Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1990

Honduras is a constitutional democracy with a President and
unicameral Congress elected every 4 years. In January 1990,
National Party candidate Rafael Leonardo Callejas was
inaugurated President following free and fair elections held
in November 1989, marking the first time in Honduran history
that an incumbent party peacefully turned over power to an
opposition party. While the historically dominant military
plays a less intrusive role in the country's civilian
democratic Government, the Callejas administration was unable
to ensure punishment of members of the Armed Forces who
committed human rights abuses.
Domestic security is the responsibility of the Armed Forces,
including its police branch, the Public Security Force
(FUSEP). Major FUSEP elements include the Transit Police, the
Customs Police, the Order and Security Police, the Cobra
Paramilitary Unit, and the National Department of
Investigation (DNI). In addition to security, the Armed
Forces play an important role in national political and
economic affairs. Although they are constitutionally
responsible to the President, the Armed Forces operate with a
great deal of institutional and legal autonomy, particularly
in the realm of security and military affairs.
With a largely agrarian economy, Honduras is one of the
poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. Per capita
income in 1989 was estimated to be $483, combined unemployment
and underemployment 50 percent, illiteracy approximately 29
percent, and inflation over 30 percent. In March the
Government implemented economic reforms which are designed to
turn the economy around in the long run, but the short term
effects of which have been painful recession and more severe
levels of deprivation.
As in past years, there were credible reports that members of
the Armed Forces, especially persons in the FUSEP and the DNI,
were responsible for extrajudicial killings and the torture of
detainees. The potential for improving the human rights
performance and prof essionalization of the police is limited,
partially because military officers are appointed to command
positions in the police forces. The civilian Government has
not confronted the military on these issues, as evidenced by
the Government's appointment of a military commission to
investigate the murder of a labor activist and a student union
leader. The U.S. Government registered formal protests at the
highest civilian and military levels regarding the Honduran
Government's unwillingness to investigate and prosecute these
cases, and cancelled FUSEP participation in a scheduled
antiterrorism course. Leftwing terrorists were also
responsible for human rights abuses, wounding and killing
several persons in two major incidents during the year.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were numerous cases of extrajudicial killing in 1990
committed by members of the police and security forces. While
there was no evidence to suggest the complicity of either
high-ranking administration or military officials in these
cases, when evidence pointed to military or security force
personnel as the perpetrators, the military often tried to
cover up the violations and failed to prosecute.
Despite the fact that FUSEP moved tov;ard becoming a more
professional police force in recent years, serious
institutional problems remain. FUSEP is still commanded by
career army officers lacking police training who are inclined
to condone the use of excessive force.
By way of example, on February 17, three men who identified
themselves as members of the Army's Special Tactical Group
tried to murder a young couple, Jacinto Mantilla Marin and
Ruth Idalia Zepeda Castillo. Zepeda was raped and the couple
was then shot and left for dead. Zepeda survived and
implicated an ex-member of the Special Tactical Group who,
frustrated in his efforts to woo her, had been threatening to
kill her and Mantilla. Judicial sources reported in April
that the ex-soldier had been detained by the military, but
FUSEP denied that any suspects had been arrested. DNI
Director Flores stated in October that the case remained open,
but it was unclear how actively the investigations were being
On September 2, DNI agents detained merchant Jose Victor iano
Castillo in San Lorenzo for suspicion of murder. Castillo
spent the next 5 days in DNI cells in Choluteca where he was
apparently tortured by two DNI agents. Upon release, he was
put under the jurisdiction of a criminal court, held for 5
days in a penal center there, and then freed for lack of
evidence. His family then took him to a medical clinic where
they were advised to get him to a hospital in Tegucigalpa
because of the seriousness of his injuries. He died in a
hospital 18 days after first being detained in the DNI cells.
In a September 21 press conference, FUSEP announced it would
investigate charges of torture made by Castillo's stepfather.
As of early December, there were no indications that such an
investigation had begun.
The ability of the Callejas administration to investigate
human rights abuses fully and impartially was further called
into qxiestion by its handling of two murder investigations.
On May 31, labor leader Francisco Javier Bonilla Medina,
former president of the Union of Workers of the Honduran
Social Security Institute (SITRAIHSS), was gunned down by an
unknown assailant on a Tegucigalpa street. On June 3, the
body of Ramon Antonio Briceno, 28 year-old leader of the
leftist University Reform Front (FRU) , was discovered in a
vacant lot in Tegucigalpa. His body bore eleven bullet
wounds, four in the face, and showed obvious signs of
torture. President Callejas appointed five colonels to a
military commission to investigate the murders. The
commission's report identified Martin Pineda Garcia, leader of
the leftist University Revolutionary Front, as the
intellectual author of the crime. The commission's report was
completely and publicly discredited when the courts released
Pineda for lack of evidence. Nevertheless, a FUSEP spokesman
stated that the Bonilla case would remain closed: the
commission had not reported on the Briceno case by year's
The 1988 murder of Miguel Angel Pavon, of the nongovernmental
Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH)
and the 1990 murder of Jesus Ruiz Maradiaga, former CODEH
legal advisor and activist in the National Innovation and
Unity-Social Democratic Party, remained open but unsolved at
the end of 1990.
Terrorists also wounded and killed several people in 1990.
The Cinchonero People's Liberation Movement (MPL) , a small
radical leftist guerrilla group, was involved in two major
incidents. On March 31, the MPL staged an ambush on a busload
of U.S. Air Force engineering personnel on a highway 13 miles
north of Tegucigalpa in which six airmen were wounded, two of
them seriously. On August 15, the MPL assaulted a bank in El
Zamorano. Thirteen persons were killed and four wounded in
the gunfire exchanged between the guerrillas and the Armed
      b. Disappearance
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances
in 1990. Local human rights groups continued to press for an
investigation of the more than 100 disappearances which they
charged occurred from 1981-84 during the regime of General
Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, These cases remain unsolved, but on
December 10 President Callejas ordered that an in-depth
investigation be conducted into all cases of disappearances
that have occurred since 1980.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the Constitution prohibits torture and authorities
have expressed their intention to stop the practice, physical
abuse of detainees and prisoners continued in 1990. The most
common form of torture was physical beating, but credible
charges of more sophisticated techniques were also made.
The following is illustrative of incidents in 1990 involving
allegations of torture by security forces.
In mid-March DNI agents arrested two of their colleagues for
having tortured three suspected criminal offenders, including
a woman. DNI Director Flores stated in October that both
agents had been relieved of their duties for stealing from the
victims and were turned over to the Military Court of First
Instance. However, it appears they were not charged with the
more serious crime of torture.
Lucas Aguilera, a 58 year-old regional secretary for the
National Campesino Union (UNC) and member of the Christian
Democratic Party, made credible allegations that DNI agents
had tortured him with a "capucha" on May 13. (In the
"capucha" method of interrogation, a hood is placed over the
head and tightened until the prisoner, fearing suffocation,
responds to the interrogator.) DNI authorities subsequently
released Aguilera and apologized to him, telling him that the
police had actually been looking for another Lucas Aguilera.
Colonel Juan Alvarado, head of DNI at the time of Aguilera 's
detention, did not deny that torture had occurred but did
assure the public that, if indeed Aguilera had been tortured,
it was against police operating procedures and contrary to his
standing orders. However, there was no indication that DNI
authorities investigated the matter further.
On May 29, lawyer Francisco Lagos Hollman accused the DNI of
torturing him and holding him incommunicado for 5 days. Lagos
said that he had been beaten, forced to walk continuously at
night, and subjected to electric shocks. After local
newspapers pictured Hollman displaying his bruises, a FUSEP
spokesman stated he was beaten with a gun when he resisted
On October 15, two DNI agents were accidentally televised
manhandling accused assassin Jose Manuel Guzman Martinez when
he tried to surrender voluntarily outside the doors of the
First Criminal Court in Tegucigalpa. In response, the
National Congress approved a motion on October 16 calling for
restructuring of the DNI and for acceleration of the process
to approve legislation creating a judicial police. On
November 15, the head of DNI ' s homicide section declared in
civilian court that although he had ordered the agents to
detain Guzman and deliver him to DNI headcpiarters, the two
agents had taken his instructions too far. As of the end of
December, the agents were being prosecuted by the civilian
court, but only after their dishonorable discharge from the
Charges of other forms of abuse following arbitary detentions
by security forces continued to circulate during 1990,
including credible reports of routine sexual abuse of women.
One press report related the experience of Rosa Vitalina
Trochez, who apparently committed suicide in February.
Earlier she told friends and family that, after being detained
arbitrarily by police, she was jailed and repeatedly raped for
3 days before she was finally released.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Honduran law stipulates that a person may be arrested only
with a court order and that he must be clearly informed of the
grounds of arrest. Within 24 hours he must be turned over to
the court that is to review the evidence against him. That
court is then obligated, within 6 days, to order either the
detainee's release or remission to a penal center to await
trial. Bail is both available and widely used.
Police and other security force elements continued to ignore
these provisions in a substantial number of cases in 1990.
Detainees were often held for much longer than the stipulated
24 hours. Credible reports of incommunicado detention (see
Section I.e.) and failure to comply with writs of habeus
corpus also continued during the year. At times authorities
avoided compliance with writs of habeus corpus by moving
detainees between detention facilities. As in 1989, agents of
FUSEP and DNI were responsible for most of the violations of
the laws and regulations governing arrest and detention.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Honduran law provides accused persons the right to a fair
trial, which includes the right to an initial hearing by a
judge, to bail, to an attorney provided by the State if
necessary, and to appeal. A defendent is considered innocent
until proven guilty. Defendants in the military tribunals
have the same due process rights as those being tried under
the civilian system, with the exception of bail. The military
tribunals have jurisdiction in cases where members of the
Armed Forces are charged with a crime. Appeals of the
military court's decision must be taken to the civilian
courts. In both the civilian court system and the Armed
Forces' separate system of military tribunals, trials are
publicly open for the filing of evidence, but actual
proceedings are closed. Prosecution in cases involving crimes
by military and police force personnel is inhibited by the
conflict between the civilian judiciary and the military
command. The civilian courts insist that the Constitution
gives them the right to try such cases, but the Armed Forces
cites the 1906 Military Code to assert exclusive jurisdiction
over such matters. In practice, this has usually meant that
only well-publicized military and police cases are tried by
civilian courts, and then only after the suspects have been
discharged from the military.
The civilian court system in Honduras is ineffective because
of political interference, lack of resources, and lack of
cooperation between the police and the courts. Most members
of the judiciary are politically appointed and are subject to
substantial political pressure. The judiciary has only 1760
employees and receives just 1.6 percent of government
revenues, about half of what it is entitled to receive under
the Constitution. Judicial salaries are low and judges are
poorly trained. As of June 1990, about 25 percent of
Honduras' prison population had not been sentenced. Although
FUSEP ' s investigative ability has improved in recent years,
the evidence gathered by it in criminal cases often does not
find its way to court. Military commanders charge that the
courts often release common criminals through bribery or fear,
while the courts charge that police do not conduct proper
investigations or fail to provide the courts with sufficient
Some progress in improving the system is being made. The
Public Defender Program finances the hiring and training of
law graduates to serve as public defenders. In 1989
approximately 300 detainees were processed and released
following intervention by a public defender. The Government
is also hiring and training persons with law degrees to serve
as justices of the peace and (in 1991) as judicial
prosecutors, and is working to improve judicial procedures and
to implement the Judicial Career Law. This 1980 law, and its
implementing regulations, establish the merit selection and
promotion of judicial sector employees with the exception of
the politically appointed nine-man Supreme Court.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
There were no known violations in 1990 of the constitutionally
protected rights to personal and family privacy and the
inviolability of home and private communications.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including;
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and
these freedoms are largely respected in practice. However,
there have been allegations of intimidation by authorities,
instances of self-censorship, and payoffs to journalists. It
is an accepted practice for the ministries and other
government agencies to have journalists on their payroll. On
September 5, President Callejas openly admitted that a group
of select journalists receive an unspecified small sum of
money in payment for facilitating publicity about his
administration, a situation which he termed completely legal.
In early August the Committee to Protect Journalists informed
President Callejas of its concern about threats against
Cadelario Reyes Garcia, a dramatist and actor who ran a weekly
radio program broadcasting news and cultural material in Santa
Barbara. (Mr. Reyes also conducts acting workshops with
peasant groups which at times involve themes of economic and
social hardship in the countryside.) The Committee told
President Callejas that Mr. Reyes had received anonymous phone
calls in which he was told he would be killed if he did not
stop his work. In late August, Reyes dropped the program and
received no further calls, the source of which was never
The Government respects academic freedom and has not attempted
to curtail political expression on the campus. A wide
spectrum of political beliefs is represented both in the
universities and in secondary schools. In 1990, after several
years of relative calm, political confrontations on university
campuses, especially at the National Autonomous University of
Honduras (UNAH), increased because of internal conflict among
rival rightwing factions.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for the right to peaceful assembly
for political, religious, or other purposes. Generally, no
prior authorization or permits are needed, but outdoor
assemblies may recjuire a permit for the purpose of
"guaranteeing public order." Throughout 1990, demonstrations
and rallies routinely took place without obstruction. While
there have been a few reports of plain-clothes Public Security
Force agents monitoring political rallies, opposition
viewpoints are normally discussed freely and without
consequence throughout all sectors of Honduran society.
The Government places no restriction on the right of
      c. Freedom of Religion
While most Hondurans are Roman Catholic, Honduras has no state
religion and the Constitution protects all forms of religious
expression. Foreign missionaries, many of whom belong to
various protestant sects, are free to work and proselytize in
all parts of the country. While the Catholic Church's
relations with the military are considerably better than in
the early 1980 's, they are still strained, and there have been
several reported incidents of intimidation by the military.
There are charges that the military still intimidates the
missionary Jesuits in El Progreso and the Passionist Order in
Santa Rosa de Copan. In May the Presbytery of Comayagua asked
civil and military authorities to investigate alleged death
threats being made against several priests, robberies of
church properties, and military investigations of the work of
two priests. In late May the parish priest of Valle de
Angeles reported that he was receiving death threats from
unknown persons and that his church had been vandalized. Also
in late May Catholic bishops from the Department of Comayagua
condemned a military assault against the Church's radio
station in Marcala, and another assault against a priest whose
parked car was riddled with bullets while he was visiting a
parish house in Opatoro. In early August the parish priest of
Santa Rosa de Copan, Father Fausto Milla, held a press
conference to announce that elements of the Armed Forces were
threatening to kill him. He said that these threats first
began in 1980 as a result of his participation in a commission
investigating the Sumpul River massacre of May 1980, in which
approximately 300 to 600 Salvadorans were allegedly killed by
members of the Honduran Armed Forces. While Milla stated he
could not positively identify who was behind the current death
threats, he suspected that it was a security agent of the
Armed Forces who had once threatened to kill him.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Citizens normally enter and exit Honduras without impediment;
exit visas are only denied when the applicant is wanted in
connection with a crime or has not paid his taxes. Travel is
freely permitted within the country's national borders.
There have been no known instances of revocation of
citizenship for political reasons.
The refugee situation improved considerably during 1990, as
Salvadoran refugee repatriations continued and massive
Nicaraguan repatriations began. By March 4, close to 11,000
Salvadorans had returned to their country of origin,
completing the largest repatriation in the history of Central
America. Two of the three Salvadoran camps were closed,
leaving only Mesa Grande camp which housed approximately 2,200
Salvadoran refugees at year's end.
By mid-May 7,000 Nicaraguan Ladino refugees had registered for
repatriation. On June 7 the first group of 233 Nicaraguan
Ladino refugees left Honduras for Nicaragua, signaling the
start of twice-weekly repatriations which continued for the
remainder of the year. By December 4, the date of the final
Ladino refugee repatriation, only 40 persons had chosen not to
return to Nicaragua. Of the total 24,000 Nicaraguan refugees
in Honduras at the beginning of the year, under 200 have
decided not to return, requesting either permanent
resettlement in Honduras or resettlement in a third country.
The Government of Honduras is not expected to deny requests
for resettlement in Honduras as long as appropriate legal
formalities are fulfilled.
The Nicaraguan Resistance (RN) , which functioned for close to
11 years as a guerrilla opposition force to the Sandinista
regime, also has left. Repatriation of RN members began on
July 5. As of November 28, the date of the last RN
repatriation, 17,947 persons had left Honduras. Of RN members
registered for humanitarian assistance—some 36,000—only half
returned to Nicaragua under official auspices. As best as can
be determined, those not registered to repatriate have already
left on their own or have been integrated into the Honduran
economic and social fabric.
A few isolated instances of refugee abuse were reported. At
the beginning of the year, a private voluntary organization
(PVO) working in the Salvadoran camps reported that Honduran
Armed Forces personnel harassed a truck convoy returning
Salvadoran refugees to their country of origin. According to
the report, the trucks were searched, refugees and
accompanying PVO personnel were menaced, and some items were
stolen from PVO personnel . The Government of Honduras
attributed the incident to overly zealous local Armed Forces
personnel. On February 28 two Nicaraguan refugees were
deported to Nicaragua by Honduran immigration authorities.
The refugees had been accused of damaging a vehicle belonging
to a military official. The U.N. High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) sent a note of protest to the Honduran
Government concerning the manner in which the case was
handled. On July 25 immigration authorities deported six
RN-related persons who were registered under the UNHCR's
International Commission of Support and Verification program
in Honduras after a dispute between the six and their Honduran
army officer landlord.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Hondurans have and exercise the right to change their
government through democratic and peaceful means. More than
75 percent of Honduran voters participated in the November
1989 national election. Although international observers
overwhelmingly judged the election to be free and fair,
complaints from the then-ruling Liberal Party that the
National Elections Tribunal and the National Registry of
Persons were manipulated led to renewed calls for major
reforms of both of these bodies. The Congress was considering
reform legislation during the year.
The Constitution gives the people the right to choose national
and municipal governments by free, secret, direct, and
obligatory balloting every 4 years. Suffrage is universal. A
president may serve only one term, and any vice president who
serves as acting president, even on an interim basis, is
prohibited from running for the office of president. Except
for members of the clergy and the Armed Forces, any citizen
born in Honduras has the right to hold office. A new
political party can gain legal status when its organizers
present a petition showing at least 10,000 member signatures;
legal status is lost if the party fails to win at least 10,000
votes in any election in which it participates.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Government cooperates with local and international human
rights organizations, both governmental and private. For
example, U.S. members of a newly created human rights group
named "Hondunet" visited the Central Penitentiary in
Tegucigalpa on June 14. Honduras has agreed to accept full
jurisdiction by the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
The governmental Inter-Institutional Commission on Human
Rights (CIDH), established in 1987, responds to both domestic
and international inquiries and receives international
visitors interested in human rights questions. Members are
drawn from the Supreme Court, the Armed Forces, the Foreign
Ministry, the Ministry of Government and Justice, and the
National Congress. Because of scant resources, CIDH is
severely limited in its ability to maintain records and to
carry out its investigative function. Under law it can ask
the Supreme Court to assure trial of a particular case and can
then present judicial evidence. There are credible reports
that it has not received full cooperation from military and
judicial authorities.
Best known of the local nongovernmental human rights
organizations are the Committee for the Defense of Human
Rights in Honduras (CODEH) and its Central American-wide
affiliate CODEHUCA. Despite a number of genuine efforts on
behalf of human rights, CODEH ' s charges frequently have been
exaggerated and ill-documented, and in some cases false.
There were a few incidents of harassment against members of
nongovernmental human rights organizations in 1990, but there
was no evidence of high-level government or military
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
The Constitution expressly bans discrimination against
citizens for reasons of race, sex, class, or any other basis.
Strongly held cultural views and attitudes generally limit
career opportunities for women, although women are represented
in small numbers in most of the professions. Women have equal
access to educational opportunities and are paid ecjual wages
for equal work.
Physical abuse of women occurs in Honduras, especially in the
home, and reflects the male-dominant culture. There are no
shelters expressly maintained for battered women. Although
Honduran law offers legal redress, few women take advantage of
the legal process. This reluctance stems from a lack of
education and the perception that judges would be unwilling to
apply the law vigorously. There are several women's
organizations in Honduras. One of the most active is the
Confederation of Honduran Women's Clubs, which was founded in
1951. Its goals include helping destitute women improve their
economic situation, educating women about their rights and the
availability of legal resources, obtaining necessary legal
reforms to achieve effective equality with men, and teaching
women how to improve both their family and community lives.
Despite the constitutional ban of discrimination for reasons
of class, only Hondurans from the poorer class are forcibly
recruited into the Armed Forces. In May, commenting on
remarks made by an Armed Forces spokesman about a
congressional initiative to eliminate the military draft, a
high-level military official stated that the sons of the rich
were not drafted because they could not tolerate military life
and that the military budget did not provide for the
life-styles to which the rich are accustomed. His remarks,
which generated wide discussion throughout Honduran society,
were condemned by both government and military authorities. A
joint military/congressional commission was named to study
forced recruitment under the Obligatory Military Service Law.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Workers are free to organize themselves into labor unions.
Labor unions have been active in Honduras over the past 37
years and continue to exert considerable influence, both
economically and politically. Unions frequently participate
in public rallies against government policies and also make
extensive use of the media to advance their views. Urban slum
communities are organized into community organizations, known
as "patronatos, " which have formed federations closely
associated with the trade union movement. There were some
incidents of violence against union members in 1990.
The right to strike, along with a wide range of other basic
labor rights, is provided for by the Constitution and honored
in practice. Even though the Civil Service Code stipulates
that public workers do not have the right to strike, no public
or private sector strikes were declared illegal in 1990.
The Medical Workers' Union (SITRAMEDHYS) and Chiquita
plantation workers were the focus of labor unrest during
1990. SITRAMEDHYS has had over 50 strikes in the last 4
years. A 25-day medical workers' strike in July was over the
privatization of housekeeping and related services in
hospitals. The labor problems of Chiquita International
culminated in a 42-day strike over demands for higher wages to
keep up with inflation, but was also fueled by the fear that
the company was attempting to replace the union with a
company-sponsored "solidarity" organization. The strike ended
when the President issued a decree permitting the company to
hire temporary workers and ordered the military and police to
ensure the workers' safety.
There were four possibly politically-motivated killings of
trade unionists during the year; all remained unsolved at
year's end. In January an ex-leader of the National Central
of Farm Workers (CNTC), Reynaldo Zuniga Cruz, was murdered.
There were allegations that Zuniga was killed by authorities,
speculation that he was a victim of an internal union dispute,
and claims that he may have been assassinated because of a
land dispute. In March, Denis Hernan Rodriguez Nunez of the
Peasant Organization of Honduras was found dead. Some peasant
leaders believe he was the victim of a fight over land, but
the press reported that the DNI may have been involved.
Francisco Javier Bonilla Medina, former president of the Union
of Workers of the Honduran Social Security Institute, and
student leader Ramon Antonio Briceno who was also a member of
the Central Bank Union were assassinated by unknown assailants
in June (see Section l.a.).
During the Chiquita strike the military specifically targeted
the military-age children of union members for forced
recruitment. The youths were released when the union refused
to negotiate. Two trade unionists were arrested during the
strike, but were released when charges against them were
dropped. The Government was accused of meddling in the
internal affairs of the Public Workers' Union (ANDEPH) by
forming a progovernment parallel union board. The Government
backed away from its intervention after a series of
ministrikes by public workers and the threat of a general
strike by the labor union movement.
There are three large peasant associations directly affiliated
with the trade unions. After decades of open hostilities, the
Cattle Raisers' Association and several peasant organizations
have signed an "agrarian conciliation" intended to lead to
greater tranquility in rural areas and increased agricultural
production. Several important peasant organizations spurned
the accord because it does not pledge the parties to seek
abrogation of the Anti-Terrorist Law, which is commonly used
to evict peasant squatters. An unknown number of peasants are
arrested annually as "subversives" under the Anti-Terrorist
Law when in actuality they are squatters. President Callejas
proposed on December 10 that the law be reformed and that some
20 peasants now incarcerated for land seizures be granted
amnesty. Many of those arrested complain about harsh
treatment meted out by the FUSEP . In one instance, Lucas
Aguilera, a well known peasant labor leader, was falsely
accused of subversion and brutally tortured by the DNI (see
Section I.e.).
Honduras' trade union movement maintains close ties with
international trade union organizations. The largest union
group, the Confederation of Honduran Workers, is an affiliate
of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
(ICFTU). The second largest, the General Workers' Central, is
affiliated with the World Confederation of Labor. The third
major organization, the Communist-controlled Unitary
Federation of Honduran Workers, is affiliated with the World
Federation of Trade Unions. The three labor organizations
claim to represent about 20 percent of all Honduran workers,
including a substantial number of peasants and rural
A number of private firms have instituted labor /management
"solidarity" associations. Organized labor, including the
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial
Organizations and the ICFTU, expresses strong opposition to
these associations on the grounds that they do not permit
strikes and have inadequate grievance procedures.
Nevertheless, the membership of such associations continues to
increase. Solidarity organizations are not formally
recognized by the Ministry of Labor.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right to organize and to bargain collectively is protected
by law, but not always observed in practice. Retribution by
employers for trade union activity is not uncommon, in spite
its prohibition in the Labor Code. There are instances where
important companies have threatened to close down if
unionized. Some workers claim they have been harassed and, in
some cases, fired because of their efforts to form a trade
union. Relatively few workers are actually dismissed for
union activity; these cases, however, served to discourage
other workers from attempting to organize. Workers who are
fired may apply to the Ministry of Labor or the courts for
Collective bargaining agreements are the norm for companies
where the workers are organized. In nonunionized companies,
workers are under the protection of the Labor Code, which
gives them right of redress to the Ministry of Labor, Wages
in nonorganized companies are determined by labor supply and
demand, within the constraints of the minimum wage law.
The free trade zones are governed by the same labor
regulations as the rest of private industry, and conditions in
these export processing zones are generally considered
superior to those prevailing in the rest of the country.
Unions are active in the free trade zones, one of which is
completely unionized. There were no strikes in the zones
during the year, although there was unrest in one factory when
competing labor federations vied for control of the union.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
There is no forced or compulsory labor in Honduras; such
practices are prohibited by law and the Constitution. In its
1990 report, the Committee of Experts of the International
Labor Organization renewed a request to the Government to
ensure that military conscripts be called upon to perform only
work or services of a purely military character, except in
cases of emergency.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Constitution and the Labor Code prohibit the employment of
children under the age of 16 years. Violations of the Labor
Code frequently occur in rural areas or in small companies.
The Ministry of Labor has the responsibility for enforcing
child employment laws, but it lacks the resources necessary to
carry out the task. High unemployment and underemployment
have resulted in many children supplementing the family income
by working in small family farms or as street vendors.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Constitution and the Labor Code require that all labor be
fairly paid. Minimum wages, working hours, vacations, and
occupational safety are all regulated, but the Ministry of
Labor lacks the staff and other resources for effective
enforcement. The minimum wage, revised as of October 1,
varies by occupation and ranges from $1.20 to $2.30 per day.
The new minimum wage is considered insufficient to provide a
decent standard of living. Many households must pool family
members' salaries to survive.
The law prescribes an 8-hour day and a 44-hour workweek. The
Labor Code provides for a paid vacation of 10 workdays after 1
year, and 20 workdays after 4 years. The regulations are
frequently ignored in practice as a result of the high level
of unemployment and underemployment.