Congress balks at $50M aid pack­age to Hon­duras

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Tracy Wilkinson

WASH­ING­TON — The State Depart­ment ap­pears headed for a show­down with Congress over the depart­ment’s de­ci­sion to ap­prove more than $50 mil­lion in aid for Hon­duras de­spite the Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tion’s poor hu­man rights record.

The money is part of a $750 mil­lion aid pack­age for Cen­tral Amer­ica’s so­called North­ern Tri­an­gle — Hon­duras, El Sal­vador and Gu­atemala — al­lo­cated un­der an Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ini­tia­tive.

Tens of thou­sands of fam­i­lies from the re­gion have moved up through Mex­ico and sought asy­lum in the United States in re­cent years. The White House has said the fi­nan­cial pack­age is nec­es­sary to re­duce the crime and poverty spurring the mi­grants.

For Hon­duras to re­ceive its por­tion of about $55 mil­lion, how­ever, it had to prove to U.S. of­fi­cials that it was meet­ing sev­eral con­di­tions, in­clud­ing im­prove­ments in hu­man rights, law en­force­ment and jus­tice. The other coun­tries also had to meet those con­di­tions.

Hon­duras’ record on those is­sues is abysmal, ac­cord­ing to hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions, diplo­mats, free-press ac­tivists and ju­di­cial ex­perts.

One no­table abuse is the still un­re­solved shoot­ing death early this year of Hon­duras’ most prom­i­nent en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist ac­tivist, Berta Cac­eres, with state se­cu­rity per­son­nel sus­pected of in­volve­ment. The Hon­duran gov­ern­ment has re­sisted of­fers of help from out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

Early this month, an­other prom­i­nent Hon­duran lands-rights ac­tivist and an as­so­ciate were as­sas­si­nated, and Cac­eres’ or­ga­ni­za­tion says it is re­ceiv­ing death threats. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional de­clared Hon­duras a per­ilous “nogo zone” for many ac­tivists.

But the State Depart­ment cer­ti­fied on Sept. 30 that Hon­duras had taken “ef­fec­tive steps” in meet­ing hu­man rights cri­te­ria.

Mem­bers of Congress, es­pe­cially those who wrote the con­di­tions that Hon­duras was re­quired to ful­fill, did not agree.

Sen. Pa­trick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said the State Depart­ment cer­ti­fi­ca­tion “makes a mock­ery” of the law, and he vowed to block the aid money.

“Over the past 25 years, the United States has pro­vided hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in aid to Hon­duras, with lit­tle to show for it,” Leahy said in a state­ment to the Los An­ge­les Times. “The con­di­tions in our law are in­tended to pre­vent a re­peat of past fail­ures, when of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion and im­punity were ig­nored or ex­cused, and to hold the gov­ern­ment ac­count­able. Vir­tu­ous rhetoric and half-steps are not enough.”

State Depart­ment spokesman John Kirby de­fended the de­ci­sion to ap­prove aid to Hon­duras.

“We are deeply con­cerned about the con­tin­ued prob­lems in Hon­duras from crime, cor­rup­tion and im­punity … and we al­ways re­view our pro­grams as a re­sult of it,” Kirby said Fri­day. “As we stand here to­day, we are com­fort­able in the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion that we made.”


In­dige­nous peo­ple and ac­tivists march in Hon­duras last week against the fa­tal shoot­ing of a ru­ral leader who cham­pi­oned rights for the coun­try’s poor in a strug­gle over land.

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