near where Dinant had outlets for chemical waste from its factories. The waste gave the water the appears of some combination of shampoo, soap, and tooth paste. These university biology students were led in their analysis by Becky Myton, an American who came to Honduras as a Peace Corps worker and stayed as a UNAH professor of ground water until her daughter grew up and married. At one point, Mrs. Myton even worked as an employee of the Honduran Ministry of Natural Resources. Not only was the chemical waste a problem for example killing fish in the river, but since the women along the river drank the water as well as bathed in it and so the lead got in their breast milk to the point that it was measurable as to being too high for the babies’ health.


The land struggles in the Bajo Aguán, including in Silin and Guadelupe Carney outside of Trujillo, and Limón, are not struggles that have gone unnoticed in books, newspaper articles in Spanish and English newspapers in Honduras. And they were known to the consultants who were being paid by the World Bank, because some of these consultants in their expensive cars with tinted windows came to my house and said to me, “Oh, I read your article in in the paper about the land problems in Silin”. I responded by saying, “People are dying here over land, as if we were at war.” These World Bank and SNV consultants took copies of my books like Los Garifunas de Honduras  (The Garifunas of Honduras), published in 2005, and Los Pech de Honduras  (The Pech of Honduras), published in 2009.


In Los Garifunas de Honduras, I documented, for example, the death of Euquerio Bernardez, a Garifuna craftsman who was also a composer of Garifuna music and the person who was in charge of the Garifuna warehouse at Vallecito outside of Limón. Those who murdered him has found him alone at Vallecito, proceed to kill him and cut off his ear — probably to go and demonstrate to their employers that they carried out the job. They did not steal a Lps 3,000 radio that was in the room. The rooms of Garifuna leader Horacio Martinez, formerly a president of OFRANEH and later a teacher in Limón, were also ransacked, and it was assumed that he had ultimately been the real target. Not finding him, the killers went after Euquerio.


This problem of the terrorizing of the Garifunas of Vallecito and Limón had continued ever since the Garifunas obtained land titles to five Garifuna cooperatives in the area of Vallecito following a protest march in Tegucigalpa during the administration of President Carlos Robert Reina (1994-1998). But despite having had the required signatures of those within the Inter-Ministerial Commission, the Garifuna organizations, and President Reina himself, the Garifuna people were unable to protect their lands from Mr. Facussé, who had planted the land title to the Garifuna cooperative Ruguma in African palm anyway and placed armed guards on it.


The Garifunas of Limón took Mr. Facussé to court and won in the Appeals Court of La Ceiba, but the harassment continued — a warehouse was burned down, a tractor destroyed, watermelon crops were cut up with machetes. In the book Los Garifunas de Hondurasthere is a photo of the house of the former Mayor of Limón, Lombardo LaCayo. The house who was set on fire while Mayor LaCayo’s family was inside. The family, which managed to survive, are shown in the photo standing next to the ruins of their home. The fire also destroyed supplies that had been donated to the community. No one was ever found guilty. The World Bank and SNV anthropologist consultants took that book with them, and the violent problems of the Bajo Aguán, where at least 100 campesinos have died, have been covered by La Prensa  and other independent sources since then.


Dr. Sharlene Mollett, now a geographer at the University of Toronto’s Center for Development, has also published writings on the land conflict in Silin, and Dr. Sarah England, now at Soka University in California, has published on the Limón land conflict. So yes, the World Bank should have known there was a problem with Miguel Facussé and the human rights and environmental issues, and that there was considerable social and environmental risk in giving such as a large loan to him.


I stated plainly in Los Garifunas de Honduras  that one of the major menaces to Garifuna lands in Colón are African palm plantations, and there are photos of African palm plantations on the road to Santa Rosa de Aguán. These plantations have also seriously disrupted land holding of the Ladinos in the area south of Trujillo, which is one reason they either invade Garifuna land or become vulnerable renters in San Pedro Sula, and widespread destruction of forest that still had wild peccaries in it in the 1980’s has been reported being associated with new African palm plantations.


The agro-chemicals from the African palm plantations is probably the reason there are no fish in streams and rivers near Trujillo, and it is possible that the agricultural runoff is also what causes sea lice in the Trujillo Bay some years around the time of Holy Week. Mr. Facussé was also behind a proposal to build a Super Refinery in the Trujillo area on land claimed by the Garifunas near Puerto Castilla. Had the idea materialized, the project would have been an environmental hazard waiting to happen.


About three years ago, my Pech friends who had family in Las Marias said African palm company employees began buying in the Las Marias area in the center of the nuclear zone of the Rio Platano Biosphere. They were not sure if they were Facussé employees, but that they were definitely buying land for African palms. Now there are no peccaries within two days walk of Las Marias in Gracias a Dios and no Carrizo in the mountains above 1,500 feet due to the destruction of the forest in this remote area. Jeanette Kawas, the environmentalist who fought for the Punta Sal National Park near Tela, was fighting people who wanted to plant African palm in the wetlands of that park when she was murdered.


Some Dutch friends of mine in Trujillo have told me that African palms are expanding everywhere in their area and that the plantations are destroying the rain forest. Stories published on the Internet seem to confirm this, so it is extremely disingenuous of the World Bank IFC employees to say they thought they could give US$30 million loan to anyone for African palm expansion and it would not have dire environmental and social consequences, especially given the well-documented and long-term environmental and social problematic history of Mr. Facussé’s business ventures. One Honduran taxi driver whose family lost their land to African palm expansion asked me, “If Honduras has 100,000 hectares of African palm plantations, and it is expanding, where are we going to be to grow food? How are we going to be able to eat?”


Despite the strongly worded and well-publicized Ombudsman report, the World Bank originally chose to take no action, preferring to leave it to Mr. Facussé and the Honduran government to work out the issues, even though Mr. Facussé’s business projects and security forces and the Honduran government are all implicated in the deaths of Ladinos in the Bajo Aguán. The new World Bank statement saying that it would consider cancelling the rest of the US$15 million dollars in the loan is an improvement over the earlier statement. But the new statement is odd, as it only mentions tensions in the Bajo Aguán in the last five years. The fact is that the land conflict — the violence and the injustices — in that zone all date to before 2005, so the World Bank knew the problems and, as the report said… simply may have chosen not to care and opted to issue the loan anyway.


Many people ask me, “Aren’t Americans turning away from palm oil? Isn’t this market disappearing?” While parts of the world are turning away from palm oil as a source of cooking oil (especially the pale bleached palm oil produced in Mr. Facussé’s factories and in the those owned by Los Cachiros drug lords in Bonito Oriental in the Bajo Aguán, which has neither the good taste nor the additional nutrients of red palm oil as produced in West Africa or Brazil or Jamaica for cooking), the bleached palm oil is popular for bio-diesel and soap products. Further, palm oil in Honduras is now the main ingredient in “manteca”  (vegetable shortening), having replaced coconut oil, cooking oil — replacing corn oil even in Mazola brand oil, and even processed cheese slices in Honduras known as “queso kraft”. In some places in Honduras, there have been reports by dairy company employees that they even add palm oil to the milk they sell. (2/10/14) (photo courtesy Bretton Woods Project)



Note: Wendy Griffin is the co-author of the book “Los Garifunas de Honduras” (1995) and was previously a reporter for Honduras This Week about Honduran ethnic groups including the Garifunas and an anthropology professor for the UPN in La Ceiba. Since 1996, she has split her time between living in the US and volunteering and living in Trujillo… in or near the Garifuna neighborhoods there.


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World Bank Arm Admits Wrongs in Honduras Loan

  • Written by  Jim Lobe

In an unusual statement, the World Bank’s private-sector arm has threatened to cancel a controversial investment in a Honduran palm oil company that has been implicated in serious human rights abuses, including numerous killings, over the past five years. The statement came two weeks after the release of a damning report by the Office of the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) of the International Finance Corporation (IFC) that concluded, among other things, that Bank officials should have raised serious questions about the alleged complicity in those abuses by Corporacion Dinant before approving a US$30 million loan to the company in 2008.

The company, which is owned by Miguel Facussé Barjum, “the wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country,” according to a State Department cable obtained by Wikileaks, is based in the lower Aguán Valley, a region populated by hundreds of campesino cooperatives established there as a result of a far-reaching land-reform programme initiated in the 1960s. Conflicts over Dinant’s efforts to buy up these communities’ lands under a 1992 law designed to favour the country’s burgeoning privately-owned agro-export industry, account for many of the abuses.


Since the 2009 military coup, which ousted a pro-reform president and which was reportedly backed by Facussé, nearly 100 people — mostly campesinos, as well as some Dinant employees — have been killed in the valley, according to press reports, although Rights Action, a Washington-based group that has closely monitored the conflict, estimates the campesino death toll at “well over one hundred.”


“IFC has not disbursed funds to Dinant since 2009, and will not disburse further funding until Dinant fulfills its commitments in the Action Plan (worked out between the IFC and Dinant in light of the ombudsman’s report), including strengthening its community engagement and environmental and social standards, and reviewing its security practices,” the IFC said. “Should Dinant fail to meet these commitments, IFC stands prepared to exercise all remedies available, including cancelling the loan,” according to the statement, which also promised to “refine” its action plan to take account of recent criticism by international and Honduran civil-society organisations (CSOs) and “reflect on” internal problems that led to mistakes.


While many CSOs welcomed the IFC’s latest statement, comparing it favourably to the agency’s initial, more ambiguous reaction to the CAO report, they said it still fell short of what is required to redress the situation. “The only real difference from its previous statement is that they explicitly said the possibility of cutting off the loan remains open if the action plan is not complied with,” Annie Bird, who directs Rights Action, told IPS. “The action plan that the IFC is proposing is completely inadequate. People are going into hiding, afraid of being killed, and entire communities remain in constant fear of being evicted from their land. And the IFC really isn’t doing anything to do about it. It’s just calling on the Dinant Corp to work with the government.”


Her disappointment was echoed by Berta Cáceres, co-ordinator of the Honduras-based Indigenous Lenca organization (COPINH). “There is a risk that the situation of violence and impunity which exists in the Bajo Aguán will repeat itself in the future, if the World Bank does not investigate this company’s activities nor consult indigenous communities, farmers, and Garifunas,” she said.


The original US$30 loan — part of a US$100 million package that included Germany’s development bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration — was signed in April 2009 to fund expansion of Dinant’s snacks and edible-oils processing facilities. In November 2009 — four months after the military coup that ousted elected President Manuel Zelaya — the IFC disbursed US$15 million in support of the project. One year later, a coalition of CSOs asked the CAO to audit the project and its implementation in light of the human-rights situation in the valley.


The German development bank cancelled its US$20 million loan in 2011 after one rights group, Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), submitted “evidence of the involvement of private security forces hired by Dinant and other companies owned by Miguel Facussé in human rights abuses and, in particular, in the murder of peasants in Bajo Aguán.”


In its 72-page report, the CAO concluded that IFC staff had violated the agency’s own rules by failing to undertake due diligence in assessing and responding to risks of violence and forced evictions and to consult adequately with the agency’s environmental and social specialists on the project. These deficiencies, it found, were in part due to its culture and incentive system that effectively encouraged staff to “overlook, fail to articulate, or even conceal potential environmental, social, and conflict related risks.”


“IFC has important policies to protect human rights and the environment,” noted Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “But the Dinant case shows that staff treat them as optional. That needs to avoid more tragic outcomes.” In response, the IFC took issue with some findings but agreed with others and set forth an “Action Plan” which was immediately denounced by most of the CSOs, including HRW, as inadequate. Their reaction, as well as negative international media coverage, reportedly triggered the Bank board’s demand that the agency revise its plan — details of which have not been disclosed — and issue a new statement.


The statement differs mainly from the IFC’s initial reaction in the apologetic tone it assumes, stressing, for example, that it “acknowledges that there were shortcomings in how we implemented our environmental and social policies and procedures… “As noted in the audit, IFC must take a broad view of the country and sector risks when considering projects. Additionally, we need to pay more attention to a client’s security practices and preparedness in fragile country situations,” it said. But its contrite tone failed to appease the CSOs or some Honduras experts.


The IFC’s reliance on the Honduran government in resolving the land conflicts and addressing the human-rights situation made little sense, according to Dana Frank, a Honduras specialist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “There’s a reason why the national government is not intervening in the Aguán valley to stop these killings of campesinos and why there’s complete impunity for the security forces and private security guards who have been killing them,” she told IPS. “It’s because Facussé is a formidable power in the national state.” Indeed, the Facusse family, of which he, at age 90, is considered the partriarch, is widely seen as the most important and influential in what is essentially an oligarchic system.


Rights Action’s Bird also complained about the inadequacy of the response, insisting that the IFC should not only cancel the loan but also work with the affected communities to redress the abuses they have suffered. She also complained that the IDB, whose own private-sector facility, the Inter-American Investment Corporation (IIC), had participated in the loans to Dinant, has never audited its own performance. “Instead, the IDB is initiating a US$60 million loan to create a police intelligence unit that human rights organisations in Honduras are screaming aboute because the security forces there are out of control,” she said. (1/30/14)


Note: This article was reprinted with permission. It was originally published by the Inter Press Service in New York, New York.


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On the Matter of Mining: Primum Non Nocere

One of the things you can count on in Honduras during the next four years is that there will be a lot more mining, mainly by foreign companies. In July 2013, President Lobo announced that the Honduran government, through the newly-created Honduran Institute of Geology and Mining (Inhgeomin), would award 280 concessions for mining as a way to increase revenue to help pay for the country’s growing public debt and lack of liquidity due primarily to an extremely inefficient tax collection system, widespread government incompetence and corruption, and a gross lack of national productivity. The concessions, made possible by the new Mining Law, pushed by President-elect Juan Orlando Hernández when he was president of the National Congress and passed by Congress on January 23, 2013, would essentially open up large swaths of Honduran land for all sorts of new mining, including the particularly destructive open pit kind.

With the Mining Law taking effect on April 23, 2013 and its regulations having entered into force on September 4, the path is now open for Inhgeomin to begin to seriously consider new mining and exploration permit applications. In December alone, there were at least 110 of these applications submitted. You can sense the momentum is quickly building for massive mining activity in Honduras by Canadians and others, as well as oil exploration off the country’s Caribbean coast by the British and others, and the continued construction of large hydroelectric projects (dams) by the Chinese and others.


All of this “investment” is being driven by the Honduran government’s thirst for capital… at any cost. It’s exactly the same reason the government has always had to borrow so much money from international and domestic banks and beg for foreign aid from foreign governments. Same reason it has had to then dispatch special emissaries pleading for debt pardons or desperately try to sell hundreds of millions of dollars of Honduran debt at extremely high rates of interest on international bond markets.


For reasons already generally stated in the first paragraph, Honduras never seems to have enough money to pay its bills and be able to invest wisely in its people to empower them to become self-sufficient and productive enough to successfully compete in world markets, or even regional ones. Consequently, its government all too often ends up trying to sell whatever it can to raise cash, quickly. It’s always like a yard sale in Honduras. Unfortunately (extremely so), this means selling off the natural resources of the country, which almost always ends up destroying the land and contaminating its water resources. This would be bad enough, degrading enough in-and-of-itself, but ultimately these type of “development” policies usually end up harming the vast majority of the Honduran people, especially those whose very survival depends on farming the land and drinking the water from the rivers, streams, and lakes. In other words, it is a method for starving and poisoning the people.


It’s a crazy sort of development advocated by short-sighted bureaucrats in Tegucigalpa (and backed by wealthy businessmen in San Pedro Sula) who seem isolated from the realities of the people in most of the rest of country, don’t care, or are at a complete loss for innovative alternative solutions. What is  certain is that they are hell-bent on violating the cornerstone of the Hippocratic Oath, primum non nocere… first, do no harm. (1/3/14)


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Special Report: Spiking Pre-Election Violence in Honduras

    Written by                                                  Ronn Pineo/Ian Kowalski

          The most violent nation in the world is Honduras, with more murders per capita (92 per 100,000) than even Iraq or Afghanistan and twenty times more than the United States. It is now getting worse, as a wave of brutal killings sweep over the nation in the run-up to the country’s elections on November 24. The left-leaning opposition

    Partido Libertad y Refundación

       (Liberty and Refoundation, or LIBRE) has emerged as the target of choice in the majority of attacks. Honduras’ recent troubles grow directly out of the events of June 2009, when a military coup removed democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya (2006-2009). Honduras, one of the last Latin American nations to move toward authentic democracy, had been slowly constructing democratic political institutions until the coup. But with this one stroke, Honduras’ nascent democratization suffered a damaging blow from which it has yet to recover.

    Honduras, a Tennessee-sized country of 8.4 million people, is in many respects Latin America’s most unreconstructed nation. It only began the process of democratization in the 1980s and its economy is still built around unprocessed agricultural exports — chiefly coffee and bananas — produced on latifundio  plantations and the beginnings of a maquila  industry. The nation’s GDP per capita is under US$4,000 PPP (purchasing parity power), ranking near the bottom of all Latin American nations.


    Recent Honduran elections reliably produced right-wing, pro-neoliberal leadership, and the 2005 outcome appeared at first to be no different, with center-right candidate Manuel Zelaya of the Partido Liberal de Honduras (Liberal Party of Honduras, or PLH) winning the presidency. But Zelaya, to the increasing dismay of the nation’s ruling elites, began to drift toward the left. Particularly troubling to business leaders was Zelaya’s support for a boost in the Honduran minimum wage. In December 2008, Zelaya backed an increase in the monthly US$33 rural wage minimum to US$213, and likewise raised the urban monthly minimum wage from US$109 to US$290. The business elite, with many invested in the maquila industry, responded with outrage, and moved swiftly to re-energize the traditional Latin American oligarchy of church, military, and economic power in opposition to President Zelaya. Most effective was their use of the mass media, nearly all branches of which are controlled by the nation’s various elites.
    Former president Carlos Flores (1998-2002), owner of the newspaper La Tribuna; Jorge Larach, owner of La Prensa  and El Heraldo; and Rafael Ferrari, owner of the nation’s largest TV and radio networks in the country, joined together to denounce Zelaya in a multi-media smear and fear campaign.


    The proximate cause of the 2009 coup was President Zelaya’s decision to hold a plebiscite regarding the possibility of a constitutional convention, with the ultimate goal of rewriting the constitution and promoting wider popular participation. Grahame Russell of Rights Action, a non-profit organization that raises funds and advocates for human rights and grassroots organizations throughout Latin America, recently explained to COHA that: [this] was quite clearly a non-binding opinion poll, … asking people … whether …  they wanted to include a ballot initiative related to reforming the constitution … Zelaya would have been out of power by [the time of the balloting anyway] … and the new president would have been elected by then …


    Nevertheless, the Honduran oligarchy feared that Zelaya was following the example of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, seeking to cement in place both himself and the nation’s mounting turn to the left.


    Following the coup and the interim government of Roberto Micheletti (2009-2010), elections came in late 2009. The right-wing favorite, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo (2010-present), won by nearly 20 percent over his nearest opponent. The Honduran left, dismayed by the illegality of the coup and suffering the blows of the continuing attacks by government forces, boycotted the election. But while the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Panama recognized the election results, the international community did not. The electoral process was deeply flawed. As American University professor Adrienne Pine has noted, “the UN, the European Union, the OAS, and the Carter Center … refused [even] to send [election] monitors.” Nevertheless, the United States applauded the “restor[ation] … [of] democracy” in Honduras, and invited Lobo to visit the White House.


    Economic Woes

    Since the coup and Lobo’s tainted victory, conditions have grown worse for ordinary Hondurans (or catrachos, as they call themselves) across an array of economic and social measures. While Honduras enjoyed a reduction in income inequality under Zelaya, the situation has reversed under Lobo. In what is the most unequal region in the world, Honduras is now the Latin American nation with the greatest maldistribution of income, and it is one of only three countries in the region where inequality has actually worsened in the last several years. Under Zelaya, the income received by the richest 10 percent grew by 1.3 percent, while the income going to the bottom 90 percent grew 9 percent per year. Under Lobo the income going to the top 10 percent is now up 6.9 percent per year, while the share received by everyone else, the bottom 90 percent, has actually declined 6.5 percent per year. Poverty, too, has increased. The situation had somewhat improved in the Zelaya years, but now more than two-thirds ofcatrachos live in poverty. Even economic growth has slowed, dropping from an average annual rate of 4.3 percent from 2002-2011 to the mid 3 percent range this year and last.


    Meanwhile, social safety net programs have been cut back. Last year Lobo canceled the Programa Matricula Gratis, which had provided families with funding for basic schooling. Now the school lunch program, Programa Merienda Escolar, has been reduced radically. For the moment, at least, the conditional cash transfer program, Bono Diez Mil, has been spared budget cuts, although it mainly depends on external funds.


    A Violent Nation

    Much of the violence plaguing Honduras today is fueled by the trade in illegal drugs, although many of the killings are merely random street crime. Today, one-third of the world’s processed cocaine is transported through Honduran territory. In Honduras, as elsewhere, entrepreneurs of the illegal drug trade are usually gang members. In Central America, the most dangerous gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha  and the 18th Street  gang, are largely made up of US expats — criminals who for the most part were deported from Los Angeles after being apprehended by law enforcement. The gangs are armed with weapons that come either from the vast stockpile of leftovers from the 1980s US-backed Contra war launched against the elected Nicaraguan government from Honduras, or else are drawn from the endless stream of high-powered weapons flowing from the US border south to Mexico, Honduras, and beyond. Illegal drugs, criminal gangs, and high-powered weapons are a toxic and lethal mix that continues to plague Honduras.


    At the same time, the violence in Honduras is an outgrowth from the economic conditions ordinary people must face on a daily basis. Poverty can breed desperation, and the adoption of neoliberal economic measures, pressed on Honduras by the IMF, World Bank, and by Washington from the era of President George H. W. Bush, has reinforced the tendency towards extreme income concentration. Poverty and economic policies that fail to create jobs have left far too many people without hope. Compounding this situation is the rapidly growing population of Honduras. The Central American nation has yet to pass through the demographic transition — a decline in birth rates to match lower death rates — registering an annual population growth rate of 2.5 percent in the last decade, and now finds itself with one of the highest rates in the region. Each year tens of thousands of young adults are added to the already swollen labor pool in Honduras. Without jobs, many turn to crime.


    Given this violent setting, it is sometimes hard to see which of the pre-election killings are targeted and which are just additions to the casualties in the day-to-day reality of mounting crime in Honduras. Still, the pattern that has emerged is that the left-wing opposition is being singled out in the majority of the attacks. The election season has proven especially deadly for members of the left-leaning LIBRE party of Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of ousted president Manuel Zelaya. In response, some LIBRE candidates have gone into hiding and others have fled the country. As human rights expert Karen Spring of Rights Action noted in a recent interview with COHA, there really is not so much that LIBRE party members can do in response to the mushrooming number of targeted killings and attacks against them, beyond releasing communiqués to attract media attention. “It has a lot to do with fear,” Spring explained, “They don’t want to make their supporters even more fearful to vote for them.” Likewise, because of such high levels of impunity and the lack of political will to investigate, it is increasingly difficult to discern the motives for these offenses and to bring criminals to justice.


    Moreover, citizen insecurity in Honduras is among the highest in the region, and has steadily added to the crisis in the country. According to the United Nations Development Program, over 50 percent of Hondurans feel unsafe walking alone at night in the area where they live. More than two out of every ten people feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods and about four out of ten believe their security has deteriorated.


    The United States has contributed in several significant ways to Honduras’ atmosphere of lawlessness and continuing violence. It was deeply irresponsible for the United States to send dangerous gang members back to El Salvador and Honduras without adequate discussions to prepare them for the impact of this policy decision. The arming of these gangs through the unrestricted flow of dangerous weapons from the United States to Latin America is beyond dispute. According to a study released earlier this year from the University of San Diego Trans-Border Institute and the Igarapé Institute, an average of 253,000 weapons are purchased in the United States and then smuggled over the border into Mexico each year, aided by lax domestic gun laws and a porous border. Likewise, from 2009 to 2011, the US “Fast and Furious” operation allowed more than 2,000 weapons to cross freely to Mexico in hopes of leading officials to cartel locations; instead, the plot inadvertently strengthened cartels’ firepower, endangered countless people on both sides of the border, and in 2010 led to the death of a US federal agent.


    Beyond this, the US fixation on prosecuting the war on illegal drugs, even as Latin America continues to see the folly of this policy, brings continued havoc to the region. The US-backed neoliberal policies of cutting back the government’s role in the economy, including an accord reached by President Lobo in January 2010 with the World Bank, had the predictable results of increasing inequality and poverty. The US action of recognizing the post-coup government and the election of Porfirio Lobo served to undermine respect for democracy and the rule of law in Honduras.



    A briefing on Capitol Hill by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador last month presented stunning evidence of the pre-election violence in Honduras directed against LIBRE. Particularly compelling was the account offered by Ms. Bertha Oliva, head of the leading Honduran human rights organization, Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (Committee of the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, or COFADEH). She is also a victim of human rights abuses — her husband was murdered by the military. Ms. Oliva stressed that “a national emergency regarding human rights exists now” in Honduras, but noted that human rights violators are not being punished. Oliva underscored the on-going pattern of right-wing repression of their political opponents, including six cases in the past month and at least 17 murders of LIBRE members in the past year and a half.


    Lamentably, the US government has mounted only the feeblest response. Two letters deploring the violence, one from the US House of Representatives and one from the Senate, went out last year, but neither had any discernible impact. This June, a letter expressing distress over the pre-election violence was signed by 24 of the 100 Senators. By October, just three members of the 435-seat US House voiced similar concerns. More recently, Secretary of State John Kerry’s November 18 remarks before the Organization of American States made only a brief mention of Honduras and the upcoming elections. While Kerry touched on the importance of development, peace, security, and the alleviation of poverty, he effectively ignored the inextricable crime and security crisis and the burgeoning inequality plaguing the country. Kerry also expressed concern over weakening democratic institutions in Venezuela, but failed to acknowledge his own administration’s support of the Honduran coup in 2009 and the elections that followed. This is a rather pitiful response given the extent and urgency of the problem and the evident indifference of most members of Congress is inexcusable moral blindness. As Oliva rightly noted, “human rights violations are not just a Honduran problem — it is all our problem.” “We all should be concerned,” she concluded, “about the corrupt and criminal regime in Honduras.” (11/21/13)


    Note: This article was reprinted with permission of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) in Washington, DC.  Dr. Ronn Pineo is Senior Research Fellow at COHA and Chair of the Department of History at Towson University. Ian Kowalski is Research Associate at COHA.

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    The Strange Silence on Inequality

    •                                                 Written by                                                  Paul Willcocks
                                                                The Strange Silence on Inequality       
    Less than a week left until the Honduran national elections, and I’m thinking about inequality. It’s stunning in Honduras. There are the obvious signs — the contrast between the lavish malls in the cities and the squatters’ shacks along any stretch of highway where there is a precarious place to cobble together some sticks and tarps and corrugated tin. And there are the statistics. The United Nations does a useful Human Development Report each year. This year’s HDR report shows the top 20 percent of the Honduran population have average incomes 29.7 times greater than the bottom 20 percent. The only countries with more inequality, based on that measure, are Angola and Micronesia. Even the failed states of Africa don’t reach that level.

    In Canada, by contrast, the top 20 percent have incomes 5.5 times as high as the bottom 20 percent. Imagine how different the society would look if the richest Canada took the same share of incomes as their Honduran counterparts.


    The HDR also uses another, broader measure of inequality. Based on that, Honduras still ranks as one of the most unequal countries in the world – only the Seychelles, Micronesia, Haiti and four African nations having greater inequality. (I hadn’t even heard of Comoros, one of the African countries.)


    The myth is that inequality just happens, a result of hidden economic forces. Kind of like gravity, except only some people get held down. But that’s not true, in Canada or Honduras. Governments make decisions that increase or reduce inequality. Reduce public healthcare, as I’ve noted before, and you increase inequality. Cut taxes, and the result is the same. Raise the minimum wage, and you reduce inequality.


    In Honduras, for example, taxing an extra two percent of the incomes of the highest-earning 20 percent would fund a 60-percent increase in the incomes of the poorest one-fifth of the population. (Those people are really poor. About 74 percent of Hondurans live in poverty, and 47 percent in extreme poverty.) Or the money could pay for a better education system or other measures which could reduce inequality in the long-term. (Honduran schools are generally terrible.)


    Instead, the government has been collecting less in taxes. I don’t now if that’s policy or corruption or incompetence or a combination of all those factors and more. Tax evasion is the norm; the director of the revenue department estimates it loses 43 percent to tax scofflaws. The government went through a huge exercise earlier this year that was supposed to eliminate some of the many tax exemptions. Nothing came of it. A 2010 study found 69 corporate tax breaks. Fast food franchises, mostly owned by a few of the elite, got a 10-year break on all taxes and a permanent exemption from paying import duties on the dubious claim they were good for tourism. (Come to Honduras, and eat a Big Mac.)

    Social spending has also been cut, from 13.3 percent of GDP in 2009 to 10.9 in 2012, according to a report on the Honduras post-coup economy by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The same report found that from 2010 to 2012, the top 10 percent of Hondurans received more than 100 percent of the benefits of economic growth. The average incomes of the other 90 per cent shrunk. But, as in Canada, there is not much discussion of inequality. Security, corruption, crime — they have been big issues in the election campaign. Reducing poverty, of course, has been on the agenda, though not in an especially coherent way.
    The platform of Libre, a new party challenging the established Liberal-National party duopoly, includes measures that would address inequality. But even its campaign has talked much more constitutional reform than growing inequality. The silence on such an important issue is as puzzling in Honduras as it is in Canada.  (11/18/13) (photo couresy AFP/Getty Images).

    altNote: The author is a former journalist from Canada. He currently lives in the town of Copán Ruinas, Honduras, and volunteers with Cuso International, a Canadian development agency that matches skilled professionals to organizations in developing countries. He writes a blog called Paying Attention.


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    Special Report: Violence Up Against Indian Bilingual Intercultural Education Teachers

    •                                                 Written by                                                  Wendy Griffin

    I am excited that Honduran Minister of Education Marlon Escoto is going to go to Trujillo for a Conference on the Challenges of Bilingual Intercultural Education being organized by the Departmental Office of Education there, together with the Pech and the Garifunas there. But it is very disheartening and worrisome  that one of the current challenges of bilingual intercultural education is the trend to target Honduran Indian bilingual intercultural teachers as targets for threats and assassination, with the most recent case being two Maya Chorti cousins José and Ismael Interiano who were shot at in November 2013 as they returned home by motorcycle from teaching in the PROHECO schools where they began teaching this year to Carrizalon, Copán Ruinas, killing one of them. Their motorcycles had parts taken.

    Although the deceased had over Lps 2,000 (US$100) on him as he had been recently paid for being a teacher, the money was not taken, supporting the idea that the murder was designed to frighten and intimidate the Maya Chortis, and was not just another simple robbery.  “Asombro”, a feeling of frightened surprise is how the mood of the Chorti in Copán Ruinas is described after the murder news was known. The story of this murder of the Maya Chorti teacher has not been covered by the Honduran Spanish speaking newspapers, even though they were sent articles in Spanish about it with photos.


    This problem that violence in the general society was also affecting directly schools in Mexico and their personnel, was also a topic at the First Pedagogical Exchange in San Pedro Sula in July 2013. My last articles for Honduras This Week  on Honduran maras. or gangs, began that when you think of the risks of taking a job as a primary school teacher, you do not think that seeing one of your students murdered in front of the school would be one of them, as happened to my UPN students in San Pedro Sula. Accepting to be a school teacher, especially for elementary grades or for the Ministry of Education in Tegucigalpa, has not traditionally been thought of as a high risk job but it has become so in Honduras.


    The mother of one of the young Maya Chorti teachers, both only around 20 years old, had been the First Consejera Mayor (lead Council Person, the highest position in CONIMCHH, the Chortis’ ethnic federation) of CONIMCHH (National Council of the Maya Chorti Indians of Honduras), which has its main office in Copán Ruinas.


    An employee of CONIMCHH confirmed the murder of one of the Chorti teachers, and said the organization of CONIMCHH denounces this kind of activity against its teachers and against the Chortis. An earlier report had erroneously said both the teachers were killed. As in the case of the Pech, the younger people involved as bilingual intercultural education teachers, are often family members of Honduran Indians who practice a wide variety of traditional skills, because these are the families most likely to speak the language and to value the traditions enough to teach them to their children, and also because they are often local leaders, and being a leader in the community, first means being a leader and an example within your home.


    The mother and aunt of the Chortis who were attacked  is a craft person in the Chorti pottery cooperative project in Carrizalon, while the grandfather of both of the teachers attacked is a well known healer and one of the few makers of the traditional maguey fiber crafts among the Chorti and who still grew maguey, currently a very scarce plant among the Chortis. An example of Maya Chorti Carrizalon pottery and maguey crafts, as well as examples of crafts important in healing ceremonies, are now in the Burke Anthropology Museum at the University of Washington and in the office of CONIMCHH in Copán Ruinas. The San Pedro Museum has plants to include Maya Chorti crafts in its upcoming Honduran Indian craft exhibit, but has not yet found the funds to be able to fund the purchase of them, nor the display cases to put them in.


    Other examples of Honduran Indians being killed who worked in the bilingual intercultural education project include Maya Chorti Candido Amador, and the Pech teacher from El Carbon, Blas Lopez. Candido Amador who was the Chorti with the highest grade of education at that time, was a 9th grade graduate and had been working as a tour guide at the Copán Ruinas Archqueological Park when CONIMCHH request that he accept the position of Chorti Bilingual Intercultural Education Coordinator at the National level. He was an official Ministry of Education employee paid with international funding from the World Bank in the bilingual intercultural education program at the time of his death.


    Candido Amador was murdered outside of Copán Ruinas on his way home, where he was found with machete wounds and at least nine bullet wounds, and his long hair was cut off by a machete. He had been in a nearby village helping the almost illiterate Maya Chorti women of the village fill out a grant proposal for sewing machines for a sewing cooperative. His death galvanized the Chortis who fought even harder after that, and his picture hangs in their office and his photo and his story is on their website As the Chorti currently have no sewing cooperative with sewing machines, I assume that not even to honor his death, were the funders encouraged to approve the sewing machine project grant which he was working on.


    I met Prof. Blas Lopez in 1987 when he was one of the sixth grade graduates, along with Hernan Martinez the husband of the Pech chief of Moradel Doña Juana, who were hired to be bilingual intercultural education teachers among the Pech of Olancho. These Pech teachers had generally studied two years in a formal primary school with a teacher, but then they had primarily finished sixth grade through adult education programs by radio, such as Alfalit of the Evangelical churches during the Contra war period, or such as Escuelas Radiofonicas (Radio Schools), who had studied in groups led by volunteers, usually themselves Pech Indians who did not have 6 years of formal school education. It is actually very brave to decide you will take up teaching first graders to learn to read and write when you yourself have such a low level of education.


    If US teachers with Master’s degrees in reading have problems teaching reading in US schools, how much more difficult to teach reading and worse Math in rural Honduran schools. I observed a few of the classes they gave over the years, and sometimes it seemed very difficult to deal with the orders that came from Tegucigalpa. If it says on Monday, at 10 am you must listen to the radio class on math, they did this.


    There is terrible reception of the radio in the Olancho mountains, so if it was not raining, it was still not clear what the radio instructor said. But if it was raining, as was often the case in this edge of the rainforest area in Olancho, it was totally impossible to hear a thing on the radio. But the instructions said on 10 am, you must teach Math by radio, and so for an hour the Pech students and the Pech teachers listened to static or the rain, or both.


    The use of the official textbooks was also difficult in Pech villages. The textbooks and curriculum said you teach about cows in the section of “Domestic animals” (animales mansos — tamed animals). The Pech children grow up in Olancho where Ladino cattle ranchers let their cattle which they do not visit for months at a time, roam wild in the forest. The Pech children grow up afraid a running steer will run over them, or gore them, or knock the clay off of their clay house.


    So if the Pech teacher asks, “Are cattle “manso” (tamed), or “bravo” (wild, angry, dangerous)?” the Pech children all answer “Bravo” (wild, angry, dangerous). This is the wrong answer according to the curriculum. In the world of the textbook writer, cattle are tame, domesticated, while in the world of the Pech the cattle are semiferal/wild  and extremely dangerous. I have been in a Pech village in Olancho when the Ladino cattle owners finally came on horse to round up their cattle for sale and dozens of cattle are hurrying down a path only wide enough for one person towards the highway, when I was walking the other way. I ran. I know Olancho cattle are “bravo” and a lot bigger than I am.


    Some Pech teachers dropped out of the project almost immediately, like don Hernan of Moradel, but Blas Lopez kept getting more training and teaching. First he spent six years studying on the weekends in a professionalization program to get a high school degree as an elementary school teacher. He went on studying several more years on the weekends to get a college degree, so that he could qualify to teach and eventually become the director/principal of the Centro Basico  (a combined elementary school and nineth grade junior high school) in El Carbon, which did not exist until he helped fight for it. On several occasions Blas Lopez lived in Tegucigalpa, helping the Ministry of Education project to write Pech textbooks or the Pech grammar book that was published last year, or a proposed Pech dictionary that was never published.


    If you are a rainforest Indian, living in Tegucigalpa is often not a pleasant experience. The Tawahkas have come to my house in Tegucicalpa, amd I asked what they liked to eat, and they said, “sopa de tepescuintle” (tepescuintle soup). Tepescuintles, a rainforest animal that eats only fruits is delicious according to everyone that has eaten it, but it is not available in Tegucigalpa supermarkets, and in fact due to its overhunting and loss of habitat, especially the wild fruit trees, is rarely available anywhere in Honduras now.


    The lack of water in Tegucigalpa where there is often only one hour a day of water if any, the crime, the high cost of food and not food they like, lack of firewood, etc. is part of what makes one Pech woman who used to live in Tegucigalpa’s twin city Comayaguela say of a Pech village in Olancho with no electricity or running water, but which had farmland, forest, creeks, “Estamos en la Gloria aqui” (We are in glory or paradise here in Pech villages in Olancho).


    When the bilingual intercultural education program started in the Pech villages, there were Ladino teachers there. These teachers called the Pech children “payitas”. Paya means “bruto”, stupid, like a dumb animal, according to the Pech, and “payitas” is the diminutive, so it means little dumb things if they called their students “payitas”. Sometimes the dimunitive in Spanish, shows affection, but it also often shows a lack of respect.  To call the Pech Chief Carlos Duarte, an older well known healer and a hereditary chief for more than 40 years and he had formerly been Mayor of the county of Culmi, “payita”  is just as insulting of calling sixty year old Black men in the Southern US “boy”.


    I know that now that I am over 50, I think people should not call me a “gringuita” (a little gringa) and I am still angry about development agency people or Ministry of Education employees in Tegucigalpa who used to use “vos” with me. “Vos” (you) is only used with either people you are very intimate with like your childhood friends, or towards people inferior to you, and if I have to call the other person, Licensiada (a person who has a college degree), I do not want them to use “vos” with me.


    Just that fact alone, of being called “little brutes” was one that made the Pech Indian children want to drop out of school often before finishing third grade. At that time none of the Pech schools had a sixth grade, not because of government policy as in the case of the Chorti, but because none of the Pech children still wanted to be in school by the time sixth grade came. Honduran children not liking school and not finding it useful, and not wanting to go, is what makes the majority of Honduran parents say, Ok, don’t go. It’s not worth the money, and I have work you can do around the house or the farm”, according to official studies and my experience with the Pech.


    When the Pech teachers were hired, they said immediately to me, to each other, to the Pech parents, to the Pech students, “It would be good if we the Pech had Pech nurses. It would be good, if we the Pech had Pech bus and truck mechanics. We are made out of meat and bones (carne y hueso), someday we will die. It would be good to have more Pech teachers.” Since the Pech teachers were hired, in spite of their original low level of schooling, Pech children school attendance has soared.


    Almost all Pech finish sixth grade now. There are a lot of Pech who study high school, and I know of at least 2 Pech college graduates who teach at “Centros Basicos” in the Mosquitia, and at least 15 in-service Pech teachers are studying college on the weekends.  I think Blas would say, it was worth it to have spent those years in Tegucigalpa and more than 10 years of being away from his family on the weekends, so that we could have all these Pech professionals.


    Many Pech bilingual intercultural teachers also take on roles of leaders in the Pech village councils or in villages that elect chiefs (some Pech villages elect chiefs, in some it was heriditary by families), to become chief, partly because you need to be able to read and write Spanish well to go to this infinite number of meetings and sessions, and you also need a cash income to pay to go to these meetings. This means the same bilingual intercultural education teachers are the ones fighting for land rights. And it was because of land rights struggles in Olancho that Prof. Blas Lopez, then the president of the Pech Federation was killed.


    And it was probably because of land struggles that one Chorti Indian bilingual intercultural education teacher from Carrizalon, Copán Ruinas was killed and another one shot at over the last month.  The Chortis of Carrizalon are one of three Chorti villages threatened to be dislodged from lands the Honduran government promised to buy them and then did not. It is strange that Carrizalon should be in this position, because the Chorti residents say they have lived there since 1820, before the independence of Honduras, and more than a century before the location of the Honduran-Guatemala border was decided in the 1930’s, a decision brokered in Washington, DC because the border conflict was between the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) advancing towards the border from the Guatemalan side and the Cuyamel Fruit Company of Samuel Zemurray advancing towards the border on the Honduran side.


    Carrizalon, located 1 km from the Guatemalan border, is in the sights of narcotrafficantes, the drug traffickers, who have bought all the mules available along the Salvadoran-Guatemala border, according to the mule sellers. A high ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel was captured in Guatemala in the Zacapa Department on the lower end of the Chortis’ area and armed Zetas, have also been seen having lunch on the Guatemalan side of the Chorti lands. The Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel are the two biggest Mexican gangs fighting for the control of the drug trafficking business in Mexico. The Cachiros, the Hondurans who had their bank accounts frozen and their lands seized in the Colón/Garifuna area were reportedly associated with the Sinaloa cartel. The name of the community of Copán comes from the Nahua and Honduran Spanish word  for bridge copante, because it was on the path from the Valley of Mexico to the Guatemala city area to the Honduran north Coast 1,000 years before the Spanish even thought of finding the New World or the route to the Spice Islands.


    When the recent 32 year civil war was going in Guatemala, a time known as “las ruinas” (the ruins) among the Guatemalan Mayas because of the high number of murders of Indians, a number of his Mayan bilingual education teacher friends were also murdered, reported Dr. James Loucky, a Latin American anthropology professor at WWU. The start of this civil war was also associated with problems with United Fruit (Chiquita) and about land for Indians.


    Now Hondurans is now gaining a reputation that it is competing with Guatemala of the civil war period for its horrendous treatment of Indians and of the people who worked in favor of them. English anthropologist Krystyna Duess’s book on her thirty year study on Mayan Shaman, Witches, and Priests in Highland Guatemala is dedicated to an American USAID bilingual education project worker who disappeared in Guatemala and showed up dead later in Mexico. That book is now available through the University of Oklahoma Press.


    I purposely chose to come Honduras to work in 1985 instead of Guatemala which is much more famous for its Indians than Honduras, because although I thought Guatemala was beautiful, they were killing the people who worked with the poor there then during the civil war, and the situation in Honduras was much better then.


    The situation in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala has deteriorated so much, that they are now called the “Northern Triangle” by The Atlantic  magazine which considers them collectively the most dangerous place in the world, and CCN has done articles, repeated on Honduran radio, comparing the safety of living in Honduras on par with the Congo. (11/17/13)



    Note: Wendy Griffin is the co-author of the book “Los Garifunas de Honduras” (1995) and was previously a reporter for Honduras This Week about Honduran ethnic groups including the Garifunas and an anthropology professor for the UPN in La Ceiba. Since 1996, she has split her time between living in the US and volunteering and living in Trujillo… in or near the Garifuna neighborhoods there.

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    Oh, Why Not Have a Nice Parade

    •                                                 Written by                                                  Marco Cáceres
                                                                Oh, Why Not Have a Nice Parade                    

    There are at least five good reasons why the Military Police, or officially the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP), in its current form is a bad idea. It’s not so much that it’s a bad idea to have soldiers assist police officers patrol the streets of towns and cities in Honduras. It’s not, particularly given the threat that Honduras faces daily from organized crime syndicates, foreign drug cartels, and violent gangs. What is  bad is the manner in which the idea is being implemented and marketed by the Lobo administration and the National Party. What is bad are some of the assumptions and expectations that are being sold to the Honduran public with regard to the idea.

    What is really  bad is the lack of foresight and public debate about the possible serious consequences of the idea. Again, in case you missed it, note the phrase “in its current form” in the first sentence of the first paragraph. Here are my five good reasons…


    1. Either by design or by circumstance, the PMOP has been transformed into a political football. It is being used by National Party presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández and his campaign chairman, Oscar Álvarez, as a clear example of how they and their party are serious about dealing with crime, and how those who oppose the PMOP are not. Mr. Hernández and Mr. Álvarez want to show that they are the tough ones, and their opponents are weak. They want to demonstrate that they are the true patriots who care about the safety of the Honduran people, not their opponents, and thus that Mr. Hernández and other Nationalist candidates up for election on November 24 are more deserving of their vote.


    2. The PMOP is not a serious crime-fighting strategy. Taking some 1,000 or more soldiers, training them for a few months, dressing them up in new uniforms, equipping them with some advanced weapons, communications gear and vehicles, and sending them out into the streets to do battle is little more than a show of force that may temporarily scare off a few bad guys and make some people in the neighborhood “feel” safer, but it’s not going to resolve anything. The bad guys will come back, and perhaps with a vengeance.


    There are an estimated 65,000 gang members in Honduras, and about another 20,000 homeless street children — many of whom are already being recruited by the gangs to ensure their continued expansion. There is an untold number of other kinds of criminals as well. So there will never be enough PMOPs to permanently secure even a fraction of the neighborhoods in Honduras… not even if you combine them with the 12,000 police officers, the rest of the 20,000 soldiers, and the approximately 70,000 armed private security guards in the country.


    Besides, as the former Rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, Juan Almendares Bonilla, said last week, “It is impossible to say that crime has declined [with the deployment of the PMOP], because it’s not only about the number [of homicides], we do not know who is killing the people; the qualitative aspect is very poor. I believe the central problem is that it is not known who is doing the killing… in other words, the impunity.” So you can put all the soldiers and police officers you want on the streets, unless you have some awfully great investigators and detectives out there as well — and a functioning court system with judges and attorneys who aren’t scared for their lives — it’s all just a parade.


    The Nationalists are trying to sell the myth that the way to deal with crime in Honduras is by putting lots of armed good guys out there to deal with all those armed bad guys. Many Hondurans are buying it, and many are not. Those who do are simply glad to have any kind of visible response from the government. Those who don’t tend to see some of the fundamental flaws of the effort.


    3. One of the outgrowths of using the PMOP as a campaign prop for attracting votes is that the Nationalists have succeeded in claiming the PMOP as their property. They’ve done this in a clever but extremely cynical way. Rather than seeking to engage in a thoughtful debate about the pros and cons of the PMOP, Mr. Hernández and Mr. Álvarez have framed the debate in black and white terms, good versus evil. They have repeatedly expressed their dismay about how anyone in their right mind could possibly be against the PMOP. They have succeeded in re-framing and simplifying the entire security issue into one of… “Are you in favor or against the PMOP?”


    By doing so, they are driving another wedge into Honduran society that is further dividing it. Now, you are starting to hear people in Honduras chant things like, “I proudly support my Military Police!” Sounds like fans at a stadium. The Nationalists have gone and created yet another institution in Honduras, so that people can take sides and find new reasons to fight.


    Mr. Hernández has been saying stuff like, “We know there are many enemies of the Military Police.” Mr. Álvarez has been more eloquent: “It feels as if there is a hatred against the military, a hatred against providing security for the public… it makes no sense to me that those who talk about being close to the people do not feel their suffering and their pain, the deaths that are being endured in these moments in the most dangerous neighborhoods of our country.”


    Note that not only does this propaganda campaign have the effect of indoctrinating Hondurans against each other, it indoctrinates the Honduran military to believe that there is a segment of the
    population that despises it. In doing so, the Nationalists are politicizing Honduras’ Armed Forces and essentially turning them into what may soon turn into a kind of private militia for the National Party. It’s easy to see the threat this creates for some people.


    4. The prospect of a politicized military in Honduras is bad for many reasons. The obvious one is that a politicized military can no longer be considered a truly professional military. That was one of the big mistakes with the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. The Armed Forces should not have been ordered to arrest President Zelaya. That task should have been assigned to a specialized unit of the National Police, and Mr. Zelaya should have been jailed and allowed due process under the law. The moment Honduran soldiers were tasked to remove a democratically-elected sitting president, they became politicized and instantly lost the respect and support of a great many Hondurans. Now, the Nationalists are taking this process one step further.


    5. As if the politicization of the Honduran Armed Forces were not sufficient to diminish their level of professionalism, the half-cocked strategy of putting soldiers — in the form of the PMOP — on the streets to serve as police officers for an open-ended period of time may eventually result in the complete undoing of the professional soldier in Honduras. While at first, people may look up to and even admire members of the PMOP, over time they will grow to look at PMOPs as no more than glorified police officers. That initial respect will fade, as will all the hoopla by opening cheerleaders like Mr. Hernández and Mr. Álvarez, who will have gone on to other more pressing matters.


    The PMOPs will sense this, and they will begin to question their role and their mission, given that they signed up to be soldiers, not policemen — two totally different professions with different self and public images. They will wonder why they’re walking around on the streets looking for criminals instead of training and guarding the nation’s borders from attack by a foreign power (like they’re supposed to), and still not getting paid much. No hope of glory, no appreciation, and no money.


    Look out. That’s about the time when these well-trained and well-disciplined soldiers become susceptible to being corrupted by some of those bad guys with whom they’re coming into contact each day. (Of course, regular police officers will have long been demoralized by their second-class status as a consequence of the PMOPs, and thus probably be even less adequate than before, so they’ll hardly be much of an insurance policy.)


    All of a sudden, Honduras is exposed to the nightmare scenario that hit Mexico about a decade ago when about 30 members of the Mexican Army’s elite Special Forces Airmobile Group (GAFE) went rogue, deserted, and eventually morphed into the notorious Zetas drug cartel. Yep, that one. Trained by the United States and Israel. You see, once the PMOPs, or any other Honduran soldier, is exposed to life on the rough streets of Honduras’ towns and cities, it’s only a matter of time before he or she suffers the same fate as so many Honduran police officers. The job is too thankless, and the bribe money is too good… and once you’re in, there’s no going back.


    By the way, it’s already starting. A major Honduran gang leader named José Lucio Rivera Gómez was arrested in Olancho on October 27. It turns out that Mr. Rivera is also one of Honduras’ biggest drug lords, and his right-hand man is a man by the name of Cesar Vladimir Martinez Isidro. Mr. Martinez is a sergeant in the Honduran infantry. There are probably many other cases of Honduran soldiers involved in drug trafficking, extortion, and other criminal activity. What’s to stop a PMOP?


    The corruption of the National Police has necessitated the entry of the Honduran military. What happens when the military itself becomes hopelessly corrupted? There will be no institutions left to provide professional security for the country. That is precisely why the role of soldiers as police officers should be a limited one — both in terms of time and breadth. Yes Mr. Hernández, absent a war or short-lived natural disaster, soldiers generally do belong on their bases — some in their barracks, some on the fields, and some at their desks. That’s the way it works in countries that are not military states.


    Liberal Party presidential candidate Mauricio Villeda put his finger on it when he said recently, “I’m not against the Military Police in a provisional way, but the ultimate way has to be to organize, clean up, and deploy onto the streets the National Police.” (11/1/13) (photo courtesy Internet)


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    South of the Border, Mining Is King

    •                                                 Written by                                                  Carey L. Biron
                                                                South of the Border, Mining Is King                    

    Civil society groups from throughout Latin America are urging “home countries” to take greater responsibility for the actions of their companies abroad, particularly those in the extractives industry. “We would like to be able to influence policies that are being developed around the supply of minerals for various purposes — a lot of these policies are being framed as having to do with national defense, so there’s practically a guarantee that these reserves must continue to be supplied,” Pedro Landa, with the Honduran Center for Collective Development, told IPS in Spanish. “It is not just the host states that have a responsibility in this regard, but also the home states, where these companies come from.” — Katya Salazar “But that’s making these companies more aggressive in our countries … Oftentimes these companies are more powerful than the governments, and can simply buy off officials.”

    Several groups are currently in Washington to speak on the topic with U.S. lawmakers and to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the primary rights forum of the 35-member Organization of American States (OAS), which has its headquarters here.


    The groups are warning that legal frameworks throughout Latin American countries have been overhauled in recent years such that, today, pro-business policies have made it extremely difficult for local communities to oppose mining proposals in their vicinities. “Honduras is considered one of the most violent countries in the world, with a homicide rate of 86 per 100,000 residents, but this level of crime is very closely linked to the conditions in our country that also have to do with the extractive model,” Landa told a briefing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.


    “In countries like Honduras, where there is a lot of social upheaval, it’s easy to pass laws that facilitate the extractive industries, especially mining. But these laws have been harmonized to be in concordance with the free trade agreements that our countries have signed … while many of the proposals have been put forth or influenced by the transnational corporations themselves.”


    The United States in particular passed a slew of free trade agreements with Latin American countries during the 1990s, during the process of which the US government mandated labor and trade concessions that, in the eyes of many, gave inordinate power to multinational mining companies. Landa says that the result today is a lack of adequate mechanisms by which local communities can oppose these industries – in any Latin American country.


    In part because of trade agreements but also in part because of high global prices for minerals, Latin America has become a hotbed of extractives speculation in recent years. Simultaneously, local communities have seen their legal rights to oppose these projects curtailed. “Since the 1990s in the region there’s been an expansion of investment in the natural resource sector, as part of the globalization process and part of the privatization of state-owned industries, and also linked to the growing global power of China and other developing countries,” Keith Slack, extractive industries global program manager for Oxfam America, a humanitarian group and host of Thursday’s briefing, told IPS.


    “Quite directly related to this increased interest has come this increased level of conflict, protest and social disruption.” Much of this disruption is taking place in indigenous lands, compounding a broader issue in many countries where indigenous communities continue to struggle for agency and rights afforded other citizens. At the moment, most multinational companies do not appear to be adequately prepared for this complexity.


    According to a new report released Wednesday by First Peoples, an advocacy group, just 5 of 52 US companies surveyed had policies in place for “productively engaging” with indigenous communities. Indeed, some communities are feeling pressure from multiple companies interested in extraction projects. “We’re noticing a broad trend in which companies operating in close proximity acquire ‘spillover’ risk from one another,” Nick Pelosi, a grants assistant with First Peoples, told IPS, pointing to such a situation around Neuquen, in Argentina. “In such scenarios, the positive policies and practices of individual companies are overwhelmed by the cumulative negative impacts of all companies in the region.”


    New Paradigm

    Activists are now particularly focusing on trying to strengthen opportunities for local communities in Latin America and elsewhere to pursue judicial remedies for human rights violations in mining companies’ home countries. On Friday, this “home state” responsibility will be discussed for the first time before the IACHR, and proponents suggest that it could offer a new paradigm within international law. “The Inter-American system and the United Nations have been focused on the responsibility of host states, where these violations happen,” Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, a Washington watchdog group, told the hearing on Thursday. “But we want to propose something new: it is not just the host states that have a responsibility in this regard, but also the home states, where these companies come from.”


    Today, some 60 percent of the foreign mining companies in Latin America are Canadian, and as such last year Salazar and others requested an IACHR hearing specifically on home state responsibility for Canada. Although that hearing was turned down, Salazar notes that Friday’s more general hearing on the topic should be able to lead to a new discussion. “Ten years ago we didn’t discuss women’s rights with the commission, while five years ago we didn’t discuss indigenous rights – but now these are common topics,” she told IPS. “Similarly, today the discussion on the responsibility of home states is not yet a discussion at the commission. But the idea is that this hearing will open a window of new legal discussions within the Inter-American system.”


    The ability of local communities to use the U.S. legal system to seek redressal for rights violations received a significant setback earlier this year. In April, the US Supreme Court refused to allow a group of Nigerian plaintiffs to sue the Royal Dutch Shell Petroleum Company in US court, finding that Shell’s connection to the United States was too tenuous.


    Yet critics of the decision say that this is precisely the purpose for which the law in question – known as the Alien Tort Statute – was created. “When Alien Tort claims are no longer effective in helping people to get responses to violations of their rights, what other tools exist?” Dora Lucy Arias, with the San José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Committee, a Colombian NGO, said Thursday, discussing some of the activists’ lobby efforts on Capitol Hill. “So I’m wondering if, from Congress, we may be able to think about some new and really effective mechanisms to make sure that the victims of these human rights violations have some recourse. (11/1/13) (photo courtesy Internet)


    Note: This article was reprinted with permission of the Inter Press Service in New York, New York. 

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    US Urged to Curb Militarization in Latin America

    •                                                 Written by                                                  Jim Lobe
                                                                US Urged to Curb Militarization in Latin America                    

    The United States needs to phase down its drug war and tighten the reins on its cooperation with local militaries and police in Latin America, according to a new report released in Washington, DC Wednesday by three influential think tanks. Of particular interest is the increase in training deployments to Latin American and the Caribbean by the Special Operations Forces (SOF) — elite units like the Army’s Green Berets and Navy SEALS — due in part to the US withdrawal from Iraq and drawdown from Afghanistan. Over the past decade, SOF ranks have more than doubled to about 65,000, and their commander, Admiral William McRaven, has been particularly aggressive in seeking new missions for his troops in new theatres, including Latin America and the Caribbean where they are training thousands of local counterparts.

    “You can train a lot of people for the cost of one helicopter,” Adam Isacson, an analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), told IPS. He noted that the increased investment in SOF was part of a much larger Pentagon strategy of maintaining a “light (military) footprint” in countries around the globe while bolstering its influence with local military institutions.


    The Pentagon, however, is much less transparent than the State Department, and its programs are often not subject to the same human-rights conditions and do not get the same degree of Congressional oversight. Moreover, Adm. McRaven has sought the authority to deploy SOF teams to countries without consulting either US ambassadors there or even the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), making it even more difficult for civil society activists to track what they’re doing and whether they’re working with local units with poor human-rights records that would normally be denied US aid and training under the so-called Leahy Law.


    Last summer, according to Mr. Isacson, Adm. McRaven’s command even tried to work out an agreement with Colombia to set up a regional special operations coordination centre there without consulting SOUTHCOM or the embassy. “What these developments mean is that the military role in foreign policy-making is becoming ever greater, and military-to-military relations come to matter more than diplomatic relations,” he said. “What does that mean for civil-military relations not only in the region, but also here at home?”


    The 32-page report, entitled “Time to Listen”, describes U.S. policy as “on auto-pilot”, largely due to the powerful bureaucratic interests in the Pentagon and the Drug Enforcement Administration and their regional counterparts that have built up over decades. “The counter-drug bureaucracies in the United States are remarkably resistant to change, unwilling to rethink and reassess strategies and goals,” said Lisa Haugaard, director of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) which released the report along with WOLA and the Center for International Policy (CIP).


    The report also noted that new security technologies, including drones, whose use by the US and other countries is growing quickly throughout the region, and cyber-spying of the kind that prompted this week’s abrupt cancellation by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff of her state visit here next month, pose major challenges to the security environment and civil liberties in the region.


    Total US aid to Latin America hit its highest level in more than two decades in 2010 — nearly US$4.5 billion — due to the costs of the “Merida Initiative”, a multi-year program for fighting drug-trafficking in Mexico and Central America, and a major inflow of assistance to help Haiti recover from that year’s devastating earthquake. But aid fell sharply in 2011 — to just US$2.5 billion — and is expected to decline to just US$2.2 billion in fiscal 2014, which begins October 1.


    Military and security assistance also reached its height in 2010, at US$1.6 billion, but has since declined to around US$900 million, largely as a result of the phase-out of Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative. Central America is the only sub-region in which aid, including non-security assistance, is increasing significantly. But Mr. Isacson says dollar amounts can be deceptive, and while “big ticket” aid packages are down, “other, less transparent forms of military-to-military co-operation are on the rise,” in part due to the migration of many programs’ management from the State Department, which has more stringent reporting and human rights conditions, to the Pentagon.


    A troubling trend, according to the report, is that some countries, especially Colombia, have begun training military and police forces in their neighbors, often with US funding and encouragement. In that respect, these third-country trainers act as private contractors who are not subject to US human-rights laws and whose cost is a fraction of that of their US counterparts.


    Despite their security forces’ own highly controversial human rights record, Colombian officers have been given major roles, for example, in Washington’s Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and the Merida Initiative, as well as in Honduras’ police reform, according to the report. “Bringing the military into the streets can result in grave human-rights violations,” according to Ms. Haugaard who also noted US involvement in poorly designed and heavy-handed counter-drug operations, such as one in Honduras last year in which four passengers in a river taxi were killed by a joint Honduran-DEA operation.


    Washington’s record has not been all bad, according to the report, which praised the Obama administration’s insertion of human rights into its high-level bilateral dialogues with Mexico, Colombia, and Honduras and its emphasis on the importance of civilian trials for soldiers implicated in serious rights abuses in Colombia and Mexico.


    The administration has also taken some steps to strengthen enforcement of the Leahy Law, which denies US aid and training to foreign military units that are credibly accused of serious rights abuses, according to the report. It also praised Washington’s support for Colombia’s peace process and its defense of the Inter-American human rights system against recent attempts by Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia to weaken it. Still, Washington’s own human rights record, including its failure to close the Guantanamo detention facility, its newly revealed extensive surveillance programs, and a drone policy that justifies extra-judicial executions opens it to charges of double standard, the report noted. (9/20/13) (photo courtesy US Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

    Note: This article was reprinted with permission of the Inter Press Service in New York, New York. Jim Lobe’s blog on US foreign policy can be read at


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    Killing of Aníbal Barrow Shakes Honduran Society

    • Written by  Thelma Mejía

    Honduran society remains shocked at the tragic fate of Aníbal Barrow, a journalist and university professor whose body was dismembered and scattered around a lake in Villanueva, in the northern province of Cortés. Mr. Barrow, 65, was kidnapped on June 24 in San Pedro Sula, 450 km north of Tegucigalpa, as he was riding in his car with family members and a driver, who were released unharmed by the unidentified gunmen. The car was found several hours later, with a bullet hole in one of the doors, and traces of blood inside. Barrow’s remains were discovered 15 days later in a swamp next to a lagoon near the community of Siboney, in Villanueva.

    Social analysts say the murder indicates that Honduras has entered a phase of “high-profile violence,” and that reporters are the favorite victims in order to spread terror. In the past three and a half years, 29 media workers have been killed on the job. “We are experiencing a kind of violence that was not seen 15 years ago. The way criminals are operating has changed. This action is more like a message from organized crime in the 21st century – a long way from the banditry seen in Honduras in the 19th century,” historian and social analyst Rolando Sierra told IPS. “This is high-profile violence. The victims are not ordinary citizens, but well-known journalists, evangelical preachers, lawyers or human rights activists; in other words, the violence is spreading towards sectors that have a greater impact on society,” he said.


    Stunned, in broken voices, the reporters who covered the recovery of Mr. Barrow’s remains told how his clothes and personal documents were found buried, and later on, parts of his body were discovered wrapped in bags while other parts were found in a different spot, charred from burning. “It was a cruel and abominable deed,” said Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio.


    Journalist Jorge Oseguera, a friend of Barrow’s and a correspondent for the HRN radio station in Tegucigalpa, said he found the “macabre act” unbelievable. Choking on his words, Mr. Oseguera said, “we who work in the media have become used to violence, but when it affects someone close to us, a colleague and friend, all we can say is that these killing machines have no mercy for anyone.”


    The murdered journalist was host of a popular morning talk show on the Globo TV channel in San Pedro Sula, where he also taught mathematics at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. Four suspects have been arrested, but 10 people have been implicated by a protected witness who was one of the hired killers, said the head prosecutor at the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Roberto Ramírez. The motive for the murder has not been revealed.


    Honduras has an average of 20 murders a day and its annual homicide rate in 2012 was 85.5 per 100,000 population, nearly 10 times the global median rate of 8.8 per 100,000. It is considered one of the most violent countries in the world. The security ministry has announced it aims to reduce the homicide rate to 80 per 100,000 population this year. However, the authorities have not spoken to the press for two months, limiting their information to official communiqués that do not give murder figures. The National Human Rights Commission has recorded 36 journalists murdered since 2002. But 29 of the killings have taken place since right-wing President Porfirio Lobo took office in January 2010.


    Impunity is the common factor in these cases, only one of which has led to a firm sentence. Prosecutor Ramírez, however, is hopeful that Barrow’s grisly murder will be solved soon, due to the abundance of evidence. Honduras is regarded as an especially high-risk country for journalists. Killings of reporters are concentrated in 10 of the 18 provinces, most of them known for drug trafficking problems. In the view of journalist and university professor Miguel Martínez, “the viciousness of Barrow’s murder takes us back to the 1990s in Colombia, or to Mexico today. And it indicates the need for a debate on organized crime and extradition.”


    “There is plenty to discuss. It would seem that this (murder) was a message sent by organized crime, because of its characteristics, but the time has come for the press to know how to behave in the face of the coming avalanche, and what safety protocols should be used,” Mr. Martínez said. Bertha Oliva, a prominent Honduran human rights activist, told IPS the murder showed “disrespect for life, for freedom of expression, and for those who are the link between society and the state. We have to get to the bottom of this and find out why he was killed.” (7/15/13)

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    Mauricio Villeda Leads in Honduras Weekly Poll

    Public polling is such an imperfect science. Some polling firms such as Gallup, Harris, Pew Research, Rasmussen, and Zogby do a good job of gauging the sentiment of the people. Others, not so much. The best you can do is look at a lot of polls from different organizations at different times, and identify some patterns and come up with some basic conclusions. The four major presidential polls conducted in Honduras during January-May by CID-Gallup, Le Vote, and Encuestadora Paradigma all showed Xiomara Castro de Zelaya of the Libre Party ahead by a clear margin. We know that Encuestradora Paradigma polled 2,445 people.

    All but one of the polls had Liberal Mauricio Villeda last by a significant margin. There’s one pattern for you. Two of the polls had Nationalist Juan Orlando Hernández in second place, while the other two had Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC) in second. There’s another pattern.


    The fact that Mrs. Zelaya consistently polls high, while Mr. Villeda consistently polls low suggests that Mr. Villeda may have a lot of work to do to get his message across and improve his image. That’s one basic conclusion. The fact that Mr. Hernández and Mr. Nasralla have each come in second twice suggests that the real battle right now is for second place. That’s another conclusion.


    Toward the end of May, Channel 10 in Honduras conducted a presidential poll. The results had Mr. Villeda on top with 53.13 percent, followed by Romeo Vásquez of the Patriotic Alliance Party with 25 percent, Mr. Hernández with 15.63 percent, Mr. Nasralla with 3.13 percent, and Mrs. Zelaya with 3.13 percent. This poll is widely at odds with the ones by CID-Gallup, Le Vote, and Encuestadora Paradigma, so it raises questions about methodology. But it should still be taken into account.


    In early-June, the Tigo cell phone company polled 2,361 of its customers about the presidential race. It asked the question, “At this moment, which of the candidates do you believe has the strongest appeal to the Honduran electorate?” The results showed Mr. Villeda coming out ahead with 54.13 percent, followed by Mr. Hernández with 24.90 percent, Mr. Nasralla with 12.33 percent, Mr. Vásquez with 4.45 percent, and Mrs. Zelaya with 4.19 percent. Interesting, in that Mr. Villeda again polled above 50 percent. Note, however, that we don’t know the methodology used. For example, did Tigo allow its customers to vote multiple times, and were those voting charged a fee each time they voted?  On both questions, our assumption would be yes. Does it matter?


    Honduras Weekly  is now conducting its own presidential poll. We are polling as many different Honduran online social networking sites as possible, as well as our regular audience. We have made a conscious effort to poll sites that have a wide variety of political leans. We began polling on May 29, and we will continue polling for at least a month. A total of 1,701 people have been polled through June 14. Mr. Villeda currently leads with 39.80 percent, followed by Mrs. Zelaya with 35.27 percent, Mr. Nasralla with 11.46 percent, Mr. Hernández with 6.70 percent, Mr. Vásquez with 4.23 percent, Andrés Pavón of the UD-FAPER Party with 0.82 percent, Jorge Aguilar of the PINU Party with 0.76 percent, Orle Solís of the Christian Democrat Party with 0.06 percent, and those who marked “Will not vote” with 0.88 percent.

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    The Mess at Criminal Investigations

    Investigation of crimes came to a screeching halt Tuesday in Honduras, as Security and Defense Minister Arturo Corrales ordered the suspension of all 2,200 members (approximately 1,400 police and 800 employees)  of the Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal (DNIC). Minister Corrales further ordered that organizationally the DNIC should be merged with the Dirección Nacional de Servicios Especiales de Investigación (DNSEI). He is calling the merged group, the Fuerza de Tarea Policial de Investigacion (FTPI) which loosely translates as “Police Investigation Working Group”.

    This is basically a take-over of the resources, personnel, and equipment of the DNIC by the DNSEI whose head is now in charge of the merged organization. It is a further step toward militarization of civilian policing, which began with the centralization of military and police under Mr. Corrales. On Thursday, DNSEI personnel examined the offices and equipment of the closed DNIC offices and made plans for their use. Members of the ordinary police arrived at DNIC facilities across the country and escorted all employees from the building and padlocked them.


    Citizens are now supposed to report crimes to this new working group, but Mr. Corrales forgot to order the dissemination of that information to the public, or tell them the new locations to do so. Mr. Corrales explained his action as derived from the fact that the DNIC was leaking information to organized crime.  All 2,200 employees, country-wide, are suspended until they have submitted to, and passed, the police confidence tests. Not that those tests have been ordered or scheduled.


    The result was that DNIC police and employees staged public rallies Wednesday and Thursday asking to return to work while they wait for their confidence tests to be scheduled. They issued a public statement applauding the decision to ask them to submit to the confidence tests but asked that their rights be preserved, including the right to an assumption of innocence. They called the current plan “improvised” and said that criminals currently held will go free because of the lack of investigation. They further suggested that Mr. Corrales should have created a schedule for their testing and allowed them to continue working until the tests can be done rather than suspending all of them, “denying justice to Hondurans”.


    On Thursday, several hundred of the protesters took over the former DNIC offices by force, throwing out the DNSEI officers who were there including the man who nominally is their new boss, Alex Villanueva Meza, the head of the FTPI. A lawyer for the officers arbitrarily dismissed began legal action to get them reinstated because their suspension violated their rights to due process and presumption of innocence.


    A sargent with 26 years of experience in the DNIC said: “Our families feel bad; they [the government] consider us a bunch of criminals; they should give us the confidence tests and those that they have to fire, they should fire.. The objective [here] is to mark us as criminals without paying us a lempira of the funds they legally have to and go back to the 1980s, fire the police to put the military in our place.


    In Honduras, the reference to the 1980s would resonate: this was the last time that civilian policing was linked to the military. (6/10/13) (photo of DNIC police officer courtesy El Heraldo)


    Note: This article was originally published by Honduras Culture and Politics.


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    The Bajo Aguán: Honduran Killing Fields

    • Written by  Gretchen Heine
    The Bajo Aguán: Honduran Killing Fields


    An update from Rights Action, issued on May 24, reports that on the evening of May 22 the armed forces opened fire from their posts on the Paso Aguán plantation “in what appears to be attempts to intimidate and scare the community of ‘La Panamá’ that lives inside and adjacent to the finca”. Although no current members of La Panamá’s community were killed or wounded in this raid, the attack appears to be part of a pattern of human rights abuses committed by the Honduran security forces and the Dinant Corporation’s security guards. At this point the members of the La Panamá community are almost certainly being wrongfully targeted by key state and corporate figures and are being deprived of their rights to their land.

    Miguel Facussé, owner of the Paso Aguán plantation and one of the largest landowners in Honduras, has “accumulated land through coercive and fraudulent land purchases” since 1995. La Panamá formerly owned a fraction of the Paso Aguán plantation and the African palm growing on the plantation was originally planted by the community during the 1970s and 80s agrarian reform initiatives. Today the livelihood of campesinos is in jeopardy as their labor has been reduced to subsistence agriculture.


    Paso Aguán Plantation: Dumping Ground for Desaparecidos

    Over the past nine months, the community of La Panamá has managed to occupy a small fraction of land from the Paso Aguán plantation. The formation of the Campesino Movement for Refoundation — Gregorio Chávez (MCRGC) is largely responsible for this small victory. The MCRGC is a coalition of farmers that came together in response to the July 6, 2012 exhumation of the cadaver of community leader, Gregorio Chávez, which was discovered on the Paso Aguán plantation.


    Since the military coup of 2009, over 100 campesinos have been murdered, but this statistic does not account for disappeared persons. Nevertheless, the Chávez murder moved campesinos and international organizations to redouble their search for the whereabouts of disappeared community members. The discovery that Mr. Facussé’s confederate had used the plantation as a dumping ground for Mr. Chávez raised the likelihood of finding other clandestine graves on the plantation.


    On April 25, a Guatemalan archaeologist and forensic anthropologist of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) located a clandestine grave site on Facussé’s plantation. The anthropologists discovered the body of José Antonio López Lara, who had disappeared a year earlier. Moreover, this find provided empirical evidence to prove that Mr. López had been tortured and murdered. His body was found to have been badly wounded, his right hand was not intact, and his skull bore significant signs of blunt force blows applied to the head.


    Eight days before his disappearance, Mr. López went fishing in a nearby river. While on his way to the river, Mr. López was warned by Dinant security guards that if he was ever seen again fishing in the river that he would be killed. Unfortunately, the choice for Mr. López to return to the river was not a voluntary one as fishing is essential to the survival of the campesinos whose food sources have been greatly diminished since the illicit de facto acquisition of their farmland. After Mr. López disregarded the threat by the security guards on April 29, 2012, he disappeared.


    Currently, there remain at least three campesinos who have disappeared since January 2012. The Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) General Coordinator Bertha Oliva stated, “There is no doubt that in the Aguán region they not only murder, not only rape women, not only torture people, but that they also commit the most brutal crime of forced disappearance.”


    Honduran and US Response and Manipulation

    Despite international concern, the Honduran press, as well as both the Honduran and US governments, continue to neglect their responsibility to act in the best interest of the campesinos. The Honduran Desk Office of the US State Department confirmed that both the US Embassy in Honduras and State Department are aware of the violence and human rights abuses, which occurred in La Panamá on May 22 State Department representatives claimed that the shootings were in response to a “court ordered eviction,” and concluded that the campesinos are “squatters” who are illegally occupying the land. On the other hand, COHA Senior Research Fellow Frederick B. Mills said: “This is disputed land, to call them [campesinos] ‘squatters’ is to assert a bias on behalf of big landowners… We should be on the side of negotiation as formerly democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was before the [2009] coup.”


    The State Department clearly ignores the landholding status of the La Panamá community and, in effect, legitimizes Miguel Facussé’s skewed empire of criminals by recognizing him as the area’s rightful landowner.


    Meanwhile, the Honduran press continues to fault the campesinos rather than the Honduran military and the land baron’s security guards for provoking the events on May 22. In “Armed Group in Bajo Aguán Discharges a Strong Lot of Ammunition,” published on May 24, the habitually servile Honduran newspaper La Tribuna  portrays the Dinant corporation guards as victims in an elaborate tale of deception. Even though the townspeople are never individually named, as a collective unit they are assumed to be an unlawful mob. For instance, they are continuously referred to as “delinquents” who were “heavily armed” in the May 22 hostilities. Yet Rights Action Co-Director Grahame Russell said: “There is no knowledge that there is armed resistance in any of the towns around the region and it is crucial to be clear about this fact because it has been used as an accusation against the campesinos.”
    Finding Solutions in a System Where Impunity Reigns Supreme

    While assassinations and raids do not occur every day in the Bajo Aguán Valley, Grahame Russell said, “the threat of violence and murder is a daily affair.” For this reason, the campesinos have well-developed methods of surveillance and cell phone networks that are used for communicating between communities in times of urgency. Russell described the campesinos’s systems as “profoundly organized, profoundly networked.” Part of this network serves to notify members of the community when Dinant guards or soldiers are present so that the townspeople may disperse and avoid confrontation. Russell asserted that the campesinos, while non-violent, are committed to retaining and recovering the land to which they have a rightful claim.


    Despite the fact that there are presently cases regarding land disputes in the court system, at this time they have provided little hope for campesinos. Only once since the 2009 coup has a Honduran court justly ruled in favor of them. Additionally, after successfully representing the community of San Insidro, attorney Antonio Trejo was murdered in September of 2012. For its part, the legal system of Honduras offers no resolution as it is ridden with corruption.


    Instead, the campesinos have adopted alternative forms of affirming their rightful ownership to the land. By mobilizing official representative bodies or “movements”, the campesinos have been able to unify and strengthen their case against their oppressors — Miguel Facussé and the Honduran military. For example, “movements” such as the MCRGC have achieved limited success by occupying land.  Other “movements” within the Bajo Aguán direct their efforts towards different aspects of the land dispute such as providing support for families of the disappeared persons and land recuperation. However, as the land dispute continues, it cannot be certain that the campesinos will not be forced to employ self-defense should the repression continue.


    “Urgency of the Now”

    Following the events of May 22 there are reports that on Sunday, May 26 authorities apprehended seven campesinos of La Panamá without just cause. Additionally, outside of the Bajo Aguán Valley, at 7:15 in the morning on May 30, a man later identified as a Honduran policeman opened fire on the Trochez family while at their home in the city of La Cieba. The father and his youngest son were murdered and the mother was hospitalized for wounds. Mr. Trochez and his family had left the Bajo Aguán region in February of this year and were living in La Cieba to protect themselves after his oldest son was killed in August of 2012. The violence related to the land dispute of the Bajo Aguán has left the geographic span of the valley.


    Time is of the essence and despite the publicity that the land dispute has attracted, the security guards and Honduran military persist in abusing campesinos of the Bajo Aguán area. Though the campesino communities of the Bajo Aguán have proven to be incredibly resilient in their struggle against the big businesses, they need outside help. The United States ought to immediately suspend military and logistical aid to those Honduran security forces involved in the human rights abuses. This should send a clear message: stop the killing now. Also, the intellectual authors as well as the direct perpetrators of those abuses must be held accountable for their crimes before international tribunes.


    Similarly, during the epoch of the Banana Wars, which persisted through most of the twentieth century, Honduran officials cooperated with Carl Lindner’s Chiquita “Banana Staff” to buy off Honduran judges, police, and civil authorities to corrupt local officials at the cost of  sacrificing the interests and rights of Honduran farmers. The campesino lifestyle and tradition are fundamental elements of Latin American culture, as witnessed in Honduras. Once again, the campesinos are not fighting for land per se, but rather for their basic livelihood and self-preservation. By disregarding the campesinos’s ownership of their farmland, Honduran executive and judicial branches are depriving them of their humanity. Around the world, campesinos must be identified as assets for development and be included in democratic governance. (6/8/13)


    Note: This article was reprinted with permission of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington, DC.


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    Honduras Weekly Poll

    Jun 07, 2013


    Who is your preferred candidate to be president of Honduras? Vote >

    • Xiomara Zelaya, Libre: 48.86%
    • Mauricio Villeda, Liberal: 29.51%
    • Salvador Nasralla, PAC: 11.68%
    • Juan Orlando Hernández, National: 5.95%
    • Romeo Vásquez, Patriotic Alliance: 2.16%
    • Andrés Pavón, UD-FAPER: 0.54%
    • Jorge Aguilar, PINU: 0.43%
    • Orle Solís, DC: 0.11%
    • Will not vote: 0.76%

    Polled since May 29: 925


    It is not surprising that our presidential poll has met with some initial criticism. Some of the criticism has been subtle, and some of it has been fairly blunt. The subtle criticism goes like this: “So you are polling only those with access to a computer? That leaves out a lot of Hondurans. And the poll allows non-Hondurans to vote.”


    The underlying concern seems to be that our poll is not sufficiently broad or expansive. That’s true, but it’s true for most polls. All of the presidential polls that have been conducted in Honduras leave out a lot of Hondurans. Most polls will poll no more than a few hundred or a few thousand people. The same is true in the US. Polls are designed to take a relatively small sampling. Our poll began on May 29, and we hope to continue it through at least June. We hope to eventually poll more than 1,000 people. 


    And yes, our poll allows non-Hondurans to vote. This is clearly a flaw in our methodology. Unfortunately, the online polling system — Survey Monkey — we are using has no way to distinguish Hondurans from non-Hondurans. This concerns us a little, not a lot. We are making a huge effort to poll Honduran sites, and so we believe a vast majority of respondents will be Honduran.


    The blunt criticism we’ve encountered has gone like this: “127 people polled? Is this a joke? The company that conducted this should be ashamed of making public a poll with only 127 interviews…” Or… “How unprofessional. Who are these mercenaries who did the research?” Or… “127 people consulted, it’s not a believable and credible result. There is no doubt that they had already had everything fixed.”


    No, there’s nothing “fixed” about it. It’s an open online poll, which anyone is free to respond to. So far, we have a very limited number of respondents (420, at last count), but remember that we just started polling on May 29, and we intend to keep it going for a few weeks. The poll results will depend solely on how many people opt to get on their computers, click on Poll… and vote. Really, very forthright.


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    Villeda Holds Lead in Honduras Weekly Poll

    Public polling is such an imperfect science. Some polling firms such as Gallup, Pew Research, Rasmussen, and Zogby do a good job of gauging the sentiment of the people. Others, not so much. The best you can do is look at a lot of polls from different organizations at different times, and identify some patterns and come up with some basic conclusions. The four major presidential polls conducted in Honduras during January-May by CID-Gallup, Le Vote, and Encuestadora Paradigma all showed Xiomara Castro de Zelaya of the Libre Party ahead by a clear margin. All but one of the polls had Liberal Mauricio Villeda last by a significant margin. There’s one pattern for you. Two of the polls had Nationalist Juan Orlando Hernández in second place, while the other two had Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-Corruption Party in second. There’s another pattern.

    The fact that Mrs. Zelaya consistently polls high, while Mr. Villeda consistently polls low suggests that Mr. Villeda may have a lot of work to do to get his message across and improve his image. That’s one basic conclusion. The fact that Mr. Hernández and Mr. Nasralla have each come in second twice suggests that the real battle right now is for second place. That’s another conclusion.


    Toward the end of May, Channel 10 in Honduras conducted a presidential poll. The results had Mr. Villeda on top with 53.13 percent, followed by Romeo Vásquez of the Patriotic Alliance Party with 25 percent, Mr. Hernández with 15.63 percent, Mr. Nasralla with 3.13 percent, and Mrs. Zelaya with 3.13 percent. This poll is widely at odds with the ones by CID-Gallup, Le Vote, and Encuestadora Paradigma, so it raises questions about methodology. But it should still be taken into account.


    In early-June, the Tigo cell phone company polled 2,361 of its customers about the presidential race. It asked the question, “At this moment, which of the candidates do you believe has the strongest appeal to the Honduran electorate?” The results showed Mr. Villeda coming out ahead with 54.13 percent, followed by Mr. Hernández with 24.90 percent, Mr. Nasralla with 12.33 percent, Mr. Vásquez with 4.45 percent, and Mrs. Zelaya with 4.19 percent. Interesting, in that Mr. Villeda again polled above 50 percent. Note, however, that we don’t the methodology used. For example, did Tigo allow its customers to vote multiple times, and were those voting charged a fee each time they voted?  On both questions, our assumption would be yes. Does it matter?


    Honduras Weekly  is now conducting its own presidential poll. We are polling as many different Honduran online social networking sites as possible, as well as our regular audience. We have made a conscious effort to poll sites that have a wide variety of political leans. We began polling on May 29, and we will continue polling for at least a month. A total of 154 people have been polled through June 5. Mauricio Villeda of the Liberal Party currently leads with 37.66 percent, followed by Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-Corruption Party with 24.68 percent, Xiomara Zelaya of the Libre Party with 21.43 percent, Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party with 12.34 percent, Andrés Pavón of the UD-FAPER Party with 1.95 percent, Jorge Aguilar of the PINU Party with 1.30 percent, and Mr. Vásquez of the Patriotic Alliance Party with 0.65 percent.


    To vote, click Poll. The system is set up to prevent multiple votes from the same computer. (6/5/13) (photo of Mauricio Villeda courtesy La Prensa)



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    Honduran Water Activists Win Legal Case, Face New Mining Law

    • Written by  Rachel Deutsch

    Were they defending life and protecting their community’s water, or were they simply committing a crime? That is the question that 17 Honduran activists charged with obstructing a forestry project faced as their sentencing hearing approached earlier this year. The presiding judges at the trial noted that they would have faced up to several years in jail in Honduras if found guilty. The forestry project aims to log 1,186 hectares of forest. It is located on part of the 14,100 hectares for which mineral rights concessions were granted to Entre Mares, a subsidiary of Goldcorp, a Vancouver-based mining company.

    Goldcorp used 400 hectares of the concession site in the Siria Valley for its San Martin gold mine before it ceased activities in 2008. Since operation of the open-pit mine began in 2000, the communities in the area have attracted international attention as serious health problems have proliferated due to high levels of heavy metals in the water and other mine-related contamination.


    The legal case in question dates back to July 5, 2011, when local teacher Carlos Amador and activist Marlon Rovelo Hernandez were arrested by the National Criminal Investigation Unit and charged with obstructing the logging project. Fifteen other local environmental defenders were subsequently accused of the same crime.


    After more than a year and a half of waiting, on February 11, 2013, Mr. Amador was the first to take the stand at the hearing in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. Lawyers from the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) defended the group. “Everyone here is here to defend life, and the way to do that is to defend the environment and water,” noted Mr. Amador as he took the stand. He told the court that the case is really about criminalizing, intimidating and targeting defenders of the environment, and pointed out that three members of the Siria Valley Environmental Committee — the committee at the forefront of fighting back against Goldcorp — were among those charged.


    Judge Maria Diaz ruled in favour of the 17 environmental defenders on the first day of the hearing, and all charges were dropped. Among other reasons, Judge Diaz based his decision on the fact that the forestry management project sat on several important sources of water and that the communities’ opposition to the project was a legitimate defence of water. It was also demonstrated that several of the defendants were not even present at the site on the day related to the obstruction charges, including Carlos Amador who was in Tegucigalpa at the time.


    Mr. Amador was pleased with the ruling. “We were optimistic. We always believed that there would be justice,” he said.


    Jose Luis Rubi, mayor of El Porvenir in the Siria Valley, attended the hearing to support those on trial from his community. “The community is very united in wanting to protect the forest,” Mayor Rubi told The Dominion. He added that since the Goldcorp mine opened up in 2000 in the Siria Valley, the community has opposed any efforts to deforest and degrade the water sources of the communities in the valley.


    Despite the positive outcome, there is cause for deep concern amongst mining activists in Honduras. On January 23, 2013, the Honduran government passed a new mining law that is very favorable to international mining corporations. The law was written with consultation and support from the Canadian International Development Agency. MiningWatch has called Canada’s role in the creation of the new law a conflict of interest and an example of “disaster capitalism”.


    Six days after the new law was passed, members of various mining observatory, human rights, legal, and environmental advocacy groups met in Tegucigalpa to discuss the new law and strategize. A broad new coalition was formed, and plans were made to hold nation-wide meetings in the coming months. The coalition’s main concerns include the re-opening of the country to open-pit mining, the number of concessions now awaiting approval and those already approved (454 concessions in total), and the priority the new law grants to mining companies over local communities for access to water.


    Pedro Landa, a mining specialist working with CEHPRODEC, a community development agency, spoke to the group of 17 men and connected their case to the new mining law.


    “You were condemned and singled out in a strategy of weakening opposition and local resistance in an area of high interest to mining companies before the state passed the new mining law,” Landa told an assembled crowd, days before the trial. “The strategy before passing the new law was to send in forestry projects first before the mining companies. These are strategies to penetrate communities. It’s like a war.” (6/3/13)



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    Congress Will Debate More Restrictive Gun Ownership Laws

    Written by  Elyssa Pachico

    According to a Congressional committee that handles public security issues, some 80.5 percent of all crimes in Honduras are committed with unregistered guns, as the country prepares to debate a new set of gun reform laws. A member of the committee told El Heraldo  newspaper that only 23 percent of the weapons circulating in Honduras are registered. This is slightly lower than a previous estimate released by the Honduran government’s human rights commission (CONADEH), which stated that just 30 percent of the country’s approximate total of 850,000 firearms are officially registered. The numbers were released as Honduras’ Congress is set to debate this week on stricter gun legislation.

    The proposed reforms would reduce the number of firearms which a citizen can purchase from five to just one. The reforms would also require citizens to apply (and pay) for two separate licenses — one to purchase a firearm, and another one to carry it. The licenses would be valid for up to three years. The application fees could bring in some significant profits for the Honduran government, as El Heraldo  notes. The proposed gun reform law would also mandate a special license in order to purchase and use explosive material. The law includes special exceptions that would make it easier for politicians, judges, prosecutors, and former government officials to apply for the new gun licenses.


    Passing a set of stricter gun laws in Honduras will arguably not be as challenging as actually enforcing it. As indicated by the numbers released by the Congressional committee on public security, the National Arms Register is already doing a poor job at regulation.


    Contributing to the amount of unregistered guns circulating through Honduras is the fact that corrupt elements of the police and military are believed to sell weapons to the black market. At other times, weapons in the hands of the government have simply disappeared. If Congress ultimately ends up approving stricter gun regulations, it will only be a symbolic step forward if the government does not address the other dynamics driving the illicit arms trade. (5/22/13)

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    Congress Backs New Military Police Unit in Honduras

    • Written by  Marguerite Cawley 

    Honduras’ Congress has taken up the debate over the possible establishment of a military police unit as an answer to spiraling violence, a discussion that will likely touch upon the dangers of blending police and military roles. On May 8, Congress debated a proposed law would create a specialized police force, known as the “Tigers” (based on the Spanish acronym for Special Response Team and Intelligence Troop Law). Congress approved the law in a first round of debates, with two more expected to follow. The unit would receive military training and would focus on providing citizen security and battling organized crime, as La Tribuna reports. The force would be stationed at military bases and would fall under the command of the Security Ministry. 

    According to the proposed law, recruits would have to be between 18 and 22 years of age and would be subjected to a range of competence tests, including polygraphs, before being hired. Lawmaker Mario Perez, the head of a congressional commission that handles security and defense issues, said that the Tigers would help the country resolve its security problems, and emphasized that its functions would be specialized and separate from those of the national police. The proposal was first discussed in July 2012, but was rejected. 


    Security is a primary concern in Honduras, which has the world’s highest murder rate and experienced a  record number of murders in 2012. Reform of the country’s highly corrupt police is a major priority in this regard, but despite the removal of over 650 officers, efforts have continued at a slow pace.


    It seems likely the new unit will further blur the line between the police and military in Honduras, which has already been distorted by military deployments earlier this year to the streets of of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, echoing a similar operation in November 2011. As pointed out by critics of a similar trend towards the militarization of law enforcement in Mexico, this overlapping of roles can raise human rights as well as security concerns for the civilian population.  (5/13/13)


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    The Impending Final Nail in the Coffin of Honduran Democracy

    • Written by  Marco Cáceres

    The Impending Final Nail in the Coffin of Honduran Democracy


    Whatever Manuel Zelaya did, or attempted to do, during the three and half years (January 2006 to June 2009) he was President of Honduras is not nearly as bad as what has been done, or being attempted to be done, by the National Congress of Honduras under the leadership of Congressman Juan Orlando Hernández (and assumingly with the approval of President Lobo) during the past five months. President Zelaya ignored rulings by the Supreme Court, as well as by his own Attorney General and Public Ministry, that his plan to hold a non-binding opinion poll on whether to set up a fourth ballot box (cuarta urna) for a public referendum on whether to establish a National Constituent Assembly to review and rewrite the Honduran Constitution was illegal. 

    Mr. Zelaya’s refusal to listen to the Supreme Court, along with his increasingly erratic behavior and growing ties with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, created the appearance of a man well on his way to becoming a dictator. Whether well-founded or not, there was popular belief in Honduras at the time that part of Mr. Zelaya’s zeal for a referendum on a National Constituent Assembly was that he saw this as a way to change the Constitution to allow for Honduran presidents either to run for re-election or extend their terms of office.


    There was strong speculation that Mr. Zelaya did not want to give up power. Both members of Mr. Zelaya’s Liberal Party and the opposition Nationalist Party became extremely wary of Mr. Chávez’s influence on Mr. Zelaya. They saw how Mr. Chávez had managed to consolidate power in Venezuela and remain President of that country for more than a decade, and they feared Mr. Zelaya would follow his mentor’s lead and pull off a similar stunt in Honduras.


    The first step was for Mr. Zelaya to ignore the positions taken by the Legislative and Judicial branches, and dare them to take on the Executive branch. On a number of occasions, Mr. Zelaya suggested that he didn’t have to listen to anyone because he was the President, and only he represented the will of the people because they elected him. He tended to consider the Legislative and Judicial branches more as extensions of Executive authority, rather than equal partners. Mr. Zelaya’s intention was to stall members of Congress and the Supreme Court and wear them out by simply… not listening to them.


    Mr. Zelaya knew that there was a plot being hatched to try and oust him. But he believed he could survive an attempted coup, and amazingly he grew more belligerent and irrational — to the point where it looked as if he were deliberately provoking an overthrow. Mr. Zelaya’s critical miscalculation came on June 24, 2009 when he fired the head of the Armed Forces, General Romeo Vásquez (who is now the presidential candidate for the new Patriotic Alliance Party). It was at that moment that Mr. Zelaya lost the support of the Honduran military and left himself wide open for the coup that followed four days later. Epic misstep.


    Had Mr. Zelaya avoided provoking the military by not openly disrespecting and canning Gen. Vásquez and losing their support, he would never have been ousted, because, ironically, Mr. Zelaya and Gen. Vásquez were friends, and Mr. Zelaya had been extremely generous to the military during his administration. In an effort to be faithful to a Supreme Court ruling, Gen. Vásquez had refused to obey Mr. Zelaya’s order to have Honduran soldiers distribute ballots for the opinion poll scheduled on June 28 and provide security for the polling process. However, it is unlikely Gen. Vásquez would have moved against Mr. Zelaya had he not been so unceremoniously axed.


    The firing of Gen. Vásquez only contributed to the view that Mr. Zelaya was quickly becoming dictatorial (and destined to become even more so), and that there was no way to communicate reasonably with him. Given that there was no presidential impeachment process specified by the Constitution, the only way to rein in Mr. Zelaya seemed to be by force.


    The manner in which Mr. Zelaya was arrested and expatriated to Costa Rica without due process was clearly illegal and unconstitutional. A government cannot expatriate its citizens, and it cannot deny them due process under the law. Regardless of how mischievous Mr. Zelaya may have been or whether he actually broke the law or not, the man should not have been expatriated, and he should have been given the right to hear the charges against him and allowed the right to defend himself in a court of law. That’s the way you do things in an orderly democracy. Of course, the problem is you’re talking about Honduras.


    The point is that Mr. Zelaya’s great sin was that he was acting like an obnoxious, annoying brat who didn’t want to play by anyone’s rules but his own. If he didn’t actually break the law, he was definitely toying with it. We’ll never really know because Mr. Zelaya has never been put on trial. What there are are legal opinions. And we’ll never know whether he would have tried to remain in power and become a real live dictator. We can only speculate.


    A decent case can be made that Mr. Zelaya was whittling away at Honduras’ shaky democratic system of government, and that this justified getting rid of him before he did more damage or became too powerful. But much of this case is  speculative — based on what we think  Mr. Zelaya was up to. That’s a huge problem that cannot just be conveniently swept aside.


    Thus, in hindsight, the severity of what Mr. Zelaya actually did to merit a coup has a tendency to grow less and less convincing, particularly when you measure it by the severity of what the National Congress has done to destroy Honduran democracy since December 12, 2012 when it arbitrarily voted to dismiss four of the 15 Supreme Court justices (German Vicente García, José Elmer Lizardo Carranza, Víctor Manuel Lozano, and Silvia Trinidad Santos) for ruling in a way it did not like. That single move destroyed any semblance of an independent Judiciary. Unforgivable.
    Thanks to President Lobo, Congressman Hernández, and all the members of Congress who were either strong-armed or purchased, Honduras now only has two branches — the Executive and the Legislative. That is worse than anything Mel ever did.


    If that weren’t enough, in recent weeks it has become evident that President Lobo, Congressman Hernández, and a fair number of Congressional patsies are looking to impose censorship in Honduras as part of the so-called Telecommunications “Gag” Law. They will, of course, deny that that is the intent of the proposed legislation, but there is enough information about the bill leaking out to make an awful lot of intelligent and well-connected people in Honduras very concerned.


    The Lobo administration and Congress have sought to assure everyone that they would never favor restrictions on freedom of expression. They are asking everyone to trust them. No. Don’t  trust them. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of speech… whatever you wish to call it, it’s too important to allow a dysfunctional government to mess with. Ever since the visionary President Ramón Villeda Morales succeeded in pushing through the Freedom of Thought Law in 1958, Honduras has enjoyed a robust media — TV and radio broadcasting, newspapers and magazines.


    The Honduran media isn’t perfect. Often, it is unprofessional, downright irresponsible, sometimes even criminal. But this is no excuse for destroying its freedoms and independence. If the Lobo administration and Congress succeed in passing a law that censors freedom of expression in Honduras, then it will have put the final nail in the coffin of Honduran democracy. Honduras will be under a defacto dictatorial regime, and we will all be left asking… “Ah, tell me again what was so bad about Mel Zelaya?” (5/8/13) (photo of Juan Orlando Hernández courtesy Internet)


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    Opinion on future elections


    There have been three opinion polls conducted in Honduras to gauge popular support for the country’s presidential candidates; the main ones being Juan Orlando Hernández, Salvador Nasralla, Mauricio Villeda, and Xiomara Castro de Zelaya. In January, CID Gallup published the results of the first poll, which showed Mrs. Zelaya on top with 25 percent, followed by Congressman  Hernández with 23 percent, Mr. Nasralla with 18 percent, and Mr. Villeda with 16 percent.

    In April, Le Vote had Mrs. Zelaya ahead with 30 percent, followed by Mr. Nasralla with 28 percent, Congressman Hernández with 26 percent, and Mr. Villeda with 16 percent. The latest poll taken by Encuestadora Paradigma has Mrs. Zelaya again on top with 19.7 percent, followed by Congressman Hernández with 13.3 percent, Mr. Villeda with 10.2 percent, and Mr. Nasralla with 9.9 percent.

    What is most significant about the three polls is not the spread between the candidates, but rather that Mrs. Zelaya is consistently the person getting the highest numbers. It demonstrates that she is clearly a serious contender for the Presidency and can no longer be ignored or downplayed. There is a very good chance that her party, Liberty and Refoundation (Libre), may well break Honduras’ traditional two-party system and turn it into a three-party system.

    If this turns out to be the case, it will be good news for the Nationalist Party, which appears to be fairly united, and bad news for the Liberal Party, which has lost a sizable portion of its base to Libre. It’s unclear how much of the Liberal base has jumped ship. But it is evident (by the polls) that it may not be as small a number as Liberals would like to think. It almost seems as if Liberals are purposely deluding themselves.

    What Mrs. Zelaya and Libre have going for them is that they are both new, and thus represent a hope for change. While this hope may turn out to be misfounded, it is nonetheless real, and it is the kind of thing — combined with the residual anger over the 2009 coup and fear over the current violence and disorder in Honduras — that could stimulate many Hondurans to vote in November for something totally different.



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    Organized Crime Targets Lawyers in Honduras

    • Written by  Ángel Servellón

    Practicing law is a high-risk profession in Honduras. Since 2010, 59 lawyers have been killed in the country, according to the National Human Rights Commissioner (CONADEH), Ramón Custodio López. “These murders are the result of the precarious public safety situation caused by common criminals and organized crime,” he said. So far in 2013, six lawyers have been killed after 15 were murdered last year, 26 in 2011 and 12 in 2010. In 92 percent of cases, a firearm was used, 6 percent involved suffocation or strangulation and 2 percent involved knives. The most dangerous cities for lawyers are Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, according to CONADEH. 

    However, there have been murders, threats or acts of intimidation against legal professionals in 10 of the country’s 18 departments. “Most of the victims were murdered inside their cars, in the company of their families, friends or even the clients they were defending,” Custodio added.


    Prosecutors from the Public Ministry (MP) also have been victims, with three murders since 2010. On April 18, attorney Orlan Arturo Chávez, a prosecutor from the Money Laundering Unit of the Public Ministry’s Office against Organized Crime, was killed inside his car in Tegucigalpa. Mr. Chávez was one of the principal authors of major laws in Honduras, such as the 2002 Law against Money Laundering and the 2010 Property Deprivation Law. These two laws had a considerable impact on organized crime, according to Carlos Vallecillo, the spokesman for the Directorate for the Fight against Drug Trafficking (DLCN). The unit prosecuted 27 cases — of the 140 complaints it received — and seized US$10,190,785 from 2002 to 2012, according to Mr. Vallecillo.


    Some of the country’s 16,000 lawyers are no longer interested in practicing their profession, particularly when it comes to criminal cases, because they are scared for their lives, according to the Roy Urtecho, president of the Bar Association of Honduras (CAH), “There are lawyers who want to resign,” he said. “They tell me that they no longer want to pursue criminal cases but instead dedicate themselves to preparing legal documents.”


    One attorney who would prefer not to litigate criminal cases is Rafael Aguirre, who uses a fictitious name to protect his identity for security reasons. Mr. Aguirre received his degree in 2002 from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (UNAH) and even though he wanted to practice criminal law, he works on business matters. “It’s very risky to expose yourself to the dangers of practicing criminal law,” he said. “That’s why I prefer to work as a legal consultant for a bank — it brings peace of mind to me and my family.”


    The Fight Against Impunity

    There have been only two convictions out of the 59 lawyer homicide cases. In November 2012, the families of murdered attorneys and representatives from CAH demanded an official explanation regarding the killings, Mr. Urtecho said. “On behalf of the Bar Association, we asked the government to implement a policy that provides the National Police with what they need to carry out preventive work and assign special investigators to end the impunity for killers,” he said.


    Authorities from the MP recognize that justice is pending in the cases involving crimes against attorneys. “Progress in these investigations has been slow,” said Special Prosecutor for Human Rights German Enamorado. “It has been mainly due to the agencies’ lack of funding, prosecutors’ excessive workloads and the lack of expertise among criminal investigative officers.” The Public Ministry’s budget was about US$50 million in 2012. “The Human Rights Office has only 25 agents, who are responsible for the 4,000 cases under investigation,” Mr. Enamorado said. “We often have to choose between paying the staff and investing in training.”


    However, to address the demands of the most affected groups — such as lawyers, journalists and homosexuals — the MP has established a unit that operates under the Office of Common Crimes to monitor these cases, according to Mr. Enamorado. “In late 2012, we designated a group of 10 prosecutors who would be in charge of investigating these cases,” he said. “Neither threats, nor intimidations, nor budget cuts will stop our work because we made a commitment to carry out investigations into the killings of lawyers on behalf of the Honduran people.” (5/1/13)


    Note: This article was originally published by


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    Soldiers for Good Cops: Not A Bad Deal

    • Written by  Marco Cáceres
    Soldiers for Good Cops: Not A Bad Deal


    It’s hard to nail down the exact figure, but there are somewhere between 12,000 and 14,500 police officers in Honduras, and their monthly salary is somewhere between US$150 and US$400. The Lobo administration wants to eventually have a police force of 20,000 men and women. It’s also difficult to find an authoritative figure for the number of soldiers in the country, but it is somewhere between 12,000 and 20,000, depending on actual soldiers or total military personnel. Most Honduran soldiers receive the minimum wage, which is about US$350 per month. At least, that is what they’re supposed to get. Let’s assume we’re talking about a total of 34,500 police officers and military personnel. If we assume that they’re receiving an average monthly wage of US$350, then the Honduran government has to come up with slightly over US$12 million a month to pay these people.

    That’s nearly US$145 million a year, not counting those two extra  “bonus months” they’ve cleverly devised in Honduras. The government’s total annual budget for security and defense is approximately US$290 million (about US$183 million for security and roughly US$107 million for defense). This means that half of the money Honduras allocates for security and defense goes to pay for salaries — and fairly miserable ones, at that. There’s only about US$145 million per year left over to spend on equipment, materials, supplies, facilities, maintenance & repairs, and training. Which means… there is never anywhere close to enough.

    Costa Rica has between 14,000 and 15,000 police officers, who earn at least US$700 per month. That’s twice the salary of a Honduran police officer or soldier. The Costa Rican police force isn’t perfect, but it is far better trained, equipped and paid than the Honduran police. Costa Rica has no military, so it relies on perhaps the most professional police force in all of Latin America. This is the model that Honduras must emulate.


    Honduras doesn’t need a military. Never really has. No country poses a serious military threat to Honduras. More than 80 percent of the country is mountainous, and the roads stink. God save anyone stupid enough to try and invade. The threats to Honduras have always been domestic — namely corruption, administrative disorder, poverty, and a disastrous education system. Any border issues that occasionally surface between Honduras and its immediate neighbors — El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua — can be dealt with by the Organization of American States (OAS) or the United Nations (UN). Or the United States can get involved and strong-arm the countries to behave.

     What Honduras does  require is a thoroughly professional, mobile, and well-equipped and -supplied police force. … One that is nearly twice the size of Costa Rica’s, given that Costa Rica has about half the population and half the land mass of Honduras. This could mean some 25,000 police officers. … Well-paid officers earning at least US$700 per month — double what they currently earn (for starters). Total estimated cost: US$17.5 million per month, or US$210 million per annum.

    That figure amounts to US$65 million more per year than what is currently spent on salaries for the police and military, but it still comes in at US$80 million less than Honduras now spends annually for security and defense combined. That US$80 million falls short (by US$65 million) of the US$145 million now spent on equipment, materials, supplies, facilities, maintenance & repairs, and training for the police and military, but remember that without a dedicated army, navy, and air force you wouldn’t need a lot of the expensive military hardware and supplies (like artillery, fighter aircraft and jet fuel) and base facilities. The US$80 million could be used more efficiently for all those things an effective police force needs, notably training and… yeah, gasoline and tires for the cars, trucks and motorcycles.


    You could pad that amount with another US$6.4 million per year that the Honduran government would save by reducing the number of members of Congress from 128 to 64, as presidential candidate Romeo Vásquez of the Patriotic Alliance Party suggested Wednesday… and an additional US$1.7 million the government would save each year by saying goodbye to the Central American Parliament (Parlacen). 

    Honduras would never miss its military, its 64 members of Congress, and Parlacen. Not one bit. What it gets in return is a substantially larger, well-trained and -equipped National Police with a high morale that might stand a chance of dealing with the existential threat posed by organized crime syndicates, foreign drug cartels, and more than 36,000 gangbangers. Something to consider Mr. Corrales now that you’ve been handed the job of “Super Minister” of Security and Defense. That’s one hell of a title, by the way. Good  luck. (5/3/13) (photo courtesy Internet)


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    Community Police Reduce Violence in Honduras

    The Honduran National Police is undergoing a transformation. As the country works to clean up its police force, the National Police announced on March 13 the police district in La Granja, one of the seven police districts in the nation’s capital of Tegucigalpa, would become a Community Police District. “As Community Police, our goal is to strengthen ties with the population, listen to its problems and solve them together,” said Deputy Director of the Community Police Rolando Piura. “This allows the community to have a better quality of life through daily visits and patrols, with a strict adherence to human rights.” The six other districts that make up the Tegucigalpa police division will continue to be staffed by the National Police.

    The move occurred based on the positive results produced by the Community Police since 2009 in the La Granja’s Flor del Campo neighborhood in southern Tegucigalpa. In 2012, 18 homicides were reported in the neighborhood — a year after 35 were documented, according to Deputy Inspector Milton Fúnez Peralta, the district’s head of the Community Police in the district.


    In 2012, Honduras registered 7,172 homicides, up from 7,104 in 2011, according to the Violence Observatory at the Instituto Universitario en Democracia, Paz y Seguridad (IUDPAS). “Prior to the arrival of the Community Police, there was a serious crime problem here,” said Luis Alfonso Ávila, a Flor del Campo resident. “Now, the communication between us and the police makes all the difference.”


    Martha Espinal, who has owned a business in Flor del Campo for the last 10 years, is enjoying living in a much more peaceful community. “I feel protected and my customers know that when they come here to shop, there won’t be a criminal waiting for them when they leave,” she said as she served customers in her school supply store.


    La Granja, which will serve as the central division, will have 170 police officers distributed among 10 stations. The stations are in the neighborhoods of Las Brisas, Nueva Esperanza, Las Torres, Flor del Campo, La Rosa, La Peña, La Alemán, Tiloarque, Reinel Fúnez and Tizatillo. Police will cover 38 square kilometers and will serve 415,000 of the city’s 1.2 million residents of the city, officer Piura said. “The goal is to implement an autonomous community policing district that will not receive interference from the high command of the National Police in developing the program,” he added.


    The Community Police model being applied in Honduras is based on the Koban method, which has been used for more than a century in Japan, which has more than 15,000 police outposts. Each unit is responsible for patrolling 2.5 square kilometers on foot, bike or patrol car. In Honduras, police officers visited local residents and business owners to find out about their needs, collect information and leave their contact information. “The communication between police officers and residents helps us solve the problems together and fosters confidence in the police force,” Deputy Inspector Fúnez said.


    While the Koban method has been applied in Honduras since 2009, with support from the governments of Brazil and Japan, the authorities recently have been placing more emphasis on transforming the National Police into Community Police, which was a recommendation of the Public Safety Reform Commission of Honduras. “The training [that we received in Brazil] consists of comparing the operations performed at the Community Police stations in São Paulo and in Tegucigalpa,” Fúnez said. “We are conducting workshops to provide police personnel with adequate training on the techniques for reaching out to the public and carrying out community projects.”


    Seventy police officers from Honduras have been trained and 10 police officers are currently receiving training in São Paulo. The program is evaluated annually. The most recent evaluation was carried out in January 2013 by the Lt. Col. Gilberto Tardochi da Silva, the deputy director of Community Police and Human Rights in São Paulo. Tardochi da Silva said the program has shown a tremendous amount of progress, but officials need to address a lack of technological tools needed to create a digital database to file daily reports and surveys carried out by the police. “The surveys allow us to determine the problems facing the community and the development projects that the residents need,” Mr. Fúnez said.


    Recently, the Flor del Campo police post welcomed visiting police delegations from Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and the Dominican Republic, which participated in the International Seminar on Community Policing in Tegucigalpa in November 2012. “The purpose of the visit was to observe the effectiveness of applying the Koban method,” Mr. Fúnez said.


    While other countries in Central America use community policing models, Brazil and Honduras are the only countries in Latin America that use the Koban method, he added. “Without question it will lower the crime rate and result in police who are more committed to the population,” Mr. Fúnez said. “The teachings of the police force and the approximation to the population through the Koban method will prevent failed police operations.” (4/12/13)


    Note: This article was originally published by


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    Penal Code Reform Seeks End to Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

    Honduras is moving a step closer to the UNAIDS vision of ‘zero discrimination’. Its Congress has recently adopted a reform of the Penal Code that will ensure legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. “This has been a historic step for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex (LGBTI) populations that have suffered from widespread violence and impunity in Honduras,” said Donny Reyes, Coordinator at Arcoiris, a civil society organization advocating for greater LGBTI rights. “Finally our right to freedom and to live in peace has been formally recognized,” he added.

    Between 2009 and 2012, more than 90 homophobia-related killings were reported in the country, according to the Human Rights Observatory of Lesbian Catrachas Network. These incidents, which are among the highest in the region, are attributed to the high levels of homophobia and transphobia that exists in Honduran society. The high number of violent deaths and human rights violations against LGTBI people prompted Ana Pineda, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights to promote the reform of the Penal Code.


    The amended code establishes as an offense with aggravating circumstances the “discrimination with hatred or contempt on the basis of sex, gender, religion, national origin, belonging to indigenous and Afrodescendant groups, sexual orientation or gender identity”.  This offense may be punishable by up to 3–5 years imprisonment and a monetary fine. The penalty increases if it is a violent crime.


    Dialogue between the government, civil society and UNAIDS led to the creation of special units within the General Attorney’s Office to strengthen the investigation of allegations of violence on the basis of sexual diversity. Each unit comprises a qualified legal adviser, an analyst and three investigators. The Units are currently investigating 17 cases of killings on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. “Strengthening investigation, establishing a legal framework which sanctions discrimination and making sure that judges will apply the new provisions are both crucial steps to prevent and reduce violence against members of the LGTBI community,” said Ms. Pineda.


    Reducing Vulnerability to HIV

    The amended Penal Code is expected to improve access to HIV-related services, education and employment for LGTBI people. The discrimination, exclusion and violence against LGTBI people have exacerbated their vulnerability to HIV infection by discouraging them from accessing health services out of fear. In Honduras, the HIV epidemic seriously affects men who have sex with men (MSM), where the prevalence of HIV has reached 9.9% compared to the 0.6 percent among the general population.


    A recent report in The Lancet highlights that transgender people have at least 50 times the odds of men and women in the general population of becoming infected with HIV — due to biological as well as structural risks for HIV infection such as social exclusion, economic marginalization, and unmet health-care needs. “This ruling will provide LGTBI people with greater access to HIV related services” said Nicole Massoud, UNAIDS Country Coordinator for Honduras and Nicaragua. “UNAIDS congratulates the State of Honduras for its commitment to promote and defend human rights. The challenge now is to ensure that all professionals are informed and trained on these new provisions to help ensure we reach zero stigma and discrimination.” (4/5/13)


    Note: This article was originally published by UNAIDS.


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