Honduras: opposition charges fraud in election

With about 43% of the ballots counted in Honduras' Nov. 24 presidential election, Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the candidate of the right-wing governing National Party (PN), was ahead with about 34% of the votes, according to electoral officials on Nov. 25. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, running for the newly formed center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), was second with 28.4%, followed by Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with about 21%. Both Castro and Hernández, previously the National Congress president, claimed victory. Castro's husband, former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), told reporters that there were "serious inconsistencies" in as many as 400,000 ballots. He said LIBRE supporters "are going to defend our triumph at the ballot box and if necessary will take to the streets." There is no runoff in the Honduran presidential election; the candidate with a plurality wins.

Honduras: pre-election repression continues

Unknown assailants shot Honduras video journalist Manuel Murillo Varela dead on Oct. 23; his body was found the next day in Tegucigalpa's Colonia Independencia. Murillo Varela had worked as a camera operator for Honduras' Globo TV and for the state television, Canal 8, and was also the official camera operator for former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), who was overthrown in a June 2009 military coup. Murillo Varela had been a victim of violence in the past: he and a colleague were abducted on Feb. 2, 2010, reportedly by police agents, and were tortured for over 24 hours. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), responded to the incident by issuing a protection order for Murillo Varela. Both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Inter American Press Association (SIP) condemned the Oct. 23 murder. More than 30 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2010.

Honduras indigenous leader's detention challenged

The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), a legal advocacy group with offices in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica and the US, has requested a hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) about the case of Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, who was ordered into preventive detention on Sept. 20. CEJIL director Marcia Aguiluz said the group has also raised the case with the United Nations. Cáceres, an indigenous Lenca, is the general coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The government has charged her with damaging property in connection with her support of protests by indigenous Lenca communities against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on and near their territory. Aguiluz said that the "criminalization of Berta Cáceres" is an "example of a new manner of persecution, since it's the use of the judicial apparatus to keep rights defenders from carrying out their work." (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Sept. 26, from EFE)

Honduras: indigenous, labor leaders under attack

On Sept. 20 a judge in the southwestern Honduran department of Intibucá issued an order for the preventive detention of indigenous leader Berta Cáceres on charges of having broken into the property of a company constructing a hydroelectric project. Cáceres, the general coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was taken to the prison in La Esperanza, Intibucá. The charges stem from her support of indigenous Lenca communities in their protests against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on and near their territory; the struggle against the project has already cost the life of Tomás García, an indigenous leader the protesters said was shot dead by soldiers on July 15. 

Honduras grants title to Miskito territory

After 40 years of conflicts, protests and negotiations, the government of Honduras on Sept. 12 formally granted title to 654,496 hectares (about 1.6 million acres) to 128 indigenous communities on the remote Miskito Coast. With this move, the total land titled to Miskito indigenous communities in Honduras comes to nearly 970,000 hectares, more than 7% of the national territory, with a population of some 100,000. "With the recognition of the rights of the Miksito people to the lands of our ancestors, Honduras has taken an historic step that benefits all the world's indigenous peoples," said Norvin Goff, president of Moskitia Asla Takanka (MASTA), the organization that represented the communities in the talks.

Honduras: three campesinos killed at mine protest

Three members of Honduras' Tolupan indigenous group were shot dead on Aug. 25 near an anti-mining and anti-logging protest in the community of Locomapa in the northern department of Yoro. According to witnesses the killers were employees of a nearby antimony mine who were themselves members of the Tolupan group. Some 150 Locomapa residents have been demonstrating against logging in their territory and against the mine, which the protesters say is operating without a permit. At the time of the shooting, residents had been blocking the San Francisco Campo highway for 12 days, allowing local traffic to pass through but turning back loggers and vehicles that belong to the mine.

Honduras: Congress resurrects military police force

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 to be operative by September, and the existing national police force.

Honduras: US-Korean maquila accused of CAFTA labor violations

Some 30 inspectors from the Honduran Labor Ministry visited the Kyungshin-Lear Honduras Electrical Distribution Systems auto parts assembly plant in a suburb of the northern city of San Pedro Sula on Aug. 13 after local media reported that some employees had to wear diapers at work because of restrictions on their bathroom breaks. Workers for the company, an affiliate of the Michigan-based Lear Corporation and Korea's Kyungshin Corp, say there are many other labor violations, such as forcing pregnant women to stand while doing assembly work. According to an Aug. 12 press release from the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation, management has fired 26 workers so far this year for trying to form a union at the maquildora (assembly plant with tax exemptions producing for export).

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