Category Archives: Honduras

Honduras-Hong Kong connection

It’s not often such a clear connection occurs, but when it does I am so glad.

Seems the Hong Kong authorities arrested a couple of Hong Kongers for illegally importing Honduran rosewood.

Reports of the arrest made the newspapers in Honduras (Incautan en China madera hondureña) and Hong Kong. (Hong Kong customs seizes 92 tonnes of endangered rosewood)

The arrest is just one of many involving the endangered tree. According to the South China Morning Post:

China has long been considered the epicentre of the illegal timber trade, with Hong Kong often a convenient gateway due to the city’s status as a free port. As much as 30 per cent of the city’s timber imports were from illegal sources, a 2010 report by WWF Hong Kong found.

Rosewood is valued for its finish and resistance to rot. The tree is primarily found in Honduras and Madagasgar. It is protected under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

This case shows — once again — that there are so many connections between different countries, if only reporters would look for them.

Granted, if would be nicer if the connections did not include destruction of vital natural resources or criminal activities.

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Filed under Connections, Honduras, Hong Kong

Another Honduran journalist slain

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports another journalist murder in Honduras: Television station owner gunned down in Honduras.

Carlos Lauria, CPJ senior program coordinator for the Americas has it right:

“Honduras has a disturbing pattern of letting journalists’ murders remain unsolved and unexplained, perpetuating the cycle of impunity. Honduran authorities must launch an immediate and thorough investigation into the murder of Reynaldo Paz Mayes, fully examine all possible motives, and bring those responsible to justice.”

Part of the problem fully investigating the deaths of journalists — and taxi drivers and lawyers and anyone else — is that the Honduran government does not have well-trained law enforcement officers.

Some of that is changing, thanks to the US, Colombia, the EU and other countries. Together these countries are training special squads of police and prosecutors to seriously investigate crimes and to go where the evidence takes them.

Unfortunately, there are still too few of these trained (and vetted) investigators. But the number is growing.

Another problem is the rhetoric once a journalist is killed.

In the case of Paz, he had no background as a journalist. He was a political activist who set up his television station a couple of years ago to air stories and commentaries against the current government of Honduras. (Unlike, US stations, Honduran TV and radio stations are highly partisan.)

Paz received threats for his comments. So when he was killed, the immediate reaction from others also opposed to the Hernandez government was that Paz was killed for his political beliefs.

Juan Ramón Flores, owner of the television station CTV Canal 48 and president of the city chapter of  [the opposition party] LIBRE, told CPJ that Paz had received threats for years in connection with his political beliefs and, most recently, in relation to his on-air criticism of President Juan Orlando Hernández, who he accused of having undue influence over all branches of government. Flores said the most recent threats had been made in anonymous phone calls the week before the shooting. Paz had talked about the threats on his program, Flores said.

Other journalists in Comayagua, where Paz had his station, say they are not convinced he was killed because of his political views.

Without a doubt there are ethical and courageous journalists who have been killed because of their adherence to the idea of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. They thrived on exposing the pandemic corruption in Honduras. They saw their mission as one to let the disinfecting light of truth help clean up Honduran politics and society.

And many of these journalists were killed because of their dedication to their craft.

However, too often many of the journalists killed in the past few years in Honduras may not have been slain because they were journalists but because of other factors in their lives.

The pay really sucks for Honduran journalists, so some have side businesses. Maybe a stall in a weekend market, or maybe a small store. Unfortunately for Honduras, extortion of vendors and merchants is wide-spread. Gangs demand a “war tax” from companies and many market vendors.

Refusal to pay the “war tax” is often enough of an excuse for gangs to kill someone.

In at least one case, the murder may have been a case of mistake identity.

There are also situations that can best be described as “wrong place, wrong time.” A journalist is in a bar or restaurant just as any normal person would be. And maybe, a gang leader is also in the same bar or restaurant, completely unrelated to the journalist being there. Rival gangs have been known to just spray a place with gunfire to get the one gang leader they were looking for. (Thankfully, these types of killings were few and far between. And now seem to have abated completely.)

When threats seem to come to journalist for their political comments, it is often because the journalist is looking into a local political leader who is in the hip pocket of a local narco. So the threat is not based on liberal v. conservative views but rather on the potential damage to a lucrative financial arrangement between a crooked politician and a drug dealer. And then, the murder is handled by the narco, not the politician. (Think of the Mexico situation, where — according to reports — a corrupt mayor handed over 43 students to the local narco.)

Politics has little to do with the threat. It is all about the money and the power.

Complaints by a local media outlet of the overreaching power of the national government are an annoyance, but not one that would lead to the killing of a journalist.

Will we ever know why Paz and most of the other murdered journalists were killed? I doubt it.

Again, because of the poor quality of criminal investigation in the country, we may never be able to get to the whole story about these murders. And if the funding and support for the special investigative units is cut — as many in the US opposed to the current Honduran government argue — we may never know.

The threats to the funding of training and vetting of honest police and prosecutors comes from the very people who scream the loudest about the poor system of justice in Honduras. If the U.S., Colombia and the EU withdraw their funding and training, there is little hope for full and fair investigations and prosecutions of murders.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption, Honduras, Killings

Case against licensing journalists

In the United States the First Amendment protects journalists from being “banned” by government edict — or by any type of edict for that matter.

Journalists in other countries, however, are not so lucky. The latest example of why this is a bad idea comes out of Honduras.

Seems commentator Julio Ernesto Alvarado of Globo TV has been hit with a 16-month ban on “doing journalism” by the Penal Appeals Court in Tegucigalpa.

Now, I know the Globo people. They are serious anti-government types — unless the government is the leftist Libre party. The commentators are passionate in their denunciations of the ruling party. And even sometimes go over the edge of good taste.

But that all pales in the outrage that a government agency can tell a person he/she cannot be a journalist.

Whenever governments get involved, all sorts of bad things have the potential to happen. And Mr. Alvarado is seeing the results.

The issue stems from episodes of Alvarado’s show that discussed corruption in the national university. A dean was accused of corruption by teachers in the school on the show. The dean filed charges of defamation of character against Alvarado and the teachers and lost.

Under appeal the dean won , even though the court operated under the assumption that the dean had indeed engaged in corrupt practices.

With the dean’s victory came the ban on Alvarado from doing journalism.

So we have a cowonurt deciding who can be a journalist. Not a good idea.

And we have a system where truth is not an absolute defense for libel and defamation. (As it is in the States.)

In addition to the court ruling Alvarado has been receiving threats that — according to Globo — have not been taken seriously by the government. (On this point, I have serious questions. Some of the leadership brought in under the new government take protection of journalists VERY seriously.)

What is clear, however, that free and independent journalism is threatened by any law or system that allows a government agency of any type to determine who can be a journalist. Likewise, it is a danger when a court or other government entity can ban someone from “doing journalism.” And it is a danger when any private group — such as a journalism association — has the power to determine who can “do journalism.”

The bottom line is that the way to fight bad journalism is with more (and better) journalism, not by denying anyone who wants to from entering the fray.

Read more about the Alvarado case at PEN: Honduras: PEN member barred from journalism after covering corruption in state university

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Filed under Honduras, Press Freedom

Pot, meet kettle. Russian media question Honduran elections

It really is funny to see a Russian operation raise questions about the fairness of any election. (Four years after coup: Will Honduran elections be fair?)

And the reporter picked one of the least objective sources for the basis of the article. Opinions are fine if identified as such, but there was absolutely no effort at balance in this “news” story from Honduras.

 

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Filed under Central America, Honduras, International News Coverage

Addressing impunity is a global issue not limited to just the media

Being a journalist has never been a safe job in many countries and the arrest rate and death toll makes that clear.

  • 984 journalists and media workers were killed since 1992
  • 19 journalists and media workers have been killed so far this year
  • 594 of the murders have not been investigated or prosecuted
  • 232 journalists are in jail for doing their job

The raw numbers of murders and jailings are frightening. What is especially frightening is the impunity that so many murders can be left unaddressed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists released a new report on Pakistan and the lack of follow-up in the murders of 20 journalists. (Roots of Impunity: Pakistan’s Endangered Press And the Perilous Web of Militancy, Security, and Politics)

According to the report, Pakistan ranks among the world’s deadliest nations for the press today.

But just in case you think the problem is limited to the volatile area of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, think again.

Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, is also dangerous for journalists. (The numbers from the rest of Central America are not so great either. )

Murder Chart

The InterAmerican Press Association (SIPA in Spanish) sent a special team to Honduras to look into the situation. (Misión de la SIP llega a evaluar libertad de expresión) The IAPA/SIPA team is looking at more than just the murders of journalists. It is looking to see how the Honduran government is living up to its pledges of a year ago to protect journalists and to prosecute those who attack journalists.

(FYI: The IAPA/SIPA has a whole project on impunity. Going to its reports page you can see that Honduras is mentioned a lot but so is Brazil, Mexico and Colombia. No one country in the Western Hemisphere has a monopoly on impunity when it comes to the harassment and murder of journalists.)

One thing to remember is that impunity comes from a government’s lack of political will to deal with the situation. The inaction is not because of a government policy to target the journalists and other defenders of human rights. (Unlike places such as China, Venezuela and Cuba where the weight and anger of the rulers and their supporters are indeed targeted against independent media outlets.)

The CPJ report on Pakistan is clear about this:

The violence comes in the context of a government’s struggle to deliver basic human rights to all citizens. The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan laid it out succinctly when it said in its annual report in March 2012 that “militancy, growing lawlessness, and ethnic, sectarian and political violence exposed the government’s inability to ensure security and law and order for people in large parts of the country.”

In Honduras, the CPJ notes:

CPJ research shows that the authorities have been slow and negligent in investigating numerous journalist murders and other anti-press crimes since the 2009 coup

And

Journalists who report on sensitive issues such as drug trafficking, government corruption, and land conflicts face frequent threats and attacks in a nation so gripped by violence and lawlessness that it has become one of the most murderous places in the world.

Unfortunately because Honduras is the murder capital of the world, journalists doing their jobs could be caught in the crossfire, be targeted for reasons other than journalism or maybe not even be targeted but just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

None of that dismisses the pain and suffering the families and a free society feels because of the killings. It just may be that the journalists are not targeted because they are journalists. But without vigorous and successful investigations and prosecutions we will never know.

And that brings up to the real point.

The main problem in Pakistan is the same as the problem in Honduras: Weak government agencies unwilling to do anything or who frightened into doing nothing.

Addressing the issue of impunity, therefore becomes more than complaining about how the media (or lawyers or reform politicians or students) are treated.  It is a problem of strengthening government agencies to allow them to step up and address the growing chaos in their societies. And it is a problem that requires the rest of society also to step up and demand better of their governments.

The prosecutors and judges in the countries are often afraid to order investigations and prosecute the killers of journalists because then their lives (and the lives of their families) are put at risk. Likewise, individual citizens could quickly become targets if they start demanding justice for those human rights defenders that are killed.

Yet, the only way to seriously address the problem of impunity is to strengthen civic society organizations while providing protection to the most outspoken of the society.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction to the impunity situation from some influential circles is to cut funding that is designed to help strengthen and improve the very institutions needed to conduct the investigations. The logic seems to be: “You don’t have the resources to do proper investigations so we will pull the funding we were giving you to improve your resources to conduct proper investigations.”

Bottom line is that fighting impunity means addressing a wide range of issues at once.

  • It means addressing poverty — to prevent the narcos/religious fanatics from getting new recruits.
  • It means strengthening and supporting civic organizations so they can both stand up against fanatical and criminal elements AND demand more from their governments.
  • It means providing training and funding to the law enforcement agencies so they can weed out and keep out corruption, conduct proper investigations and then conduct proper prosecutions.

That is a tall order. And it costs money. Unfortunately too many government leaders in the developed world are penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to supporting the types of programs that are needed.

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Filed under Harassment, Honduras, International News Coverage, Killings, Press Freedom

Social Councils/Media Democratization: Diversion or Danger?

Seems bad ideas keep coming back under new names.

A while back at the height of his popularity and at the tail end of his administration, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, organized a meeting called the Conference on Communications. The official purpose, according to Lula, was to get all forms of media to be less negative about Brazil. He wanted to create a “social council” to monitor and audit news reports.

In his opening address to the conference Lula said media “excesses,” “lies,” fabrications, political involvement and “slander and abuse” were a problem for the country and he intended to address that problem by making the press more responsible through “social councils.” He then said (I can only assume with tongue in cheek) that he had “a sacred commitment to freedom of the press.”

The conference was filled were representatives from social movements, government unions and businessmen. Few media organizations attended because they saw the conference as an attempt to create a framework for censorship.

“The proposal to create a ‘social council’ to audit press content implies modifications to the Constitution which guarantees free initiative and freedom of expression,” said National Magazine Editors (Aner) president Roberto Muylaert. He added “social control sends shivers anywhere in the world because it is incompatible with freedom of expression and a free press.”

Eventually the plan went nowhere as President Dilma Rousseff didn’t just put the planned government-run social council idea on the back burner, she took it off the stove.

The idea of creating social councils, or people’s councils is not a new one and it is not an idea that goes away.

The latest incarnation comes from Honduran president Porfirio Lobo.

Honduras is plagued with ineffective courts, prosecutors and police. (And rulings from the courts gutting efforts to clean up the police.) The resulting lack of ability to change the in law enforcement community more quickly means that violent crimes continue at an alarming rate — 92 murders per 100,000 people, highest murder rate in the world.

AS expected, the violence and murders make up the daily fare for the countries newspapers — as they would in any place where the government does not control the media. The problem for Lobo is that these reports show a country in deep trouble. The other day, Lobo became fed up with these constant reminders of the violence in his country and proposed a solution that is a non-starter as far as the media are concerned.

In lashing out at the problems he is facing, Lobo called for a plebiscite on media democratization.

At a meeting with the Council of Minister where 2013 was declared the “National Year of Violence Prevention,” President Lobo proposed a ballot initiative for the elections in November to hold a plebiscite on the democratization of radio and television frequencies, according to La Prensa.

Critics of Lobo’s call within the journalism and civil society communities spoke out quickly.

Rodolfo Dumas, a member of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA):

“I was not surprised at all these statements, because just look at the critical situation the country is living in security, investment, labor, health, education and especially in financial matters to understand that sooner or later the government would resort to what I have called an arsenal of mass distraction because these actions simply divert attention.”

Jimmy Dacarett, member of the Civic Democratic Union:

“The intention of the President is to distract the attention of the Honduran people and the vital issues that really are hurting the government disaster they have done to date. “

Chance are this plebiscite idea will go nowhere. But it is something to keep an eye on.

Already the Honduran media are under siege from non-government forces. The growing strength of narcos and other gangs in the country (because of the weak — and corrupted — legal system) means they — not the government — are threatening journalists.

Already some journalists admit privately that their news organizations self censor stories rather than face the wrath of a local gang. Others say they pay a “war tax” to local gangs to ensure “nothing happens” to them or their news organization.

What Honduran journalists need is what the rest of Honduran society needs: a competent, corruption-free legal system. (And that gets into the whole debate of foreign aid projects designed to do just that and civil society development.) And to be fair to Lobo, he also wants these same things but he is trying to undo decades of problems in just a few years. It takes more than just the president wanting to make changes.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption, Harassment, Honduras, Press Freedom

Journalist killer in Honduras sentenced

The killer of journalist and journalism professor Jorge Alberto Orellana was sentenced to 17 years in prison for the killing. The killer also received an additional 10 years for the robbery associated with the murder.

Orellana was killed in April 2010 during the course of a robbery.

This case is important to note because the killing had nothing to do with Orellana’s profession. He was killed as part of a robbery.

Reports around the world point out that since 2009 more than 30 media workers have been killed in Honduras, making the place one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world. Yet, rarely in those reports is the context that the country is the most dangerous place for ANYONE with 86.2 murders per 100,000 people.

The Committee to Protect Journalists notes that only five of the killings since 1992 are connected to the journalists doing their jobs.

Too often the raw number of murdered journalists is used without the context of the circumstances about their killings.

The Honduran government says it is moving on the murder cases. The sentencing of Orellana’s murderer is a start.

And remember, that many more lawyers — especially human rights lawyers — have been killed than journalists. And in the cases of many of the lawyers, a better case can be made that their murders are tied to their work than the murders of the journalists.

What is needed in Honduras is more support from the people for a more aggressive use of the law to investigate, prosecute and jail the murderers of journalists, lawyers, students, street vendors and every day people.

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Filed under Central America, Honduras, Killings