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Honduran Election Results Contested by International Observers

By Kevin Edmonds | The Other Side of Paradise | November 28, 2013

Honduras’ elections on November 24 had the potential of reversing some of the worst pro-market, anti-people policies put forward by the government of Porfirio Lobo, who was the direct beneficiary of the 2009 coup that ousted the left-of-center Manuel Zelaya. Instead, the elections have been fraught with irregularities and violent intimidation, threatening to throw the embattled nation into further political disarray.

These elections were regarded as pivotal for Honduras, as the administration of the ruling National Party has done little to combat the country’s poverty rate which stands at over 60 percent. Instead the National Party has been focused on opening up the country to multinational corporations. This is best demonstrated by the National Party’s passage of a new mining law that would remove the moratorium on the granting of new mining concessions put in place by former president Zelaya in 2008. The new mining law, which was passed earlier this year, was drafted with the help of the Canadian International Development Agency. The law effectively allows for a return to destructive open-pit mining practices that have been linked to numerous human rights abuses and widespread environmental destruction.

In addition to revising the mining laws, as detailed last year by NACLA’s Keane Bhatt, the Lobo administration was also busy luring developers and investors to build highly problematic “charter cities.” Bhatt described these charter cities as “privately owned municipalities that would be managed autonomously, complete with their own police forces, tax codes, and legal systems. These cities would develop industries for export-oriented growth, like textile manufacturing; they would also sign onto international trade agreements independently, and manage their own immigration policies.”

Standing in opposition to these pro-multinational corporation policies, the LIBRE (Liberty and Refoundation) Party is led by Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of former president Manuel Zelaya—who, under the constitution, was barred from running for a second term. The LIBRE party emerged from the post-coup resistance movement and seeks to build a Honduras in which self-determination and social justice—not the rule of the oligarchs—prevail. Due to the strength and wealth of those they oppose, the LIBRE party has been systematically attacked by the military police and paramilitary forces associated with the various landowners and business figures.

Rights Action has extensively documented the violent intimidation of LIBRE party members and progressive journalists in the run-up to the November 24 elections. Rights Action recently released a report that revealed since May 2012, at least 18 LIBRE party activists have been killed, with 15 others falling victim to armed attacks.

Despite the presence of hundreds of international observers, the state-sanctioned violence and intimidation did not cease. As reported by members of the Canadian NGO Common Frontiers who were part of the official delegation, the day before the election armed groups entered hotels in Tegucigalpa in order to intimidate election observers. With the passage of time, it is becoming increasingly apparent that examples of armed intimidation were crucial to the victory of the National Party’s candidate Juan Orlando Hernández.

Soon after the contested results were announced, Canadian electoral observers released a statement on November 25, stating that “After careful consideration of our own observations of the electoral process in Honduras we find the presidential elections to be inconsistent with democratic principles and rife with fraudulent practices.”

Their statement concluded with their recommendations: “We urge the Canadian government not to recognize the results of the Honduran elections. There must be an opportunity to do a full, transparent, accurate count, and fully investigate the many reports of irregularities, intimidation and threats by authorities.” (The entire statement from the Canadian delegation can be read here).

Following the statement by the Canadian delegation, on November 26, the National Lawyers Guild published a press release which declared that “The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation of 17 credentialed international observers seriously question the validity of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s (TSE) preliminary results of Sunday’s national elections in Honduras. The NLG takes issue with the United States government’s characterization of the electoral process as transparent, given the country’s recent and pervasive human rights violations… The NLG noted a strong will and enthusiasm among Hondurans to participate in the electoral process despite a pervasive climate of fear and intimidation surrounding opposition party members and observers. Over the weekend, two LIBRE party activists were murdered, while two other deaths and three injuries were reported near a voting center in the Moskitia region. In addition, international observers reported multiple incidents of intimidation by state actors in the days leading up to the elections.”

It is predictable that the United States and Canada will support the contested results of the election, as irregularities are only important when their favoured candidate does not win. One only has to look at their support for the electoral process in Haiti in 2010—a situation in which 14 political parties were banned and observers witnessed widespread fraud and irregularities. Both countries have a great deal invested in Honduras, financially and geopolitically. Indeed the entire process was summed up brilliantly by Canales Vásquez, a LIBRE activist, who remarked to Upside Down World’s Sandra Cuffe: “They don’t want an example to be set in Honduras where the people kick the oligarchy out at the ballot box and where the system changes in favor of the people. That’s what we’re struggling for in Honduras, and that’s the reason for this repression against the people and against the LIBRE party.”

November 28, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Honduras: Congress Resurrects Military Police Force

Weekly News Update on the Americas | August 25, 2013

Honduras’ National Congress voted on Aug. 21 to approve a law creating the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), a new 5,000-member police unit composed of army reservists under the control of the military. This will be in addition to a 4,500-member “community police” force that the government is forming, according to an Aug. 12 announcement by Security Minister Arturo Corrales. Although he called the move a “change of course,” Corrales failed to explain the difference between the community police, which is to be operative by September, and the existing national police force.

The government’s plan to raise the number of police agents by 9,500 is clearly meant to respond to the dramatic increase in crime in Honduras; according to the United Nations, the country now has an annual murder rate of 84 for every 100,000 people, the highest in the world. Police corruption is a major problem, and police agents have been convicted of high-profile crimes [see Update #1187]. The current police force had 14,472 agents on the payroll as of May, but in a new police scandal, only 9,350 agents could be found at work during July.

The police changes come as candidates prepare for Nov. 24 general elections, which will choose a new president, the 128 members of Congress, the 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), and local mayors [Update #1162]. The main force behind the new military police is Juan Orlando Hernández, who has resigned from his post as president of the National Congress to run as the presidential candidate of the center-right National Party (PN)—the party of current president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa, who has governed Honduras since January 2010 without being able to contain the crime wave.

Human rights activists strongly oppose the proposed military police unit. “In no part of the world have the soldiers resolved security problems,” Omar Rivera, who directs the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), a coalition of civil society, organizations, told the French wire service AFP. He added that a serious fight against crime would require a fight against impunity. Bertha Oliva, the coordinator of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees in Honduras (COFADEH), called the creation of the new force “a step backwards in the demilitarization of society and the democratization of the country.” “The soldiers in the streets have only left more death and mourning, because they aren’t prepared for being guarantors of security,” she said. The national police were removed from the military and put under civilian control in 1997. Death squads operated by the military and the police were implicated in the killings of 184 government opponents in the 1980s.

Critics also asked how the government would be able to pay for two new police units that would double the current number of active agents. José Simón Azcona, a legislative deputy from the centrist Liberal Party (PL) who supported the measure, suggested that the US would pay. The US government “offered collaboration… under the previous administration” for the conversion of four military battalions into police units, he said. (It is unclear whether he was referring to a previous administration in Honduras or in the US.) (El Nuevo Diario (Nicaragua) 8/12/13 from ACAN-EFE; Honduras Culture and Politics 8/22/13; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 8/22/13; La Nación (Costa Rica) 8/23/13 from AFP, EFE; Prensa Latina 8/24/13)

August 27, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Full Spectrum Dominance, Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Step by Step: Honduras Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty

By Greg McCain | Upside Down World | March 13, 2013

Photo by Greg McCain

From February 25 to March 7, I participated in the 200 km Walk (about 124 miles) referred to as Caminata Dignidad y Soberanía Paso a Paso (Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty Step by Step), which culminated with over 400 people from various groups representing the social movements in Honduras reaching the National Congress in Tegucigalpa to demand three things:

1. Abolish the new mining law, which basically gives foreign mining companies carte blanche to take the natural resources of Honduras for their own enrichment while having no regulations to stop these companies from poisoning the rivers and ground water and destroying the environment through mountain top removal and deforestation. In addition, these mining companies have historically exploited the labor of the local communities, paying little to nothing while poisoning the local populations with chemicals such as cyanide used for extraction.

2. Abolish the new Model Cities legislation. This is new legislation passed by decree by the Congress after having been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in November of last year. The following month, the president of the Congress, Juan Orlando Hernandez(JOH), staged what has been referred to as the second coup by holding an emergency session of Congress to vote out 4 of the members of the Constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court who found the original version in violation of the sovereignty of Honduras. JOH and President Pepe Lobo claimed that these magistrates were traitors who were holding back the economic development of the country. He also claimed to have fixed the issues that these “traitors” found to be unconstitutional.

It is for all intents and purposes the same neo-liberal package that gives up huge areas of land to outside developers to create neo-colonial enclaves that don’t have to operate under constitutional regulations. The further claim is that the land under consideration is uninhabited. Two areas that have been proposed, the communities of Puerto Castillo and Santa Rosa de Aguán are traditional Garifuna land along the northern coast in the Department of Colon. The Garifuna are the Afro-Caribe people who have inhabited the northern coast of Honduras for over 200 years. They have been struggling to maintain their land from rich foreigners such as the Canadian Porn King Randy Jorgensen who has bought up at bargain prices much acreage in and around the area of Trujillo.

Jorgensen has built a cruise ship dock on the beachfront in the town of Trujillo, not far from Puerto Castillo, which is also the location of the fruit company, Dole’s, shipping docks.  The Congress refers to the model cities as Special Development Regions (RED in its Spanish acronym). They will combine the exploitation of local labor and natural resources perpetrated by foreign corporations with the destruction of the natural environment such as has happened in Cancun, Mexico and other resort areas around the world, with all of the profits going to the foreign directors of the REDs, and their foreign investors.

3. Freedom for the Political Prisoner Jose Isabel “Chavelo” Morales Lopez. Chavelo Morales has become a symbol of the campesino movement and his imprisonment illustrates the criminalization of the campesinos as they struggle to maintain the land that is theirs by all rights under the agrarian reform laws that had existed prior to 1992. These laws were subverted by the ruling elite when so called “free” trade agreements were first being thought up and hammered out by corporate lobbyists in the US Capital.

Chavelo was framed for the 2008 murder of a family of rich landowners, the Osortos. This moneyed family had illegally obtained thousands of hectares of land at rock bottom prices (some of it free of charge) that were legally recognized as being set aside for peasant farmers. In the late 1990s, the Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MCA), of which Chavelo is a member, took legal routes to obtain the land and began to work it for their own subsistence. The Osortos and their paramilitary guards terrorized the communities, killing leaders of the MCA, and shooting into the houses of families. This occurred while the national police and the Honduran government turned their backs on the illegal actions of the Osortos, presumably due to the bribes that the rich landowners doled out. Indeed, the police and the district attorneys played an active role in criminalizing the campesinos by issuing trumped up arrests warrants (Currently there are over 3080 campesinos with arrest warrants against them). Click here for a more complete background of Chavelo’s story and the travesty of justice in his case.

Chavelo spent the first 2 years in jail without a trial. It was another 2 years before he received his sentence. This is a clear violation of Honduran Penal Process Code 188, which states that a person cannot be incarcerated for more than 2 years from the time of his arrest until sentencing. This alone should be enough for the Supreme Court to annul the conviction and set him free, and indeed this is what Chavelo’s lawyers are hoping to happen in their appeal of causation that they have filed with the high court. But additionally, the sentencing statement that the judges in Trujillo issued gives no concrete evidence linking Chavelo to the deaths that occurred other than a photo of him close by to the scene where some 300 other campesinos and dozens of police had been during a standoff at the Ranch of Henry Osorto, the ex-military, ex-police sub-commissioner, and current penal system investigator. It is with Osortos influence alone that Chavelo is currently imprisoned. Chavelo has spent close to 4 ½ years in prison based on hearsay evidence and the political and economic influence that Henry Osorto has over the judges. Chavelo faces 20 years in prison unless international pressure convinces the Supreme Court of Honduras otherwise.

With these three demands energizing our every step, we entered Tegucigalpa with 400+ walkers who made a silent vigil through the streets until we reached the National Congress. Once there, hundreds more joined us. A small group, accompanied by Padre Melo Moreno, a Jesuit priest and director of Radio Progress, was able to meet with Marvin Ponce, vice president of the Congress. Promises were made that the protesters concerns would be addressed. No one is holding his or her breath.

Another group was able to meet with the President of the Sala Penal of the Supreme Court, basically the chamber of the court that deals with prison issues. This group was made up of Omar Menjivar, Chavelo’s lawyer; Esly Benegas from COPA (the Spanish acronym for the Coordinated Popular Organizations of the Aguán); Merlin Morales, Chavelo’s brother; Myself, Greg McCain, representing La Voz de los de Abajo and the Honduran Solidarity Network, and Brigitte Gynther from SOA Watch. The President of the Sala Penal, Jacobo Antonio Cálix Hernández, began by stating that the court was backlogged by two years, they hadn’t even begun to hear cases that had been sent to the court in 2011. Chavelo’s case had just reached the court at the end of January 2013. He stated that cases were very complicated and that they took a lot of study on the part of the judges. He was basically letting us know that nothing happens fast in the justice system.

We each made our case for why we were there and what we expected from the court, reiterating the lack of evidence and the violation of the procedural code. Chavelo’s brother made explicit Osorto’s influence on the judges in the Trujillo tribunal and the fact that the only evidence was a photo of Chavelo and that the context of the photo was not addressed in the sentencing. He also made the emotional appeal that Chavelo has been unjustly incarcerated while his daughter, father, 2 aunts and grandfather have all passed away without his being able to attend the funerals. I piggybacked on Merlin’s plea by noting the money and political power of Osorto and my hope that it does not reach to the Supreme Court. I also underlined the amount of time that Chavelo has spent in jail and hoped that there weren’t further undue delays of justice.

Judge Cálix made the promise that he would speed up the process for having the trial transcripts of the lower court transcribed by no later than the following week. He then stated that he would schedule the hearing of the case for sometime between April 1st and the 5th. This hearing is basically a formality so that each side, the Defense and the Prosecutor, can present their cases. The judges then legally have up to a year to make a decision. This was huge news. We in the room, along with the threat of having 400+ demonstrators that were still at the National Congress converging on the Supreme Court, cut the process down by two years. Again, none of us are holding our breath. The campaign to put pressure on the Supreme Court has just begun. We need to reduce the year long wait and bring Chavelo home. Pronto!

To send emails and make phone calls to the court between now and the promised April hearing, click here, and you can also follow future actions and the progress of Chavelo’s case.

March 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Step by Step: Honduras Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty

Honduras: Supreme Court Blocks “Model Cities”—for Now

Weekly News Update on the Americas | October 7, 2012

A five-member panel of Honduras’ Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) ruled in a 4-1 decision on Oct. 3 that legislation creating Special Development Regions (RED), autonomous regions also known as “Model Cities,” is unconstitutional. The only opposing vote came from Justice Oscar Fernando Chinchilla, who failed to recuse himself despite an apparent conflict of interest: he is a close friend of National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández, a promoter of the project, and has visited Korean economic development zones in Southeast Asia with Hernández. Because the decision was not unanimous, the full court of 15 justices must make the final determination. Chief Justice Jorge Rivera Avilés has set Oct. 17 as the date for the session.

The “Model Cities” project has sparked dozens of legal challenges [see Update #1145]. Although much of the opposition comes from the left, the plan is unpopular across the political spectrum. In September Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio, a conservative, announced his opposition to the project, which proponents claim will spur economic development. “[If] you want to have a developed country, it should be the whole country, not privileged zones,” he wrote in a communiqué, adding that “the national territory can’t be divided because that would be finishing off the country and putting an end to the nation.”

Honduran president Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa said on Oct. 6 that he would push ahead with the project. “[I]f Honduran society today is afraid to make the leap, we’ve talked with the Supreme Court of Justice about sitting down to dialogue and about what changes would have to be made for [the RED] to be compliant with the law.” (Honduras Culture and Politics 10/3/12; El Heraldo (Tegucigalpa) 10/5/12; La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) 10/6/12)

October 9, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , , | Comments Off on Honduras: Supreme Court Blocks “Model Cities”—for Now

Honduras: “Model Cities” Project Set to Begin?

Weekly News Update on the Americas | September 11, 2012

Honduran National Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández announced on Sept. 4 that the government’s Commission for the Promotion of Public-Private Alliances (COALIANZA) had signed an agreement for the first of three “model city” projects–semi-autonomous regions mandated under a 2010 constitutional amendment [see World War 4 Report 6/9/12]. COLIANZA claims the project, which still needs approval from the Congress, will create 5,000 direct and indirect jobs this year, 15,000 jobs in 2013, 30,000 in 2014, and 45,000 in 2015.

The project is likely to be located near Puerto Cortés or Puerto Castilla on the Atlantic coast, or in Choluteca department on the country’s narrow Pacific coast. “It should be noted that these model cities will be established in depopulated areas of Honduras,” Hernández told the media. “It does not imply the displacement of people or social groups.” The Honduras Culture and Politics blog noted: “None of these regions is completely vacant. Reading between the lines, what Hernández is saying is that there are no large cooperatives or powerful landowners in these regions, groups that might vocally protest the expropriation of the land on which they live and work.”

The main funding for the “model city” is coming from an unidentified Canadian company. Other funders include a US company identified as the “NKG Group” or “MKG Group,” and a start-up called Future Cities Development Corporation. Both companies seem to have rightwing libertarian orientations. A leading executive at NKG Group, Michael Strong, appears to be associated with Whole Foods CEO John Mackey; a Michael Strong is listed with Mackey as a co-founder of FLOW, an organization dedicated to “liberating the entrepreneurial spirit for good.” One of Future Cities Development Corporation’s founders is Patri Friedman, the grandson of University of Chicago economist and neoliberal theorist Milton Friedman. (Honduras Culture and Politics 9/5/12)

Some 14 groups or individuals–including campesino organizations and the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH)—filed a legal challenge to the “model cities” law on Sept. 7, citing a motion filed in October 2011 by Oscar Cruz, a former government attorney for constitutional issues. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the presidential candidate of the leftist Freedom and Refoundation (LIBRE) party and the wife of former president José Manuel (“Mel”) Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), issued a statement denouncing the law as “incompatible with the concept of sovereignty, independence and equality of opportunity for national and foreign investment.” She warned people who start these projects that “they are exposing themselves to the loss of their investments.”

LIBRE was formed in June 2011 by the National Popular Resistance Front (FNRP), a coalition of unions and grassroots organizations that led the resistance to the June 2009 military coup that removed former president Zelaya from office.

The project has even received criticism from Paul Romer, the New York University professor whose “charter cities” concept is the basis for the Honduran “model cities” law. Romer reportedly may quit the Honduran transparency commission he was chairing because he feels he hasn’t been give sufficient information and authority to carry out his responsibilities. (Honduras Culture and Politics 9/7/12; Xiomara Castro de Zelaya statement 9/7/12 via Vos el Soberano)

September 11, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Economics | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Honduras: “Model Cities” Project Set to Begin?