Central America Theater
Honduras' Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) issued an official announcement on Nov. 30 declaring former Congress president Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the presidential candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), the victor in general elections that were held on Nov. 24. According to the TSE, Hernández received 36.80% of the vote, while Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the candidate of the center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), received 28.79%. Results announced the day before showed Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with 20.28% of the vote and Salvador Nasralla of the Anticorruption Party (PAC) with 13.72%. The TSE didn’t announce final results for the 128 deputies in the unicameral National Congress, but earlier projections showed the PN winning 47 seats, followed by LIBRE with 39, the PL with 26 and the PAC with 13; each of three smaller parties is expected to have one seat.
With about 43% of the ballots counted in Honduras' Nov. 24 presidential election, Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado, the candidate of the rightwing governing National Party (PN), was ahead with about 34% of the votes, according to electoral officials on Nov. 25. Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, running for the newly formed center-left Freedom and Refoundation Party (LIBRE), was second with 28.4%, followed by Mauricio Villeda of the center-right Liberal Party (PL) with about 21%. Both Castro and Hernández, previously the National Congress president, claimed victory. Castro's husband, former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), told reporters that there were "serious inconsistencies" in as many as 400,000 ballots. He said LIBRE supporters "are going to defend our triumph at the ballot box and if necessary will take to the streets." There is no runoff in the Honduran presidential election; the candidate with a plurality wins.
Unknown assailants shot Honduras video journalist Manuel Murillo Varela dead on Oct. 23; his body was found the next day in Tegucigalpa's Colonia Independencia. Murillo Varela had worked as a camera operator for Honduras' Globo TV and for the state television, Canal 8, and was also the official camera operator for former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), who was overthrown in a June 2009 military coup. Murillo Varela had been a victim of violence in the past: he and a colleague were abducted on Feb. 2, 2010, reportedly by police agents, and were tortured for over 24 hours. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), an agency of the Organization of American States (OAS), responded to the incident by issuing a protection order for Murillo Varela. Both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Inter American Press Association (SIP) condemned the Oct. 23 murder. More than 30 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2010.
The current expansion of the Panama Canal will allow close to 90% of the world's 370-vessel liquified natural gas (LNG) fleet to pass through by 2015, the Panama Canal Authority announced Oct. 30. Currently the canal can accommodate only 8.6% of the global LNG fleet. Voyages to Asia from the US will cost 24% less than longer routes, according to the authority. The US, now the world's top natural gas producer due to extraction from shale rock, is projected to become the third-largest LNG exporter by 2020. Excavation to double the Panama Canal's capacity, which began in 2007, is said to be 64% complete. (Bloomberg, Nov. 4; Platts, Oct. 30; IBT, Sept. 20)
The torture death of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique ("Kiki") Camarena near Guadalajara in the western Mexican state of Jalisco in February 1985 was linked to drug running by the US-backed "contra" rebels seeking to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua, according to two former DEA agents and a former pilot for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Camarena was kidnapped by criminals working for Rafael Caro Quintero, a founder of the so-called Guadalajara Cartel, and was executed at one of Caro Quintero's ranches. According to the US, the cartel targeted Camarena because he had uncovered Caro Quintero's marijuana growing and processing operation. Under pressure from the US, the Mexican government eventually captured Caro Quintero and sentenced him to 60 years in prison for Camarena's murder.
Guatemala's Constitutional Court (CC) voted 5-2 on Oct. 22 to issue a ruling that could lead to amnesty for former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83), who faces charges of genocide for the killings of 1,771 indigenous Ixil from March 1982 to August 1983 in a counterinsurgency campaign he headed. The CC ordered the trial judge, High Risk Cases Court judge Carol Patricia Flores Polanco, to rule on defense lawyers' motion for a dismissal of the charges based on Decree 8-86, a 1986 blanket amnesty for all crimes committed by the Guatemala military and leftist rebels during Guatemala's civil war, which started in 1960.
The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), a legal advocacy group with offices in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica and the US, has requested a hearing before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish) about the case of Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres, who was ordered into preventive detention on Sept. 20. CEJIL director Marcia Aguiluz said the group has also raised the case with the United Nations. Cáceres, an indigenous Lenca, is the general coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The government has charged her with damaging property in connection with her support of protests by indigenous Lenca communities against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on and near their territory. Aguiluz said that the "criminalization of Berta Cáceres" is an "example of a new manner of persecution, since it's the use of the judicial apparatus to keep rights defenders from carrying out their work." (El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Sept. 26, from EFE)
On Sept. 20 a judge in the southwestern Honduran department of Intibucá issued an order for the preventive detention of indigenous leader Berta Cáceres on charges of having broken into the property of a company constructing a hydroelectric project. Cáceres, the general coordinator of the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was taken to the prison in La Esperanza, Intibucá. The charges stem from her support of indigenous Lenca communities in their protests against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on and near their territory; the struggle against the project has already cost the life of Tomás García, an indigenous leader the protesters said was shot dead by soldiers on July 15.