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U.S. senators seek review of spending in Honduras

U.S. senators seek review of spending in Honduras
Presidential candidate Xiomara Castro speaks during a convention by the Free party in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
(Alberto Arce / Associated Press)

MEXICO CITY -- Alarmed by what they call troubling reports of human rights atrocities in Honduras, 21 U.S. senators are calling on the Obama administration to review how U.S. money is being spent in support of possibly abusive security forces.

In a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry dated Tuesday, the senators cite numerous recent killings and threats targeting union leaders, opposition figures, farmers, students, journalists and others, noting that authorities have been implicated in some of the incidents, most of which go unpunished.

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“As the November 2013 [Honduran presidential] elections draw near,” the senators wrote, “we are particularly troubled by reports of corruption and extrajudicial killings.”

Besieged by drug traffickers, vicious gangs and fierce political bloodletting, Honduras suffers one of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere. Violence has especially surged since the 2009 military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Many involved in the coup remain in office.

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Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, was recently chosen as an opposition candidate for president, and several people from her Free party have been killed or attacked.

The United States suspended some aid to Honduras after the country’s top police commander was linked to several killings. All but about $10 million was resumed, but the Honduran government is supposed to meet a set of criteria that includes ensuring free speech, due process and the prosecution of authorities who commit human rights crimes.

In their letter, the senators said they had doubts those conditions were being met and called on Kerry to “ensure that no U.S. assistance is provided to police or military personnel or units credibly implicated in human rights violations.”

The senators asked Kerry to provide Congress with a detailed analysis of whether the Honduran government was making efforts to “protect freedom of expression and association, the rule of law and due process” and to investigate death-squad-style killings allegedly involving state security forces.

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The senators, who include Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), chair of the  Appropriations Committee, and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), also urged the State Department to help ensure the Honduran elections are “free, fair and peaceful.”

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