Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Honduras: Two Years After Military Coup, U.S.-Backed Repression Continues

By Riahl O'Malley
International Team
Witness for Peace

Two years ago today, Manuel Zelaya, then the democratically-elected president of Honduras, was forcibly ousted by the Honduran National Guard. The Obama Administration initially denounced the illegal coup as a threat to democracy in the region. Three months later Porifio Lobo was voted president in elections many considered illegitimate. Lobo demonstrated himself to be a friend to the business elite, many of whom had played a key role in instigating and financially maintaining the coup. His administration rolled back Zelaya’s minimum wage hike and moved towards privatizing public resources. Though the new administration was not recognized by the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) or a number of Latin American nations, the United States quickly resumed the funding to military and police forces that had been halted since the coup took place.

Since the coup, a wave of human rights violations has taken place across the country. Many of these violations have not been investigated or prosecuted, including crimes associated with the coup itself. The impunity rate is 90%. Violence perpetrated by the U.S.-funded military and police forces has disproportionately impacted women, indigenous groups, and members of the LGBTQI community, as well as journalists and those who speak in opposition to the current government.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has taken the lead in pressuring the international community to recognize the Lobo administration. Earlier this month Honduras was accepted back into the OAS. Manuel Zelaya’s return to Honduras just a few days earlier was painted as a symbol of a political return to normal. However, many people have been reluctant to celebrate due to ongoing death threats, attacks and assassinations.

Earlier this month 87 members of Congress, pressured by Witness for Peace and our allies, signed a Dear Colleague Letter asking Hillary Clinton to halt military funding going to Honduras and to speak out against the abuse. Instead, just last week Secretary of State Clinton met with Central American leaders – including Porfirio Lobo – and pledged a 13% increase in spending to the region through the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

Today, thousands of Hondurans are expected to gather to mark the ongoing repression.

Meanwhile, Witness for Peace, which has been bringing delegations of U.S. citizens to Honduras since the weeks immediately following the coup, is preparing for two additional fall delegations to the country. To learn more, click here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Voices Against the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia

We all know that the debate over the proposed free trade agreement with Colombia is hot in Washington right now. But what are people in Colombia saying? Witness for Peace's Colombia-based International Team is filming a series of testimonies from their partners on the ground. Here's the first installation:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

War on Drugs Has Failed, Declares High-Profile Commission

By Kelly Miller
Witness for Peace Intern

Those of you who follow Witness for Peace’s work know that the drug war has failed to reduce drug production and the violence associated with drug trafficking. For over a decade, Witness for Peace has called for an end to the failed drug war policies of militarization and incarceration and for a more humane drug policy at home and abroad.

Now, in a stunning move, a high-profile group of former presidents, diplomats and economists are calling for a dramatic change in how countries deal with drugs.

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world,” declared the Global Commission on Drug Policy in their just-released report on the global drug war. The commission also stated that “reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”

Notable members of the commission include former Secretary of State George Shultz; former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; former NATO Secretary General Javier Solana; former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan; three former Latin American presidents from Brazil, Colombia and Mexico, respectively; the former president of Switzerland and the current prime minister of Greece, among others.

Several important commission findings include that:
  • Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs have clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption;
  • Apparent victories in eliminating one source or trafficking organization are negated almost constantly by the emergence of other sources and traffickers;
  • Repressive efforts directed at consumers impede public health measures to reduce HIV/AIDS, overdose fatalities and other harmful consequences of drug use;
  • Government expenditures on futile supply reduction strategies and incarceration displace more cost-effective and evidence-based investments in demand and harm reduction.

    The commission also shared several recommendations, including to:

  • End the criminalization, marginalization and stigmatization of people who use drugs but who do no harm to others;
  • Challenge rather than reinforce common misconceptions about drug markets, drug use and drug dependence.
The Global Commission on Drug Policy is finally saying what we have known for a long time: current drug policy is a failure. Hopefully the report will provide policymakers with much-needed encouragement to scratch the war on drugs and craft a new drug policy that effectively minimizes the harmful realities of drug production, transport and consumption both here in the United States as well as abroad.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Zelaya is back - but the human rights crisis in Honduras continues

The Organization of American States has readmitted Honduras to the association, two years after the military coup that led to widely disputed elections and deteriorating human rights conditions.

The vote came just three days after deposed president Mel Zelaya's return to the country, a deal brokered primarily by the presidents of Venezuela and Colombia. It also comes in the midst of an escalating human rights crisis.

As the crisis has deepened, U.S. aid to security forces has not swayed, despite reports from the U.S. Department of State itself found Honduran counter-narcotic and military units are “focused more on internal political matters related to the political crisis.”

To date no one has been prosecuted or convicted for any of the politically-motivated killings of members of the political opposition or journalists since Lobo took office, let alone for the over 300 killings by state security forces since the coup, according to COFADEH, the leading independent human rights group.

Zelaya's return is a step in the right direction, but re-admittance to the OAS isn't a signal that the crisis has settled. Nor does it justify U.S. military aid to Honduran security forces.

Witness for Peace has brought delegations of U.S. citizens to Honduras since immediately following the coup. In this new video, the team on-the-ground points to how the United States has tried to sweep the crisis under the rug - and why.

"It's important to remember that there are serious human rights issues in Honduras that urgently need to be addressed," U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said. This week Reps. McGovern Jan Schakowsky and Sam Farr submitted a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern on the human rights situation in Honduras.

For weeks prior, Witness for Peace supporters mobilized around the letter. 87 other members of Congress also signed the letter to Secretary Clinton.