Thursday, December 23, 2010

Life for dictator of Argentina's dirty war Jorge Videla

THE principal dictator of Argentina's "dirty war", Jorge Videla, has been sentenced to life in prison.
The conviction was Videla's first in 25 years for crimes against humanity. Relatives who packed the courtroom held up grainy black-and-white pictures of the victims and shouted "murderers". Most of the two-dozen former military and police officials tried with Videla, including retired general Luciano Benjamin Menendez, also received life sentences.
Videla, an 85-year-old former army general who ruled the military junta between 1976 and 1981, had acknowledged his actions, but denied they were human rights violations, insisting he was an unjustly convicted "political prisoner".
The judges found Videla "criminally responsible" for the deaths of prisoners who were transferred from civilian jail cells to a clandestine prison where they were repeatedly tortured and interrogated before being killed.
Videla told the court Argentine society had demanded the crackdown to prevent a Marxist revolution and complained that "terrorists" now ran the country.
Videla must serve his sentence in a civilian prison, the judges decided, ruling out the privileges he enjoyed after he was first convicted of crimes against humanity in 1985, as Argentina struggled to return to democracy. Videla served just five years of a life sentence in a military prison before former president Carlos Menem granted him and other junta leaders amnesty.
After a concerted campaign to reform a judicial system packed with dictatorship-era judges, the Supreme Court overturned those amnesties in 2007, and President Cristina Fernandez has encouraged a wave of new trials of former military and police figures involved in the clandestine torture centres, where thousands of the regime's opponents disappeared.
The sentencing judge, Maria Elba Martinez, described Videla as "a manifestation of state terrorism". Some of his co-defendants received lesser terms, and seven minor defendants whose cases were joined to Videla's were found not guilty.
The 31 victims in this case - many of them university students with links to armed leftist revolutionary movements - were taken to a centre in Cordoba and tortured, including by electric shock, rape, simulated asphyxiation with water and nylon bags, and mock executions. They were left naked in cold, wet cells throughout the winter, and were told their families would be killed if they did not confess, said survivors. Menendez told the court it was historically revisionist to present armed leftist groups as passive victims with no responsibility for criminal acts. The Montoneros, a Peronist urban guerilla group of the 1960s and 70s, and the People's Revolutionary Army were committing violent acts before the coup, he reminded the judge.
"They were combatants who took on certain risks," Menendez told the court. "It's not a crime against humanity to fight an armed combatant." Videla and Menendez claimed they had to act as they did in order to prevent what they considered would be a greater tragedy - the transformation of Argentina from a conservative Christian society to a Marxist state.
About 13,000 people were killed or disappeared during the dirty war, which ran from 1976 to 1983, according to a government count. Human rights groups put the figure at 30,000.

Dissidents have little support in Cuba: WikiLeaks

By Jeff Franks

(Reuters) - Despite years of U.S. political and financial support for Cuban dissidents, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana said opposition leaders are largely unknown, badly divided and unlikely to ever run the country, according to a secret diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks.

U.S. Interests Section chief Jonathan Farrar said the dissidents deserved backing as the "conscience of Cuba," but Washington "should look elsewhere, including within the government itself, to spot likely successors to the Castro regime."

"We see very little evidence that the mainline dissident organizations have much resonance among ordinary Cubans," Farrar said. Without changes, he said, "the traditional dissident movement is not likely to supplant the Cuban government."

The cable, published on Thursday by Spanish newspaper El Pais, is one of 250,000 confidential U.S. diplomatic cables Wikileaks has begun issuing on the Internet and provided to a number of media outlets.

Farrar's comments, made in a cable dated April 15, 2009, raise questions about the wisdom of the United States' longtime policy of supporting Cuban dissidents as an alternative to the Communist government that has ruled the island since a 1959 revolution put Fidel Castro in power.

Despite claims they are supported by thousands of Cubans, Farrar said "informal polls we have carried out among visa and refugee applicants have shown virtually no awareness of dissident personalities or agendas."

He described the dissident movement as largely ineffectual, due to factors including internal conflict, outsized egos, preoccupation with money, outdated agendas and infiltration by the Cuban government.

"The greatest effort is directed at obtaining enough resources to keep the principal organizers and their key supporters living from day to day," Farrar wrote.


He told of one political party organization that told him "quite openly and frankly it needed resources to pay salaries" and presented him "with a budget in hopes the (interests section) would be able to cover it."

"With seeking resources as a primary concern, the next most important pursuit seems to be to limit or marginalize the activities of erstwhile allies, thus preserving power and access to scarce resources," he said.

Cuba views dissidents as mercenaries in the pay of the United States and allied with anti-Castro Cuban exiles.

Farrar said dissidents get "much of their resources" from exile groups, but also look upon the exiles with suspicion.

"Opposition members of all stripes complain the intention of the exiles is to undercut local opposition groups so that they can move into power when the Castros leave," he wrote.

Dissident leaders tend to be "comparatively old" and out of touch with a Cuban society less concerned with freeing political prisoners than "having greater opportunities to travel freely and live comfortably," Farrar wrote.

He said a new generation of "non-traditional dissidents," such as internationally known blogger Yoani Sanchez, will likely have more impact in post-Castro Cuba, but that "the most immediate successors to the Castro regime will probably come from within the middle ranks of the government itself."

Farrar's cable was written before President Raul Castro, in apparent response to international pressure and dissident activities, agreed in July to release political prisoners.

So far, more than 50 have been freed, with almost all going to Spain in an agreement with the Spanish government.

Long-time dissident Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights, told Reuters he did not feel out of touch with younger Cubans, but said there was an occasional "generational rupture" among Cuba's opposition.

Still, he admitted, "There comes the moment when we must retire from the scene. That appears to me convenient from all points of view."

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Esteban Israel; Editing by Todd Eastham)

Wikileaks Cables Reveal Two-Faced Politics by US

By Ángel Páez

LIMA, Dec 16, 2010 (IPS) - "It’s not surprising for the United States to cooperate with military or government officials in Peru about which it has information linking them to serious crimes," said activist Ricardo Soberón, referring to contradictions revealed in cables released by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks.

Soberón, with the non-governmental Centre for Research on Drugs and Human Rights (CIDDH), says "since 1987, the U.S. Department of State has been concerned about the risk of corruption among the Peruvian military in drug trafficking zones, but that concern has not been shared by the Pentagon (Department of Defence), which was more interested in expanding its missions in the Andes region, without regard to the costs."

"The leaked cables reflect a deep political contradiction between Washington’s institutional diplomacy, and the military diplomacy characterised by the promotion of strategies like (the U.S.-financed counterinsurgency and anti-drug strategy) Plan Colombia, the Merida Initiative (a multi-billion dollar U.S. counter-drug assistance programme for Mexico and Central America), hot pursuit across borders, or the ‘hammer and anvil’ tactic in the Colombian armed conflict," he told IPS.

"The revelations by the cables represent a continuity of these dichotomies in the discourse and practices of U.S. agencies with different objectives and interests in the region," he said.

A Mar. 12, 2009 cable sent by then-U.S. Ambassador in Lima Michael McKinley, which was released by WikiLeaks and published by the El Pais newspaper in Spain, says army commanders fighting remnants of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist rebels received "lucrative payoffs from drug traffickers."

The sources cited by the document referred to drug traffickers operating in league with Sendero insurgents in the Apurimac and Ene River Valley (VRAE) region, and contended that "the army -- for fear of disrupting these drug trafficking networks and losing access to payoffs -- is unwilling to commit the large force needed to pacify the VRAE."

But at the same time, the U.S. embassy has pressed for Washington to respond to requests by Peru’s army brass for increased military aid to squelch Sendero, according to seven confidential cables dated 2009, which were among the thousands of documents released by Wikileaks.

Despite McKinley’s serious allegations of drug corruption against Peruvian army officers fighting in the VRAE, Peru’s main cocaine-producing region, just eight months later, on Nov. 25, 2009, the ambassador himself asked the chief of the U.S. Southern Command for greater aid to the Peruvian army in its fight against Sendero.

The cable, addressed to Commander Douglas M. Fraser, who was preparing to visit Lima in the first week of December 2009, stated that "Your visit affords an opportunity to underscore USG (U.S. government) interest in supporting the GOP's (government of Peru) efforts to combat these threats in the several discrete areas where we are best positioned to help.

"The key word, however, is ‘supporting’," the ambassador stressed. "In this context, the GOP needs to develop a more effective political/military strategy for turning the tide against a reemerging SL (Sendero Luminoso) increasingly intertwined with drug trafficking."

According to other cables from McKinley, the equipment sought by the Peruvian armed forces included helicopters with electronic surveillance system capabilities, technology to detect and destroy the insurgents’ home-made explosive devices, and infrared cameras and night vision equipment.

Peru received 56.4 million dollars in military and police aid in 2006, making it the second biggest recipient in Latin America after Colombia, which received nearly 582 million dollars, according to Just the Facts, a joint project of the Centre for International Policy, the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America that offers "a civilian’s guide to U.S. defence and security assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean".

For the 2011 budget, Washington has set the aid for Peru at 44.7 million dollars, a substantial reduction. This South American country is now in third place for such funds in the region, after Colombia (351 million dollars) and Mexico (147.9 million dollars).

"We don’t tell the United States how it should fight in Afghanistan," said retired admiral Jorge Montoya, a former commander of Peru's joint chiefs of staff. "In any case, if the United States wants to intervene in the war against Sendero Luminoso, it should make that clear. They only cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking.

"The military combat Sendero Luminoso with all the available resources, which often fall short, and in terrible, adverse conditions, and we are going to defeat them with our own means. We don’t need intervention by the U.S. military," he told IPS.

Montoya, who is now an adviser to Defence Minister Jaime Thorne, said he shared the U.S. concern for the results of the conflict.

"It is a very complicated war against a fanatical ideological organisation that operates in a remote geographical area with which it is highly familiar because it has been there for years. But as far as I know, the United States has not set a deadline, and shouldn't, because we are a sovereign country."

In the Mar. 12, 2009 cable, McKinley also notes that under the government of Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), government officials cooperating with the United States in the fight against drugs at the same time received payoffs to cooperate with drug traffickers.

"Former President Alberto Fujimori's (1990-2000) intelligence chief Vladimiro Montesinos, for example, collaborated with top army and other security officials to develop a web of protection for favoured drug traffickers while cooperating with U.S. officials to combat others," McKinley wrote.

He did not mention that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) financed an anti-narcotics unit organised by Montesinos in the notorious National Intelligence Service (SIN), despite reports of the involvement by Fujimori’s eminence grise in corruption, drug trafficking and human rights violations

One of the most powerful Peruvian druglords of the 1990s, Demetrio Chávez, testified in court that he paid 50,000 dollars a month in bribes to Montesinos and several army officers.

Nevertheless, the Peruvian courts have not yet managed to specifically find Montesinos -- who is in prison on numerous human rights and corruption charges -- guilty of drug trafficking. Nor has any member of the military high command from the years when Montesinos was the power behind the throne been sentenced.

"It is pitiable that Peruvian democracy has not yet been able to convict Montesinos for his ties with drug trafficking," José Robles, a former army officer who is an analyst of military affairs at the non-governmental Freedom and Democracy Institute (IDL), told IPS.

"However, we cannot generalise about cases of corruption that may exist," he added. "The majority of military personnel have returned to their roots, to the training they received. Those who believe that just because someone wears a uniform, he will behave in a ‘Montesinista’ fashion, are mistaken."

US helped subvert Colombia’s congress on military ‘escalation’ deal, cable shows

By Stephen C. Webster

A year before the United States and Colombia announced an enhanced military cooperation agreement, the US embassy in Bogotá was working with the administration of Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez to dodge congressional approval of the deal, which saw US troops stationed in the nation and inflamed regional tensions.

The revelation was made in a confidential US diplomatic cable composed in Nov. 2008, given to secrets outlet WikiLeaks and republished on Dec. 18. It was forwarded with priority to US embassies in Brasilia, Caracas, Lima, Panama, Quito and to officials in Washington, DC and the US Southern Command.

The document specified that by renaming the multilateral agreement, "a major escalation in US engagement" would become "simply an extension of our existing cooperation."

The deal to station US troops in Colombia was announced in the summer of 2009 and finalized in October. Then-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez has since been succeeded by Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia's former secretary of defense, who took office in August.

Amid negotiations with US officials, the Colombian administration issued a counter-proposal which the US embassy in Bogotá analyzed to make recommendations for Washington strategists. The document it produced noted that the administration wanted to avoid "use of the word' base'" in describing US installations. They also insisted upon finding a way to "place the agreement under the umbrella of existing bilateral and multilateral accords to avoid the need for Colombian congressional approval."

In order to do that, Colombian officials engaged in wordplay, renaming a US proposal for a "Defense Cooperation Agreement" to the much-less descriptive "Supplemental Agreement for Cooperation and Technical Assistance." The rephrasing shows that both US and Colombian officials knew their deal would not fall within the boundaries of standing agreements without significant alterations to its framing.

The US embassy at Bogotá concurred with the suggested changes, noting that a less descriptive title would shift the troop deal from "a major escalation in US engagement" to "simply an extension of our existing cooperation."

"[Tying] the agreement to existing bilateral and multilateral agreements does not impact U.S. interests and is important to the GOC's capacity to conclude an accord. If we can get the access and authorities we need by changing the title, we recommend changing the title."

Sure enough, it worked: Colombia's defense minister said in July, 2009 that no congressional approval was needed for the administration to allow foreign troops.

The Colombian administration also asked for the US to build strategic air defense installations, but US officials noted that could cost billions of dollars and should only be considered if it's absolutely necessary.

When the US announced its deal with Colombia, officials said it was only to operate drone aircraft in the region, to aid the US war on drugs and help protect Colombia from terrorism.

Venezuela, which shares a border with the South American nation, took the agreement as a sign that Colombia was preparing for war. Tensions have run high between the two nations ever since.

The prior president of Colombia has been dogged by protesters ever since leaving office. Critics charge he presided over one of the nation's worst periods for human rights, during which labor leaders and thousands of civilians were slaughtered by former government paramilitary groups.

Human Rights Watch claimed in a report earlier this year that when the prior government displaced tens of thousands of soldiers between 2003 and 2006, their ties to the administration did not really end.

In his inaugural address, Colombian President Santos said his nation would have peace "by reason or force."

Another diplomatic cable released last week revealed that Colombia's last administration also pushed the US to engage in a public campaign to discredit Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is One More Threat against Afro-Colombian Communities

“We have to stand for human rights, and that should be part of the trade equation.”
President Obama.

These words expressed by President Obama during his electoral campaign have become a
rhetoric that could cost Colombia’s Afrodescendants the legal achievements they have
won in their struggle for self-determination and recognition of their rights. It could also
cost them the ancestral territories they have defended for centuries. That is, if President
Obama insists on Congressional approval of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.

The struggle of Afro-descendant communities for their ancestral lands and economic,
environmental and cultural rights has led to deaths of more than 47 leaders, massacres of
dozens of innocent Afro-descendants, internal displacement of more than 1.5 million
people, the loss of their control over their collective territories, and acceleration of these
communities’ impoverishment.

The port of Buenaventura and Northern Cauca zone where development-driven economic
policies were imposed against these communities’ will has created serious social and
environmental problems. Such policies have generated food and humanitarian crises
throughout the territory-region of the Pacific Coast and parts of the Caribbean. They
have also led to the illegal, and often violent, expropriation of territories for the large-
scale cultivation of oil palm and other large-scale economic projects in the collective
territories of Alto Mira and Frontera (Nariño) and Jiguamiandó and Curvaradó (Chocó).

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement is just one more mechanism that will
endanger the rights of Afro-descendant and indigenous communities in Colombia. As we
have previously stated, the approval of the US-Colombia FTA will bring about conditions
that will violate the economic, environmental, territorial, and intellectual property rights
of these communities. It will exacerbate the racial, economic and environmental
injustices that have affected these populations for centuries.

We remind President Obama and the legislators who favor the FTA in the United States
that the Afro-descendant communities continue to face violence due to the presence of
illegal armed groups and actors that form part of the internal armed conflict in Afro-
Colombian territories. For the past two years, paramilitary groups known as the Black

Eagles, Rastrojos, and New Generation have systematically threatened Afro-Colombian
leaders and their organizations. Internationally recognized Afro-descendant organizations
including AFRODES and the Black Communities’ Process (PCN) are currently military
objectives for these groups. In the port of Buenaventura alone, the Human Rights
Ombudsman’s office documented 357 forced disappearances in the last three years (an
official statistic that does not reflect the actual number of forced disappearances in the
city), and an average 500 violent deaths a year for the last five years. This discriminatory
violence does not simply respond to a lack of economic opportunities, instead it responds
to the interests of different economic and political sectors in the territories and resources
of the region.

In the territory-region of the Pacific, the violence and implementation of Plan Colombia
are responsible for the impoverishment of the Afro-Colombian population in the last ten
years. 72% of Afro-descendants have lost their means of self-sustenance (one of which is
the land that is their primary source of work). 78% of internal displacement between
2002 and 2009 came from the collective territories of Afro-descendants and has left
96.5% of the forcibly displaced persons in conditions of extreme poverty, 78.4% of
which live in conditions of indigent poverty. Forced displacement, as indicated by the
Colombian Constitutional Court in Order T-025 of 2004 and Orders 004, 005, and 092 of
2009, is caused by discriminate violence against the communities, armed confrontation,
and military actions of counter-insurgency, fumigations with glyphosate on subsistence
crops of the communities, racial discrimination and the exclusion of black people from
spaces and critical actions in decision making. We remind President Obama and the
legislators that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was formulated and will be
applied in an environment of discriminate violence, violation of rights and without the
previous consultation with the communities whose territories, resources, and rights will
be directly affected by it.

President Obama has argued that in order to achieve peace, economic stability is
required. He has used this argument in favor of the Free Trade Agreements with South
Korea, Panama, and Colombia. In the reality of Colombia and the Afro-descendant
communities, peace would require the government of Colombia to recognize the
existence of paramilitary groups and the impact of their actions on democracy and the
possibility for peace. The government of Colombia would also have to decisively
guarantee justice and reparation for the victims of their actions. It would also require that
the Colombian government guarantee forcibly displaced, expropriated and impoverished
communities conditions for restitution, reparation and return to their territories in a way
that would reestablish their lives under dignified conditions. It also requires the creation
of differential attention policies for internally displaced Afro-descendents so that they can
recuperate their possessions and sources of work and employment (which include
recuperation of their lands), and that they are reintegrated into their productive
livelihoods with conditions of competition and equality that correlates with the rest of
society. This requires respect for their right to free and informed previous consultation as
obliged by Convention 169 of the ILO, the Colombian Constitution, and Law 170 of

We, the communities and organizations that struggle for our territorial, economic and
political self-determination, find that the Colombian government does not have any
political will to respect to the rule of law or the rights that are due to us. The Colombian
government has been characterized by its inability to implement regulations such as
Order 005 of 2009, which obliges the government to define appropriate prevention and
attention plans for Afro-descendant communities that are vulnerable to forced
displacement. The Colombian government violates the rights to free and informed
previous consultation and consent. Our last experience with this issue has been during
the formulation of the National Development Plan (Plan Nacional de Desarrollo), where
the Colombian government deliberately has limited the obligations of a transparent
previous consultation process to bureaucratic meetings where the direct voice of the
communities that will be affected by those decisions has not been represented. Likewise
the FTA was formulated behind the back of these communities making it a new
mechanism of expropriation and violation of rights.

The grassroots Afro-Colombian communities defend a Life Project (Proyecto de Vida),
based on principles of equality, sustainability, self-determination and self-affirmation,
that the US-Colombia FTA threatens, as there are not democratic conditions in Colombia
for the economic, political and social participation of our people. We make it clear that
despite President Juan Manuel Santos’ rhetoric, his decisions and actions against the
rights of our communities as Minister of Defense during President Uribe’s
administration, do not give us any hope that conditions will get better during his
administration. His policy in regards to mining, the Land Law and the poorly named
consultation process on the National Development Plan are concrete examples.

Therefore, the organizations and communities that struggle for the protection of our
ancestral territories, the resources within the territories and our rights to them,
reiterate our opposition to the current U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, as it is
not a choice that favors sustainable development in the future and favorable
advancement for our communities, in full exercise of our constitutional and human

We ask that the United Status Congress condition any future discussion of the FTA with
Colombia in compliance with the recommendations that all sectors of the national and
international social movements have presented in addition to the observations presented
last year to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

We make a similar appeal to civil society in the United States to demand their
representatives to publicly oppose the FTA with Colombia until the Colombian
government can demonstrate concrete results in transforming the human rights situation
in Afro-descendant communities.

With our traditional affirmation of life and joy, hope and freedom,

Black Communities’ Process (PCN)∗
National Coordination
International Working Group

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chile lawyer seeks arrests in folk singer's death

The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 21, 2010; 8:25 PM
SANTIAGO, Chile -- A Chilean government lawyer is seeking to arrest four retired army officers for the killing of renowned folk singer Victor Jara during the 1973 coup.

The Interior Ministry's Human Rights Program submitted a formal request for their detention to Judge Juan Fuentes Belmar on Tuesday, according to an official familiar with the case. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to avoid influencing the magistrate's decision.

The case targets retired officers Edwin Dimter, Hugo Sanchez and Raul Jofre, and ex-prosecutor Rolando Melo, the official said.

Jara, a folk singer, theater director, communist and outspoken supporter of socialist President Salvador Allende, was detained in a stadium along with 5,000 other leftists when Gen. Augusto Pinochet took power in a military coup on Sept. 11, 1973. Pulled from the crowd, Jara was tortured and shot to death by the military as a message to the rest.

The killing turned Jara into an international symbol of resistance to the Pinochet government, which lasted until 1990.

Some witnesses have accused Dimter of being a military officer long known only as "The Prince," who led torture and killings at the stadiums and is believed responsible for Jara's death.

Dimter has denied killing Jara and sued a journalist who wrote an article identifying him as "The Prince."

So far the only person to be prosecuted for Jara's killing is former conscript Jose Paredes Marquez, 56, who proclaims his innocence.

In an interview with the AP last year, Paredes said all conscripts were carrying machine guns and Jara's body would have been torn apart by such a weapon.

An autopsy from 2009 found that the folk singer died from dozens of gunshot wounds all over his body, and the singer's widow, Joan Jara, has said she had no difficulty recognizing his remains.

Tuesday's petition seeking the arrest warrants was filed by lawyer Cristian Cruz of the Human Rights Program.

Cruz and a colleague were recently laid off, effective Jan. 1, by the center-right government of Sebastian Pinera, which cited budgetary pressures.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Amnesty for Brazil Dictatorship Is Challenged


RIO DE JANEIRO — A human rights court said that a Brazilian amnesty law covering crimes during the country’s 21-year dictatorship was invalid and that the country was responsible for the forced disappearance of at least 70 peasants and militants who were part of a resistance movement.

The ruling was announced Tuesday by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; the court adheres to the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Brazil is a signatory.

While Argentina and Chile have begun more vigorously investigating and prosecuting human rights violations committed during those countries’ dictatorships, successive Brazilian governments have refused to investigate and find those responsible for crimes committed during the dictatorship that ended in 1985. And Brazil’s Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the amnesty law, which protects military officials from prosecution for abuses committed during the military regime.

But the Inter-American Court, based in Costa Rica, found that Brazil was responsible for the actions of state agents who carried out disappearances of members of the Araguaia guerrilla movement.

The court said Brazil must conduct a criminal investigation into the Araguaia case, bring the guilty parties to justice, search for those who have disappeared and provide medical and psychological treatment to their surviving relatives. It also said 42 direct relatives of the victims should receive $45,000 each in compensation for their suffering.

“This is a turning point in the search for truth and justice in Brazil,” said Viviana Krsticevic, the executive director of the Center for Justice and International Law, a human rights group involved in the case. “Brazil, unlike other Latin American countries, has not found a way to investigate or even partially punish those responsible for the most egregious human rights violations committed during its dictatorship.”

The responsibility for deciding how to deal with the Inter-American Court’s decision will fall to the president-elect, Dilma Rousseff, a former resistance fighter who was imprisoned and tortured by the military regime. Ms. Rousseff, who takes office on Jan. 1, vowed in the campaign to bring human rights violators from the dictatorship to justice.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government did little to break the pattern of earlier governments in not going after those responsible for the dictatorship’s crimes, reflecting how the military remains an influential political actor in Brazil, Ms. Krsticevic said. His government supported the decision in April by the Supreme Court not to investigate the anti-guerilla military operation in the Araguaia region in that period, as requested by families of the victims. The court cited the 1979 amnesty law in its decision.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the human rights court said, “The provisions of the Brazilian Amnesty Law that prevent the investigation and sanctioning of severe human rights violations are incompatible with the American Convention, have no legal effects and cannot continue to stand in the way of investigating the facts” of the Araguaia case.

On Wednesday, Paulo Vannuchi, Brazil’s departing minister for human rights, called the court’s decision “very important to continuing to develop human rights” in Brazil.

“We need to find the bodies of those resistance fighters and return them to their families,” Mr. Vannuchi said. “This is indispensable to talking about democratic reconciliation, about being one united country.”

Myrna Domit contributed reporting from São Paulo, Brazil.

Uribe confirms Wikileaks: he was prepared to cross into Venezuela territory

Former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) confirmed the contents of a confidential US State Department confidential cable exposed by Wikileaks, according to which he contemplated sending troops across into Venezuelan territory to capture and arrest FARC guerrilla leaders.

In his Twitter Uribe wrote: “Reply to Wikileaks: I proposed it and I did it: to protect Colombians you must capture the terrorists where ever they are”, although he did not give details of any such actions.

According to the cable Uribe in early 2008 spoke of sending troops into neighboring Venezuela to capture Colombian FARC leaders he suspected were hiding there, the U.S. envoy in Bogota said in one of the cables

Uribe, who left the presidency in August after two four-year terms, mounted a determined effort to crush the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which has battled a succession of Colombian governments since the mid-1960s.

The Jan, 18, 2008, cable tells of a meeting held the day before among Uribe, US Ambassador William Brownfield, and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.

Uribe said “he was prepared to authorize Colombian forces to cross into Venezuela, arrest FARC leaders, and bring them to justice in Colombia,” Brownfield reported to the State Department.
The meeting took place less than two months before Uribe ordered an attack on a clandestine FARC camp just inside neighboring Ecuador, which killed more than two dozen people, including rebel No. 2 Raul Reyes and several civilians.
Two days later, Ecuador broke relations with Colombia and the rupture lasted until the end of last month, when Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Uribe's successor, Juan Manuel Santos, agreed to fully reestablish bilateral ties.

According to another cable published over the weekend by the Spanish daily El Pais, Uribe told visiting U.S. lawmakers in 2007 that leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was a Hitler-like threat to South America.

Uribe's January 2008 conversation with the U.S. officials also touched on Chavez, who has not undertaken any offensive military action since taking office 11 years ago.
Uribe thinks “the best counter to Chavez ... remains action - including use of the military,” Ambassador Brownfield said in his cable to Washington.

During his second term, and especially during his last few months in office, Uribe repeatedly complained that several FARC leaders were hiding in Venezuela and that the neighboring country was not cooperating with Colombia to capture them.

Those accusations led Chavez in July to break relations with Colombia, but ties were reestablished on August 10 at a meeting of the Venezuelan leader with President Santos.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Murder of Walter Trochez: Political Violence and Impunity in Honduras

Today marks the one year anniversary of the assassination of Walter Trochez, a human rights, LGBTQ and democracy activist in Honduras. His death, like those of many other activists, LGBTQ leaders, journalists, unionists and teachers has been nominally investigated by a police force that itself has been implicated in violence against civilians since the coup on June 28, 2009. Despite the efforts of the U.S. State Department, multinational corporations, the Government of Honduras and their lobbyists to portray the current situation as sporadic violence, attributable to generic 'crime' within a post-election return to normalcy, it is clear that targeted bloodshed and a culture of impunity has taken hold.

Trochez was abducted on December 4, 2009 by four masked men in civilian clothes who beat him and ordered him to give up the names and addresses of political activists. According to Amnesty International they told him "Even if you give us the information we're going to kill you, we have orders to kill you." Trochez was able to escape at that time but was later shot to death by gunmen in police uniforms, according to witnesses. This style of abduction, assault, interrogation and homicide is reminiscent of the brutal tactics of Battalion 3-16, an intelligence unit within the Honduran Army that was notorious for their death squad tactics and use of torture, which was later found out to have received training in the United States. COFADEH (The Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras) and the journalist Jeremy Kryt have denounced what they see as a new wave of state sponsored death squads.

Walter Trochez was a well known activist who worked to build coalitions between the National Resistance Front and the LGBTQ community. At 27-years-old, he was the General Coordinator for the Sexual Diversity Advocacy Group and a co-founder of the Committee of Auditors, an organization that worked to end violence and discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS. Following the coup he began compiling information on the murders of LGBTQ resistance members which he saw as part of a continuum of homophobic violence. His work was a powerful indictment of those who participated in the coup and its brutality. Trochez's voice still resonates in a vibrant and committed resistance movement which has actively and intentionally integrated feminist and queer spaces.

Despite demands for a full independent investigation by Amnesty International, PFLAG, Human Rights Watch, Rights Action and other organizations, the Honduran government only partially bowed to calls to open an inquiry to Trochez's murder under the Attorney General's Office, although not an independent one. The Honduran Police have affirmed the beginning of an investigation and have denied any law enforcement involvement or collusion in the murder. A secretive organization that employs violence and coercion investigating itself is a hallmark of impunity and is something that should concern all who value human rights.

In August of 2009, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report based on the testimonies of over one hundred survivors of violence in Honduras. Testimony in the report suggests police participation in shootings, beatings, arbitrary use of tear gas, sexual assault and rape. More than a year later, many more people have been killed and injured. Luis Rubí, the Attorney General, has responded to calls for UN investigations by denying their necessity, claiming that the state's own institutions are strong enough to investigate themselves. This lack of oversight has extended to the Truth Commission, created pursuant to the Tegucigalpa-San Jose Accord, in which those who plotted, authorized and carried out the coup are now charged with conducting a probe into illegal actions.

The recently leaked State Department cable "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup," is clear in describing the removal of President Zelaya as illegal. The conclusions were ignored by the State Department that instead began pressing for normalization of relations with the coup government. Only 142 days after the coup had been declared illegal by the highest U.S. representative in Honduras, Walter Trochez was murdered; his name added to a still growing list of victims of political violence targeted at those who stand against the coup and the corrupted political process that followed. The murderers might have been Honduran, but they were assisted by lobbyists in Washington who helped pave the way for diplomatic normalization. Reckless policies have a human cost and have resulted in unnecessary deaths. Those in the United States and elsewhere who assisted in solidifying the coup must be held accountable.

Mourning and nation building are inextricably linked. By remembering Walter Trochez we add our voices to the calls of the resistance for a re-founding of Honduras on the basis of human rights, dignity and accountability. As the protest signs say: "The victims have names, so do the murderers."

This article was researched and co-authored by Joshua Birch

Private, Opposition TV Continues to Dominate in Venezuela, New Paper Finds

by Dan Beeton

Washington, D.C.- A new issue brief looking at data on Venezuela TV audiences contradicts the widely believed -- and widely reported -- claim that the Chávez government dominates the television media. In reality, the paper finds the opposite is true: the state share of television audience is very small -- currently only 5.4 percent --while private, opposition-owned channels overwhelmingly dominate the television audience, with 61.4 percent watching privately owned TV channels, and 33.1 percent watching paid TV.

“Statements claiming the Venezuelan government ‘controls’ or ‘dominates’ the media are not only exaggerated, but simply false,” CEPR Co-Director and lead author of the paper, Mark Weisbrot, said.

These claims appear regularly in the major U.S. media and are almost never challenged. For example, in a description of Venezuela’s elections last September for the National Assembly, the Washington Post referred to the Chavez “regime’s domination of the media . . . .” In an interview on CNN, Lucy Morillon of Reporters Without Borders stated, “President Chavez controls most of the TV stations.”

The brief, “Television in Venezuela: Who Dominates the Media?”, from the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C., analyzes data from AGB Panamericana de Venezuela Medición S.A., a local affiliate of Nielsen Media Research International, for the years 2000-2010 and also finds that state television audiences have increased during times of political turmoil, such as during the failed April 2002 coup and the 2002-2003 oil strike.

“The most likely explanation for these spikes in state television viewers is that more people are interested in the news during these times, and so more want to get both sides of the story,” Weisbrot said. But even in these few brief spikes of state TV audience – lasting for no more than two or three months – the state TV audience share has never reached 10 percent, even for one month in the past decade.

The paper notes that the primary means through which the government seems to get its message out is through President Chávez himself, in the “cadenas”, or official speeches, that private broadcast TV channels are required to broadcast. In 2009, according to data from AGB Panamericana de Venezuela Medición S.A., these cadenas amounted to an average of about 24 minutes per day. While this has the potential to get the government’s message out more than the current share of state TV programming, it is difficult to measure its impact without data on how many people watch these speeches.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Leaked cable reopens Honduras debate

By Kevin Bogardus

A State Department cable released by the website WikiLeaks has reopened the Washington debate over last year’s ouster of then-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya.

The leaked July 2009 cable, signed by the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, said the removal of Zelaya by the Honduran military “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” In stark language, the cable takes apart arguments made by defenders of Zelaya’s ouster, calling them fabrications or suppositions.

The cable has attracted the attention of the Obama administration’s critics on both the right and the left. For example, the cable has set off a new round of aspersions from the likely next chairman of the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee, Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who said Llorens was “part of the problem, not the solution.”

“If I am fortunate enough to be the chair of the committee, we are going to continue to look into the actions of the ambassador in Honduras. I don’t think he played the appropriate role. The ambassador should not be on the ground trying to manipulate the outcome,” Mack told The Hill.

Mack and other Republicans have said Zelaya’s removal came about from his alleged power grab. Though Zelaya was shipped off to neighboring Costa Rica in the middle of the night by Honduran soldiers, GOP lawmakers have refused to call his ouster a coup. They say Hondurans chose to remove Zelaya through the actions of their legislative and judicial branches of government.

“There is no one with a straight face that can call this a military coup. It is disingenuous,” Mack said.

Others have disagreed, citing the leaked cable as further confirmation that the Honduran president’s ouster was an illegal coup.

Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a liberal think tank, testified before Congress last year about Zelaya’s ouster.

“The cable confirms what we believed from the beginning — this was a coup, it was unconstitutional, and it has helped undermine the rule of law, political and human rights in Honduras, with problems persisting to this day,” Stephens said.

She said the Obama administration has distanced itself from its original take on Zelaya’s removal.

“The reporting in the cable is quite clear in terms of where the administration started out, and it is equally clear that over time the Obama administration’s position on Honduras deviated further and further from the analysis contained in it,” Stephens said. “Given the conditions on the ground in Honduras, and given the repercussions in the region, we continue to believe that standing firm against the coup was the right position at the beginning and the administration should have stuck with it more firmly over time.”

In June 2009, Zelaya was deposed by the Honduran military after it was alleged he wanted to remove the presidency's term limits to stay in power. Zelaya has denied those accusations.

Zelaya was never reinstated to power to finish out his last term, and has now been exiled to the Dominican Republic. Honduras held elections in November 2009 that saw Porfirio Lobo win the presidency.

President Obama first called Zelaya’s ouster “not legal” and said it would set a "terrible precedent" for the region, striking a tone similar to the leaked cable. But later the U.S. government recognized Honduras’s elections last year despite calls for the administration not to do so due to the controversy over Zelaya’s removal.

Though that approach was criticized by some on the left, it has won praise from one key member of the House: Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). Next Congress, Engel will likely be the ranking member of the House Western Hemisphere subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over Honduras.

Calling it “masterful job,” Engel said the Obama administration took a pragmatic, “middle-of-the-road” position that put itself between both parties up on Capitol Hill.

“The Republicans were annoyed at the beginning that the administration called it a coup and Democrats were annoyed at the end — not all, but some — that they recognized the elections,” Engel said. “I think what we did keeps the United States’ influence in a positive way alive there.”

The Central American nation now has its own representation in Washington to handle its relations with lawmakers.

Honduras has recently contracted with law firm Lanny J. Davis & Associates, run by former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis. Davis-Block, Davis's new strategic consulting firm founded with Josh Block, the former American Israel Public Affairs Committee spokesman, is also helping out on the Honduras account.

According to Davis, Honduras’s government would like to move past the leaked cable describing Zelaya’s ouster.

“We are not commenting on past analyses by the Ambassador. The facts speak for themselves,” Davis said. “It's time to look to the future, not the past. Honduras is and has been a loyal ally of the U.S. and a constitutional democracy, operating with separate branches of government under the rule of law.”

Davis is a columnist for The Hill and a contributor to The Hill's Pundits Blog.

In the meantime, the Obama administration will have to contend with the new Republican House next year.

In his interview with The Hill, Mack repeated his earlier calls for Llorens to step aside. The Florida Republican said it was too early for him to call for hearings in Congress’s next session on Honduras but that what happened there will be “on my plate” next year.

“We will have to see. I would like us to do another hearing,” Mack said.

Memo: Haiti leader sought to 'orchestrate' vote


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A leaked memo by a U.S. ambassador to Haiti said President Rene Preval's primary concern ahead of last weekend's election for his successor was to ensure the winner would not force him into exile.

The June 2009 memo sent under the name of then U.S. Ambassador Janet Sanderson was released Wednesday by Wikileaks along with an earlier cable about Preval.

The U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince said it could not comment on the documents' authenticity.

The memo, which shows an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Preval administration and Haiti in general, has surfaced at an awkward moment. Votes in the disputed election are now being counted.

It says that Preval's "overriding goal is to orchestrate the 2011 presidential transition in such a way as to ensure that whoever is elected will allow him to go home unimpeded. Based on our conversations, this is indeed a matter that looms large for Preval."

The document could feed opposition-stoked rumors that Preval rigged the election to elect his preferred successor, state-run construction company chief Jude Celestin. That perception has fueled violent clashes between opposition-candidate supporters and U.N. peacekeepers.

Preval's Unity party denied it perpetrated fraud and accused Celestin's rival candidates of trying to foment a coup d'etat.

The memo, dated seven months before an earthquake destroyed most of Haiti's capital, paints the now 67-year-old president as isolated, independent, "wary of change and suspicious of outsiders." It calls his political decisionmaking "erratic," says he neglected his health after a bout with protstate cancer and had returned to drinking.

But it also characterizes Preval as "Haiti's indespensible man" and sole influential politican.

"Managing Preval will remain challenging during the remainder of his term yet doing so is key to our success and that of Haiti," the memo said.

It said his main concern was life after the presidency, a natural worry in a country where six presidents have fled or been driven into exile since 1986 - in Jean-Bertrand Aristide's case, twice - and another was imprisoned.

It noted Preval "angrily denied charges that he manipulated the electoral process" for the delayed 2009 legislative elections while rejecting that he was responsibile for the electoral commission's exclusion of the still exiled Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party. That exclusion carried over to the current election.

On Sunday, nearly every opposition candidate joined together while polls were open to accuse Preval of stealing the election for Celestin and called for the vote to be thrown out. Hundreds attending their mid-day news conference chanted "Arrest Preval!"

The two leading contenders reversed their position Monday. But one, musician Michel Martelly, played on Preval's fears by telling him through a news conference: "Haiti does not want you anymore." Martelly dodged Haitian reporters' questions if he was calling for Preval to be exiled.

A joint Organization of American States-Caribbean Community observer mission say the election appeared to be valid, though it confirmed instances of fraud, voter intimidation and the inability of untold thousands to cast ballots because of confusion on the voter rolls.

A delegation of U.S. Congress members in Haiti for the vote asked the U.S. government to withhold its endorsement of the elections until the fraud claims can be investigated.

U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed Preval on Wednesday for the electoral problems, saying he had ignored urged reforms.

"As a result, the elections have been fraught with numerous reports of irregularities and fraud," Lugar said.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Leaks from Wikileaks expose U.S. intervention in the Honduras coup d'état

Jean-Guy Allard

• THE 2009 coup d'état in Honduras was "illegal and unconstitutional," as Cuban-American Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador to Tegucigalpa, was forced to admit. Llorens is also a former collaborator of Otto Reich, whose role in the events remains to be seen. A report from Llorens to the State Department is among the U.S. documents leaked on November 28 by Wikileaks, a website on the Internet dedicated to leaking secret information.

Hugo Llorens, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, knew that the overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya was illegal and unconstitutional.

The document, signed by Llorens and sent to the State Department, also acknowledges that Zelaya's letter of resignation letter was a "fabrication," without giving details of the evidence confirming that. The U.S. ambassador confirmed that "none of the arguments mentioned" by the coup leaders to justify the kidnapping and deportation of the constitutional president, Manuel Zelaya, have any validity under the Honduran Constitution, while some are clearly false and others are "mere suppositions."

It shows how the accounts of Zelaya's arrest by the military demonstrate that he was never legally served with an arrest warrant, "that the soldiers gained entry by shooting the locks off, and essentially kidnapped the president."

Llorens makes no mention whatsoever of the complicity of the U.S. military forces present in Honduras in the operation carried out by elite troops from the Salvadorian army to fly the head of state out of the country. Eva Golinger, the Venezuelan-American lawyer and researcher, has demonstrated that, in the weeks following the coup, the Soto Cano Air Base which the United States maintains in Honduran territory played a fundamental role in overthrowing President Manuel Zelaya.

The document is one of hundreds of thousands of secret dispatches from the State Department leaked to the Spanish El País daily, The New York Times, The Guardian in the United Kingdom, the French Le Monde and the German Der Spiegel magazine, publications which are not known for criticizing the U.S. government.

In a tragicomic sounding paragraph, Llorens notes that "according to the logic of argument 239" invoked by the coup leaders, "Micheletti himself should be forced to step down because, as president of Congress he considered legislation to have a fourth ballot in the November 2009 elections for voter approval of a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution."

Any member of Congress who debated the proposal also should be removed from office, and the presidential candidate of the National Party, Pepe Lobo, who made the idea his, should be disqualified from taking public office for 10 years", he adds.


In his report, Llorens takes refuge behind Honduran legal experts whom the embassy consulted in order to understand the arguments wielded by the coup supporters and their opponents.

It is a fact that many other documents, which are not "confidential" like this one, but "Top Secret", were exchanged between Washington and its embassy in Honduras during the events of 2009.

Hugo Llorens' close relationship with U.S. foreign policy wolves no doubt explains far better than his confidential report the rapid turnabout in the diplomacy of Obama and Hillary Clinton.

In a statement on November 28, the ultra-right wing Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents the Republican Party on foreign policy issues, described the revelation of these sensitive State Department documents by the Wikileaks website as "irresponsible."

The Miami congresswoman has reason to be concerned: she flew to the support of the dictator Roberto Micheletti shortly after the coup d'état that led to the expulsion of the constitutional president, Manuel Zelaya.

"I am with the president of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, because he is the president of this country," the spokeswoman for the extreme right in the U.S. Congress affirmed during a press conference together with Micheletti in the government house in Honduras occupied by the dictatorship.

Llorens had advance notice of the coup. That was revealed a few days before his death by Roland Valenzuela, a former member of Zelaya's administration, in an interview broadcast by a radio station in the city of San Pedro Sula.

Valenzuela recounted in detail how, on June 10, 2009, Roberto Micheletti, at that time president of the National Congress, before seizing power on the 28th of that same month, drafted the decree which would remove Zelaya from office.

He explained how a USAID contractor, Jacqueline Foglia Sandoval, was pointed to as "the person in charge of coordinating and executing the coup d'état."

A few days after his statements, Valenzuela was murdered in a public place by the businessman Carlos Yacamán, who was arrested on Wednesday, September 8 —not by the FBI, but by immigration authorities—in Miami, where he had taken refuge. Despite an official application for his extradition by the San Pedro Sula District Attorney's Office, Yacamán remains under the protection of U.S. authorities.

Ambassador Hugo Llorens, who admitted after his report that he had participated in meetings in which coup plans were discussed before the kidnapping of President Zelaya, is a Cuban-American "terrorism" specialist. He was director of Andean Affairs at the National Security Council in Washington when the coup d'état against President Hugo Chávez took place.

Llorens directly reported to Otto Reich, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs and the highly controversial Elliot Abrams.

Otto Reich is one of the most influential characters within the Miami mafia and in June of 2009, he was personally put in charge of protecting the Micheletti gang, together with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Translated by Granma International .

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cuban Medics A Big Force on Haiti Cholera Frontline


PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - They don't send out press releases, don't have public information officers and their contacts are not widely publicized by the huge international humanitarian operation helping cholera-hit Haiti.

But when the United Nations appeals for more doctors and nurses to combat the deadly disease that is killing dozens by the day, it is to Cuba's medical brigade that U.N. officials are likely to turn to first.

With a tradition of service in the world's poorest and most forgotten states, the Cubans are a major frontline force in the multinational response to the raging epidemic, which has killed at least 2,000 people and probably more, since mid-October in the impoverished country.

While many Western aid workers crowd Haiti's capital, where more than 1.3 million vulnerable homeless survivors of the January 12 earthquake are crammed into tent camps, Cuba's medics are seeking out cholera victims in hard-to-reach rural hamlets.

A Cuban-led team trekked this week to one such settlement -- the dirt-poor mountain village of Plateau in Haiti's cholera-ravaged Artibonite department, where they set up an emergency makeshift cholera treatment centre on the benches of a Protestant church.

"We don't look for publicity but we do look for the people," Dr. Lorenzo Somarriba, coordinator of the Cuban Medical Brigade in Haiti, told Reuters at the brigade's headquarters in a Port-au-Prince suburb.

"The Cuban doctors are working in the most difficult places. It's our policy to concentrate on areas outside the national capital," he said, a fact acknowledged by both Haitian and foreign health authorities.


A small Cuban flag sits on the table in front of Somarriba, while pictures of former President Fidel Castro and guerrilla icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara, himself a doctor, adorn the walls.

Plateau represents the 39th cholera treatment location set up and run by the Cubans across much of Haiti's daunting geography, from the coast to the denuded mountains of the interior where poor, illiterate peasants are helpless victims of a deadly diarrheal disease they have never known before.

These locations are carefully marked on a map of Haiti in the Cuban brigade's headquarters and Somarriba, a Cuban vice minister of health, reels off figures and statistics like a general marshalling his forces in a military campaign.

The Cuban-led medical brigade in Haiti is 908 people strong, Somarriba said. It includes Cuban-trained professionals from 19 other countries -- mostly Latin American, Caribbean and African nationals who serve under the Cuban flag.

It is the largest medical contingent in Haiti from any one nation, treating 30 percent to 40 percent of the cholera patients.

The Cuban contingent consists mostly of doctors and nurses but also includes technicians and logistics experts. They have warehouses, a fleet of trucks, and planes that fly in supplies and personnel from the communist-ruled island to the west.

The scale, organisation and experience of this presence make Cuba the country that Haiti's government and its relief partners seek out when they need to ramp up the struggling response to the unchecked epidemic.

"They (the Cubans) are available, they are trained up, they have resources in place," said Nyka Alexander, spokeswoman in Haiti for the World Health Organisation.

"We know the terrain. We have people who speak Creole and the people know us," says Somarriba, citing the 12-year presence of a Cuban medical brigade in Haiti. Cuban medics first came to help after Hurricane George in 1998.

The United Nations' top humanitarian official, Briton Valerie Amos, said during a visit to Haiti last month that the country needed an urgent surge of foreign medics -- at least 1,000 nurses and 100 more doctors -- if it was to have any hope of curbing the death rate of the raging epidemic.

Britain's government said days later it would fund 115 doctors, 920 nurses and 740 support staff from the region to set up 12 treatment centres and 60 subsidiary units in Haiti.


U. N. officials said Cuba was the first to offer more personnel. "There is a call for everybody but the response came first from the Cubans. They are going to send 300 additional doctors," Edmond Mulet, head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, told Reuters.

Somarriba said the Cuban medical reinforcements were ready in Havana and would be flown in.

He said that besides its own resources, the Cuban brigade was receiving significant contributions for its work from the Panamerican Health Organisation/World Health Organisation, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

Cuba also had been working since 2007 with socialist ally and oil producer Venezuela to create a health service network across Haiti. Havana already had helped Haiti after the devastating January earthquake, with a medical response reaching a peak of more than 1,700 personnel in March.

Somarriba said Cuban doctors and nurses already in Haiti had treated the first cases of the cholera outbreak on October 15 in Mirebalais in the Centre Department, raising the alarm about severe diarrhoea later confirmed to be cholera.

In centres run by the Cuban brigade, less people were dying from cholera, Somarriba said. The mortality rate there was under 1 percent, below the national average of 3.5 percent.

He quickly added: "We should avoid competition, comparison. We should all just be helping ... we'll be helping Haiti and all of the Americas because of the risk of this spreading."

They may not have the public relations punch of many international charities but the Cubans have a powerful cheerleader in former President Fidel Castro, who has recounted their exploits in statements on Cuban government websites.

"Haiti needs to be rebuilt from its foundations, with the help and cooperation of everyone," Castro said.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ecuador, Colombia Reestablish Diplomatic Ties

GEORGETOWN – Presidents Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador announced here Friday the reestablishing of full diplomatic relations between their two countries that were broken off in March 2008.

“We have taken the decision to fully reestablish diplomatic relations between Ecuador and Colombia, and to that end we will name ambassadors who will be posted, with all certainty, before Christmas,” Santos said in a joint statement with Correa.

The two leaders talked to reporters after taking part in the summit of the 12-member Union of South American Nations, or Unasur.

In that meeting they decided to renew the diplomatic ties that Ecuador broke off in March 2008 after Colombia bombed a camp of the FARC guerrilla group on Ecuadorian territory.

Killed in the bombing raid were 26 people including the No. 2 of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, Raul Reyes.

“We have decided to normalize diplomatic relations,” Correa told the press. Also present were Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño and Colombian counterpart Maria Angela Holguin.

The ministers have been negotiating the renewal of full diplomatic ties for several months and took a key step recently with Holguin’s visit to Quito, during which Colombia handed over to Ecuador all the information it had requested.

The Quito government received additional classified information about the bombing of the FARC base.

Honduran Military Forces to Expel Farmers

TEGUCIGALPA - Honduran armed forces begin a military campaign Saturday in the Bajo Aguan rural area to expel farmers from their lands, with the pretext of stopping alleged armed groups.

Deputy Security Minister Armando Calidonio made the announcement Friday in San Pedro Sula, and as a pretext for the operations he showed some photos of armed minors.

The El Aguan Farmers Movement (MCA) and the National People's Resistance Front (FNRP) have denied the existence of such groups and the occurrence of armed clashes. There have been murders, massacres, but farmers have been the only victims, the FNRP denounced on its website.

The military actions will continue in the area, and any person carrying a gun will be detained, Calidonio warned.

The actions are part of the second phase of a plan that includes the eviction of farms in dispute, said Rene Maradiaga Panchame, the second director of the National Police.

The World Rainforest Movement (WRM) yesterday joined the denunciation by the regional office of the International Union of Food Workers of the assassination of Honduran farmers.

The WRM asked all the mass media in Honduras and the rest of Latin America to publish the regional office's denunciation, in which it demands the end of the killings of farmers and that the murderers be punished.

Venezuelan Parliament Holds Special Session

By James Suggett

The Venezuelan government held a special event in the National Assembly on Tuesday to express its opposition to a recent meeting held in the U.S. Congress between U.S. legislators and members of Latin America's right-wing elite.

The November 17th meeting in question was titled "Danger in the Andes: Threats to Democracy, Human Rights and Inter-American Security" and was held at the U.S. Congressional Visitors Center in Washington.

The agenda included a discussion of whether Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua "constitute a threat to U.S. interests and inter-American security," and whether the U.S. is "equipped to respond." Venezuela's "21st Century Socialism" and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), a fair trade bloc based on solidarity and social development, were highlighted as examples of the "erosion of democracy" in the region.

In Tuesday's event in Caracas, which was titled an "Act in Defense of National Sovereignty," President Hugo Chavez called the Washington meeting an act of imperialist aggression against Venezuela. "We are here to defend our homeland as humans. We are defending our right to follow our own path," Chavez told the National Assembly.

The president's Council of Ministers, the heads of all five branches of the government, legislators, the high military command, and several state and local officials, ambassadors, and community representatives attended Tuesday's event.

U.S.-Venezuelan lawyer and investigative journalist Eva Golinger also spoke about the U.S. government's funneling of millions of dollars to "psychological operations," or propaganda campaigns to slander governments with policies that are not in line with U.S. interests.

Golinger said these campaigns are designed primarily by the Pentagon and the State Department with the collaboration of local media outlets, journalists, and other parties. According to Golinger, in 2011 the Pentagon slotted U.S.$384.8 million for psychological operations through the U.S. Southern Command and the Congress approved U.S.$768.8 million for the State Department to create a special propaganda division. Funds are also channeled through the U.S. government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the U.S. Organization for International Development (USAID), reported Golinger.

President Chavez called on the National Assembly to pass a law to stop this money from reaching Venezuelan civil society groups. "It is beyond belief, even though we have our constitution, that we allow political parties, non-governmental organizations, and counter-revolutionary individuals to continue to be financed with millions from the [United States] empire and that they make use of it with full freedom to violate and destabilize," said Chavez.

"I am sure that the Venezuelan government I head -- under the constitution -- is not going to continue allowing this," he said. "A very severe law should be passed to impede Yankee financing."

Legislator Saúl Ortega, from the Foreign Relations Committee of the National Assembly, said on Tuesday that two law proposals are already in the works with the aim of "putting controls on these non-governmental organizations that receive financing for destabilizing actions," and for the "control of foreign agents."

Several Venezuelan opposition groups including Súmate, which has acknowledged receiving NED funding, are suspected of involvement in subversive actions, including demonstrations that culminated in the military coup d'état that temporarily ousted Chavez from power in April 2002.

Some domestic organizations that are not explicitly aligned with any political party or movement have expressed concern that if a new law bans all foreign funding without distinguishing the origin or the purpose of the funds, groups providing social services and engaging in human rights advocacy could have their efforts weakened.

Another point of discussion during Tuesday's special session was Guillermo Zuloaga, owner of opposition television station Globovision that aided the April 2002 coup d'état by broadcasting manipulated images and suppressing news before, during and after the coup events.

Zuloaga, who is wanted in Venezuela for money laundering and hoarding of marketable vehicles at his private residence, attended the Washington meeting. He told reporters outside the U.S. Congressional Visitors Center that Venezuela is a "threat to the United States."

Chavez referred to Zuloaga during Tuesday's event, saying, "Venezuela's bourgeoisie has to learn that it won't just get away with having one of its representatives go off to the U.S. Congress to attack Venezuela, while keeping a TV station here."

Also during the event, Chavez told the National Assembly that in order to "defeat the imperial threat," it must "radicalize the revolution" by embracing "extreme left" policies in order to counter the "extreme right" policies of legislators who were newly elected in September and will be sworn in early next year.

National Assembly President Cilia Flores called on Venezuelans to organize similar events around the country to express opposition to U.S. interference in Venezuelan affairs.

In a related event this week, President Chavez said he would welcome U.S. President Barack Obama to Caracas for a diplomatic visit. "We would sit, talk, and eat arepas [a Venezuelan staple food]; I would take you to the streets of Caracas," he said. "I would give you my hand one more time and suggest that you honor your promises to your people," said Chavez.

He also urged Obama to "ignore the stereotype. Don't pay attention to the lie-filled reports that say we are a threat."

In April 2009, during Obama's first trip to Latin America as president, Chavez gave him Eduardo Galeano's book, Open Veins of Latin America, and the two countries expressed their willingness to revamp previously severed diplomatic relations. But relations currently remain stalled, as Venezuela has rejected Washington's ambassador nominee Larry Palmer.

Palmer heads the U.S. government-funded Inter-American Foundation, which specializes in channeling money to non-governmental organizations. He also made controversial remarks in a Senate hearing earlier this year in which he alluded to Venezuela's alleged ties to armed insurgent groups that the U.S. deems "terrorists," prompting the nominee's rejection by Venezuelan authorities.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Media Distortions Legitimize Honduras Regime

by: Michael Corcoran, t r u t h o u t | News Analysis

Honduras held elections on November 29, 2009, that were deemed illegitimate by most of the international community and resulted in the presidency of Porfirio Lobo, a conservative politician and agricultural landowner. [I] The election occurred just months after the illegal coup overthrowing President Manuel Zelaya and, as a result of a significant boycott, only included candidates who supported the coup. [II]

At the time of the elections, the US mainstream media had an atrocious record of reporting on the coup itself, as well as on the elections that followed, helping to legitimize a startling attack on Honduran democracy. [III]Despite the illegal nature of the coup and numerous accounts of human rights abuses against supporters of Manuel Zelaya - including violence against protesters, mass arrests and crackdowns on press freedom - the US media portrayed the events in a way that painted Zelaya as a villainous follower of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and legitimized those who ousted him, in part by ignoring their many crimes and abuses. [IV]

Unfortunately, in the year that has followed these two troubling events, little has changed: the Lobo regime has continued the human rights abuses that have plagued the country for more than a year, while the media has downplayed, distorted or ignored the crimes of his regime. The press also continues to amplify calls for the international acceptance of the new leadership, despite continuing reports of abuse. As a result, the US media remains an active participant in an attack on Honduran democracy that has continued for almost a year and a half.

Ignoring the Documentary Record

Since the June 2009 coup and throughout Lobo's tenure, widespread human rights abuses such as the targeted killings of journalists, the removal of opposition judges, mass arrests, beatings and torture have been thoroughly documented by human rights organizations. Amnesty International's finding indicated the extent and brutality of abuses against opposition forces in the country:

"Hundreds of people opposed to the coup were beaten and detained by the security forces as protests erupted during the following months [after the coup]. More than 10 people were reportedly killed during the unrest. The police and military also widely misused tear gas and other crowd control equipment. Human rights activists, opposition leaders and judges suffered threats and intimidation, media outlets closed and journalists were censored. There were also reports of security force personnel committing acts of sexual violence against women and girls. Judges viewed as critical of the coup suffered a series of arbitrary transferrals and unfair disciplinary proceedings. Members of the organization Judges for Democracy, which promotes principles of fairness and transparency, formed the vast majority of those targeted." [V]

"President Lobo has publicly committed to human rights, but has failed to take action to protect them, which is unacceptable. He needs to show he is serious about ending the climate of repression and insecurity in Honduras - otherwise the future stability of the country will remain in jeopardy," said Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International's Americas deputy director, in a statement released in June 2010. [VI]

These serious accusations have been largely ignored by the United States mainstream press, leaving the American public in the dark about the true color of a regime that now has the support of US diplomats. Amnesty International released three reports about various abuses to the public and to journalists between August 2009 and June 2010, yet none received any notable mainstream media attention in the United States. [VII] One such report, written by a delegation sent to the country, even gave chilling firsthand testimony from those who were abused; nonetheless, the US press still did not take notice. "We were demonstrating peacefully. Suddenly, the police came towards us, and I started running," said a 52-year-old teacher named "Fernando," who was quoted in an August 2009 report. "They grabbed me and shouted 'Why do you [all] support Zelaya's government? Whether it's by choice or by force, you have to be with this government.' They beat me. I have not yet been informed as to why I am here detained."[VIII]

Human Rights Watch, the largest human rights organization based in the United States, has released 20 publications — a variety of reports, press releases and statements — documenting a wide range of abuses in Honduras between the date of the coup and September 10, 2010. [IX]

Amazingly, elite national publications in the United States have paid no attention to these reports. The New York Times has published 53 articles about Honduras since the coup in mid-2009, and Human Rights Watch was only mentioned in one of them — a September 29, 2009 article about two media stations being closed down. In the entire year since Lobo was elected, the Times has not issued an article about a single one of the 20 Human Rights Watch publications about abuses by the regime.[X] Amnesty International, likewise, has only been written about once in the Times, where it was briefly mentioned in a September 3, 2009 article. [XI]

The reason for ignoring the reports cannot possibly be because the Times editors consider Human Rights Watch reports about Latin American leaders to lack news value. When Human Rights Watch issued a report about Venezuela president Hugo Chavez – who, unlike Lobo, is opposed to the favored neoliberal economic policies of the US government - the Times dutifully published a full article about the report, titled "Report Accuses Chavez of Abusing Rights." [XII]

But the Times, it seems, is rather selective when it comes to reporting on the alleged abuses of world leaders - ignoring them when they are done by allies who share the economic worldview of the United States, and amplifying accusations against those who oppose the Washington Consensus. In fact, even when the Times did manage to mention the accusations against Lobo, they did so in the softest possible terms. Since Lobo's presidency began, the Times has mentioned human rights abuses in Honduras twice on their news pages. Once was in a June 6 article titled, "Latin America Still Divided Over a Coup in Honduras."[XIII] The only direct mention of human rights abuses was buried 20 paragraphs deep into a 25-paragraph story and merely said, "Human rights groups complain of arbitrary arrests, beatings and killings of government opponents over the past year. And seven journalists have been killed in the country in recent months, although it has not yet been determined how many of those attacks have political links." It is interesting that the Times chose to emphasize how politically divided the nation is without mentioning the harrowing data about post-coup Honduras - such as the more than 600 cases of cruel and unusual punishment, at least 23 politically motivated killings and the removal of judges critical of the coup - all of which could help provide readers important context to political realities in the country. [XIV]

The other mention was on July 27, 2010, when the Times covered a report released by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which expressed concern over journalists' deaths. But this report also failed to document the extent of the ongoing troubles in Honduras.[XV] Tellingly, in the online version of the article, the term "human rights violations" was hyperlinked to a previous Times article. The link takes readers to a nine-month-old article about abuses following the coup that took place before Lobo's presidency, as if to underscore how little attention the Paper of Record has paid to Lobo's abuses in the last year. [XVI]

The Washington Post likewise painted the massive violence, not as an egregious abuse of power, but rather as an example of "how difficult it is to bridge regional divisions." [XVII]

The Times' editorial page has failed to publish any editorials or op-eds condemning the human rights abuses, (as they do when Iran or Venezuela are accused of abuses), though opponents of Zelaya were given ample space in op-ed pages when the political crisis first began. [XVIII]

Pushing for International Legitimacy

While critics of the Lobo regime have been largely ignored by the media, those who wish to see the regime granted international legitimacy have been given a considerable platform in the US press. The Washington Post, for example, quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the Organization of American States (OAS) to recognize the new regime in Honduras, citing "strong and consistent commitment to democratic governance and constitutional order," from President Lobo. [XIX] The Post article, amazingly, did not bother to mention Lobo's human rights record at all, and only acknowledged that within the OAS "a majority of ministers opposed even adding the question of Honduras to the agenda." Readers were left to figure out for themselves why there was opposition to accepting Honduras into the OAS.

In fact, when the Unites States publicly came out in favor of the return of Honduras to the OAS, the mainstream media gave the development a massive degree of coverage. In addition to the Post, Reuters, the Miami Herald, The New York Times and CNN all covered US expressions of support for the new Honduran government. [XX] Readers in the U.S. were able to read plenty of praise and support for Lobo's government, but almost no substantial critiques.

The push to recognize the fraudulent regime was not surprising to those who followed the US media coverage of the November 2009 elections, which, despite voting irregularities, reports of voter intimidation and a lack of any monitoring or recognition by the bulk of the international community, were portrayed as a triumph for democracy in the country.

Despite numerous reports of widespread abuses on election day, The Washington Post called the election "mostly peaceful." [XXI] Bloomberg reported that Lobo was "elected president in a peaceful vote," to "overcome a five-month political crisis" and quoted political analyst Heather Berkman: "Honduras is definitely getting toward the end of the crisis." [XXII]The New York Times said in an editorial that there was "wide agreement" that the election "was clean and fair," despite having declared weeks earlier that "an election run by the coup plotters won't be credible to Hondurans - and it shouldn't be to anyone else." [XXIII]

This glowing portrayal of events, propagated by virtually all mainstream US media outlets, conflicted dramatically with reality. Amnesty International released several reports of voter intimidation and other problems during the elections. Almost every foreign government and election-monitoring agency in the world refused to accept the results of the election.[XXIV] Many media also misreported the turnout figures, relying on the Honduran Supreme Electoral Tribunal's grossly exaggerated numbers of about 61 percent when in fact turnout was actually below 50 percent.[XXV] But by the time the truth came out, these false numbers had already been used to justify recognition of the sham elections by the United States and the US media. The "turnout appears to have exceeded that of the last presidential election," the US State Department said in a statement. "This shows that given the opportunity to express themselves, the Honduran people have viewed the election as an important part of the solution to the political crisis in their country."[XXVI]

In fact, US media coverage has served to help legitimize the plotters and beneficiaries of the 2009 coup from the very start. When Zelaya was forced out of office, the US media painted him as a "a leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela," who was ousted by the US-backed Honduran military, which was "acting to defend the law" after "months of tensions over [Zelaya's] efforts to lift presidential term limits" - efforts that "critics said [were] part of an illegal attempt by Mr. Zelaya to defy the constitution's limit of a single four-year term for the president."[XXVII] Opinion writers asked, "Who Cares About Zelaya?" who was merely a "a typical Honduran politician" with a "lust for power," whose "goal seemed to be a change from our democratic system into a kind of 21st-century socialism … a Hugo Chavez-type of government."[XXVIII]

Erasing the Coup

Since the toppling of Zelaya and now throughout Lobo's presidency, the US media has provided a narrative that has helped enable the democratic crisis in Honduras. An article in Reuters from earlier this year recently observed, quite accurately, that "Honduras is trying to erase memories of the coup," citing how "a Supreme Court judge cleared military leaders of any wrongdoing … after prosecutors accused them of abuse of power for rousting Zelaya from his bed at gunpoint." [XXIX]

Indeed, if the illegitimate Honduran government is trying to erase memories of the illegal coup and further tighten its control over the nation, it has no stronger ally than the US media.


[I] "Nations Divided on Recognizing Honduran Elections,", November 30, 2009; "Carter Center Statement on the Honduran Elections" The Carter Center, November 25, 2009.

[II] "Obama says coup in Honduras is illegal," Reuters, June 29, 2009.

[III] Michael Corcoran. "A Tale of Two Elections: Iran and Honduras," NACLA Report on the Americas 43, no. 1 (March/April 2010).

[IV] Ibid

[V] "New Honduras President must order investigation into rights abuses," Amnesty International. January 26, 2010.

[VI] Ibid

[VII] Data is from a search on

[VIII] "Honduras: Photos and testimony of protestors shows extent of police violence," Amnesty International, August 19, 2010.

[IX] Data is from a search of

[X] Data is from a Lexis-Nexis search

[XI] Ibid

[XII] Simon Romero. "Report Accuses Chavez of Abusing Rights," The New York Times, September 18, 2010.

[XIII] Marc Lacey. "Latin America Still Divided Over a Coup in Honduras," The New York Times, June 6 2010.

[XIV] Data on cruel and unusual punishment is from the Center for Prevention and Treatment of Torture, as cited by Adrienne Pine. "Honduras: 'Reconciliation' vs. Reality," NACLA Report on the Americas 43, no. 1 (March/April 2010).

[XV] Elizabeth Kaplan, "Honduras Faces Criticism Over Journalist Killings After a Coup," The New York Times, July 27, 2010.

[XVI] Article links to Elizabeth Kaplan, "Honduran Security Forces Accused of Abuse," The New York Times, October 5, 2010.

[XVII] Glenn Kessler. "Clinton Urges OAS to Let Honduras Rejoin," The Washington Post, June 7, 2010.

[XVIII] For examples of anti-Zelaya op-eds see: Roger Marin Neda, "Who Cares About Zelaya?," The New York Times, July 7, 2009.

[XIX] As quoted in: Glenn Kessler. "Clinton Urges OAS to Let Honduras Rejoin," The Washington Post, June 7, 2010.

[XX] "U.S. says time for OAS to readmit Honduras," Reuters, May 6, 2010, Mark Landler; "Clinton pleads case for Honduras," The New York Times. June 7, 2010, Jim Wyss; "OAS inches toward readmitting Honduras," Miami Herald, June 9, 2010; "Latin leaders seek unity in regional summit," CNN World. February 22, 2010.

[XXI] Mary Beth Sheridan, "Hondurans Go to Polls, Hoping to End Crisis," The Washington Post, November 30, 2009.

[XXII] Helen Murphy and Eric Sabo, "Lobo Wins Honduran Presidency After Peaceful Vote,", November 30, 2009.

[XXIII] "The Honduran Conundrum," The New York Times (editorial), December 5, 2009; "Coup, Uninterrupted," The New York Times (editorial), November 7, 2009.

[XXIV] For abuses in election see: "Independent Investigation Needed Into Honduras Human Rights Abuses," Amnesty International, December 3, 2009; for lack of acceptance from international agencies see: Alyssa Figueroa "Honduras Down the Memory Hole," Extra!, August 2010.

[XXV] Mariano Castillo, "Honduran Election Turnout Lower Than First Estimated,", December 22, 2009.

[XXVI] Ian Kelly, "Honduran Election," U.S. Department of State, November 29, 2009.

[XXVII] Elizabeth Malkin, "Honduran President Is Ousted in Coup," The New York Times, June 29, 2009.

[XXVIII] Roger Marin Neda, "Who Cares About Zelaya?" The New York Times, July 7, 2009.

[XXIX] Sean Mattson and Gustavo Palencia, "Honduran Zelaya flies into exile, ending crisis," Reuters. January 27, 2010.

The Snakes Sleep: Attacks against the Media and Impunity in Honduras

Written by Sandra Cuffe

In Honduras, there is a particular quote by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano that has been adopted into the country's rich lexicon of idioms: “Justice is like snakes. They only bite the barefoot.”

Of the thousands of human rights violations committed in Honduras since the coup in June 2009, in most cases the only serious investigations have been carried out by the grassroots organizations involved with the Human Rights Platform and the resistance movement. Very few charges have been laid against the human rights violators who ordered and carried out illegal detentions, kidnappings, beatings, torture, rape, and extrajudicial executions.

At the international level, however, there have recently been positive signals that spark the hope that justice may one day be served. Last week, the International Criminal Court announced that preliminary investigations are underway to determine whether or not the Court has jurisdiction over a case related to Honduras. Essentially, the Court is investigating whether or not war crimes and/or crimes against humanity have been committed in Honduras since the coup on June 28, 2009.

Also earlier this month, Honduras faced its Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations, a process that each UN member State undergoes every four years. Tellingly, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia did not attend because they do not recognize the government of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who was elected President in November 2009 in highly controversial elections that many contend were simply the prolongation of the illegitimate rule of the civic and military authorities that coordinated the overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya Rosales. Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, El Salvador and Ecuador explicitly clarified that they do not recognize the government of Honduras, but intervened in the Review process nonetheless in order to support the human rights of the Honduran people.

At the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, several concerns were voiced about the impunity surrounding human rights violations in general, and the murder of journalists in particular. Nine journalists have been murdered in Honduras in 2010 to date. According to the “Death Watch” compiled by the International Press Institute (IPI), Honduras is now the second most dangerous country for journalists, second only to Mexico. Prior to 2010, the countries with the most murders of journalists were mainly countries officially deemed to be in conflict, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Somalia. When the Honduran population of less than eight million is taken into account, the statistics are exponentially more serious.

According to the IPI's research, from 1997 when the Institute started the “Death Watch” until the coup, only seven journalists were killed. At the Universal Periodic Review, UN member States demanded investigations and justice in the cases of the nine journalists killed in 2010 alone. While the final report will not be adopted until the Human Rights Council meets again to discuss the case in March 2011, the Honduran government stated its acceptance of the 129 recommendations during the Review process earlier this month. In the case of the journalists, however, the promise to investigate and to prosecute those responsible did not come without a rebuttal.

“In none of the cases investigated have the victims or their families alleged political motivations, nor have the investigations turned up evidence that such a pattern exists,” said Honduran Vice President Maria Antoineta Guillen de Bogran during the Review.

Earlier this year, in an interview with the Tribuna newspaper on May 3rd, Honduran Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez went even further, stating: “I guarantee that in all of the cases [of the journalists' murders], there is no connection to indicate that it is due to their work as journalists. That is to say that there is no person or people trying to silence journalists; it is simply that, just as other people, after their work as reporters, journalists spend their time on their own personal situations.”

Of course, as murdered journalists themselves, Gabriel Fino Noriega, Joseph Hernandez Ochoa, David Meza Montesinos, Nahum Palacios, Jose Bayardo Mayrena, Manuel Juarez, Jorge Alberto Orellana, Luis Arturo Mondragon, and Israel Zelaya Diaz are not able to contest the statements by Vice President Guillen and Security Minister Alvarez. In most cases, however, journalists who have been threatened, kidnapped, beaten, and tortured have demonstrated the clear connection between their work as critical journalists supporting or reporting on the resistance movement and the human rights violations they have endured.

In the case of direct attacks against media outlets, the evidence is clear. Most of the violent assaults against radio stations and the confiscation of equipment took place either on June 28th, 2009, the morning of the coup, or three months later, on September 28th, 2009, after a specific executive decree including more curfews and martial law also addressed media outlets. The decree established a State of Emergency and restricted several basic rights and freedoms, including the freedom of expression, giving authorities the green light to “halt the coverage or discussion through any media, be it verbal or printed, of demonstrations that threaten peace and public order” or that compromised the “dignity” of government authorities or decisions.

“The decree [defined] the framework of a military dictatorship,” asserted well-known radio journalist Felix Molina.

"Honduras had not seen - not even during the dirty war of the 1980s, when the military governed with a civilian facade - something like what we saw the morning of June 28th 2009, which was repeated the morning of September 28th 2009, exactly three months later. The arrival in person of soldiers to a media outlet. Confiscation. Well, on June 28th, there was no confiscation of equipment, but in September, Channel 36's equipment was destroyed and confiscated and completely confiscated from Radio Globo," explained Molina after the military assault on Radio Globo and Cholusat Sur, the only radio and television stations, respectively, with nation-wide coverage to clearly identify with the resistance movement against the coup.

"In the 24 hours after the publication of the decree in the official newspaper, the army invoked it to take away equipment and take two media outlets off the air... And we could have expected anything to happen, but as a journalist, I would have never expected that a media outlet be physically dismantled by the army, and yet that is what we saw at dawn on September 28th," said Molina.

On June 28th, in the hours after the Honduran army sprayed the house of elected President Zelaya with bullets and forced him onto a flight to Costa Rica, several radio stations around the country reporting the urgent news were targeted by the armed forces and forced off the air. That same morning, a nation-wide consultation was to have taken place for people to express their support or opposition for a fourth ballot box in the 2010 elections concerning a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution. The initiative was supported and coordinated both by Zelaya and much of the Honduran social movement. Many of the media outlets that would later support the coup either simply did not report anything that morning, or reported the official version of events involving Zelaya's resignation and voluntary departure. Electrical power blackouts also occurred in much of the country.

One of the radio stations attacked and forced to stop broadcasting on June 28th 2009 was Radio Juticalpa, located in the state of Olancho, home to both ousted President Zelaya and current controversial President Lobo. When station director Martha Elena Rubi arrived before dawn, she found the windows and walls of the studio shot up from outside. The shells inside the studio were all from M-16s, the assault rifles assigned to the Honduran army. Witnesses also identified the armed forces as responsible for the violent attack, but Rubi went ahead and broadcast the news of the coup.

“We thought that this time, if we informed the people of what was really going on, we would help neutralize it. So, knowing that I was going to do this work, what they did was that when I got here, at about five thirty or five o'clock in the morning, [they thought that] I would realize that they had shot up the station and that I would be afraid and not even go on air,” said Rubi.

“I knew they were going to come,” added Rubi, “so I had little time to tell people the truth, and for the town to realize the way in which they were trying to silence what we were, in an impartial way, saying: the truth. So I knew that I was racing against the clock and I committed to getting people to wake up to reality. About two or three hours later, they came with orders for me to shut down the station.”

There was a power blackout in Juticalpa, but Radio Juticalpa had a solar plant and therefore became the only radio station on the air in the entire region. When the heavily armed soldiers were approaching, Rubi stopped her news coverage and switched to music. However, the station was forced off the air for the rest of the day. Luckily, Rubi and her colleague Andres Molina were able to prevent the army from confiscating their equipment.

Likely due in large part to the persistence of Honduran human rights organizations and mounting international pressure, Colonel Rene Javier Palao Torres and sub-official Juan Alfredo Acosta Acosta were charged with Abuse of Authority for the assault on Radio Juticalpa and sentenced to prison in Juticalpa, Olancho. The military officials appealed the verdict, however, and the sentence was overturned earlier this month by the Court of Appeals.

The number of cases in which charges have not even been laid is unfortunately far greater than those that have at least made it to court. Flying in the face of the statements by Vice President Guillen and Security Minister Alvarez, one such case is the kidnapping and torture of 29-year-old Delmer Membreno on September 28th 2009, the same day as the military attacks on Radio Globo and Cholusat Sur. A former photographer for the Tribuna newspaper and the Spanish News Agency, the resistance-supporting El Libertador newspaper photographer Membreno was forced into a vehicle by armed men in Tegucigalpa.

"They put a balaclava over my head, they handcuffed me, and they burned my body. They hit me, and they uttered threats against the newspaper I work for: El Libertador," said Membreno, with the bruises and burn marks still visible on his face and body.

"They beat me. They burned my body with cigarettes. Here [on my arm], my face, and my chest. They ripped my shirt and left me without shoes... 'Cry, cry! Why aren't you crying, you commie?' That's what they said... They said that the director better be careful, that they were following him, and that what they had done to me was nothing in comparison to what they were going to do to him," narrated the wounded photographer.

When the torture of Membreno took place, there had already been so many cases of human rights violations against journalists and media outlets that the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) had petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for precautionary measures specifically for a long list of journalists and media outlets that had been attacked. From July 2009 on, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to a long list of journalists and media outlets; however, during two separate IACHR hearings that took place one month ago in Washington DC, evidence began to pile up that Honduras had not been carrying out the measures.

On July 24th, 2009, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to television journalist Nahun Palacios, the news director of Aguan Television on channel 5 in Tocoa, Colon, in the Aguan Valley. Palacios had immediately and publicly voiced his opposition to the coup and reported on the mobilizations against the coup and in support of the fourth ballot box and the Constituent Assembly. Only two days after the coup, on June 30th, soldiers raided Palacios' home, intimidated his family, held his children at gunpoint, and seized his vehicle and some work-related equipment.

Despite the IACHR precautionary measures granted the following month, Palacios never received any communication from the State, let alone any effective protection. Eight months later, on March 14th, 2010, 34-year-old Nahun Palacios was traveling home when his vehicle was intercepted and gunned down with AK47s, automatic weapons that are illegal but easily acquired in Honduras. Two unknown men fled the scene, leaving Palacios dead in the street, his body and vehicle riddled with dozens of bullets. Another passenger in the car was seriously injured and died later in the hospital.

As in many of the other murders of journalists this year, all of which remain unsolved, police did not carry out a proper investigation at the scene of Palacios' murder. After failing to gather sufficient evidence from the body back in March, the police exhumed Palacios' body in August, further upsetting his distraught relatives who still wait for justice eight months later, despite the State's international assurances that they are carrying out investigations and precautionary measures.

Nahun Palacios' murder in March 2010 was only one of five journalists killed that month. Due to the overwhelming impunity in the country, others have been forced to flee into exile. Many have also remained in Honduras, carrying out their vital work despite the ongoing threats and attacks.

"They can intimidate. You know, yes, of course there is fear, but I don't think that it will stop us from informing the people of the truth," said Delmer Membreno after his kidnapping and torture.

The announcement of the International Criminal Court about its preliminary investigations into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity in Honduras, as well as the ongoing pressure within the United Nations and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, would not be possible without the work of the innumerable committed Honduran journalists, media outlets, and human rights organizations from day one.

For now, back in Honduras, however, the snakes of justice are far from trying their fangs out on the high-ranking military, police and political leaders behind both the coup and outrageous human rights violations. Justice may simply be sleeping like so many court cases in the country. Or perhaps Zelaya and democracy were not the only ones forced into exile at gunpoint on June 28th, 2009.

Sandra Cuffe is a writer and activist of no fixed address. After living and working in Honduras for four years from 2003 to 2007, she returned five days after the coup, and stayed through April 2010, collaborating with COFADEH and other local organizations.