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Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Global Toolbox

Pressing for answers in Honduras

By Bruce C. Swaffield

The violence is so bad in Honduras that politicians running for office provide free coffins to families of murder victims.

Perhaps you read part of this Oct. 2 Associated Press story: "Charities organized by politicians scour poor neighborhoods in search of families of murder victims who cannot afford funeral services or even a simple casket to bury their beloved. There are plenty of takers in this Central American country, where two out of three workers earn less than the minimum wage of $300 a month, and more than 136 people are killed every week."

Unfortunately, much of the killing is directed at journalists. Here are several headlines of the past few months:

"Honduran journalist shot dead" (The Guardian, Aug. 10)

"Journalist's house attacked by gunmen in Honduras" (CPJ, Aug. 6)

"'Threatened' Honduran journalist requests US asylum" (BBC, Aug. 4)

"Attempt on Honduran journalist's life leaves son wounded " (Fox News Latino, Aug. 4)

"Journalist still fears for safety although suspect held for his attempted murder" (RSF, July 20)

"Another Honduran journalist slain" (CNN, May 16)

"Journalist and human rights activist Dina Meza threatened again" (RSF, April 27)

I managed to get questions and answers via email with Ambassador Lisa Kubiske at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, about the situation.

QUILL: What is (or what appears to be) behind all of the violence against journalists in Honduras?

AMBASSADOR KUBISKE: High levels of violence in Honduras stem from many factors, including corruption, personal disputes, weak institutions unable to investigate crimes or prosecute suspects. This violence affects the entire population. We know that a number of journalists' murders have not been due to their reporting; but because the motives in crimes involving journalists have not been ascertained in all cases, it is difficult to determine how many journalists have been attacked and/or killed based on their work.

With respect to journalists, we actually have seen a decrease in the number of murders in 2012 (compared to 2011), but an increase in harassment. Many journalists in Honduras report that they or their families have been the subject of threats of violence from criminal organizations or corrupt officials. This has resulted in self-censorship by journalists based on threats and fear of violent retaliation, and has had a damaging effect on the exercise of freedom of expression by inhibiting the media's ability to fully inform the public.

QUILL: What is the United States government doing to help quiet and ameliorate the situation?

AMBASSADOR KUBISKE: The United States firmly believes that a safer, more prosperous Honduras is profoundly in the U.S. national interest and the interest of the entire Western Hemisphere. Working with the Honduran government, we pursue a whole-of-government approach to build the capacity of its law enforcement and judicial institutions to arrest, investigate and prosecute criminals and to spur economic development, increase economic opportunities, create viable alternatives to criminal activity for youth, reduce corruption and impunity, and advance the protection of human rights.

For journalism in particular, we continue to help the Honduran government investigate attacks on journalists and bring perpetrators to justice. Moreover, the USG at all levels continues to emphasize publicly and privately the important role of the press in democratic societies. We work with partners in national and municipal government, civil society, the private sector and the media toward achieving these ends.

Since 2008, we have allocated nearly $500 million to improve security in the region including in Honduras through the Central American Regional Security Initiative. Separate from CARSI funding, the United States also provided over $76 million in bilateral development assistance to Honduras in fiscal year 2012.

QUILL: Is there anything we can do in the U.S. to call for an end to this bloodshed, such as writing letters, sending emails, etc.?

AMBASSADOR KUBISKE: As we noted, the violence that exists in society comes from many sources. Any solution needs to address the causes of violence and needs to go beyond a letter-writing campaign, since the issue is crime and impunity. I would also urge your readers to learn more about the situation in Honduras from a variety of informed sources such as the Committee to Protect Journalists.

-------------------------------

Learn as much as you can about the country and do whatever you can to spread the news. The more people who know the truth, the sooner the violence will subside.

Right now, not even journalists in Honduras want to talk. In preparing this article, I sent more than two dozen emails to media professionals throughout the country. No one responded.

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