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Honduras: Latin America's Murder Capital

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HondurasBy some accounts, it's the world's murder capital. The UN Development Program (UNDP) reported 4,473 2008 murders (61.3 per 100,000) in a country with about 7.3 million people, the equivalent of over 190,000 annual US killings, over 10 times the actual rate.

For 2009, anthropologist Adrienne Pine estimated a 9% increase, saying in June 2010:

"As someone who has been closely following the human rights and political stability situation in Honduras for over a dozen years; who has written a book and numerous articles on the topic; who has served as an expert witness in over a dozen asylum cases; and who has been living and conducting research in Honduras during the past month, I can say with absolute confidence that I have never seen worse security conditions in this country."

"And while in the previous decade, the victims of extrajudicial assassinations and other forms of state violence were disproportionately young men identified (often incorrectly) as gang members, today a large percentage of the victims fall into two primary categories: people who are involved in or are openly critical of drug trafficking, and individuals who are seen as being critical of the June 28, 2009 coup."

"The latter category has included 9 journalists killed in targeted assassinations, and the disappearance, torture, and murder of numerous local and national leaders of the non-violent resistance movements and their daughters, sons, brothers and sisters....all since the beginning" of the current Pepe Lobo regime, controlled by two forces: the military, and a small group of powerful business elites, united in their opposition against anyone opposing the coup.

In addition, the atmosphere of impunity assures virtually no investigations or prosecutions. Moreover, victims are "posthumously slandered by the police and media as having brought their deaths upon themselves," either for involvement in drugs or "calling for a more participatory democratic government."

Supporters of deposed President Manuel Zelaya are notably at risk, because the legitimacy of those in power "depends largely on their unsubstantiated argument that (he) was corrupt and engaged in criminal activities."

Pine believes "generalized violence serves as cover for politically targeted assassinations," happening on a near-daily basis. "It is an extremely dangerous environment," forcing well over 100 people into exile, and many others into self-imposed house arrest, what's no guarantee of safety. Death squads have kidnapped or killed numerous coup opponents and their family members at home, work or other perceived less vulnerable places.

After the June 28, 2009 coup, two earlier articles covered death squad terror to solidify fascist rule against street protesters, human rights activists, journalists, unionists, campesinos, teachers, and anyone challenging state authority.

By any standard or measure, Honduras is an extremely violent country, one of the world's worst outside of war zones.

On October 31, Al Jazeera headlined, "Massacre in northern Honduras," saying:

"Unknown gunmen attacked a group of people playing football....killing at least fourteen...." Armed with assault rifles, five or more attackers shot victims at point blank range. Ten people died immediately, four others en route to the hospital. More were wounded, some seriously.

Honduran vice-minister of security, Armando Calidonio, blamed street gangs (maras), likely to absolve death squad responsibility. In September, gunmen killed 18 shoe factory employees in San Pedro Sula. Maras again were blamed. Likely it for their union related activities, not drugs or crime.

According to Honduras' human rights ombudsman (an oxymoron under Lobo), "Honduras is on track to finish the year with the world's highest murder rate, (totaling) 78.8 per 100,000."

On November 16, Latin America Bureau writer Rory Carroll headlined, "Honduras: We are burying kids all the time," saying:

"Three young people are murdered every day in Honduras," the result of mara youth gangs involved in  drug trafficking, extortion and violence, "stretching from Los Angeles to the country's capital Tegucigalpa."

"What are the words for what is happening in Honduras? Slaughter, tragedy, waste?" The annual youth death toll is nearly 6,000, "an extraordinarily high number" that makes Honduras "more dangerous than Mexico....Part of the explanation....is political." Most he attributes to gang-related violence, whether or not true.

Casa Alianza estimates that gang rivalry accounts for about 40% of the killings, contract assassinations (sicarios) another 15%. "For just a few hundred dollars, sometimes less, they will pump bullets into your problem." A culture of impunity exacerbates conditions. "Of the thousands of youth murders in the past decade, fewer than 50" were solved. In Honduras, killing is a growth industry, but over-hyping gang involvement overstates reality.

Anthropologist and mara expert Dennis Rodgers says "Gangs have become convenient scapegoats on which to blame (state) problems, and through which those in power attempt to maintain an unequal status quo." Accusing authorities of exploiting the phenomenon, he added, "I don't think there is much coordination (between gangs). They are local foot soldiers, hired guns for the cartels."

According to anthropologist Robert Barrios, maras have been exploited as a "fetishized evil to disguise" ruling power harshness and failure.

Grassroots Resistance

Honduras RESISTE: National Resistance Front is a coalition of grassroots organizations for Honduran democracy.

On November 15, it said oligarch Miguel Facusse's "private army" attacked members of the Campesino Movement of Aguan (MUCA) in Tumbador, Trujillo. Five were killed, three more wounded. One of Honduras' largest landowners, he's responsible for ongoing violence in Colon. In collusion with police and military forces, his paramilitaries murder with impunity.

Last January, MUCA reported ongoing violations of their rights for years, more recently for having reclaimed their land. Francisco Funez, Zelaya's Director of the National Agrarian Institute, said:

Under Honduras' coup d'etat regime, "conflicts have sharpened in the country and especially in Aguan where the agrarian conflicts for land are ongoing, despite the fact that (Zelaya), the peasants, the National Agrarian Institute, and the land owners signed an agreement that said that nobody could dispute the property of those lands without demonstrating the legality of it. Nonetheless, the displacement continues in that zone and the threat is" real.

As a result, peasants are being "prosecuted for the crime of usurpation and are receiving persecution and (death) threats."

In October, Bertha Oliva, leader of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH)  said 83 resistance members were kidnapped or killed since January. In 1981, her husband, Professor Tomas Nativi, disappeared. Today, CAFADEH members and their families are threatened, assaulted, kidnapped or killed.

Rights Action (RA) focuses on community development, emergency relief, environmental and human rights issues in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. It aims to "build north-south alliances and carries out education, political and legal work for global equity and justice," following a "just development model."

On November 19, RA contributor Annie Bird headlined, "Honduras: World Bank Shares Responsibility for Biofuel Massacre of 6 Campesinos," saying:

About six months ago, MUCA got provisional title to a farm, neighboring their community, "as part of a longstanding negotiation with Dinant Corporation, a biofuel company, whose land claims are illegitimate."

On November 15, after weeks of armed security force encroachments, six campesinos were murdered, two others seriously wounded.

"In November 2009....the World Bank's International Finance Corporation gave Dinant a $30 million loan for biofuel production, and now shares responsibility in the massacre."

Over the past decade, campesino-designated land "was illegally divided up among several large landholders as a result of corruption and fraudulent titling processes." Small victories were won to get it back. However, the "titling process has been slow and marked by violent attacks by the large landowners," in collusion with military forces and police.

Touted as a solution to a growing world energy shortage, the facts refute the hype. Organic fuels, in fact, trash rainforests, deplete water reserves, kill off species, and increase greenhouse emissions. Some solution. They aren't clean and green. They destroy rural development, forcing small farmers off their land. They increase hunger, and better "second-generation" argofuels aren't around the corner. The greater their proliferation, the more harm to the earth and everyone who eats.

Honduran campesinos face greater dangers. Those contesting their land rights are murdered, big landowners in collusion with agribusiness and regime fascists killing anyone who resists with impunity. No wonder Honduras is on a fast track to becoming the world's murder capital.


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