|Monday, March 31, 1997 Online Edition 47|
25-year-old breaks world kayaking record in Gulf of Fonseca
By SUYAPA CARIAS
TEGUCIGALPA -- What makes a man get into a kayak and paddle it down the Pacific Coast from California to Central America? There may be only one person with the authority and experience to answer that question. His name is Ben Wade.
After 4,700 miles and five months on the water, this 25-year-old native of Tennessee beat the world record for one-man kayaking last week, as he entered the Gulf of Fonseca on the Honduran South Coast. He broke the previous record of 3,600 miles set by fellow American Ed Gillette.
But the story isn't over yet. Wade is only collecting experiences on his way to his final destination: Punta Charambira, Colombia. He plans to arrive there by March 1st, to make a 5,500 miles total trip.
After touching land in the port town of Amapala on the island of El Tigre, Wade continued paddling until he reached Puerto Quepos, Costa Rica. There, he left his kayak and hopped a flight to Tegucigalpa, where he shared his adventure with the Honduran media.
"I've done crazy things before, but nothing like this," he told reporters.
MORE FROM LIFE
Before he decided to embark on his kayak adventure, Wade worked as an operations chief at his grandfather's company in Los Angeles, California. His main goal was earning money. "I wanted to be a hot shot guy," he says. But he soon realized that he wasn't doing what made him happy. On afternoon he sat down to think about his situation and he came up with his unusual project.
He quit his job, said goodbye to his girlfriend and set out on six months of kayak training and physical conditioning. On September 13 of last year, he took off from the mouth of the Colorado river, paddling south along the eastern coast of Baja California and touching land every week or so at different points in Mexico, such as San Felipe, Guaymas, Portolobampo, Mazatlán and Acapulco. He also stopped in Guatemala before entering the Gulf of Fonseca.
"My primary goal was to be closer to God," says Wade. "I wanted to feel his presence around me out in the ocean." He was also seduced by the huge challenge of the trip. "I thought that breaking the world record was going to be the coolest thing in the world."
But now that Wade actually holds the record, he's even more touched by his relationship with God. "I used to enjoy living dangerously, cheating death and being at the very edge of life. But now I know that everything I've done is thanks to God's power." After the many dangers he has faced during his trip, Wade says God is the only way he can explain the fact that he is still alive to talk about it.
DANGERS OF THE SEA
On a normal day on the ocean, Ben takes a bath, eats a breakfast of dry food and paddles his kayak for 12 consecutive hours, with only a 10 minute break for lunch. He usually paddles between five and ten miles from the coast and comes inland every seven or eight days to rest, "eat real food" and stocking up on supplies.
One of the most dangerous moments he's faced so far happened as he was approaching the Mexican port of Portolabombo. He was unexpectedly hit by a hurricane.
"I couldn't see land and I didn't have time to put my life vest on," he said. Facing 30-foot waves, he suddenly found himself on the top of one in the wrong position. "Right before the wave crashed, everything seemed to stop and I thought 'This is it. These are the last four seconds of my life.'"
Wade says he began to pray for help and suddenly heard a voice. "It was God. He asked me, 'What have you done for me lately?'" His first reaction was that it was hardly an appropriate time to discuss the matter, but then he heard the same question again. "God told me that from that moment on I should take the name of his son on my lips to every single person I meet." After struggling against the storm for nearly four hours, the hurricane left Wade behind in a quiet bay. "Every time I tell the story I can feel his power," he says."
As if the hurricane weren't dangerous enough, Wade was also attacked by sharks on two occasions. One of them left a scar and a tooth on his left arm. Now the animal's dental fragment is an earring Wade never removes. Another frightening moment came when he drank bad water and got sick while he was at sea. But Wade says none of these experiences compares to the devastating solitude he felt at times.
"That's the hardest thing. After you don't see anybody for eight days you start to forget who you are and what you're doing. That's why I wouldn't recommend the trip to anyone. And I wouldn't do it again."
But not all of his experiences have been horrifying. Wade carries with him several good memories, as well. He saw beautiful landscapes, witnessed enormous whales just meters away and enjoyed what he called God's whispering at him through the wind. He says he developed an intimate relationship with the sea.
"There was a love affair between me and the ocean, and I think the animals though I was a part of their system." Wade remembers the day a school of dolphins joined him for about 30 minutes, playing and jumping around his kayak. "I could see their eyes watching me." Before they left, the largest dolphin jumped out of the water and over his kayak. "He was saying goodbye to me."
Because he was ahead of schedule, Wade was able to spend a couple of days in Tegucigalpa and a weekend on the Bay Island of Guanaja. Now he's back on the water and on his way to South America.
Once he makes it to Punta Charambira, he plans to make his way back north (by more traditional means of travel), stopping in Panama and giving press conferences in Mexico and the United States. He is also writing a book about his adventures and will promote it internationally.
Wade says he's anxious to see his family again. Because he didn't want to worry them, he only told them about his trip one day before he left. He says they were worried they'd never see him again. "Reporters would refer to me as the man they were interviewing for the first and the last time," says Wade. "Now I'm here to use the trip to bring glory to God and be part of his ministry."
The young adventurer is convinced that he inherited his passion for the water from his Delaware Indian ancestors. Does this mean his kayaking days aren't over once he returns home?
"No!" says Wade emphatically. "I plan to cross the Amazon in the future."
WEEK IN REVIEW
SPS bank robbed, factory assaulted
Four thugs armed with handguns and AK-47 assault rifles on March 25 robbed an undisclosed amount of money from the Atlantida branch bank on San Pedro Sula's Boulevard del Norte, the daily La Tribuna reported. On making their getaway, one thug threw a bottle into the bank claiming it was a bomb. However, the bomb squad determined that the glass recipient, wrapped in tape, contained just lime and sand. The bank is located close to the 105th Infantry Brigade. The robbery was the 15th this year.
Meanwhile, five armed thugs attempted to rob the Hilos y Mechas factory located in San Pedro Sula's Barrio Guadalupe. Following a gunbattle with company security, the thugs fled in a stolen vehicle, which was later found abandoned in the colonia El Roble. Inside the vehicle was a 20-year-old woman who participated in the assault and three weapons. The woman, who says her name is Karla Johana Flores, was hospitalized for a gunshot wound to the leg. Tests also revealed that the woman assailant is 16 weeks pregnant.
|Monday, March 24, 1997 Online Edition 46|
Liberals okay Flores candidacy
By BLANCA MORENO
TEGUCIGALPA -- An assembly of 954 Liberal Party delegates okayed Carlos Flores as their official candidate for this November's presidential election.
The 46-year-old businessman and current president of the National Congress will also serve as president of the Liberal Party Central Committee (CCPL), decided delegates at the Liberal Party National Convention, held last weekend at Tegucigalpa's Ruben Callejas Valentine National Gymnasium.
Based on the results of last year's Liberal Party primaries, the nine CCPL seats will be filled as followed: five representatives of the Flores movement; three supporters of pre-candidate Jaime Rosenthal; and one representative of pre-candidate Ramón Villeda Bermúdez.
The complete new CCPL is as follows: President, Carlos Flores; Vice President, Jorge Arturo Reina; General Secretary, Rafael Pineda Ponce; Sub-Secretary, Roberto Micheletti; Treasurer, Tomas Lozano; Sub-Treasurer, Oscar Avila Banegas; Secretary of Organization and Propaganda, Carlos Mariano Martínez; Sub-Secretary of Organization and Propaganda, Marco Antonio Andino; Secretary of Political Training, Orbelina Navarro; Sub-Secretary of Political Training, Vidal Cerrato Cruz; Secretary of Labor and Campesino Affairs, Ramon Villeda; Sub-Secretary of Labor and Campesino Affairs, Rina Martin de Villeda; Secretary for International Affairs, Jaime Rosenthal; Sub-Secretary for International Affairs, Antonio Ortez Turcios; Secretary for Juvenile Affairs, Lempira Rodas Baca, Sub-Secretary for Juvenile Affairs, Carlos Martinez Boquin; Secretary for Women's Affairs, Reginaldo Panting; Sub-secretary for Women's Affairs, Rodolfo Pastor Fasquelle.
The only protest made during the convention came from pre-candidate Ramon Villeda Barmudez, who opposed the nomination of Jorge Arturo Flores, the brother of President Reina and a potential opponent of Villeda in the 2002 presidential election.
Villeda himself, however, was criticized for nominating his wife, who has little political experience, to the CCPL as Sub-Secretary for Labor and Campesino Affairs.
Addressing the convention upon news of his confirmation, Carlos Flores said, "we are a united, decided and strong people, marching as a single army with our flag waving a new agenda, a total war against personal insecurity, mistrust and the culture of suspicion."
He promised a "war without quarter" against the problems plaguing Honduran families and Honduran youth. Specifically, he mentioned a "tireless" campaign to defend and protect women and children and to provide every Honduran with a home that lacks "neither bread nor catechism nor the alphabet."
Flores added that he will encourage patriotism in the Armed Forces, punity and honesty in the customs system and better health care for the poor.
"Together we can build a strong civil society, elevating our institutions to the categories of untouchable and immoveable," said the candidate. "Together we can make the best of all of the potential of our beautiful country and make Honduras an attractive tourist corner. Divided we will never be able to value the beauty of our countryside and out culture and others will take from Honduras with audacity these bars of gold upon which we tread every day without even knowing their made of gold."
WEEK IN REVIEW
Alleged conspirator in Ferrari case freed
Raul Mata, one of three persons sentenced for the highly publicized 1978 murders of Mario and Mary Ferrari, last Thursday (March 20) received his freedom after serving 19 years of a 20-year sentence, the daily La Tribuna reported. Calling the accusations against him "unjust," Mata denied ever having had business dealings with the couple and claims he was framed. The real murderers, he said, are Dimas and Eleuterio Reyes who were pressured into killing the Ferraris by the Honduran Armed Forces. However, Mata refused to identify the military official who allegedly gave the order to kill the Ferraris, stating that the names of the persons involved in the crime will be revealed in his autobiography. The crime's principal motive was drugs, he added.
Now that he is free, Mata said he will begin a campaign to repatriate his cousin Juan Ramon Mata Ballesteros, who is currently serving time in a U.S. federal prison on drug trafficking charges.
Another breakout at juvenile detention center
Approximately 20 teenage delinquents broke out of the juvenile detention center at El Hatillo on Sunday (March 23), the daily La Tribuna reported. Although authorities at the center told the press that only three youths had escaped, police officials of the 1st Precinct at El Eden barrio said the number was actually 18. The breakout was the second in a month and the third since Dec. 9.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Politician killed in robbery
Two armed robbers were killed and three captured near the community of San Martin last Saturday (March 15) following police pursuit along secondary roads in Choluteca department, the daily La Tribuna reported. Previously, the five thugs had killed Evaristo Najera, a National Party candidate for congress and a sugar cane grower, in an ambush near a place called El Copal, on the road connecting Cedeño to the southern highway, robbing more than Lps. 250,000. The police also recovered the stolen payroll of the La Grecia sugarmill.
Noriega's ex-lawyer to defend Francois
Attorney Frank Rubino, who defended former Panamanian General Manuel Antonio Noriega, will represent Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois of Haiti, who is currently facing extradition to the United States, the daily La Tribuna reported. Rubino arrived in Tegucigalpa last Thursday (March 13), meeting with Francois and his Honduran attorney, Francisco Lagos Hollman, at the Central Penitentiary. Francois, who applied for political asylum in Honduras last April 22, 1996, is wanted in the United States on drug trafficking charges.
Meanwhile, local authorities are reportedly investigating at least two bank accounts the former Haitian chief of police has in Honduras.
Release of general's son protested
Scores of angry taxi drivers on Monday (March 17) protested the release of Kevin Regalado Weizemblut in front of the San Pedro Sula offices of the Department of Criminal Investigation (DIC), the daily La Tribuna. Regalado, the son of former Armed Forces Chief Gen. Humberto Regalado Hernandez, is accused of destroying the windows of at least 70 taxi cabs with a BB gun. The police arrested Regalado and his companion, Aril Valenzuela March 15, seizing two 45mm pistols, one Galil rifle, and a large quantity of ammunition. Two hours after his capture, Regalado was released for lack of evidence.
Regional police chief Col. Anahel Perez said Regalado has special permission to carry arms due to the constant death threats he and his family have received.
Meanwhile, the vehicle in which Regalado and Valenzuela were captured was reportedly used by the unidentified assassins of taxi driver Herny Lara Houghton last Dec. 27, according to the regional president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, Hugo Maldonado, in a La Prensa report. Regalado has denied all the charges
Daylight savings time considered
Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador may go on daylight savings time to save energy, according to Vice President Guadalupe Jerezano in a La Tribuna report. The only other recent occasion in which Honduras has gone on daylight savings time was in 1994 due to the energy crisis caused by extremely low water levels at the Francisco Morazan reservoir. More popularly known as El Cajon, the hydroelectric complex there is the nation's principle source of electricity.
Teguz to have recycling plant
The Mayor's Office of Tegucigalpa plans to build a garbage recycling plant on a piece of land it recently bought outside the city along the Olancho highway, the daily La Prensa reported. Mayor Oscar Roberto Acosta, who made the announcement, said part of this land will also be used as a landfill.
Acosta said the project will begin with a public awareness campaign to teach people how to sort garbage -- separating food waste from paper, glass and metal. He added that the recycled garbage could be used as construction materials, in the production of energy, or sold as raw material.
|Monday, March 17, 1997 Online Edition 46|
Operation Smile changes lives of 132 Hondurans
By SUYAPA CARIAS
TEGUCIGALPA -- Until March 7, Yamileth Gonzales Palma was different from her brothers and sisters. She was born with a cleft palate and lip, two congenital anomalies that keep people from eating, speaking, smiling and looking like everyone else. But a few weeks ago, her father, Saul Palma, heard about a group of doctors coming to Tegucigalpa's Hospital San Felipe to perform free reconstructive surgeries on children like Yamileth. He decided to give it a try.
Despite their scarce economic resources and the many kilometers between the Gonzales' home in the El Paraiso village of Maguelar and Tegucigalpa, the father and daughter left their small house in the mountains and arrived at the hospital on Feb. 26. Eight days later, the 16-year-old girl had a new face.
"Before the operation, her lip was open and you could see two of her teeth sticking out," says Saul, a humble campesino who had never before visited Tegucigalpa. "Now I thank God and the doctors for taking care of her because I would never have the money to pay for this." Next year, Yamileth is scheduled for a second surgery, this time on her palate. This will enable her to correct her speaking disability.
One-year-old Omar Munoz is equally representative. His mother, Marlene Perdomo, came to Tegucigalpa from the western Honduran village of Santa Rosa de Copan to see if her child was eligible for palate surgery. Because he met all the requirements and is at the perfect age for this kind of operation, the green-eyed toddler made it to the operating table and will now have little trouble when he starts speaking his first words.
But Yamileth and Omar are just two of 132 Hondurans, most of them children, who were recently operated on by surgeons from the international medical team called Operation Smile. This non-profit volunteer organization has been providing reconstructive surgery to needy children since 1982.
Operation Smile made this, its first trip to Honduras, at the invitation of the Honduran Ministry of Health. But the work to make the trip work began long before the group's Feb. 27 arrival date. Volunteers from the Hospital San Felipe Foundation, the San Miguel de Heredia Rotary Club and the hospital's personnel have worked long hours to prepare details for the visit. Once the 40 medical and paramedical volunteers arrived, they worked closely with their Honduran counterparts to evaluate, select, operate on and oversee each patient. Because San Felipe has only one general surgeon, Juan Ramon Barahona, Honduran plastic surgeons Roberto Pineda Leiva, Reinaldo Melara, Omar Mejia and Santiago Ramirez joined the local team, while OS brought five plastic surgeons of its own, leaded by Latin American Colombia Quintero.
After carefully evaluating about 500 patients, doctors selected 132 based on their general health, age, place of residence, economic resources and other criteria. Once the five-day operation period began, patients were treated one by one on San Felipe's five surgical tables while the halls remained full of impatient parents waiting for their children to enter, then exit the operating room.
As the hours advanced, the atmosphere grew progressively positive. The doctors were satisfied with each successful surgery and the parents were grateful when their children emerged well treated and with new faces.
"They are very loving with the children," says the mother of a seven-year-old who was selected for surgery. "I think these are the finest people who have ever come to Honduras."
INFO AND TRAINING
In addition to performing the operations, OS provides both parents and children with information and instructions before and after the procedure. The group also keeps the youngsters occupied with toys, bubbles and other simple but effective techniques.
Part of this social work is performed by members of an OS youth program, whick seeks to build leadership and volunteer skills through education and community service. "One of our goals is to create a public awareness of Operation Smile," says group leader Mark Christian. While in Honduras, he and two other volunteers visited several public elementary schools to talk with kids about topics like nutrition, dental hygiene and burn prevention. They also met with students from the National Autonomous University of Honduras and the senior class of the Elvel School.
"I think we laid the foundation for the creation of an OS youth group in Honduras," says Christian. The University of Utah has recognized the Operation Smile Student Association as an official organization since March of last year.
The San Felipe Hospital OS project coordinator, Dr. José Francisco Barahona, says the benefits of OS are many.
"The most important was for the hospital to directly help 132 patients suffering from cleft lips and palates and other facial deformations," he says. "Meanwhile, the OS team has provided us with the mechanisms we need to better understand our ability to respond to this problem. It was a real challenge." The apprenticeship of new surgical techniques and working systems will be helpful in doing follow-up work on these and other cases, he added.
THE HUMAN TOUCH
According to OS president for marketing and development, Chris NeVan, this first mission to Honduras was a success, partly thanks to the support of the Honduran medical and civil communities. "Hondurans have been excellent hosts and that made our job much easier," he says.
Plastic surgeon Danilo Quintanilla, OS director in Nicaragua, was also impressed with the degree of cooperation shown by the people of Honduras. "For the first time, the organization of the mission was unbeatable and the human quality of all of the people involved was admirable," he said. OS visited Nicaragua for the fifth time last year.
In order to establish a permanent mission in Honduras, OS plans to set up local offices and a board of directors. NeVan has already contacted several Hondurans that appear interested in the project and has also visited several private corporations seeking financial support. OS's goals include launching a 5-year program in Honduras and expanding the mission's sites to other parts of the country in order to help more people. Moreover, by donating medical equipment and training local personnel, the National health system is expected to supply the high demmand of reconstructive surgery in a more efficient way.
"The bottom line is humanity," says Quintanilla. "Needy people are the same here, in Vietnam or in Africa and they require personnel that will not only take care of them, but love them."
In Honduras, an estimated one out of every 600 people suffer from cleft lips and palates or similar facial disfigurements.
For more information, write to Operation Smile at its U.S. headquarters at 220 Boush Street, Norfolk, VA 23510, call (757) 625-0375 or fax (757) 626-0368. Or call San Felipe Hospital at 36-5786.
U.S. asks for extradition of former Haitian police chief
Florida courts say Joseph Michel Francois allowed Colombian cartels to take advantage of Haitian airports
TEGUCIGALPA -- The Supreme Court of Justice has given former Haitian police chief Joseph Michel Francois sixty days to prove he was never involved in trafficking drugs to the United States. If, after that time period, Honduran officials are unconvinced of the colonels innocence, he will be extradited to the United States, said a La Tribuna report Wednesday.
The Dade County courts in the U.S. state of Florida have asked the Honduran government to extradite Francois to face a series of charges, the heaviest of which is that he masterminded the trafficking of some 33 tons of cocaine and heroine from Colombia through Haiti and into the United States.
The extradition request is based on the Agreement for Reciprocal Judicial Assistance, signed by both nations in 1921 as part of the Geneva Convention, says a La Prensa report.
Francois, who served as chief of police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti under the military government of Raul Cedras, fled Haiti when that country's democratically-elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was reinstated with the help of the U.S. government last year. Although he is currently in Honduras on resident status, he has requested political asylum here.
Gladys Caballero, Vice Minister of Government and Justice, said in a La Tribuna report Tuesday that international treaties like the Geneva Convention bear more weight that local laws and that Francois will probably be extradited. "We don't want people to see [Honduras] as a country where anyone can easily seek political asylum," she said.
Further tipping the scales in favor of extradition is the fact that Francois has not yet been granted asylum and is currently a foreign resident, says congressman Carlos Sosa Coello, chairman of the National Congress Special Narcotrafficking Commission.
But Supreme Court Justice Marco Tulio Alvarado said in a La Tribuna report Wednesday that it is too early to predict whether the extradition will go through. After a two-hour meeting with Francois Tuesday afternoon, he said it is up to the Honduran courts to decide whether the U.S. charges are sufficient to merit extradition. He emphasized that it is not the job of the Honduran courts to try the colonel for drug trafficking. "If the extradition proceeds it will be a jury in the United States that will establish responsibility" for those crimes, he said.
Alvarado added that he has been subject to no pressure by the United States to approve the extradition and that his primary concern is respecting the Honduran Constitution. When asked about the case of accused drug trafficker Ramon Mata, who was removed by force from Honduras by members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, he said he would not allow the same to happen to Francois.
Francois himself says he is innocent and that he has never had anything to do with drug trafficking. The United States government is out to get him, he said in a La Prensa report last Saturday, because of his involvement with the Cedras regime.
"I am innocent of the charges against me. I don't know anything about drugs and I can say with much confidence that I am one of the cleanest men in the world," he said at a press conference Monday. "I'm sure that this is revenge, nothing more and nothing less, on the part of the United States because Michel Francois did not want to obey their orders to leave [Haiti] and to leave Bertrand Aristide [in peace]. And even though I left the country, they're threatening me because I didn't leave sooner."
Francois' wife, Bernalethe de Francois, has asked the National Committee for the Protection of Human Rights to intercede on the part of her husband.
Documents sent by the Dade County courts to Honduras' Supreme Court of Justice were described in La Tribuna as "more than four volumes that detail the times and dates on which Francois allegedly participated in operations to traffic cocaine and heroine." The colonel is accused specifically of allowing Colombian drug cartels to use Haitian airports as a stopping point on their smuggling trips to the United States. Thirteen others have been accused along with Francois.
The extradition procedures are being carried out by the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa and the Honduran Ministry of Foreign relations.
Francois will be defended before the Supreme Court by local attorney Francisco Lagos Hollman.
IMF gives thumbs down to spiraling inflation
But funding and projects will continue through next year and Reina's successor will be free to negotiate on his (or her) own terms
By BLANCA MORENO
TEGUCIGALPA -- After two weeks of secret negotiations, the Honduran government and the International Monetary Fund have agreed to a monitoring plan and a series of actions aimed at cutting public spending and controlling the fiscal deficit. Although the agreement is good news for Honduras, it is a disappointment to the thousands of public employees who have been waiting for a pay raise. If Honduras wants to remain in good standing with the IMF and retain eligibility to negotiate with the Paris Club, it will not be able to afford the salary hikes the public employees have demanded.
The IMF analysis of the Honduran economy has been deemed satisfactory, which means the Reina administration is keeping up with its end of the bargain to take steps to improve the nation's economy. The only complaint filed by IMF inspectors is the nation's spiraling 26 percent inflation rate.
After spending a week here analyzing a variety of economic indicators, IMF representatives Michael DaCosta and Antonio Gomez agreed with the Reina administration to prolong the two-year monitoring program scheduled to end later this year and wait until after November's presidential elections to begin negotiating a new letter of intentions that will be effected through he year 2002.
Much of the satisfactory report is based on the fact that President Reina has been able to reduce Honduras' fiscal deficit to three percent of the GNP while obtaining concessions on its foreign debt.
It was decided that the letter of intentions will not be signed until next year, explained Hugo Noe Pino, president of the Central Bank of Honduras, because the current letter lasts through mid-1997. Both parties agreed that it would be better to wait for the next administration to take office rather than negotiate terms with a president who has less than a year left on his term.
The current monitoring program will include $46 million this year from the World Bank, as well as a series of smaller loans to continue development projects in the areas of agriculture and electricity. The absence of a new letter of intentions will not interfere with currently ongoing programs, assured IMF officials.
The IMF recognized that the Honduran government has maintained an adequate control over the national economy, adding that things like inflation and demands for pay increases are often just part of the process of consolidating democracy.
"The principal problem that they pointed out, and one we agree with, is inflation," said Pino. He added, "They want fiscal and monetary policies that are congruent with the reduction of inflation."
The IMF's target inflation rate is between 16 and 18 percent.
The decision to postpone the letter of intentions means the next administration will be free to negotiate its own criteria. When President Reina took office, he was not able to negotiate for his own administration, but was rather forced to continue the negotiations that had been begun by his predecessor, Raphael Leonardo Callejas.
Based on these new developments, the government has made the nations public employees a final offer of Lps. 276 to increase salaries. This is significantly less than what the employees had originally demanded.
In order to remain in good standing with the IMF, the Reina administration will have to reduce public spending by another 20 percent and improve its tax collection methods.
While the negotiations were taking place in the Presidential Palace, labor, campesino and popular organizations lined up outside the nation's capital to protest what they call the interference of the IMF in national affairs and as the National Committee for the Defense of Human Rights to intercede on behalf of the Honduran people to relieve the "misery" in which most of them live.
The IMF is better known in Honduras as Papa Fondo, or Daddy Fund.
Honduras This Week In Pictures
WEEK IN REVIEW
Teguz bank robbed, SPS business assaulted
Outwitting alarms and other security measures, four thugs last Thursday (March 6) stole more than Lps. 20,000 from the FICENSA branch bank located near the Humuya and Miramontes neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa. According to the daily La Tribuna, two of the thugs were momentarily trapped in the bank's entrance when the bank's modern security system detected hidden weapons and sealed the doors, but a third robber who had previously entered the bank unarmed managed to get them out. After robbing Lps. 20,000 according to bank officials (Lps. 50,000 according to unofficial reports), the thugs discovered that the front door had locked automatically when the alarm went off. They then threatened to kill bank personnel, forcing bank officials to open the door. The thugs made their getaway in a waiting vehicle before the police arrived. The robbery was the 14th this year.
Meanwhile, the wave of assaults continued in San Pedro Sula with the violent robbery of the Central American Tailoring Company, which left one security guard dead and two wounded -- one critically. The eight thugs who participated in the assault made off with more than Lps. 200,000.
Seismology equipment installed at UNAH
Modern seismology equipment worth more than Lps. 400,000 has been installed at the National Autonomous University of Honduras, the daily La Tribuna reported. The earthquake detection equipment, donated and installed by Norway's University of Bergen and the Norwegian Institute of Earth Sciences, began operating Monday (March 10).
Timber smuggling continues in Nahuaterique
Salvadoran nationals continue to exploit Honduran forests in the former border pocket of Nahuaterique, secretly smuggling truck loads of precious woods across unguarded border crossings, the Abriendo Brecha news program reported. Earlier this month,
escalation of the crisis at the Pasamono border crossing -- where Honduran police had prevented 16 Salvadoran trucks loaded with timber from leaving the country -- was averted when the Reina administration agreed to allow the trucks to depart after the respective taxes were paid. According to police officials, empty trucks now enter Honduras at Pasamono but leave the country loaded with wood at other unguarded crossings.
|Monday, March 10, 1997 Online Edition 45|
EU agreement aimed at ensuring rights to street children
By BLANCA MORENO
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The signing this week of an agreement between Honduras and the European Union to finance a new program for street children has put to rest persistent fears that Honduras could lose eligibility for EU funding for its failure to separate children and adults in national penitentiaries.
Casa Alianza, the Latin American branch of Covenant House, an NGO that advocates the rights and protection of street children, had denounced Honduras before the EU after efforts to keep children out of adult jails failed repeatedly.
The agreement, worth more than 2.5 million ECUs, was signed at EU headquarters by EU Vice President Manual Marin, Honduran Foreign Relations Minister Delmer Urbizo Panting, Honduran Ambassador to the EU and Belgium, Ivan Romero Martinez and the EU's Director for Central America, Mendel Goldstein.
The program is part of a larger EU policy to help developing countries better govern themselves and to better meet the needs of underprivileged citizens. The funding will be used to implement programs to ensure the rights of street children and, whenever possible, facilitate their reintegration into society. Specifically, public offices will be better prepared and equipped to deal with street children and the special risks they face; a policy of integral care will be enacted when dealing with street children that have broken the law; and judges, police and educators will be trained in how to better meet the needs of street children.
All funding will be channeled through the National Social Welfare Council, scheduled to become the National Family Institute in 1988. The agreement will last through Dec. 31, 2002.
Currently, the treatment of street children in Honduran courts and detention centers is very deficient. Many minors are incarcerated without trial, and incarcerated with adults, who commonly abuse them. In an effort to change this, the program will also train more juvenile judges and specialists in street childrens' affairs.
It has also been proposed that a new Children's Unit be created within the Ministry of Government and Justice to make it harder to police to abuse the rights of street children, and for them to cover up that abuse.
It was in June of last year that casa Alianza, along with Amnesty International, asked the EU to suspend all financial assistance to Honduras until it stopped incarcerating children in adult prisons.
Because the Honduran National Congress recently approved a new Children's Code, and because the country has exhibited a willingness to cooperate with EU efforts to solve the problem, the EU opted to provide Honduras with assistance rather than penalties.
The program will be implemented next month.
Border crisis over; lumber allowed to leave Honduras
Honduras and El Salvador have promised a peaceful end to the crisis in the Nahuaterique border zone and seem well on their way to keeping their word.
On Friday, Feb. 21, more than 1,000 Salvadorans residing in Honduras protested near the Honduran border town of Pasamonos when police blocked 16 trucks carrying Honduran lumber from returning to El Salvador. Although Honduran authorities said the trucks would be free to leave as soon as taxes were paid on the 60,000 board feet of lumber, the Salvadorans argued that the land on which the lumber was cut had been planted by them before the International Court of Justice ruled in 1993 that Nahuaterique and several other border zones belonged to Honduras, not El Salvador.
During the week-long standoff, both countries increased their military presence in the zone and Hondurans and Salvadorans alike entertained memories of a 1969 skirmish between the two countries that left nearly 2,000 casualties on both sides.
But the bi-national team of mediators that visited the conflict zone last Thursday (Feb. 27) remained true to President Reina's comment that "you don't start a stupid war over a few feet of wood" and reached a compromise that both sides could agree to.
The stranded Salvadorans were allowed to return home with their trucks and their lumber after paying some $8,000 in taxes. Meanwhile, the Honduran Forest Development Corporation agreed to provide the Salvadoran lumbermen with special treatment in the zone, lessening, but not eliminating, their tax burden.
The bilateral follow-up commission that was created after the ICJ ruling to facilitate the transfer of the land from one jurisdiction to another will also continue discussing ways to make the shift easier for all those involved.
"We've made advances and we're very close to resolving the problems," said Marco Waimin, a spokesman from the Honduran Ministry of Foreign Relations in an El Heraldo report Tuesday.
After the ICJ ruling, which granted Honduras nearly 60 percent of the land that had been disputed by the two countries for centuries, more than 3,000 inhabitants who had considered themselves Salvadoran found themselves living on Honduran territory. Likewise, nearly 300 Hondurans found themselves living in El Salvador.
Since 1993, the nations have yet to fully resolve issues like the nationality of the affected persons and the transfer of sovereignty from one government to another.
President Reina, in a La Tribuna report Saturday, said the compromise is "the first time Honduras has exercised sovereignty in the zone" and "affirms, confirms and solidifies" the ICJ ruling.
Although both countries say they're confident any danger of war is over, both are retaining a military presence in the zone.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Four bank robberies in less than a week
Ten thugs armed with AK-47s and bullet-proof vests on Tuesday (March 4) robbed more than Lps. 30,000 from the Atlantida branch bank in Comayaguela's Barrio La Granja, the daily La Prensa reported. The robbery was the fourth in less than a week and the 12th this year. Previously, three men robbed an undisclosed amount of money from the main office of Casa Propia in downtown San Pedro Sula (March 3) after overpowering security personnel and disconnecting telephones and the alarm. The thugs also removed the cassette from the surveillance camera. In Tegucigalpa the same day, six men stole Lps. 10,000 from Banco de la Exportación on Boulevard Suyapa.
On Feb. 17, La Prensa reported that one of five bank robbers who assaulted the Continental Bank in Choloma was killed following a police pursuit. The other four got away. Witnesses said the thugs arrived at the branch bank in Barrio El Centro in a stolen taxi cab, overpowered the security guard and hit the bank's manager. After taking an undisclosed amount of money, they then fled in the taxi. To distract the police, the robbers had called the Public Security Force (FSP) precinct -- only 100 yards from the bank -- to report two stolen vehicles in another part of town just prior to the robbery.
Second suspect in German's murder caught
The second suspect in the Feb. 19 slaying of German citizen Ralf Steiber and the rape of his wife Alka Steiber turned himself in to police authorities at Trujillo Feb. 28, the daily La Tribuna reported. The suspect was identified as the real Celso Mejía Castillo. Police officials said the man arrested Feb. 25 in Gracias a Dios department was actually Porfirio Castillo Bernardez, alias Jose Julian Batiz, who has a long police record. Both men are Garifunas and residents of the community of Iriona, Colon department.
Outraged villagers kill criminal family
Fed up with the criminal deeds of a local family, villagers in Macuelizo, Santa Barbara this week took justice into their own hands and killed four members of the Vega family, the daily La Prensa reported. The victims were identified as Dora Rodriguez de Vega (43), and her sons Rigoberto (27), Santiago (23) and Rene Marlon (17).
On Monday (March 3), Roger Vega -- who escaped the villagers wrath -- attacked Buenaventura Lemus with a machete in an attempted robbery, while Rigoberto Vega held up Jesus Lemus, who was carrying Lps. 50,000 in cash. The holdups were observed by villagers, who decided to confront the Vega brothers once and for all.
Roger managed to escape into some rough terrain outside the village, while Rigoberto fled to his home, where he was killed before firing his AK-47 at villagers. The other three victims were killed afterwards. The police arrived at the scene of the crime the following day, but have so far made no arrests.
First Central Bank president dies
Attorney Roberto Ramirez Ordonez, one of Honduras' greatest jurists, died from a heart attack on Monday (March 3). He was 89. Ramirez participated in the creation of the Central Bank of Honduras in 1950 and was its president for the next 21 years. He also participated in the formulation of the Commercial Code and wrote several books on commercial law.
Among the other posts he held were President of the Central American Court of Justice, President of the Supreme Court of Justice of Honduras, deacon of the National Autonomous University of Honduras' School of Law, rector of the Private University of San Pedro Sula and founder and president of the Honduran Lawyer's Association.
|Saturday, March 3, 1997 Online Edition 44|
Honduras, El Salvador send troops to border zone
Tempers rise on both sides of the border after Honduran authorities stop Salvadoran lumber trucks
More than a thousand Salvadoran campesinos have been standing ground against Honduran police near the border town of Pasamonos since last Friday (Feb. 21), when Honduran police blocked 16 trucks carrying Honduran lumber from returning to El Salvador.
Pasamonos is part of the Nahuaterique pocket zone, one of several areas along the Honduras-El Salvador border whose possession has been disputed by the two nations since colonial times. When a 1992 ruling by the International Court of Justice granted nearly 60 percent of the disputed land to Honduras, more than 3,000 inhabitants who had considered themselves Salvadoran found themselves living on land the belonged to Honduras. Likewise, nearly 300 "Hondurans" found themselves living on Salvadoran territory.
Since then, the two nations have made little progress in resolving problems like the nationality of the inhabitants of the pocket zones and the private ownership of the land in question.
The 1,000 Salvadoran campesinos that have remained in Pasamonos for more than a week now, determined not to leave without their trucks and their lumber, say it is the pocket zone controversy that is at the root of the Nahuaterique conflict.
They believe the lumber is theirs because it was cut from trees they say they planted in Nahuaterique before it was ceded to Honduras. But the Honduran Forest Development Corporation (COHDEFOR) says the Salvadoran campesinos must follow the same rules as any other foreigner doing business in Honduras. This means not cutting lumber without a COHDEFOR-approved forest management plan and the payment of taxes on all lumber leaving the country.
COHDEFOR's Hugo David Duron told the daily La Prensa Tuesday (Feb. 25) that the 16 trucks blocked by Honduran authorities are carrying some 60,000 feet of lumber, valued at Lps. 250,000.
Since the campesinos were stopped last weekend, Honduran police and soldiers have been steadily increasing their presence in the border zone. Although the Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Relations, Ramon Gonzalez Giner, on Thursday accused the Honduran Armed Forces of exaggerating the severity of the conflict in an effort to justify their plea for a larger budget, the Salvadoran authorities have also increased their presence in the zone.
But President Reina and his Salvadoran counterpart, Armando Calderon Sol, say the conflict will be resolved without armed confrontation. A special joint committee was scheduled to visit the area yesterday as parts of its effort to examine the situation and find a solution. And despite this latest altercation, Salvadoran Vice Minister of Foreign Relations, Victor Manuel Lagos, said in a La Prensa report Tuesday that leaders in both countries continue to have faith that this and all other problems surrounding the pocket zones will be given "a definitive solution in just a few months."
A joint follow-up commission has been working for more than a year to iron out pocket zone issues.
But the Salvadoran campesinos say that have little faith that Reina and Calderon Sol will find a solution. They goaded Honduran soldiers Tuesday afternoon by forcing their trucks some 20 meters forward and trying to cut through wooden road blocks with machetes, saying they intend to return to El Salvador with their lumber "at any cost," according to a La Prensa report.
"We're worried about the negligence of President Carlos Roberto Reina and Calderón Sol," said one campesino to reporters Wednesday. "They haven't been able to resolve this problem since The Hague made its verdict. This is their negligence."
Another campesino said he doubts whether government bureaucrats will find an effective solution. "They should be here. They should negotiate with us because we're the ones who understand the problem. They don't even know this place. That's why we're not going to accept any agreement that affects us."
As to whether or not a Honduran military presence is necessary, Col. Abraham Garcia Turcos told La Prensa that "the Salvadorans are armed and drunk and they're dangerous people from the FMLN [Farabundo Marti Liberation Front] who are tied to their guerrilla past."
The FMLN, now an official political party in El Salvador, does, in fact, support the campesinos. Promising to provide them with any support they might need, former guerrilla Narciso Martínez told La Prensa, "they're members of the [FMLN] association and we're worried because they're our colleagues and they've got problems."
The last time border issues led to armed conflict between Honduras and El Salvador was in 1969, when a skirmish left nearly 2,000 casualties on both sides.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Drug use 'stable' in Tegucigalpa
A regional drug study has revealed that Tegucigalpa is the only Central American capital where drug consumption is not increasing, the daily La Prensa reported Sunday (Feb. 23). However more people consume alcohol in Tegucigalpa than in any other Central American capital. Marijuana use follows a close second while cocaine and crack rank a distant third in the Honduran capital. The drug of choice in El Salvador, says the study, is marijuana while cocaine and crack are preferred in Costa Rica and Panama.
Luis Caris, coordinator of CICAD, a regional drug consumption program, claims that drug use in Tegucigalpa has remained stable due to anti-drug programs and media campaigns. However, he admitted that drug use in San Pedro Sula and the Bay Islands are double that of Tegucigalpa. The study was conducted over a five-year period in hospitals, police precincts, clinics, and rehabilitation and treatment centers.
Press attacked twice in one week
In two unrelated incidents, journalists were attacked by angry protestors last week. The daily La Tribuna reported that during demonstrations held by the nation's health workers on Feb. 20, employees of a health clinic threatened journalist Ana Elsy Mendoza of the Abriendo Brecha newsprogram, and her cameraman, accusing them of siding against the labor movement. The health workers also threatened reporters of the Hoy Mismo newsprogram and photographers.
Last weekend, angry Salvadoran protestors in Pasamono, La Paz near the Salvadoran border attacked and damaged vehicles belonging to the daily La Tribuna and Telenoticias 5, claiming that the Honduran press was giving them a bad image. The Salvadorans, who live in the Nahuaterique pocket zone -- an area awarded to Honduras by the International Court of Justice in 1992 after a centurys old dispute with El Salvador, were protesting the detention by Honduran authorities of 16 trucks loaded with lumber bound for El Salvador.
German citizen murdered, wife raped
Police authorities last week announced that a Lps. 60,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of Celso Mejia (40) and Julian Batiz (25), the prime suspects in the murder of German citizen Ralf Steiber and the rape of his wife Alka, the daily El Heraldo reported Feb. 24.
According to the police, the German couple left Trujillo Feb. 15 on their yacht -- the Wendy -- bound for Panama. Due to bad weather, however, they were forced to hold up at a small fishing community in the Cayos Viveros keys (off the Mosquitia coast). While collecting coconuts on Feb. 19, two Honduran sailors attacked the couple, stabbing Steiber (60) and raping his 52-year-old wife. The thugs, crewmen of the Bay Islands fishing boat Tyanne Arille II, reportedly fled to Nicaragua. La Tribuna reported Wednesday that Mejia had been captured by the police.
A police spokesman said the victim's body, which was thrown into the sea by the killers, has still not been recovered.
Breakouts at juvenile detention center
More than 30 teenage delinquents broke out of the Juvenile Correctional Center at El Hatillo last Saturday (Feb. 22) by climbing over the facility's 3-meter wall, the daily La Tribuna reported. Several of the escapees reportedly assaulted a man who was walking along the turnoff to the community of El Carpintero, taking all his possessions and clothing. The police immediately recaptured four. When journalists and photographers approached the center to obtain more information about the breakout, they were met with stones and other objects thrown by the youths inside the facility, which houses approximately 100 inmates. The breakout was the second in two days. On Friday, a 16-year-old climbed over the center's back wall and eluded authorities in the nearby forest.
Pro-life group, church blast condom use
Condoms do not provide adequate protection against the HIV virus, said Martha Lorena Casco, president of the Pro-Vida Committee in a La Tribuna report Tuesday (Feb. 25). Casco said she bases her affirmation on a scientific study she says was conducted in the United States which shows that the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, easily passes through the pores of latex condoms. Moreover, she added, condoms do not provide protection against gonorrhea or syphilis. For this reason, she said, the health ministry should not insist the condom provides safety against these disease and should instead "tell people to avoid sexual relations with persons other than their partner."
The Catholic church and the Gran Comision church also blasted the use of the condom. Reverend Sergio Handal said the health ministry should promote fidelity and abstinence, adding that "most of the funds for campaigns promoting the condom's use come from pro-homosexual organizations in the United States and Europe."
Health official Enrique Zelaya said Casco's statements are part of an "irresponsible" campaign against the condom, which scientific studies have shown to provide protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Zelaya agrees that the only 100 percent effective way to avoid infection is fidelity to one's partner, but persons who do not have a monogamous sexual partner should abstain or use a condom.
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