Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Recent Developments in Honduras

Mr. President, yesterday I made a statement about the situation in Honduras, where the March 3rd assassination of environmental activist Berta Caceres remains under investigation.  I also mentioned the brutal killing last week of Lesbia Janeth Urquia.  In that statement I said that Ms. Urquia was a member of the organization COPINH, which stands for the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.  According to information I received today, she was not a “member” of COPINH.  However, it is my understanding that she had been active with other supporters of COPINH in opposing the construction of a hydroelectric project along the Chinacla River.  

Whether Ms. Urquia’s environmental activism was related to her death is a question that remains unresolved.  Three suspects in the case were arrested in the past 24 hours, one of whom is reportedly her brother-in-law.  According to press reports the murder of Ms. Urquia may have been the result of a family dispute over inheritance, but the investigation is only in an early stage.

This case reminds us, again, of the unacceptable amount of violence in Honduras and the history of impunity in that country.  This is a pervasive problem in each of the Northern Triangle countries, as well as Mexico.  Homicides rarely result in conviction or punishment, unless there is international attention.  Corruption is pervasive within the police and other public and private institutions.  The courts are not as immune from political pressure as they should be.  These are problems that will take years to effectively address, as they require, among other things, building professional, accountable police forces and ending the role of the military in civilian law enforcement, strengthening the Office of the Attorney General, and reinforcing the independence of the judiciary.

It also requires strong support by governments of the rights of civil society, and particularly journalists, human rights defenders, and social activists who peacefully protest government policies they disagree with.  This support has been notably absent in the past, and it is fundamental to any democracy.

The United States has a strong interest in helping Honduras and the other Central American countries address the culture of lawlessness that has engulfed them, and in reversing the migration to the United States of desperate people fleeing violence.  I welcome the assurances of top officials in those governments of the seriousness of their commitment to confront these challenges.  I also know that what matters is performance. 

I supported the $750 million that Congress approved last year to implement the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America, and look forward to receiving the multi-year spend plan required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, spelling out with sufficient detail and clarity the Administration’s plans for using those funds.

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