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Honduras News in Review—May 2010 ( 0) Printer friendly page Print This
By Roz Dzelzitis, Executive Director
May I Speak Freely Media
Saturday, Jun 5, 2010

Honduras News in Review—May 2010

May I Speak Freely Media
June 3, 2010

  1. Judges dismissed from posts in alleged political reprisal
  2. More resistance figures killed
  3. Resistance leader threatened anew
  4. Journalists remembered, abuse and intimidation continue
  5. Resistance leader kidnapped, escapes
  6. More repression in Aguán
  7. Union uncovers alleged list of assassination targets
  8. Armed men break into union offices
  9. More than 200 complaints of rights abuse, but 90% have not exhausted legal procedures in Honduras
  10. Inter-American Human Rights Commission visits Honduras, expresses continued concern
  11. Role and process of official Truth Commission examined
  12. NGOs criticize official Truth Commission, call on OAS to help restore democracy in Honduras
  13. Alternative truth commission launches May 4
  14. FNRP restarts public referendum to convene constitutional assembly
  15. Resistance: we will have political arm
  16. Lobo statements support Zelaya return
  17. Llorens says minority of Hondurans "opposed to reconciliation"
  18. Colombian police to train Hondurans on fighting drug trafficking and organized crime
  19. Former coup president dies

"The strongest advocates of free speech are those with the courage to tell the stories that no one else will. May I Speak Freely Media is making sure that our stories are not forgotten."

-Zenaida Velasquez, sister of Manfredo Velasquez,
one of the 184 documented disappearance
cases in Honduras in the 1980s


  1. Judges dismissed from posts in alleged political reprisal

    Four lower-court judges, one magistrate and one public defender were dismissed from their posts May 5 after the full Honduran Supreme Court, in a 10-to-5 decision, ruled that the officials' activism during the 2009 coup constituted a serious breach of conduct warranting dismissal.

    Five San Pedro Sula officials—Luis Chévez de la Rocha, presiding judge for domestic violence; Guillermo López Lone, presiding sentencing judge; Ramón Barrientos, sentencing judge; Tirza del Carmen Flores, magistrate; and Osman Fajardo, public defender—along with José Flores Ponce, tribunal judge in Intibucá, are all part of the Judge's Association for Democracy (AJD), a group formed in 2006 to advocate for an independent judiciary and fight against impunity and corruption. The judges' offenses include publicly criticizing the Supreme Court ruling validating the coup, participating in demonstrations calling for Zelaya's reinstatement, and filing legal motions on behalf of Zelaya.
     
    Speaking on behalf of the group, Flores said the dismissals were arbitrary, illegal and political, and "put in jeopardy what little judicial independence exists." The National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), along with the Lawyers in Resistance Front-North, and Radio Progreso, have issued statements in support of the judges, calling for their immediate restitution. At a May 20 press conference in Madrid, President Porfírio Lobo criticized the decision, saying he had asked the Supreme Court not to take any action that didn’t further peace and stability in the country, but he also said that he respected the court's sovereignty to do so.

    Amnesty International said in a May 12 statement that because of the dismissals, the country's "rule of law [is] in danger," while the Center for Justice and International Law (Cejil) called the action "an example of political persecution" that has a "chilling effect" on other officials.
     
    On May 17, the AJD, along with the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, started a hunger strike in the Plaza of the Disappeared, not far from the congressional buildings, to call attention to the plight of the judges and demand restitution. The have asked the court to reverse its decision so as not to face possible judgment and sanctions before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Twice—May 26 and 31—the court has failed to meet for sessions scheduled specifically to deal with the issue.
     
    On June 1, the court reaffirmed its decision, with the vote falling along the same lines. The hunger strike was called off with a press conference shortly thereafter, during which Chévez signaled that the same 10 who voted for dismissal "have proven links to ultraconservative groups who backed the coup." López Lone added, "This confirms the complete collapse of institutionality in Honduras." 

  2. More resistance figures killed

    On May 8, masked gunmen killed Adalberto Figueroa, an environmentalist and local resistance leader in the Olancho region, while he was collecting firewood a kilometer from his house. Figueroa had, on May 3, filed a complaint with the National Institute on Conservation and Forestry Development against an illegal logging operation on protected lands as well as threats with illegal weapons made by logging companies against local community members. The Olancho Environmental Movement, of which Figueroa was a part, suspects that the logging companies affected by the complaint hired Figueroa’s killers.
     
    On May 13, resistance members Gilberto Alexander Núñez Ochoa and José Andrés Oviedo were murdered in their homes. Núñez Ochoa had been particularly active in the FNRP, helping to identify infiltrators at marches bent on sparking violence. He had testified last year to the Committee of Relatives of the Detained Disappeared (Cofadeh) about being followed, harassed and threatened by security personnel.
     
    On May 18, Olayo Hernández Sorto, a resistence member and committee secretary of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Copinh) in Intibucá, was found dead from three bullet wounds. Copinh said it considered the crime to be politically motivated.
     
    Committee for the Defense of Human Rights (Codeh) President Andres Pavon on May 26 condemned the murders of FNRP member Pedro Antonio Gómez and Oscar Tulio Martínez, the brother and brother-in-law, respectively of Arcadia Gómez, minister of social affairs under former President Manuel Zelaya. Pavon attributed the murders to "death squads," and said he had information that there were groups within the state security agencies who were following opponents of the current government. Masked men had previously invaded the house of Arcadia Gómez’s mother, asking her whereabouts. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had requested preventative security measures for her, but they had not been enacted.

  3. Resistance leader threatened anew

    On May 20 Carlos H. Reyes, leader of the FNRP, received three threatening phone in quick succession, promising graphic and violent deaths. Reyes—a one-time independent presidential candidate—had previously been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because of threats to his life. In a statement, urged urged all national and international precautions to ensure the security of Reyes and others. According to their statistics, eight FNRP members have been killed, 25 are under death threats, and 26 have been forced to leave the country out of fear for their lives.

  4. Journalists remembered, abuse and intimidation continue

    May 25 marked national Journalists’ Day in Honduras, an occasion that U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens commemorated at a ceremony awarding the "Alvaro Contreras" prize in journalism to Jorge Talavera Sosa of San Pedro Sula. During his remarks, Llorens made public a request by Security Minister Oscar Álvarez to use FBI resources in solving the eight journalist deaths in recent months. On May 21, Álvarez to handed a classified report Congress on the ongoing investigations, about which he would say only that they weren't politically motivated.
     
    A political angle was underscored, however, in C-Libre’s National Report on Press Freedom, released on May 3, which enumerated 329 acts of aggression, 177 of abuse, 127 of physical intimidation, and 64 of psychological intimidation against journalists in 2009. C-Libre Vice President Anarella Vélez made a case for the direct link between governmental actions since the coup and increased violence against journalists, calling the increase "exponential."
     
    May was no exception to the pattern of journalist intimidation: Jessica Pavon of Canal 6 news received multiple phone threats starting May 12; Radio La Voz Occidente’s owner Arturo Rendón Pineda received threats against his son Rafael Antonio Rendón and his news director Manuel Gavarrete during a May 17 broadcast; and El Tiempo photographer Ramón Cerritos experienced abuseat the hands of a police patrol during a routine traffic stop.

    "I think what we are seeing with these murders is that there are still dark forces at work," legal scholar and former Honduran human rights commissioner Leo Valladares said.

    A group of U.N. human rights experts has urged the Honduran government to protect journalists, warning that the international community will "closely scrutinize" the government's response.

  5. Resistance leader kidnapped, escapes

    On June 1, well-armed masked men kidnapped Juan Ramón Flores, FNRP coordinator for Comayagua and former Liberal Party congressional candidate. Flores was at an auto mechanic when he was taken. He escaped his captors a few hours later, saying he was made to kneel with his hands over his head for five straight hours while being interrogated at gunpoint about the resistance.

    In an e-mail correspondence, Codeh noted that Flores' car was confiscated on Sept. 22 outside the Brazilian embassy, and his identity recorded when he made attempts to regain it. It claims that he is the third victim of violence (the other two are dead [Editor's note: Codeh did not identify these individuals.]) whose cars were seized that day, constituting a pattern of repression.

  6. More repression in Aguán

    On May 9 to 12, Codeh visited the encampments at Aguán to monitor the progress made on last month's agreement to settle a land dispute that had displaced thousands of residents and caused scores of injuries and at least one death. (See April HNR). Overall, the human rights NGO found that events are unfolding according to plan, but asked that special attention be paid to the basic needs of the children in the camps, which lack running water or any infrastructure, including educational, and offer only the most basic shelter under shacks tented in plastic or palm leaves. Codeh called for community help in providing adequate housing materials, basic health care and education capabilities, as well as food until the camps are economically sustainable.

    Meanwhile, the FNRP reported that on May 18, a group of military and police, along with representatives for the landholders Miguel Facusse, Reinaldo Canales and René Morales and other businesspeople from nearby townships met to talk about getting rid of FNRP and Campesino Movement of Aguan leaders. They allegedly created a list of 36 leaders for whom the landowners would pay a 11 million lempira ($580,000) bounty. Although Codeh reported a decrease in police and military units, the FNRP reported an increase, including Colombian paramilitaries, and said it feared these units would unleash a last offensive against the leadership and people of Aguan.

  7. Union uncovers alleged list of assassination targets

    In a May 18 interview, Autonomous University of Honduras Workers' Union (Sitraunah) President René Andino, revealed that Sitraunah has obtained a list of 32 resistance figures—including Juan Barahona, Andino himself and a number of Honduran news reporters—allegedly targeted for assassination. Sitraunah believes the list was generated by the same security agency whose agents were found spying on the university campus in 2008 in possession of a similar list of labor, human rights and other social leaders. (See September 2008 HNR.) Sitraunah members have been striking since April 27 in response to massive firings at the university.

  8. Armed men break into union offices

    On May 25, two masked gunmen broke into the local headquarters of the Beverages Workers' Union (Stibys) in San Pedro Sula, shot Douglas Gómez, secretary of local and interior relations for the union's central board of directors. The men immediately fled without searching the office or taking anything else. Together with the fact that their phone lines were cut, has led the union to believe the act was politically motivated.

    The Stibys local and its members have been a significant force in the resistance and have sustained multiple assaults and repression since the June 28 coup, including a fragmentation grenade in the office and military lockdown during a rally. Stibys' president and vice president, Carlos H. Reyes and Porfirio Ponce, have been central figures in the FNRP, themselves having been targets of threats and repression.

  9. More than 200 complaints of rights abuse, but 90% have not exhausted legal procedures in Honduras


    Honduran Deputy Attorney General Ricardo Rodriguez said his office has received more than 200 complaints of human rights violations, more than 90 percent of which have not exhausted legal procedures within Honduras, and so are not yet eligible to be considered by international bodies. According to human rights leaders, many cases have not yet investigated. Rodriguez said his office is in regular contact with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about any cases they have received that should have been addressed within the Honduran system. According to the commission's website, it can also accept cases in which domestic remedies have not been exhausted if "1) those remedies do not provide for adequate due process; 2) effective access to those remedies was denied, or; 3) there has been undue delay in the decision on those remedies."

  10. Inter-American Human Rights Commission visits Honduras, expresses continued concern

    An Inter-American Human Rights Commission delegation visited Honduras May 15 to 18 in a follow-up to its August 2009 visit, and found continued sources of deep concern in the area of human rights violations—against journalists and teachers among others—and official response and investigation thereof. Although the commission has granted precautionary measures to protect a number of people, it also found that the implementation of these has been ineffective. Its May 19 statement calls for the Truth Commission to include an inquiry into these human rights violations.

  11. Role and process of official Truth Commission examined

    Last month former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, who is heading the official
    Honduran Truth Commission that was launched May 4, shed some light on the role of the commission, which is supported by the United Nations and the United States, and how it will conduct its operations.

    Speaking at the Washington-based NGO Inter-American Dialogue on May 19, which MISF attended, Stein explained that although to date all of the truth commissions set up in Latin America have had as their primary objective the investigation of human rights abuses, this is not the case in Honduras; instead, the main objective is political, "to clarify how the institutional scaffolding of Honduras was dismantled and a crisis ensued." Regarding that objective, Stein told the L.A. Times in a May 9 article that investigating the antecedents to the events of June 28 was important: "Eruption was a date and time, but it took a long time to cook. It is important to help several sectors of society who have antagonistic views to express their own experiences and what they went through, especially when they haven't been able to do so."

    Stein told the L.A. Times that investigation into human rights abuse allegations would nevertheless also be a part of the commission's work. "Yes. We will delve into human rights cases and cases of corruption," he said. "We will deal with human rights violations before and after the events of June 28 and corruption cases related to it." He explained to the Dialogue audience that the commission will use different approaches to get human rights information, including making visits to all departments in Honduras to collect information and testimonies, holding both public sessions and private one for those who want their testimonies to be confidential. He told the Times, "In our work plan, no group will be excluded. We will be open for anybody who wants to bring in their own experiences. We are already receiving photographs, videotapes."

    Some, including Cejil and senior Brookings fellow and former Costa Rican Vice President Kevin Casas-Zamora, who also spoke at the Dialogue and has been involved in other talks on Honduras, expressed concern that the Honduran Truth Commission does not meet international standards, in particular noting potential difficulties in securing information from Honduran authorities. "The problem is that the people that staged the coup won in this case," Casas-Zamora said at the Dialogue. "Whether we like it or not, they are in power."

    Observers have also noted that Zelaya, his supporters, and other resistance members have expressed unwillingness to work with the official Truth Commission. When asked how the commission would deal with those who don't want to cooperate with the commission, Stein told the L.A. Times,
    "We are not worried about the extremes [on both the right and the left]. We have found enough interest among groups who want to come forward. And we have to be surgically careful not to allow ourselves to be sucked into the political squabbles."

    Casas-Zamora said that unless there is a guarantee that the truth commission will be able to secure information from all the authorities in Honduras, especially the judiciary and the Congress, the United States should use its "only remaining lever" to exert influence on Honduras through the International Monetary Fund. He said the international community, and particularly the United States, missed an opportunity to hold the Truth Commission to international standards when it recognized the elections without using this as a condition.

    At the Dialogue, Stein also discussed his opinions on the geopolitical dimensions of Honduras' crisis and the rampant corruption throughout the region. Because the Central American isthmus is interconnected and interdependent in economic and political terms, he said, whatever happens in Honduras will necessarily impact neighboring countries. According to Stein, organized crime has penetrated public and private institutions throughout Central America and wields a lot of money. "Potential political candidates who are unwilling to be bought are likely to be killed," he said, adding, "Some citizens are willing to sacrifice their basic freedoms and accept authoritarianism in the name of fighting the violence."

  12. NGOs criticize official Truth Commission, call on OAS to help restore democracy in Honduras

    On May 17, Cejil released an analysis of the official decree creating the Honduran Truth Commission. In a statement announcing the report, Cejil said the commission was "born with serious deficiencies" that "compromise the reliability of its operations and its resulting conclusions" and "contradict international standards on transitional justice and truth commissions."

    Cejil sent a letter, published the following day, to OAS Secretary-General José Insulza expressing its concerns over the Truth Commission, along with the dismissal of the Honduran judges. (See top story.) It asked the OAS to intensify initiatives to restore democracy and the rule of law in Honduras, and to pressure authorities to fulfill international obligations regarding human rights.

    The Honduran Platform for Human Rights also sent a letter to the OAS May 18, requesting that the hemispheric body clarify its role in the official Truth Commission convened by the Lobo administration. The organization reiterated its position that the Truth Commission is illegal and illegitimate because constitutional order has not been restored. The letter reads, "Therefore, we are confident that the Organization of American States will not provide the exchange of money referred to in Article 3 or the channeling of funds referred to in Article 5" of the April executive decree that outlines the mandate of the official commission. However, the letter expressed concern with OAS Secretary-General José Insulza's participation in the May 4 innauguration of the Truth Commission, which human rights groups have criticized because the Lobo administration has used that appearance as a mark of institutional support from the OAS. Insulza has stated that he believes it would be premature to readmit Honduras the OAS.

  13. Alternative truth commission launches May 4
     
    On May 4, the same day the official Honduran Truth Commission was announced, the Platform for Human Rights announced an alternative commission, dubbed the "Comisión de Verdad"—which in Spanish means both "Commission of Truth" and "Real Commission"—which will focus on human rights violations that have taken place since the June 28 coup. The Comisión de Verdad has already confirmed the national commissioners: the Rev. Fausto Milla, who has a long history with human rights issues in El Salvador and Honduras, and Helen Umaña, a Honduran writer, professor and literary critic who was in political exile during the Tiburcio Carias Andino dictatorship. Unconfirmed international participants include Nobel Peace Prize winners Rigoberta Menchú, of Guatemala, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, of Argentina. The Comisión de Verdad's findings would likely be used by human rights NGOs to prosecute crimes against humanity in international courts, according to a source within the Platform for Human Rights who wished to remain anonymous.

  14. FNRP restarts public referendum to convene constitutional assembly

    Picking up where Manuel Zelaya's interrupted public referendum left off, the FNRP announced that as of May 23 it had collected 204,455 signatures of Honduran citizens in support of convening a national constitutional assembly. The group began formally collecting signatures on a national level on May 1 and hopes to gather 1.25 million signatures by June 28, the anniversary of the coup that has thrown the country into turmoil. While President Lobo has made comments suggesting support of such a move, Rodolfo Irías Navas, National Party congressional leader, said that an assembly right now would create turmoil.

    Members of Honduran solidarity groups in the United States have also emphasized the importance of a constitutional assembly. Sergio Moncada, co-coordinator of the Washington, D.C.-based Hondurans for Democracy Coalition, told MISF,

    "The country as a whole needs to engage on what the resistance has zeroed in on—what is democracy?—what is the form of democracy we want in Honduras? That has been swept under the rug with talks of a truth commission and 'unity government.' The basic question is, what does democracy mean for Hondurans? I’d like to see a national dialoge on that."

    Rudolfo Pastor, co-coordinator of the group and former minister of political affairs in Zelaya's embassy in Washington, told MISF,

    "There is a big disconnect about how flawed the situation is. For anyone it would be a positive thing to have elections, strengthen the justiciary, but if these institutions are already flawed, how can you strenthgen them without total reform? People in Honduras are demanding as an urgent priority that the constitution be reformed and institutions be reformed before trying to stregthen them. These are institutions that here in the United States are highly regarded as trustworthy, as fundamental—but police and military in Honduras are not respected, they are criminals. But they are receiving money to fix things in Honduras.”

  15. Resistance: we will have political arm

    On May 22, President Lobo said in a press conference that he supported the FNRP becoming a political party and offered his help in getting it properly registered. In response, resistance leader Rafael Alegría confirmed that the popular movement would have a political arm to participate in future elections. But first, he said, "we need to democratize the electoral system, and all the institutions dealing with democracy, citizen involvement and security." He added, "For now, we need to focus on the Consulta [public referendum on convening a constitutional assembly] and gathering signatures." Alegría also noted that the president's recognition gives the constitutional assembly and a change to the constitution more momentum.

  16. Lobo statements support Zelaya return

    In a CNN interview while in Spain on May 21, President Lobo admitted that the events of June 28 constituted a coup, and that he’d been in touch with former President Zelaya saying the same. In his efforts to try to sow the seeds for national reconciliation, Lobo has also put forth a plan to fly to the Dominican Republic and personally return with Zelaya to prove the ousted president wouldn’t be arrested or killed, as some say would happen. Lobo was reportedly in secret meetings with the Supreme Court and the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff to negotiate Zelaya’s return.

  17. Llorens says minority of Hondurans "opposed to reconciliation"

    U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens said this week that minority groups on the extreme left and right are obstructing the "national reconciliation" that President Lobo is trying to advance. Llorens said these small groups are "not doing anything for the good of the country" and do not reflect the perspective of the majority of Hondurans.

  18. Colombian police to train Hondurans on fighting drug trafficking and organized crime

    On May 24, President Porfirio Lobo traveled to Columbia to sign sign an agreement with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to have Colombian police train their Honduran counterparts on dealing with drug trafficking, kidnapping, security and human rights issues. The Bogotá meeting is a follow-up to a February agreement between the countries to collaborate on the issue of organized crime.

  19. Former coup president dies

    Former Honduran President Oswaldo Lopez Arellano, who led two government takeovers (1963 and 1972) in Honduras, died this month after being hospitalized for prostate cancer. The Honduran government declared three days of mourning and called his death "an irreparable loss to the Honduran society." An estimated 3,000 people died in the 1963 coup.

Roz Dzelzitis
Executive Director
May I Speak Freely Media

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