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Another Honduran Journalist Killed As Defeated Castro Disputes Polls

As Honduras’ unsuccessful candidate at the November 24 presidential election Xiomara Castro continued to dispute the polls result, the ensuing political turmoil has claimed another journalist’s life. What is unfortunate is that he is the third journalist killed this year in Honduras and more tragically also the third from Globo Media Group which is known to support Castro.

Juan Carlos Argeñal who was a local correspondent for the ‘Radio y TV Globo’ was shot dead on December 7 outside his home in the southeastern province Danli, said the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF)
“‘Globo’is one of the few national broadcasters to criticize the June 2009 coup d’état,” RSF said. “Its staff and reporters in the field have paid a high price for this for the past four years. It has included military occupation of their premises, confiscation of their equipment and targeted murders. The mere fact of working for ‘Globo‘ exposed Argeñal to danger.
“A total of 38 journalists have been killed in the past decade in Honduras, two thirds of them since the 2009 coup. Given the almost complete collapse of the rule of law, will this latest murder remain unpunished like nearly all the others? Does it signal the start of a new crackdown at a time when the country’s future seems more uncertain than ever?”
The earlier murders of Globo journalists were Annibal Barrow, kidnapped on June 24 and killed, and Manuel Murrillo Varela killed on October 24. Please see details of both killings here.
RSF goes on to say: “[Argeñal’s] murder could also be linked to his well-known support for Liberty and Re-foundation, the party led by Xiomara Castro, a candidate in the 24 November presidential election and wife of Manuel Zelaya, the president ousted by the 2009 coup.”
Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a 2009 coup by Porforio Lobo Sosa, who became Honduras’ president till elections in November.
Although Castro has challenged the poll results, election observers stated clearly that the other candidate – the leader of the conservative National Party, Juan Hernandez – was the winner with 36% of the vote. Castro from the Liberty Party received 28.8% and complained of “fraud” and “irregularities.”
“Observers from the European Union and Organisation of American States have vouched for the elections despite some imperfections. A group of Honduran computer programmers who with the help of crowd-sourcing took on the job of verifying the results have largely confirmed Hernandez’s victory,” commented Raul Gallegos in Bloomberg’sWorld View blog.
The Liberty party that is said to advance populist policies has support among the poorer sections of the population and the students. Student riots following the elections led to police crackdown and injuries to journalists, which included another ‘Globo’ journalist Victoria Aguilar.
This blog has a special interest in developments in media and politics in Honduras because the winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism in 2011 was Honduras’ Karla Rivas, news editor of ‘Radio Progresso.’
The events taking place today were in a way foreseen by Rivas who said in her interviewto RSF before the presidential election, “As things stand, there won’t be much change in the country and it won’t matter who wins the election, given that its structures have collapsed and its institutions have been corrupted. In the world of communications, we are committed to diversity but remain true to our principles, which mean giving a voice to the sectors that have historically been marginalised.”
Gallegos laconically agrees the election has changed little: “Politicians in Honduras have been cementing the Central American country’s reputation for dysfunction.”

Media, Freedom Of Expression Suffer In Hounduras’ Post-election Violence

Protestor hit by teargas cannister (Pic courtesy Rebel Reporting)

Hopes that the November 24 presidential election would usher in an era of democratic governance and respect for human rights – especially freedom of expression and information – suffered a setback after rival candidates claimed victory at the polls that resulted in street violence, where journalists also became victims.

 The election – the first since a 2009 coup that installed President Porforio Lobo Sosa in power – witnessed two rival candidates, Xiomara Castro, wife of deposed ex-president Manuel Zelaya of the left-leaning Libre Party, and Juan Orlando Hernandez of the conservative National Party claiming victory.
Although the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced Hernandez’s victory 34% to 29%, with 68% of the votes counted by early Wednesday, Castro denounced the results claiming massive electoral fraud.
 “‘[t]he TSE (electoral council) hid 19 percent of the ballots on election night which altered the outcome,’ Zelaya wrote on his Twitter account. ‘Within 48 hours results from around the country will be in’ and the alleged fraud will be ironed out, he said,” reported Agence France Press (AFP).
‘We will confirm our victory, and if it were the opposite, we also would acknowledge it,’ Zelaya said warning: ‘Nobody should speculate; we will look at the dimensions of the fraud – and what was properly done,” AFP continued.
The controversy sparked clashes in Tegucigalpa between the police and university students demonstrating in support of Castro. “About 100 police in helmets and riot gear used gas and then truncheons to beat the chanting youths and send them scrambling. Students fled from police, running to their nearby campus, and at the entrance gates authorities lobbed more tear gas at them,” AFP said.
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said two journalists, photographer Mario Fajardo (La Tribuna) and correspondent Víctoria Aguilar (Globo TV) had lost consciousness due to exposure to teargas during standoff. On November 22, Cesar Obando Flores(radio station Libre Estereo) complained of receiving death threat over the telephone demanding that he halts election coverage, RSF said.
“We call for an end to acts of intimidation and violence against journalists and we urge both the government and the opposition to respect their work,” RSF said. “The authorities must guarantee the safety of journalists and must punish the police officers responsible for so much violence.”
Beyond attacks on journalists, police action against the university students is also an assault on freedom of expression. The website Rebel Reporting said, “The protests started at around noon outside of the gates of the university.  Several hundred students reportedly blocked traffic.  Soon after, police arrived and, using force and teargas drove the students back through the university gates.  Once the students were locked in, the cops continued to use teargas and long, heavy sticks (rather than traditional batons) to beat students.
“The tear gas was produced in the U.S.  Much of that used was military-grade gas. No one was allowed to leave the university during the violence, as the police brutally attacked and the protesters made occasional attempt to defend themselves by throwing stones. Many were trapped inside the university some who were not even originally part of the protest, with no way out,” Rebel Reporting said.
Although the election is disputed by Castro and her party, AFP said, “The governments of Colombia, Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica congratulated Hernandez. Nicaragua’s leftist President Daniel Ortega also recognized Hernandez as the winner. European Union and Organization of American States observers called Sunday’s voting process transparent and non-problematic.”
AFP also noted that Zelaya was elected president in 2005, but when he showed an inclination to move leftward politically by reforming the constitution and was deposed in the 2009 coup, there was “no vocal or active opposition from the United States – a fact that deeply undermined US credibility.”
On November 19, RSFcalled for “overhaul of the entire media.” It said that attacks on journalists and other human rights defenders in Honduras have taken place against a background of generalised violence. The media watchdog demanded, “The protection of journalists and other news providers and the fight against impunity need to be addressed during the next parliamentary period.”
The 2011 winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism was Honduras’s Karla Rivas, news director of Radio Progresso. Before the election RSF interviewedher on the state of the media in Honduras.