La Plaza

News from Latin America and the Caribbean

Category: Honduras

La Plaza comments switching to Facebook

La Plaza today is switching to a new commenting system.

The system requires commenters to sign in through their Facebook accounts. People without Facebook accounts will not be able to leave comments.

Readers will have the option of posting their La Plaza comments on their Facebook walls, but that's not required.

Readers are welcome to express their opinions about the news -- and about how the new Facebook comments system is working.

Jimmy Orr, the Los Angeles Times managing editor in charge of latimes.com, discussed our online comments and the Facebook system in greater depth in a March entry to the Readers' Representative Journal.

We hope to see your comments on Facebook.

-- The Foreign Staff of the Los Angeles Times

Guatemala declares 'state of siege' to combat Mexican drug cartel, limiting rights

Police guatemala suspects zetas coban

The brutal Mexican drug-trafficking organization known as the Zetas has made inroads in Guatemala, controlling territory near the Central American country's border with southern Mexico and prompting the Guatemalan government on Sunday to declare a "state of siege" aimed at curbing the gang's growing power.

The state of siege declaration for the northern Guatemalan department of Alta Verapaz in turn prompted worry among human rights activists and the Guatemalan press. The declaration allows the government to detain suspects or conduct searches without warrants, and limits public gatherings and the news media.

President Alvaro Colom's government said the state of siege -- which is just below a declaration of war -- would be in place for at least a month and could be extended to the four departments, or provinces, along the Mexican border.

Cartels from Mexico are believed to be taking over established crime rings in Guatemala and recruiting among locals, including the country's poverty-stricken indigenous groups. The Zetas -- one of Mexico's fiercest cartels -- are reportedly attempting to wrestle control of the lucrative trafficking corridor through northern Guatemala from local groups, seizing rural farms to use as depots for drugs and weapons. Meanwhile, in western Guatemala, Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel is also setting up bases, reports have said.

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WikiLeaks on Latin America: Honduras coup 'illegal'

Manuel zelaya epa

The June 2009 coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was rooted in an "illegal and unconstitutional" military and civilian plan, says one of the secret U.S. diplomatic cables published online by WikiLeaks.

The cable, dated July 24, 2009, and signed by the U.S. ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, is directed to the White House and senior State Department officials. It says the Honduran legislative and judicial branches "conspired" with the military to remove Zelaya from power. Zelaya was yanked from bed on the night of June 28 and put on a plane to Costa Rica. His foes alleged he was planning an illegal referendum to help him keep in power, a goal the cable labeled a "supposition."

From the cable:

The analysis of the Constitution sheds some interesting light on the events of June 28. The Honduran establishment confronted a dilemma: near unanimity among the institutions of the state and the political class that Zelaya had abused his powers in violation of the Constitution, but with some ambiguity what to do about it. Faced with that lack of clarity, the military and/or whoever ordered the coup fell back on what they knew -- the way Honduran presidents were removed in the past: a bogus resignation letter and a one-way ticket to a neighboring country. No matter what the merits of the case against Zelaya, his forced removal by the military was clearly illegal, and Micheletti's ascendance as "interim president" was totally illegitimate.

The United States temporarily blocked aid to Honduras after Zelaya's coup, and President Obama called it "not legal" in the days that followed Zelaya's ouster. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton eventually agreed to recognize the results of elections in November won by Porfirio Lobo, who assumed office in January.

On Monday, the outspoken Zelaya, who is still in exile in the Dominican Republic, said the leaked cable demonstrated "complicity" in the coup on the part of the U.S. government (link in Spanish).

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Manuel Zelaya, former president of Honduras. Credit: EFE

Columnist: Immigrant rights community must react to Mexico migrant massacre

Migrants coffins honduras massacre afp

The massacre in Mexico of 72 migrants bound for the U.S. should be met with outrage and introspection by immigrant-rights groups, but has so far been met mostly with silence, Hector Tobar argues in a Thursday column in The Times. The columnist writes that people in the immigrant-rights community readily protest anti-immigrant legislation in the United States but rarely address the root causes for illegal migration from Latin America.

The migrant massacre (which La Plaza has covered here, here, and here) was an "act of psychological warfare" by suspected members of the Zetas drug gang, the columnist writes, and it exposes multiple failures in immigration reform in the U.S., Mexico's drug war, and the lack of economic opportunity across the region. An excerpt:

Most of the country's leading immigrant rights groups haven't even bothered to issue a news release.

That doesn't surprise me. Generally speaking, the U.S. immigrant rights movement doesn't have much to say about the social and political conditions that lead so many to leave their native countries and place themselves at the mercy of an increasingly violent smuggling industry.

Indeed, the United Nations released a condemning statement just days after the migrant killings, but major immigrant-rights organizations in the United States apparently did not.

An Amnesty International report released in April says Central and South American migrants seeking to cross Mexico to reach the U.S. embark on "one of the most dangerous journeys in the world," as human smugglers and corrupt officials routinely expose migrants to abuse and violence, including the rape of female migrants. Those who survive the trek across Mexican territory then face the increasing risk of death along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mexico's national human rights commission estimates that 20,000 migrants are kidnapped each year in the country, a startling figure. On Wednesday, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton likened violence tied to Mexican drug trafficking groups to a Colombian-style "insurgency," sparking rebukes in Mexico, authorities said they arrested seven gunmen suspected of participating in the Aug. 23 massacre in Tamaulipas state.

Tobar, an author and most recently an L.A. Times foreign correspondent in Mexico and Argentina, writes a regular column in the paper.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Coffins of victims of the Mexico migrant massacre return to Honduras. Credit: Agence France-Presse

Deadly mudslides in Guatemala as rainy season's storms batter region [Updated]

Quiche children guatemala mudslide victims

Heavy rainfall unleashed mudslides in Guatemala that have claimed at least 45 lives, and officials say hope is fading to find any survivors trapped under mud in two separate slides on the same highway in western Guatemala (link with video by the BBC).

[Updated at 11:04 a.m.: A previous version of this post erroneously said the two mudslides in Guatemala occurred in the north.]

Widespread flooding was also reported in southeastern Mexico over the weekend, killing at least 11 (link in Spanish). Flooding in the region during the current rainy season has killed 55 people in Honduras, at least 40 in Nicaragua, nine in El Salvador and three in Costa Rica, the Agence France-Presse news agency said.

In Guatemala, a mudslide on the Inter-American Highway in the village of Nahuala, west of Guatemala City, engulfed a bus and other vehicles on Sunday, and later another slide claimed would-be rescuers. President Alvaro Colom declared a state of emergency and a national day of mourning. Including victims from Tropical Storm Agatha in May, this rainy season is the worst the country has seen in 60 years, killing at least 236 people, said Guatemala's La Prensa Libre (link in Spanish).

On Tuesday, the newspaper reported that one motorist who witnessed slides along the highway said 1,000 vehicles are still stuck in the mud (link in Spanish).

Elsewhere in the region, a surging Tropical Storm Hermine made landfall early Tuesday in northeastern Mexico, prompting officials to urge residents to move to shelters. Mexico's southeast -- including the states of Chiapas, Tabasco, and Veracruz -- has been hard hit by a separate storm that displaced almost half a million people over the weekend.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Quiche indigenous children and women at a funeral for a Guatemala mudslide victim. Credit: Moises Castillo / Associated Press 

A third migrant said to survive massacre, as bodies return home

El salvador migrants funeral massacre funes ap

Now, a third migrant is said to have survived last month's massacre in Tamaulipas, Mexico. El Salvador's president, Mauricio Funes, asserted Sunday -- almost two weeks after the killings took place -- that one Salvadoran citizen survived and is in the U.S.

Funes gave no further details, and it is not clear how the Salvadoran survived or made it to the U.S. Late Monday, however, the Mexican government expressed doubts about the existence of a third survivor, saying officials would check out the story but that there was no corroborating evidence at this point of another survivor.

Alejandro Poire, the Mexican government's security spokesman, also said a Mexican is under arrest on suspicion of involvement in the massacre, and three bodies found on a road Aug. 30 are believed to be men who participated.

The massacre has reverberated across Latin America. Confirmed victims include citizens of Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador and El Salvador. Reporting from the home village of one of the Salvadoran victims, a 15

"There are sons and daughters living alone here, taken care of only by their grandparents," a school teacher told Renderos. "And the parents want to hug their daughters and sons and give them a better life."

In El Salvador and other countries from which the victims came, the massacre has raised another dark question: How many others have met the same fate, but were never found?"

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Relatives of slain migrant Armando Nieto grieve in El Salvador as 11 bodies return from Mexico. Credit: Associated Press

Second survivor confirmed in migrant massacre as Latin America mourns

Mexico massacre survivor honduran

Authorities in Mexico have confirmed that a second person -- a Honduran citizen -- survived the massacre of 72 migrants last week in the state of Tamaulipas, but the man's identity and location are being closely guarded to protect his safety. The revelation came Wednesday, after Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa mentioned another survivor and his nationality, prompting the Honduran government to chastise Correa for releasing the information.

"There's no name for what happened in Mexico last week," Correa said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The investigation is delicate because of the international nature of the incident and because survivors of major crimes in Mexico are often at risk for reprisal violence. An investigator in Tamaulipas has already been reported missing. Fifty-eight men and 14 women from several Central and South American countries were killed execution-style near the town of San Fernando after refusing to work for the ruthless Zetas gang, the Ecuadoran survivor told authorities. Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, 18, was repatriated to Ecuador on Sunday and will be placed in a witness protection program.

Some of the bodies were moved to a morgue in Mexico City on Wednesday as the process to identify the remains continued. Those identified so far include 16 Hondurans, 13 Salvadorans, five Guatemalans and one Brazilian. Families seeking information on missing loved ones are crowding outside embassies and foreign offices in their home countries. Many are in mourning for victims of an incident that highlights the extreme risks that migrants undertake as they cross Mexico to seek better lives in the United States. Look for our upcoming special report from El Salvador.

"I haven't heard anything from him in a week. The last time we talked he was in Tamaulipas," one woman in San Salvador said of a loved one who went missing, according to MSNBC. "Some men called and asked for $400, and I sent it."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Workers begin examining the bodies of migrants killed in Tamaulipas at a morgue in Mexico City. Credit: Fernando Antonio / Associated Press

Survivor of migrant massacre returns to Ecuador

Segob interior ecuador migrant return

The sole survivor of last week's massacre of 72 migrants in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas has refused a humanitarian visa from Mexico and returned to his native Ecuador, officials in Mexico said Monday (link in Spanish).

Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, 18, was recovering under heavy guard after the massacre, in which suspected gunmen with the Zetas criminal organization captured, blindfolded and killed the migrants execution-style. Reports said the migrants had refused to pay ransom or work as drug runners for the Zetas. Lala managed to survive a bullet wound and escaped.

The massacre has become an international incident. When the citizenship of the survivor was discovered, Ecuador immediately requested that Lala receive extra protection while he recovered; witnesses or survivors to major crimes in Mexico often are hunted down later and killed (link in Spanish). Four countries have sent consular representatives to Tamaulipas to help identify the victims. Thirty-four of those have been identified so far: 16 Hondurans, 12 Salvadorans, five Guatemalans and one Brazilian.

Lala, the survivor, returned to Ecuador on Sunday night after Mexican diplomats turned him over to their Ecuadoran counterparts at a military hangar at Mexico City's international airport, Mexico's Interior Ministry said in a statement. In images posted with the official report, the faces of the survivor, doctors and military personnel are blurred to conceal their identities.

The massacre highlights the risks and dangers that Central and South American migrants face as they travel to the United States through Mexico, where their path increasingly intersects with the brutal warfare associated with the drug trade. A group of migrants from several countries reportedly demonstrated Saturday against the violence in the city of Saltillo, in Coahuila state.

Violence continues unabated in Tamaulipas. On Friday, car bombs went off at a Televisa station in Ciudad Victoria and outside a police station in San Fernando, the town where the bodies were discovered, and a top investigator into the migrant massacre was reported missing. On Sunday, a mayor in Tamaulipas was shot to death.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: The survivor of last week's migrant massacre in Tamaulipas is loaded onto a flight to his native Ecuador. Credit: Secretaria de Gobernacion, Mexico

Honduran journalist, a target of violent attacks, is granted asylum in Canada

A prominent Honduran journalist who supported the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya has been granted asylum in Canada and has moved to Toronto, reports the blog Journalism in the Americas.

Karol Cabrera, who moved on Friday, was targeted repeatedly during a spate of violent attacks on journalists in Honduras that had left six dead since March, as La Plaza previously reported. Cabrera's pregnant daughter was killed by unknown assailants during an attack in December.

"This is a new challenge,'' Cabrera told the Miami Herald. "But it's like a new opportunity, the beginning of a new and exciting life for me and my children. I have confidence that we all will do well.'"

-- Daniel Hernandez, in Mexico City

Thousands displaced in aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha

Guatemala agatha storm damage

Survivors of mudslides and flooding in Central America are still searching for the missing and hoping to ward off a food and sanitation crisis in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Agatha, the first major storm of the region's hurricane season. The death toll rose to 179 on Wednesday, with most of the dead concentrated in Guatemala. Tens of thousands are homeless or displaced in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

The enormous sinkhole that broke in Zone 2 of Guatemala City continues to draw curious onlookers and geologists who are eager to study it. The hole, almost perfectly round and frighteningly deep, goes down nearly 100 feet. Its cause is still a mystery.

"I can tell you what it's not: It's not a geological fault, and it's not the product of an earthquake," a government engineer in Guatemala City told the Associated Press. "We're going to have to descend."

The eruption of Guatemala's Pacaya volcano two days before the storm's landfall confounded the recovery efforts; volcanic ash blocking drains contributed to the flooding. Aid from the United Nations and the European Union began to arrive on Wednesday, Prensa Libre reported (link in Spanish).

More photos of the damage and recovery efforts at the Guatemalan government's Flickr feed.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: A truck caught in mud on Guatemala's Pacific highway. Credit: Government of Guatemala.

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