Obama Asked to Curtail Assistance to Honduras

Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), joined by 29 other Members of Congress, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling on the Obama Administration to suspend aid - ‹particularly military and police assistance‹ - to the government of Honduras, while murders of political activists and media workers and other attacks in that country continue with near impunity.

Office of Congressman Sam Farr

Editor's note: This was a press release by Congressman Sam Farr's office on October 20, 2010.

WASHINGTON, DC Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA), joined by 29 other Members of Congress, sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today calling on the Obama Administration to suspend aid - ‹particularly military and police assistance‹ - to the government of Honduras, while murders of political activists and media workers and other attacks in that country continue with near impunity.

The letter describes recent human rights violations, including the killings of rural activists, a labor union leader, and a journalist critical of the current regime, among others. It notes that neither these nor dozens of other politically motivated attacks that have taken place since the coup d¹état of June 28, 2009 have been properly investigated. The letter goes on to say that the victims of these crimes have been left vulnerable with no access to justice, and notes that there exists "serious concern that the rule of law is directly threatened by members of the Honduran police and armed forces."

Additionally, the letter points out that Honduras¹ authorities have on many occasions "summarily dismissed the attacks against political activists, human rights defenders and journalists as a symptom of criminality linked to drug trafficking and organized crime." In response to this behavior, the letter calls on the State Department to urge the Honduran regime to recognize the human rights violations, and the political nature of the attacks.

The letter concludes by urging the Obama Administration to "refrain from supporting the immediate re-entry of Honduras in the Organization of American States. The Obama Administration does a great disservice to democracy and human rights across the Western Hemisphere by making an exception for Honduras, while the Lobo Administration continues to include perpetrators of the June 28, 2009, coup d'etat and fails to prosecute politically motivated crimes."

The full text of the letter follows below:

October 19, 2010

Dear Secretary Clinton,

We are encouraged to see that the U.S. government has acknowledged the gravity of the political and human rights situation in Honduras. The August 4, 2010, trip by senior State Department official Maria Otero to review the state of human rights and democratic governance under Honduran President Porfirio Lobo demonstrates a new assertiveness by the Obama Administration to observe and protect political and human rights in that country. We believe U.S. assistance, particularly military and police aid, should be suspended until the government of Porfirio Lobo distances itself from individuals involved in the June 28, 2009, military coup d'etat and adequately addresses the ongoing human and political rights violations.

We have received credible reports from Honduran human rights organizations that abuses continue with near impunity. Members of the human rights community, journalists and activists continue to be attacked and intimidated. The Honduran Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared (COFADEH), a highly esteemed human rights organization, reports assassinations, arbitrary arrests, beatings and death threats targeting political activists and the human rights workers who attempt to protect them. COFADEH described August as a "black" month for human rights and has documented a disturbing number of incidents that have taken place in recent weeks.

Since the beginning of August 2010, at least six individuals identified with the opposition movement against the Lobo Administration have been murdered, including several rural activists, a teacher union leader and a journalist. Several journalists known for their criticism of the coup d'etat have been arbitrarily detained or suffered physical attacks. An opposition radio station - Radio Uno of San Pedro Sula - was forced off the air and its transmission cables were cut; police fired tear gas and a water cannon at demonstrators outside the radio station. The Honduran authorities have failed to investigate and prosecute dozens of other murders and violent attacks against pro-democratic political activists since the June 28, 2009, coup d'etat. The victims and their families have been left vulnerable with no access to justice. There is serious concern that the rule of law is directly threatened by members of the Honduran police and armed forces.

On the weekend of September 17, 2010, a leader in the Social Security labor union, Juana Bustillo, was assassinated while riding in a car with theunion's president Hector Escoto, who was hospitalized. Earlier in September, four peasants were murdered in the Aguan region - home to a land conflict where landless peasants are attempting to secure plots to build homes. In the first incident, three people were killed, allegedly by private security guards of Miguel Facussé Barjóm -- one of Honduras' largest landowners. In the second incident, Francisco Miranda, a leader among landless peasants, was shot several times by unknown men while running errands on his bicycle. The newspaper La Tribuna, owned by Facussé's nephew, reported that the killing was part of a dispute internal to the landless peasants' organization.

On many occasions, Honduran authorities have summarily dismissed the attacks against political activists, human rights defenders and journalists as a symptom of criminality linked to drug trafficking and organized crime. Crime is a problem; however, since the June 28, 2009, coup, there has been a distinct pattern of political violence that merits a strong U.S. response.

It is our expectation that the Obama Administration will advance justice by urging the Lobo Administration to vigorously investigate and prosecute threats and attacks against activists and journalists, and to suspend any members of the police or military credibly alleged to be involved in such crimes while investigations take place. In addition, the State Department should urge the Lobo Administration to recognize the undeniable political character of many of the attacks against activists and journalists. A strong democracy provides security to those who participate peacefully in political process; lack of security demonstrates deficiencies in Honduran democracy. Tragically, since the August 4, 2010, visit of Undersecretary of State Maria Otero, Honduras has not advanced human rights or political freedoms. Until the government of Honduras makes sustained progress in improving its deplorable human rights record, we believe it is inappropriate to provide direct assistance to Honduran authorities, particularly to the police or military.

We also urge the Obama Administration to refrain from supporting the immediate re-entry of Honduras in the Organization of American States. The Obama Administration does a great disservice to democracy and human rights across the Western Hemisphere by making an exception for Honduras, while the Lobo Administration continues to include perpetrators of the June 28, 2009, coup d'etat and fails to prosecute politically motivated crimes.

Sincerely,

Congressman Sam Farr

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