Frank La Rue, the UN’s special rapporteur for freedom of expression, has called on the Honduran government to investigate the murders of 22 journalists over the last two years.
The UN envoy has called the number of murdered journalists “unacceptable and inhuman” and urged Honduras to establish new measures to protect journalists.
“We have recorded an escalation in press freedom violation and violent attacks against journalists. It’s just that in Honduras no journalist would dare to report on human rights violation or land conflicts … they know that they could face serious reprisals.”
– Dalphine Hagland, Reporters Without Borders Washington director
Since Manuel Zelaya was ousted as president in 2009, Honduras has become one of the most dangerous countries for members of the media.
Twenty-two journalists have been killed in the last two years under Porfirio Lobo, the current president, compared to just one in the four years before his election in January 2010.
According to Reporters Without Borders those who cover the so-called drug war and land disputes are often targeted by narco-traffickers and criminal gangs as well as corrupt state authorities. Members of the country’s powerful oligarchy have also been implicated in the violence.
According to the UN, Honduras has 86 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants.
In May, the Honduran government hosted an economic conference to promote domestic and foreign investment, leading to new investment laws that came into force soon after.
Under these laws, foreign investors can freely move capital and profits in and out of the country. But this also enables them to massively withdraw funds if there is economic turmoil, which could devastate the economy.
Special provisions protect foreign investors who buy properties in Honduras, shielding them from prosecution and the possibility of their land being expropriated.
“Facusse is one of the key backers of the coup three years ago that overthrew democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya. He’s a very dangerous man. He has a private security army of 200-300 guards …. There’s a great deal of fear of him, he’s almost like a private warlord.“
– Dana Frank, a Honduras historian
Land in Honduras is concentrated in the hands of a few and farmworker groups say this is another setback for their drive to redistribute land. As a result of land disputes, farmers have also been the target of violence and murders.
Investors also get tax breaks, with those bringing in more than $1m guaranteed exemptions for 15 years or more. This mostly benefits wealthy investors, leaving domestic small-and-medium enterprises continuing to pay taxes.
Reporters Without Borders calls Miguel Facusse, the most powerful businessman in Honduras, a “press predator” who “paved the way for a crackdown on opposition and grassroots media”.
Inside Story Americas asks: What is behind the attacks on journalists and farmers in Honduras?
Joining the discussion with presenter Shihab Rattansi are guests: Annie Bird, the co-director of Rights Action, a community development and human rights organisation operating in several Latin American countries; Dalphine Hagland, the Washington DC director for Reporters Without Borders; and Dana Frank, a Honduras historian.
“There has been a tremendous amount of social dislocation through violence … accompanied by the US’ war on drugs. And in many cases what we’ve seen in different parts of Central America is that where there’s interest in land, the government starts calling people drug traffickers.”
Annie Bird, the co-director of Rights Action