"...we began to move around the dials on some of the radios that get into the prison, and we successfully tuned into Radio Republica. And what a wonderful thing!...the best thing about Radio Republica...is that 90% of what you talk about is what is happening here at this moment. You know, that gave me such encouragement."
--Hector Palacios, Prominent Cuban dissident intellectual, arrested in March 2003
Throughout the hemisphere, the trend toward consolidating democratic institutions and processes continued during 2006. In many countries, civil society was relatively strong and vocal, providing an important check on government powers and an open space for public discourse. With a few notable exceptions, governments in the hemisphere generally respected human rights, although societal violence by non-state actors continued to be a significant problem in several countries.
The region faces a number of challenges that threaten to erode citizens' confidence in the benefits of democracy. These include the expanding gap between rich and poor, corruption and inefficiency in governance, high rates of crime and states' inability to provide adequate security to their citizens, weak judicial institutions, abuses by security forces, and discrimination against ethnic and racial minorities. U.S. programs and activities in the hemisphere are designed to strengthen the capacity of young democratic institutions, to foster civil society's ability to play an active role in shaping government, and to cooperate with the Organization of American States (OAS) to safeguard against backsliding on the hemisphere's democratic consensus and to reinforce the commitments of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
There were important elections throughout the hemisphere in 2006, marked by vibrant political competition, strong voter turn-out, and the effective adjudication of the results by democratic institutions. These included presidential elections in Mexico, where a challenge by the losing candidate was peacefully resolved by the Federal Electoral Tribunal after a two-month review; Ecuador, where a closely contested presidential race was settled through a free and fair runoff election; and Haiti, where presidential, parliamentary, and local elections were successfully concluded for the first time in a decade, restoring elected governance throughout the country and facilitating important progress in consolidating stable and permanent democratic institutions. U.S. support for elections in the region included voter registration and education programs, technical assistance to electoral commissions, and support for monitoring missions.
In Colombia, with over 30,000 paramilitary members laying down their arms, the Colombian government succeeded in demobilizing almost all United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary groups, representing an unprecedented opportunity for progress in bringing peace and stability. The Colombian government is working to implement the Justice and Peace Law, which requires former paramilitary members to disclose all crimes and make reparations to victims in exchange for reduced prison sentences. Although NGOs remain concerned that the law falls short of completely dismantling paramilitary organizations and some are critical of the reduced sentencing provisions, the government has begun taking statements from demobilized paramilitaries, established a witness protection program, and ordered the seizure of all property illegally held by AUC members. The Secretary of State approved $48 million from FY 2005-2007 funds for assistance to demobilization and reintegration programs, and to support the work of the OAS in this program.
In Central America, the United States supported projects to strengthen civil society, including programs to advance press freedom and develop a professional press corps, and to encourage greater civic participation in governance. The United States also committed $21.1 million in 2006 to support programs to strengthen the capacity of signatories to the Central American- Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) to implement the labor rights provisions of the agreement, including the creation of worker support centers, administration of labor justice projects, and projects to eliminate gender and other forms of discrimination.
Venezuela and Cuba remained isolated from the democratic norm in the hemisphere. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez accelerated his drive to consolidate control in the executive branch and to take aggressive actions to restrict freedom of expression, and introduced legislation to restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations. U.S. programs and activities in Venezuela continued to focus on strengthening civil society and NGOs working on democratic reform, including labor rights and freedom of expression. The OAS served as a forum for NGOs to express their views and critique the Chavez government. In Cuba, the transfer of authority over day-to-day affairs from Fidel Castro to his brother Raul did not represent a lessening of totalitarian rule, but did underscore that change is underway. The United States is taking a pro-active approach to ensuring a genuine democratic transition through support to independent civil society leaders and democracy advocates, so that Cubans can, in the future, determine their government through free and fair elections.
Mexico: Defending Human Rights
Human rights defenders play a fundamental role in advocating for the rights of civil society and ensuring that the voices of the weakest in society are heard. In an effort to advance the work of human rights defenders in Mexico and increase public awareness and support for their work, Freedom House, with U.S. funding, implemented a program in 2006 to strengthen the capacity of Mexican human rights NGOs (particularly those dealing with violence against women and discrimination against indigenous peoples) and enhance the mechanisms for monitoring, investigating, and documenting human rights violations.
Working with a range of human rights NGOs and lawyers in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Chihuahua, and Mexico, Freedom House constructed a database and legal manual to document human rights cases. The manual covers human rights legislation, including international, regional and national instruments protecting human rights laws, and serves as an essential tool to assist human rights workers who often lacked legal expertise. Over 30 human rights workers in diverse organizations were trained on both the management of the Human Rights Database and the use of the Human Rights Manual. The project also provided technical advice, grant funding, and support for legal interns to work with local counterparts, and media-awareness training events to enhance mechanisms for human rights NGOs to monitor, investigate and document human rights violations.
Throughout the project, seven human rights workshops were conducted, which included training in such themes as legal strategies, international systems of human rights protections, and tactics for enhanced human rights investigations that enhanced participants' roles as public watchdogs. In addition, Freedom House provided technical assistance and co-sponsored eight representatives of Oaxacan human rights organizations, including two organizations from the database pilot group in Oaxaca, to appear before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC on March 6, 2006 to present a special analysis of the situation of women in the state of Oaxaca and a petition to release over 60 indigenous people detained without benefit of translators or timely trials.
Through a combination of technical and financial support, Freedom House effectively strengthened and enhanced mechanisms for Mexican human rights NGOs to identify and denounce human rights violations. The creation of a human rights database transformed the systems and capacity of 12 organizations to monitor, document and report on human rights violations. To date, the database includes over 200 cases of alleged human rights violations. One project grantee, the Center for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, investigated and documented over 46 cases of disappearances in the state of Guerrero and presently serves as the legal co-representative for many of the victims' families at the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes of the Past to obtain redress.
The project improved the capacity of human rights defenders as public watch-dogs by strengthening their techniques for building public constituencies for human rights in order to reduce the tolerance and incidence of human rights violations.
Bolivia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy. In December 2005 in a generally free and fair process, citizens elected Evo Morales Ayma, an indigenous politician and coca union leader, as president. Morales took office January 22. On July 2, citizens elected a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the country's constitution, and Morales' party won 137 of the 255 available assembly seats.
While the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were problems in some areas. The most significant human rights problems were abuses by security forces, including several deaths; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; threats to civil liberties, including the right to a fair and public trial, press and religious freedoms; corruption and a lack of transparency in government; discrimination based on gender and ethnicity; trafficking in persons; child labor; and brutal working conditions in the mining sector.
The United States' human rights and democracy strategy in the country focused on the promotion of democracy and political and social stability. The United States worked to ensure that government security forces respected human rights and cooperated with investigations and prosecutions of alleged human rights violations. The United States sought to increase citizen participation in democratic processes, trained future indigenous leaders, improved local government, and bolstered the judicial system and rule of law. The United States also promoted women's rights and assisted in combating corruption, child labor, and trafficking in persons.
To support democratic political processes, U.S. officials routinely highlighted the importance of democracy and rights-based practices during senior-level visits and in discussions with the government, members of civil society, and the press. Working through the Organization of American States and with other international partners, including Brazil, Argentina, and Spain, the United States sought to build international support for democratic institutions. Throughout the year the United States worked closely with key government institutions, including the Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Attorney General and other executive branch institutions; the judiciary; the congress; police authorities; and regional governments to increase effectiveness and transparency and enhance citizens' participation in decision-making.
U.S. activities sought to improve access to balanced information on issues of national importance, promote peaceful participation and economic opportunity in marginalized areas, and conduct civic education and leadership training in support of the country's emerging indigenous leadership. U.S. programs supported established democratic institutions and new bodies, such as the Constituent Assembly charged with writing a new constitution. U.S. efforts sponsored a network of 3,000 local volunteer election observers consisting primarily of local NGOs for the July Constituent Assembly election.
In all nine departments, the United States promoted dialogue among indigenous leaders and civil society at-large on matters of national interest, such as decentralization, the assembly, and economic reform. The U.S. programs sponsored hundreds of workshops on principles including democratic representation, tolerance, conflict resolution, and leadership, in which 60,000 persons participated. For example, in the largely indigenous city of El Alto, more than 1,200 youth leaders were trained in leadership and conflict management. U.S. funding enabled dissemination of approximately 145,000 booklets on other countries' constitutional conventions to raise citizen awareness of democratic principles.
In support of established democratic institutions, the United States provided training and technical assistance to improve their responsiveness to citizens' needs. The United States worked with a group of foreign donors to provide training for all members of congress on the functions of legislators, the structure of congress, and congressional procedures.
To support media freedom, the United States sponsored 15 workshops on freedom of the press and expression. Through a U.S. program sponsoring lectures and discussions focusing on responsible television journalism held in El Alto, La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Sucre, the country's journalists and journalism students discussed professional ethics, good reporting practices, and the media's role in a democracy. Radio workshops trained indigenous radio journalists from the Yungas, the Chapare, and the Altiplano in professional practices, journalistic ethics, and the public service role of journalism. Another series of workshops with at-risk indigenous youth produced public service radio spots that addressed topics such as democratic values, antidrug messages, health, and literacy.
U.S. funding also supported creation of radio news programs in Quechua, Aymara, and Guarani, the country's most common indigenous languages. These programs were sent out to 200 radio stations in remote areas throughout the country. During the year indigenous and civil society groups participated in workshops on democratic values and in a U.S. program to promote improvements in political access and responsible civic and political participation among rural and indigenous populations.
In the area of judicial reform and the rule of law, U.S. officials worked with a network of more than 100 local NGOs to strengthen civil society advocacy and oversight of the justice system reform process and to promote public awareness. The United States sponsored several visits by prominent U.S. academics who held workshops with civil society organizations on themes such as youth participation in democracy, respect for diversity, and developing consensus.
The United States continued to work closely with civil society to educate citizens about their rights under the reformed criminal justice procedures. The United States also supported the establishment of conflict mitigation and resolution systems in La Paz, Cochabamba, and Chuquisaca prefectures to enhance regional governments' capacity to manage conflicts.
The United States worked to expand access to justice services for the poor through continued support to Integrated Justice Centers in El Alto and the coca-growing regions of the Chapare and Yungas. These centers provided citizens with access to mediation and other legal services and established a positive government presence in areas where respect for the rule of law is fragile. During the year these centers resolved approximately 5,000 cases.
Underscoring the importance of protecting human rights, U.S. officials routinely raised human rights conditions in U.S. security assistance programs that trained the country's police and military personnel on topics such as internationally accepted principles of nonlethal crowd control and basic criminal investigation. To promote respect for the rights of women and minorities, the United States assisted the Women Legislators' Caucus to develop a gender-focused legislative agenda. The United States also provided training to indigenous representatives to help make them effective legislators. Through a U.S. program sponsoring visiting lecturers, a leading African-American academic gave several seminars on promoting tolerance, respect for diversity, and recognition of the country's Afro-Bolivian minority. As part of its outreach to the indigenous population, the United States sent two indigenous leaders to participate in International Visitors Leadership programs focusing on congressional elections and indigenous advancement. The United States also sent 15 indigenous leaders to participate in a four week U.S. studies and leadership training program.
In support of religious freedom, U.S. officials routinely emphasized to the government the need to respect the rights of religious organizations and private schools to adopt their own educational curricula.
The United States promoted respect for labor rights by funding a project to improve workplace safety and to encourage tripartite dialogue among workers, employers, and the government. The dialogue emphasized resolving child labor problems in the sugar cane industry. U.S. officials also traveled to the Chaco region and met with Guarani families who were living in indentured servitude. Additionally, a U.S. grant helped an NGO to complete a project to keep the children of Potosi miners in school and out of the mines; the grant ended in 2006.
To assist the government in combating trafficking in persons, the United States provided technical assistance for the government's January 10 antitrafficking law, which brought the country into compliance with relevant international conventions. The law specifically criminalizes trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution and provides for prison terms of four to 12 years when the victim is less than 14 years of age. In conjunction with the French government and international organizations, the United States sponsored a regional conference on trafficking in persons.
Colombia is a constitutional, multiparty democracy. On May 28, independent presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe was reelected in elections that were considered generally free and fair. Although serious problems remained, the government's respect for human rights continued to improve, which was particularly evident in actions undertaken by the government's security forces and in demobilization negotiations with one major paramilitary group. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were instances in which elements of the security forces acted in violation of state policy. The majority of human rights violations were committed by illegal armed groups. Violations included unlawful and extrajudicial killings and kidnappings, forced disappearances, torture, forced displacement, impunity, and harassment of human rights groups.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy for the country focused on strengthening democratic processes and institutions by enhancing oversight entities, supporting civil society organizations, providing short-term emergency humanitarian assistance, increasing access to the justice system, supporting peace initiatives, and protecting vulnerable populations.
The U.S. Government supported several efforts to strengthen the rule of law and the criminal justice system through the government's efforts to further implement a new accusatory justice system. The new system, which the government began implementing with U.S. assistance in January 2005, is expected to be enacted throughout the country by 2008. To date, U.S. assistance has trained more than 30,000 justice officials including prosecutors, judges, public defenders, police, and forensic experts. The U.S. Government trained approximately 11,000 judicial officials in the new system and monitored its implementation in certain regions. U.S. programs also helped major universities adjust their law school curricula to teach the new criminal procedure code and supported the judicial branch's efforts to phase in new public hearing courtrooms and administrative spaces. With U.S. financial support, the government has constructed 45 courtrooms since the inception of U.S. justice assistance programs. The United States provided the Judicial Police and Office of the Attorney General with advanced computer forensic training and equipment, including two state-of-the-art computer forensic labs. By year's end this program had trained 48 computer forensic investigators. Additionally, the multimillion dollar SIIES Case Management System project was turned over to the government, and the United States trained approximately 800 users on the system.
Other U.S.-funded rule of law programs continued strengthening the capacity of the Human Rights Unit of the Office of the Prosecutor General to investigate and prosecute human rights cases. These programs included training and technical assistance for prosecutors, investigators, and forensic scientists. The United States conducted the first forensic anthropology course for anthropologists who will work with the Human Rights Unit to identify victims from mass graves. The U.S. Government enhanced forensic laboratories in the areas of DNA use, ballistics and fingerprint identification, forensic imaging, and document analysis and installed a wireless network to improve interagency communication. Through this funding the Office of the Prosecutor General conducted major investigations and was able to bring charges for murder, assault, extortion, and drug trafficking against guerrilla and paramilitary criminal organizations.
To address concerns about human rights abuses, U.S. assistance provided security protection through the Ministry of Interior and Justice to approximately 1,581 persons under threat from terrorist groups. Threatened human rights workers, union leaders, journalists, former members of the Patriotic Union Party, ex-mayors, and ex-city council members benefited greatly from this program.
To promote respect for minority rights, the United States supported the IV Afro-Colombian Institutional Conference in which mayors of municipalities with large Afro-Colombian populations, represented by AMUNAFRO, developed common recommendations to improve their participation in national decision-making. As a result AMUNAFRO is serving as an important interlocutor for the government's Agency for Social Action (Accion Social) in attracting support for these municipalities. U.S. funding continued to support social organizations dedicated to promote and protect Afro-Colombian rights and interests and strengthen networks of Afro-Colombian women's organizations. At the institutional level, the United States also supported Afro-Colombian interests by providing technical assistance to the Ministry of the Interior and Justice's Afro-Colombian Office. The United States also funded the Martin Luther King Fellow's program, which provides English-language scholarships, educational advising, and leadership training to Afro-Colombian university undergraduates to prepare them for U.S. post-graduate educational opportunities.
In support of the demobilization process and reintegration of ex-combatants, the United States funded the legal processing and effective monitoring of ex-paramilitaries, as well as institutional strengthening of the government's reincorporation program and the Office of the Presidential Advisor for Reintegration. The U.S. Government expanded the tracking and monitoring database for individuals who demobilize, increased the number of Reference and Opportunity Centers to nine regional offices and three mobile units, and supported programs to promote the social and economic integration of adult ex-combatants. U.S. funding continued to support the Organization of American States' mission, which monitored the cease-fire and security conditions in regions with large demobilized populations.
The United States offered technical assistance to the National Reparation and Reconciliation Commission to identify and promote victims' participation in the reparation process and to manage asset claims. U.S. funding helped the Colombian Family Welfare Institute's efforts to reintegrate the more than 570 former child combatants who left illegal armed groups.
In support of elections, the United States sponsored training for political parties and voter education. U.S. technical assistance and training led to internal political party reforms designed to attract and include more underrepresented sectors of society, such as women, youth, and ethnic minorities.
The United States sponsored visitor programs for journalists to visit the United States to observe the role of the media in civil society and human rights in a democracy, as well as programs that provided training in investigative journalism. The United States also utilized Voice of America programming and Newsfiles, a 30-minute news summary broadcast into areas of conflict, to promote media freedom.
During the year the United States launched a radio/television program throughout the country encouraging citizens to protect human rights defenders. This program highlighted professionals and individuals at the greatest risk, including journalists, ombudsmen, religious and community leaders, and others who lead the country's fight for respect of core human rights. In addition, over 100 journalists received direct protection measures through the U.S.-supported Ministry of Interior and Justice's Protection program, in response to credible threats against their lives. The United States continued to financially support activities of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, including those related to freedom of the press such as protection of journalists and support for the country's journalist network. In an effort to reach threatened populations, the UN program included a civil society grants program to support media and press efforts in the human rights arena.
Through the International Organization for Migration (IOM), U.S. funding supported a temporary relocation program for 13 members of the judiciary and their families whose lives and safety were at risk. While temporarily relocated to another country, they were trained in human rights and administration of justice.
The U.S. Government helped to establish three additional Justice Houses, including a new regional justice house and satellite offices to better serve rural citizens in the Tolima area, raising the total number of Justice Houses to 44 at year's end. These one-stop legal assistance centers handled 1,096,276 cases during the year and have fielded more than 4.7 million requests since the program's inception in 1997. In general, these centers are established where there had previously been minimal government services. In addition, U.S. funding certified 389 dispute resolution experts during the year, bringing the total trained with U.S. Government support to 2,107.
The United States also aided efforts to improve the capacity of municipal governments by involving citizens in local decision-making, assisting local governments to manage resources more effectively and transparently. At year's end 25 citizen committees (assisted with U.S.-financed technical support and responsible for one or more projects) were overseeing 27 local infrastructure activities.
As in previous years U.S. funding for the Early Warning System operated under the auspices of the Office of the National Ombudsman, supporting 21 authorized regional Early Warning offices, whose main duty was to prevent massive human rights violations. By year's end the system issued 54 risk assessments and 20 alerts that helped prevent or mitigate human rights violations by providing local civilian and military authorities with recommendations to take preventive actions.
The United States supported a variety of international organizations and NGOs that provided social and economic assistance to meet the short- and long-term needs of displaced persons. Short-term assistance included food, temporary shelter, hygiene and household kits, psychological counseling, health care, and temporary employment. Long-term assistance focused on reintegration, including a program to return displaced persons to their original homes. Activities included income generation programs such as vocational training, job placement, seed grants, health care, shelter, access to education, and community infrastructure. By year's end the United States assisted 500,000 internally displaced persons through these programs.
To promote respect for the rights of displaced persons, the United States provided funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to promote the protection of displaced persons from violence; this included working with the government to improve its humanitarian response.
To address the serious problem of child labor, the United States funded basic educational services to children in the municipalities of Funza and Madrid to prevent children from entering the worst forms of child labor and withdraw others already involved. U.S. assistance supported funding a regional project through the International Labor Organization to prevent domestic labor and commercial sexual exploitation of children. The project prevented 293 children from entering child domestic labor, withdrew 186 children from child domestic labor, and saved 118 children from commercial sexual exploitation.
The United States also supported programs against trafficking in persons, working with the International Organization for Migration and local NGOs, such as Fundacion Esperanza, to improve call centers for victims' assistance and prevention and support public awareness campaigns. U.S. assistance helped fund a Web site with prevention and assistance information through Fundacion Esperanza. The United States additionally funded a program through the International Organization for Migration on law enforcement for trafficking violations, in order to create a specialized center to coordinate the work of the Counter Trafficking Task Forces of the Administrative Department of Security, the National Police, and the Criminal Prosecution Office.
Cuba is a totalitarian state led by an acting president, General Raul Castro. Citizens do not have the right to change their government and therefore could not challenge the July 31 announcement that Fidel Castro "was "delegating" authority to his brother.
The government's human rights record remained poor, and the government continued to commit numerous, serious abuses. There were at least 283 political prisoners and detainees at year's end. Thousands of citizens served sentences for "dangerousness," in the absence of any criminal activity. Beatings and abuse of detainees and prisoners, including human rights activists, were carried out with impunity; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions included denial of medical care. The government retaliated against those who sought peaceful political change through frequent harassment, beatings, and threats against political opponents by government-recruited mobs, police, and state security officials; frequent arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights advocates and members of independent professional organizations; denial of fair trial, particularly to political prisoners; and interference with privacy, such as pervasive monitoring of private communications, including use of the Internet. There were also severe limitations on freedom of speech and press; denial of peaceful assembly and association; restrictions on freedom of movement, including selective denial of exit permits to thousands of citizens; and refusal to recognize domestic human rights groups or permit them to function legally. Sex tourism, discrimination against persons of African descent, and severe restrictions on worker rights, including the right to strike or form independent unions, were also problems.
The priorities of the U.S. Government are to hasten a transition to democracy, to break the government's information blockade, and to call international attention to the chronic human rights problems on the island. Given that the regime tolerates no attempt at political reform, significant human rights improvements or movement toward an open society and democratic political processes are extremely difficult to achieve under current conditions. Nevertheless, on July 10, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba released its second report, with recommendations for accelerating a peaceful democratic transition in the country and coordinating U.S. support for a free and democratic government. The report's recommended actions are intended to empower Cuba's civil society, give its citizens access to information, and deny revenue to the Castro regime. Also on July 10, President Bush announced his approval of the "Compact with the People of Cuba," which outlines how the United States will support the country's citizens, if they ask for U.S. assistance, in their transition from the Castro regime to freedom and democracy. To support a democratic transition government, the compact pledges, among other things, to help rebuild the shattered economy and to provide emergency food, water, fuel, and medical equipment throughout the country.
During the year U.S. officials in Havana also worked with like-minded diplomatic colleagues to support pro-democracy advocates. This cooperation included collaborating with these other diplomats on outreach activities, such as providing dissidents with a secure venue where they could hold uncensored discussions without fear of being arrested. Cooperation also included the sharing of press clips and other information about developments throughout the country via the Internet. The United States also issued high-level public statements about the country's very poor record of respect for democracy and human rights and encouraged other governments to do the same.
U.S. officials in the country informed citizens about democracy, fundamental rights, and a multiparty system by holding dozens of workshops, briefings, videoconferences, and teleconferences; interacting extensively with human rights activists and prodemocracy advocates; distributing large numbers of publications; providing support and training for independent journalists and librarians; observing rare public demonstrations; and conducting outreach to civil society.
To address government restrictions on free speech and freedom of the press, U.S. officials in the country provided two free Internet centers in a secure location, which represented the country's largest Internet cafe and featured 23 computers serving approximately 200 visitors per week. These centers were key tools for U.S. efforts to promote media freedom. Human rights activists could use the Internet to expose human rights abuses to an international audience. Through these centers, independent journalists were able to have their articles published overseas. U.S. officials also held more than a dozen press workshops to improve the professionalism of independent journalists and continued to operate the country's only electronic news billboard, featuring news headlines and other materials, including passages from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
To break the government's stranglehold on public discourse and promote freedom of speech, U.S. officials in Havana continued to increase citizen access to information about events inside and outside the country. During the year the United States distributed 287,931 books, articles, and pamphlets. U.S. officials also distributed several thousand short-wave radios, which enabled citizens to obtain information from the BBC, Radio Prague, or Miami-based stations, including Radio Marti. Over the past four years more than 133,000 citizens who have entered the U.S. diplomatic facilities were able to view the Spanish-language version of Cable News Network, read and take home press clips and other informative materials, and learn about their government's incarceration of citizens who sought peaceful change. U.S. programs also supported approximately 300 independent libraries throughout the country. The United States also delivered books, articles, pamphlets, and other reading and electronic materials, including DVDs, to these libraries. U.S. officials in the country made follow-up visits to ensure that the materials were in fact being offered to the public, as intended. U.S. officials also held training sessions to enhance the professionalism of independent librarians, thereby allowing them to provide citizens with wider access to information than would otherwise be available.
The United States supported the country's NGOs and other members of independent civil society in numerous ways. U.S. officials met frequently with activists and with relatives of incarcerated political prisoners, providing moral and limited material support, gathering and reporting information, and relaying important messages to U.S. officials in Washington. This interaction helped the United States inform and empower prodemocracy groups, opposition parties, labor unions, independent library networks, youth organizations, independent press agencies, groups working for the release of political prisoners, and other grass-roots organizations, allowing them to work for democratic change. On November 24, U.S. officials helped three opposition youth groups hold an unprecedented forum that brought together 64 young activists, two of them from Mexico. On December 10, when government officials and their militant supporters attacked 12 activists who were carrying out a silent march to mark International Human Rights Day, U.S. officials witnessed and documented the attack, to remind the activists and the regime of U.S. concern. On the same day, Chief of Mission Michael E. Parmly met with leading dissidents and relatives of political prisoners.
To increase the flow of accurate information concerning democracy and human rights to, from, and within the country, the U.S. Government also provided grants to U.S. universities and NGOs to undertake direct outreach to citizens in the country. These outreach efforts helped build solidarity with democracy and human rights defenders in the country. U.S. officials in the country also provided briefings and arranged other events to help visiting groups of U.S. university students understand the human rights situation on the island, thus countering disinformation and contributing to heightened awareness among Americans regarding human rights violations in the country.
The United States used venues such as workshops, briefings, teleconferences, and videoconferences for citizens to share ideas about the rule of law, judicial independence, and key political and economic freedoms. On October 23, a video-link connected human rights defenders in the country with civil rights campaigners in Mississippi to celebrate the life of Rosa Parks and discuss life at present for citizens on the island. On December 8, a videoconference enabled economists in the country to interact with experts from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and InterAmerican Development Bank to discuss possible roles for these organizations in helping the country transition to a market economy. This helped familiarize the Cuban economists with the critical role that international financial institutions can play in countries transitioning to democracy and how these institutions' work in other countries has helped promote economic freedom. U.S. officials in the country also focused on women's rights, press freedom, youth activism, and cultural ties. U.S. officials held teleconferences to connect human rights groups in the country with their counterparts overseas. On May 24, a conference call enabled some of the country's human rights defenders to exchange views on promoting democracy and human rights with the "Group of Friends for a Democratic Cuba," an alliance of U.S. lawmakers, European diplomats in Washington, and prominent members of the Cuban exile community. U.S. officials in the country also regularly distributed copies of the U.S. Constitution to prodemocracy advocates and lawyers in the country who were interested in rewriting the country's constitution during a transition period.
U.S. officials in the country monitored the cases of hundreds of political prisoners and met frequently with their families and organizations. U.S. officials helped deliver medicines to sick political prisoners and met frequently with individuals who had been harassed, attacked or detained in connection with their prodemocracy activities, including a man and his wife who were assaulted in October by government-supported militants after attending a peaceful discussion on human rights. U.S. officials kept in contact with high-profile dissidents, such as hunger-striking journalist Guillermo Farinas, and with youth activists, members of religious organizations, the "Ladies in White," and others. U.S. officials in the country frequently invited human rights activists and relatives of imprisoned activists to representational events to underscore their legitimate place in the country's civil society.
The U.S. Government continued to deny visas to those implicated in human rights violations, including those involved in the show trials of the 75 activists jailed in March 2003. Membership in a totalitarian party was also taken into consideration in visa denial decisions, in accordance with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act.
The United States continued to operate an in-country refugee processing program in Havana to provide relief to those suffering from persecution or a well-founded fear thereof. More than 6,000 individuals were approved for refugee status during the year. Under the U.S.-Cuba Migration Accords, the country's government pledged not to retaliate against any citizen returned to the island after attempting an illegal voyage to the United States. To verify compliance, U.S. officials conducted interviews in the Havana homes of returned "rafters" and gathered information on job dismissals, harassment by the government's state security institutions, and other reprisals. To help protect repatriated rafters, U.S. officials informed all such individuals of their rights under the Migration Accords.
To promote religious freedom, U.S. officials engaged a broad range of religious leaders in discourse and on many occasions invited them to representational events. During the year the U.S. Government continued to issue travel licenses to U.S.-based religious representatives whose work in the country promoted religious freedom.
U.S. officials promoted respect for labor rights in the country through frequent meetings with labor activists and the families and organizations of labor activists imprisoned on political grounds. To demonstrate that the United States regards labor rights as very important and supports worker rights, in May a U.S. official attended an inaugural labor-rights training session. The United States also provided limited material support and information to labor activists to increase awareness of fundamental labor rights and international labor laws.
Ecuador is a constitutional republic. In November Rafael Correa was declared the winner of presidential elections that the Organization of American States (OAS) considered generally free and fair, and assumed office on January 15, 2007. While the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there continued to be serious problems in the following areas: isolated unlawful killings and use of excessive force by security forces; occasional torture, abuse, and killing of suspects and prisoners by security forces, sometimes with impunity; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; a high number of pretrial detainees; and corruption and denial of due process within the judicial system. Members of the National Police were accused of murder, attempted murder, rape, extortion, kidnappings, and alien smuggling. Societal problems continued, such as violence against women; discrimination against women, indigenous people, Afro-Ecuadorians, and homosexuals; trafficking in persons and sexual exploitation of minors; and child labor.
The U.S. strategy in the country for supporting democracy and human rights focused on election support, strengthening the judicial system and the rule of law, promoting human rights education, assisting Colombian refugees, and combating child labor and trafficking in persons.
To support democratic political processes for ensuring free and fair elections, the United States contributed to election-support programs for the October and November rounds of the presidential elections. This funding provided technical assistance to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to design and develop a training program for election officials and to design a special national plan for voters with disabilities. The plan called for the collection of data to assess physical conditions for persons with disabilities at polling stations and recommend improvements and the production of materials to encourage persons with disabilities to vote.
The U.S. Government also financially supported and participated in the OAS election observation mission, providing 35 observers for the first round of presidential elections on October 15, and 19 observers for the second round of elections on November 26. In addition, the U.S. Government funded election observation efforts by local civil society organizations. With U.S. support, these groups developed a national public awareness campaign to promote informed voting, monitor campaign spending by the candidates, conduct a national survey on satisfaction with the electoral process, and establish an electronic news system linked to major international media outlets. The U.S. Government also funded election observation by indigenous groups who fielded 186 observers covering 524 voting stations in six provinces where most indigenous people lived.
Throughout the year the ambassador and other U.S. officials publicly advocated for respect for the integrity of government institutions and constitutional processes. The U.S. Government also began a program that assisted political parties in the national parliament, which focused on strengthening political parties and the responsiveness of individual parliamentarians toward their constituencies.
The United States also funded a program that worked with local Afro-Ecuadorian organizations to provide political leadership training, increase voter participation, promote dialogue with political parties, monitor the participation of Afro-Ecuadorians in elections, especially women, and increase awareness of Afro-Ecuadorians among the general population.
To promote media freedom during the year, the United States supported professional development by funding the participation of 63 journalists in three training seminars in the United States as well as specialized training in the country. The U.S. Government also trained three journalists in professional journalism standards through the International Visitors Leadership Program, and hundreds at local seminars, and through free research support to investigative journalists through a U.S. Government information resource center in the country.
To support respect for the rule of law, the United States funded 30 training events that were attended by 700 officials from public and civil society organizations, including reporters on public defense, human rights, and other topics related to criminal justice. U.S. programs also trained 30 lawyers to promote more effective application of criminal procedure laws. By year's end these 30 lawyers trained an additional 320 members of the country's bar associations on criminal procedure and related rule-of-law topics. A U.S.-funded program provided training in conflict resolution to indigenous human rights ombudsmen and bilingual education supervisors throughout the country.
To help contain and reverse inefficiency and corruption in the judicial system, the U.S. Government funded a thorough evaluation of the application of the criminal procedures code in three major cities. The report revealed major bottlenecks that undermined the operation of the criminal justice system. As a result of this evaluation, judicial institutions took important and immediate administrative actions, including a decision by the National Judicial Council to assign a judicial official to coordinate the scheduling of pre-trial and trial hearings in the city of Guayaquil. The United States continued to support due process through legal defense services by improving the capacity of legal defense clinics to provide adequate legal defense for indigent persons and to track cases of persons assigned to the legal defense service more effectively. As a result of this program, during the year 1,766 indigent persons from vulnerable groups received legal defense services, and another 1,539 were provided legal counsel in eight cities throughout the country.
To advance good governance, the U.S. Government sponsored visitors to the United States to learn about transparency, good governance, human rights in a democracy, combating corruption and trafficking in persons, and the role of the media in a democracy.
The United States also expanded its program to increase effectiveness and transparency in government, working with 64 local governments and four additional provinces. U.S. funding facilitated the consolidation of citizen participation processes in 934 local governments, and citizen oversight mechanisms monitored service improvements in 36 local governments. The program also assisted with the development of legal proposals to decentralize the government. Eight municipalities issued ordinances reorganizing management systems to permit the assumption of newly transferred responsibilities and to increase local revenues. In addition, 30 parish (district) governments were trained in public management.
A national justice sector NGO network, established with U.S. Government support, continued to play an important oversight role regarding judicial performance. U.S. funding also helped establish four new local citizen oversight groups to measure the quality of administration of justice in the cities of Ibarra, Manta, Azogues, and Guayaquil. Universities, NGOs, community-based organizations, and other civil society groups participated in the establishment of these groups.
Throughout the year the United States funded a number of programs to support civil society and NGOs. One of these programs supported civil society efforts to facilitate discussion, dissemination, and increased public awareness about the need for a public defender law. The U.S. Government also funded the implementation of seven civil society grants for antitrafficking, legal defense, and human rights, including the establishment of an Afro-Ecuadorian network of human rights defenders. During the year this program developed a comprehensive selection process that identified 40 Afro-Ecuadorian leaders from nine provinces who received training in proper and legal processing of human rights complaints, alternative dispute resolution methods, communication skills, and leadership techniques.
The U.S. Government expanded its outreach to religious groups, including the Catholic Church and indigenous and other evangelical associations, to promote religious tolerance and freedom.
To address concerns about human rights abuses, the United States continued to fund human rights training for military personnel selected for U.S. military exercise and operational training. To promote respect for the rights of refugees, the United States provided funding to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the American Red Cross, and the Pan American Health Organization to support refugee centers and provide infrastructure, such as potable water, and public health projects for approximately 7,500 Colombians seeking refugee status in the country.
To support the government's efforts to combat child labor, the United States funded three major programs during the year. These programs focused on indigenous children at risk of engaging in the worst forms of child labor, meeting the educational needs of child laborers, combating child labor in the agricultural and construction sectors, and combating the exploitation of minors in the commercial sex industry.
To promote general respect for labor rights in the country, the United States made diplomatic efforts to strengthen labor laws and practices, including reform of the labor code to ensure the right of association without fear of retribution.
To assist the government to address the serious problem of trafficking in persons, the U.S. Government helped support an antitrafficking strategy that was signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in July. Specifically, the U.S. Government provided the Ecuadorian Inter-Institutional Committee technical assistance and training, and supported the promotion of the regional antitrafficking awareness campaigns. Additionally, the United States supported national police efforts specifically targeting trafficking in persons. The United States also conducted several programs that increased awareness about trafficking, including providing a grant to the NGO Friends for Life, which trained 96 teachers and 3,000 children in six schools in Quito on the dangers of human trafficking. The trainers employed storytelling, puppet shows, and skits to convey the difficult topic of trafficking to children. The training program was accompanied by an art contest in June for which students submitted drawings and other works that portrayed the dangers of trafficking.
Guatemala is a democratic, multiparty republic. In 2003 national elections, generally considered by international observers to be free and fair, Oscar Berger of the Grand National Alliance coalition won a four-year term, which began in January 2004.
Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, serious problems remained. Human rights and societal problems included the government's failure to investigate effectively and punish unlawful killings committed by members of the security forces; widespread societal violence, including numerous killings; corruption and substantial inadequacies in the police and judicial sectors; police involvement in kidnappings; impunity for criminal activity; harsh and dangerous prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; failure of the judicial system to ensure full and timely investigation or fair trials; failure to protect judicial sector officials, witnesses, and civil society organizations from intimidation; discrimination and violence against women; discrimination and violence against gay, transvestite, and transgender persons; trafficking in persons; ethnic discrimination; and ineffective enforcement of labor laws, including child labor provisions.
The U.S. strategy for promoting human rights and democracy in the country focused on helping the government strengthen its democratic institutions while encouraging transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. U.S. Government efforts supported the training of police to better protect society and respect human rights, and the strengthening of civil society's capacity to partner with the government to consolidate democracy.
One of the challenges to the country's democratic system is low citizen participation in the political process. The United States, together with several other donors, implemented a project through the Organization of American States to help the country's Supreme Electoral Tribunal implement new reforms for the Electoral Law. Those reforms included decentralizing poll centers for the 2007 general elections to encourage broader citizen participation. The project also supported civil society initiatives to monitor the electoral process. The United States expanded its Decentralization and Local Government Program, primarily in the Hurricane Stan-affected San Marcos area bordering Mexico, to strengthen decentralization, citizen participation, and transparency in local governance in 29 municipalities and municipal associations. This program assisted local governments in citizen participation, leadership, conflict resolution, and participatory planning, with particular emphasis on including women and indigenous communities. The program also strengthened local government associations and promoted national policy reforms in favor of decentralization.
Although the government generally respected freedom of speech and press, in practice the press has not always enjoyed a productive working relationship with government institutions, particularly the National Civilian Police. The United States continued to provide training to the country's print and broadcast media to improve relations. The United States also sponsored for radio journalists a three-day course on interview techniques and news transmission.
The United States supported training for 969 law enforcement officials at the National Civilian Police Academy, including 86 police personnel specifically trained in crime scene management. This U.S.-funded training included crime scene protection, evidence gathering, preservation of evidence, and the proper chain of custody. The United States worked with the government to develop human rights courses that became mandatory components of all basic police training, supervisory training, and specialized courses for police officials. U.S. programs also funded a consultant at the National Civilian Police Academy to continue developing a training curriculum that included a human rights component. In addition, 423 counternarcotics police officers each received approximately 24 hours of U.S.-funded human rights training at the Central American School for Canine Training in Los Pinos.
The country has a strong and diverse civil society that played an important role as watchdog and advocate for supporting respect for human rights and democratic principles. During the year U.S. Ambassador Derham and other representatives of the U.S. Government met frequently with journalists, human rights defenders, NGOs concerned with violence against women, representatives of indigenous communities, labor leaders, and other members of civil society to express publicly support for their work. U.S. officials continued to urge the government to investigate adequately threats and attacks against human rights defenders and other civil society leaders and to provide security protection for persons whose lives were threatened.
As in previous years, several NGOs reported burglaries of their offices and expressed concerns that those committing these acts were seeking sensitive information about human rights and democracy promotion activities. U.S. officials met regularly with civil society representatives and encouraged the government to devote adequate resources and personnel to carry out thorough investigations of these reported incidents.
The United States endorsed government efforts for the UN to deploy a team of investigators and prosecutors to help dismantle criminal organizations. The government and the UN signed an agreement in December to establish the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. If the congress ratifies the agreement, the UN-led commission would operate under the Public Ministry's prosecution authority and focus on criminal organizations that have penetrated state institutions.
A serious threat to democracy in the country is its weak judicial system. The United States provided substantial material and technical assistance to continue building the capacity of justice sector institutions and to consolidate reforms initiated under the Peace Accords of 1996. In an effort to improve prosecution of serious crimes, the United States provided technical assistance in implementing improved pretrial procedures and case management. The most notable example was the design and implementation of a 24-hour criminal court in Guatemala City. The program dramatically improved adherence to due process by reducing instances of arbitrary detention and enabling prosecutors and defense lawyers to take immediate action in cases. It provided technical assistance, refurbished offices, and facilitated dialogue among the Supreme Court, the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Director of Public Defense, and the Ministry of Interior to improve the criminal courts' quality of service. The program also helped redesign the organization of the Office of the Prosecutor against Homicide to implement methodologies for case organization, monitoring, and supervision.
In October the government ratified the UN Convention on Anti-Corruption. Since January 2005, U.S. programs had provided technical assistance to the government and civil society to develop a national anticorruption agenda as a means to support the government's implementation of the convention. In November the United States provided technical and financial support to the government and a local NGO to host Transparency International's 12th International Anti-Corruption Conference and to implement an executive decree on freedom of information. To increase the capacity of the National Civil Police to investigate police officers implicated in crime or corruption, the U.S. Government assisted the new Inspectorate General in defining its mandate, structure, and operational guidelines to oversee the Office of Professional Responsibility. The United States supported government efforts to pass anticrime legislation, including a law against organized crime that became effective in August. It designates as new crimes conspiracy and obstruction of justice and provides for the first time in the country the use of plea bargaining.
U.S. programs provided material support and training to the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights and the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Women, Children, and Victims of Trafficking in Persons. As in previous years the United States also continued to assist the government's Public Defense Institute to monitor adherence to due process standards by security, investigative, and prosecutorial authorities.
In May the government's Office for the Coordination of Modernization of the Justice Sector absorbed a network of 15 Justice Centers. For several years the United States had been funding these centers as a means for modernizing and streamlining judicial processes and bringing them within reach of more citizens. The notable success of the network produced a multiplier effect through promoting local initiatives, such as a shelter for domestic violence victims, a legal aid office at the University of San Carlos for noncriminal cases, and improvements in administrative services provided by other justice sector institutions. By year's end all of the Justice Centers were integrated into a national system to promote access to justice and coordination of justice sector institutions.
Unresolved issues arising out of the country's 1960-96 internal armed conflict continued to undermine respect for human rights and the rule of law. Many victims of political crimes and human rights abuses remained missing while alleged perpetrators continued to enjoy impunity. To support respect for human rights, the United States funded a project that collected testimony and other evidence related to past human rights abuses and that established a working group among civil society groups and government institutions to develop and prosecute cases related to killings and other human rights abuses committed during the conflict. The project aimed to overcome institutional obstacles to prosecution that permitted impunity and established the groundwork for future prosecutions in other human rights cases.
By year's end the Forensic Anthropological Foundation of Guatemala had undertaken ground-breaking forensic work regarding persons killed during the armed conflict at 147 sites, primarily in the Western Highlands. The U.S. Government-funded foundation conducted approximately 90 percent of all exhumations during the year. U.S. officials witnessed a number of these exhumations. Ambassador Derham visited the laboratories of the foundation to demonstrate support for its forensic workers and the families of victims killed during the armed conflict. The National Reparations Program, created as a result of a three-year human rights project sponsored by the United States, continued making reparation payments to civilian victims of the internal conflict.
As a result of U.S. technical assistance and dialogue with the Ministry of Defense to incorporate human rights training into its curriculum, during the year 12,066 military personnel received formal training in human rights. All military personnel are required to receive human rights training as a standard part of the curriculum in all of the country's military schools.
Historically, women and indigenous persons have been largely excluded from positions of influence in politics and business. To encourage greater representation, the United States actively recruited women and indigenous persons to participate in its International Visitors Leadership and Fulbright Programs. Beneficiaries of these efforts included an indigenous woman in the Huehuetenango Office of Municipal Planning who participated in the Voluntary Visitors Program for Provincial Mayors, and another indigenous woman in the president's office who attended the Vital Voices Women's Leadership Summit for Latin America.
Land conflicts, one of the sources of broader political conflict in the past, remained a serious problem in Alta Verapaz. As in the previous year U.S. programs funded a local NGO to mediate land conflicts and introduce its methodology for mediation to local authorities. U.S. funding also continued to provide training to Public Ministry staff in women's rights, to launch a public awareness campaign in several indigenous languages, and to develop a graduate certificate program for justice sector professionals, indigenous women, and civil society advocates.
The United States focused on building the capacity of government institutions to combat child labor and trafficking in persons. Through December the United States funded projects to improve labor law compliance and reduce the incidence of child labor. Through these projects, the United States supported the efforts of the Ministry of Labor and NGOs to train labor inspectors, educate employers and workers about their rights and responsibilities, and provide educational opportunities to children who would otherwise be forced to work.
The United States also continued to fund antitrafficking efforts. In June U.S. programs awarded an 18-month grant to a local NGO to undertake a project focusing on trafficking victims. The project sought to rescue sexually exploited minors and prevent minors from engaging in prostitution by expanding shelter, mental and physical healthcare, and legal assistance for trafficking victims. The project focused on enhancing the institutional capacity of law enforcement officials to identify trafficking cases, build stronger cases for prosecution, and create stronger linkages with civil society. It complemented a similar program on the Mexican side of the border under a U.S. antitrafficking initiative.
Haiti is a republic with a constitution that calls for an elected president and a bicameral legislature. After two years of an interim government, relatively peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections took place on February 7 and April 21. Local elections were held on December 3. In the national election voters elected Rene Preval as President and filled 129 parliamentary seats. President Preval and the new parliament took office on May 14.
Despite improvements in the democratic process, the government's human rights record remained poor. The state no longer perpetrates or supports acts of political violence, but the following human rights problems were reported: occasional extrajudicial killings by members of the Haitian National Police acting outside their official capacity; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; occasional arbitrary arrests; prolonged pretrial detention; judicial backlog and a judiciary subject to significant influence by the executive and legislative branches; severe corruption in all branches of government; failure to enforce trade union organizing rights; ineffective measures to prevent violence and societal discrimination against women; child abuse, internal trafficking of children, and child domestic labor; ineffective measures to address killings by members of gangs and other armed groups; and kidnapping, torture, and cruel treatment by gang members and criminals.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in the country focused on providing stability and assisting in the reconstruction of democratic processes, including respect for the rule of law. These efforts included securing peaceful national and local elections, reforming the criminal justice system, supporting good governance, assisting human rights organizations, and supporting reconciliation, reconstruction, and social reintegration efforts.
The United States sponsored an initiative through the UN Development Program to provide political parties access to office equipment, media advertising, and transportation to remote areas. This assistance was given to political parties that agreed to adhere to democratic practices by signing a governability pact. U.S. officials also trained political party staff on developing sound policies and adequately managing their internal affairs.
A U.S. program trained 8,000 party representatives to better represent their constituencies from within government and as members of a peaceful opposition. The United States also supported an elections monitoring program that helped oversee the entire electoral process. By the end of the year the program had trained 1,529 poll watcher trainers from approximately 26 political parties and 144 party monitors. With U.S. funding, the Organization of American States helped more than 3.5 million citizens register to vote. An estimated 63 percent of registered voters participated in the elections
In January, before the first round of the presidential elections, the United States sponsored the last of a series of presidential debates among the candidates which was aired widely throughout the country. The United States also continued a successful civic education program and funded seminars, as well as a project that worked with local associations, teachers, and youth on the principles and practices of good governance.
The United States sponsored a program implemented through the
UN Office for Project Services to strengthen the external communication capacity of the country's electoral council during the electoral cycle. The UN office provided assistance for the electoral council to establish a press center within the premises, including a media workspace and a fully equipped press conference room. The project fostered improved relations between the electoral council and the media and facilitated news coverage of the elections.
During the year a U.S. program provided technical assistance, equipment, and human rights training to recruits for the national police. A contingent of 50 U.S. civilian police assigned to the UN Mission to Haiti assisted with this program and others to improve security and respect for human rights. Another U.S. program continued the long-term process of improving justice sector functioning, including analysis of the causes of judicial incapacity, delay, and irregular detention. The program helped develop approaches to create an independent judiciary, improve case management; institute control and oversight of justice operations; train judges, clerks and prosecutors; raise the quality of legal education; and reduce excessive pretrial detention.
To strengthen parliamentary activities, the United States initiated a comprehensive institutional strengthening effort with the newly elected parliament, successfully negotiating for the creation of a bicameral commission to provide strategic direction and oversight for the three-year project. The bi-partisan committee developed a long-term plan for improved parliamentary functioning. To promote establishment of decentralized government bodies to meet the country's constitutional requirements, in December the United States contributed funds for the administration of local and municipal elections.
U.S. funding produced two documentaries to raise awareness of issues that impact human rights and democracy. One documentary examined growing socioeconomic polarization and insecurity and how they affected persons in all walks of life. The second documentary brought together representatives from civil society to discuss priorities for the newly elected government and to provide guidance on fostering national reconciliation. Both documentaries were broadcast on seven television stations twice a week during the period of July and August 2006. They were also broadcast in the provinces during the same period.
To support media freedom in the country, a U.S. program provided election coverage training for journalists and operators of a network of 40 community radio stations. In addition, seven U.S. training programs, which included components on advocating for greater press freedom, helped journalists improve reporting on the electoral process to provide better information to potential voters. U.S. funding also sponsored an election soap opera that relied heavily on the country's oral storytelling tradition that was broadcast by 40 community radio stations and 12 private radio stations.
During the year a U.S. program sponsored a seminar on ethics in journalism and communication tools for press attaches and journalists. The ambassador's commentary for World Press Freedom Day was published in two newspapers in October, Le Nouvelliste and Le Matin, and other weekly publications. The op-ed piece recognized the country's press corps for their role in furthering democracy. The commentary also noted the sacrifices that the journalists had made, persecuted at the hands of the government and the gangs. U.S. funding also enabled 12 journalists to participate in a Fulbright program on journalism and media freedom in the United States.
To support and strengthen civil society and civic education, a U.S. program created the Civic Forum initiative to provide citizens with knowledge, skills, and encouragement to participate in democratic processes and engage their local officials in areas of common concern. Through this initiative, citizens formed local committees to propose solutions that relied on local resources and increased community participation. By year's end 47 new local Civic Initiative Committees were created to implement numerous improvement initiatives including small gardens, reforestation, sanitation, ravine conservation, road rehabilitation, and provision of potable water.
The U.S. also supported programs to reduce corruption including training to strengthen the management capacity and financial systems in key government entities, including the Ministry of Finance, the Superior Court of Accounts, the Commission for Adjudication of Public Contracts, and the Tax Service. U.S. assistance increased government accountability and transparency through a newly integrated financial management system that tracked and monitored government expenditures and financial operations.
To promote respect for human rights, a U.S. program provided grants and training for local organizations that offered medical and psychological assistance to 500 victims of gang violence. The program provided civil society groups with grants to conduct training on human rights principles, with the result that approximately 50 organizations received direct training to join an assistance network of human rights groups, hospitals, and grassroots associations that supported local communities.
In December, U.S. funding sponsored an essay contest for youth to commemorate the 58th annual International Human Rights Day. Through this funding, 11 students received certificates for their winning submissions on human rights and nonviolence.
To support the government's efforts to combat the serious problem of internal and external trafficking of children for domestic labor (restaveks), during the year U.S.-funded programs supported a publicity campaign to raise awareness about child slavery, provided services to victims, and coordinated efforts for legislative reform. U.S. funding also provided antitrafficking training for representatives of the Ministries of Justice, Social Affairs, Interior, Education, and Foreign Affairs. The program also briefed members of parliament on trafficking and human rights treaties and trained parliamentary candidates on trafficking issues. The U.S.-supported program provided trafficked children with food, school fees, medical aid, transportation, informal education, shelter, and their return to region of origin. It also repatriated minors trafficked into the Dominican Republic. By year's end the program had provided direct and indirect assistance to approximately 800 children.
Honduras is a constitutional democracy with a multiparty system. In the November 2005 national elections, considered by international and domestic observers to be generally free and fair, voters elected as president Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales of the Liberal Party. Despite some positive steps, government corruption, impunity for violators of the law, and virulent gang violence exacerbated serious human rights problems. The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings by members of the police, arbitrary and summary executions committed by vigilantes and former members of the security forces, the disappearance of a former dissident, beatings and other abuse of detainees by security forces, harsh prison conditions, failure to provide due process of law, lengthy pretrial detention, political interference in the judicial system, judicial corruption and institutional weakness, illegal searches, erosion of press freedom, violence and discrimination against women, child prostitution and abuse, trafficking in persons, discrimination against indigenous people, discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation, ineffective enforcement of labor laws, and child labor.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in the country focused on continuing to support democratic political processes and the need to improve human rights conditions, particularly in the areas of the rule of law and combating trafficking in persons.
Ambassador Charles A. Ford and other U.S. officials worked closely with the country's government institutions, NGOs, labor unions, and other organizations to discuss areas of particular concern related to human rights and democracy and to encourage reforms. The U.S. Government sent nine civil society leaders and government officials to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program where they attended workshops on topics including the administration of justice, the rule of law, anticorruption, civil society, supporting democratic institutions, and journalism.
The U.S. Government's funding to the Civic Movement for Democracy, a broad coalition of civil society organizations, including the Honduran Federation of NGOs and the Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches, continued to benefit these organizations' efforts during the year to promote electoral reforms. As a result of U.S. assistance, this coalition of civil society organizations and the Organization of American States met with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Congressional Electoral Commission to discuss electoral reforms. At year's end the civil society coalition presented electoral reform recommendations to this congressional commission. Also, the United States funded civil society organizations to address additional electoral reforms such as campaign finance and the selection of polling site workers.
As in the previous year, the United States promoted democracy through supporting the evolution of transparent and accountable democratic institutions at the local level. The United States provided funds for municipal development efforts to promote decentralization, strengthen governance through increased citizen participation in decision making, and improve management of basic municipal services such as water, refuse collection, and secondary road maintenance in 31 municipalities.
Although the constitution and law generally provide for freedom of speech and of the press, there were concerns regarding media independence, with some journalists acknowledging self-censorship when their reporting could challenge the political or economic interests of media owners. To address media freedom problems, U.S. officials met with all the major media to listen to their concerns and express support for an independent media. Under the International Visitor Leadership Program, the U.S. Government sent one of the country's journalists to the United States to participate in a conference on the role of the media in U.S. society.
U.S. efforts continued to support the Strengthened Rule of Law Program. In its fourth year of implementation, this program continued to promote adherence to the country's criminal procedure code, including the holding of 6,824 oral trials throughout the country resulting in 951 convictions. The code provides nontrial case resolution procedures similar to plea-bargaining and dispute resolution through conciliation. The United States also provided technical assistance to the government to draft a new civil procedure code, which was to be approved by the country's congress in January 2007. This new code would modernize registration procedures for commercial and private transactions, including land tenure and inheritances.
Throughout the year U.S. programs also supported efforts by the country's Supreme Court to clear backlogged cases. By the end of the year, the court had cleared all 256,713 backlogged cases. U.S.-funded programs also helped develop an internal operations manual for uniform procedures in order to clear cases more efficiently and transparently. The manual also regulates potential abuses by court officials and thereby promotes accountability.
The United States also provided technical assistance to the government to draft a new organic law that would modernize the country's police force. The new law would help combat internal corruption through drug and polygraph testing; it would also help enforcement through enhanced authorization regarding wire-tapping and undercover operations.
With U.S. support, the Honduran Federation of NGOs promoted broader and more effective civil society participation in justice sector reforms and in exercising oversight of public policy processes. For example, through U.S. assistance the federation of NGOs participated in a consultative council, which was vital to the distribution of poverty reduction strategy funds. Members of the federation worked on electoral and legal reforms, including the civil procedure code and transparency law. The federation also was an active member of the National Anti-Corruption Council, which led several coalitions for legal and electoral reforms and other democratic processes.
To strengthen the country's fight against corruption, the United States provided funds to increase transparency and combat corruption. U.S.-funded programs offered technical assistance to draft a new transparency law that was passed by the congress on December 30, and was to take effect in January 2007. The new law would enable citizens to access information regarding government operations and decisions. The United States also gave financial support to improve the government's capacity to conduct audits, strengthening independent national and local anticorruption institutions, and support civil society social auditing efforts for oversight and monitoring of the use of public funds. U.S. officials in the country encouraged the government and the Office of the Attorney General to pursue vigorously cases that involved corruption by officials. The United States revoked the U.S. visa of a former president who had allegedly engaged in corrupt activities. The visa revocation of this person stimulated a vigorous public discussion among journalists and civil society organizations about the need for tackling corruption within the country's government institutions.
In promoting respect for labor rights, U.S. officials regularly engaged government officials, members of the private sector, and labor union representatives regarding the importance of enforcing the country's labor laws. U.S. funding assisted in the renovation of the Ministry of Labor's regional office in Choluteca, which was inaugurated on December 13. The United States continued its financial support for the Cumple y Gana labor compliance project, which during the year accomplished the following objectives throughout the country: improvements in inspections, resolution of a number of labor rights conflicts, and occupational health and safety training, especially in the agricultural production sector.
To address the significant child labor problem in the country, the United States supported the International Labor Organization's International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor and the efforts of other international organizations and civil society groups to combat and gather information on the worst forms of child labor, including addressing the commercial sexual exploitation of children and reducing child labor in the agricultural sector. During the year the government participated in a U.S.-funded regional project to combat child labor through education.
To support the government's efforts to confront the serious problem of trafficking in children for commercial sexual exploitation and child prostitution, the United States provided training, technical assistance, and equipment to police investigators and prosecutors working to combat trafficking. The United States also funded frontier police efforts to prevent and interdict the transportation of illegal immigrants, including trafficking victims. In June U.S. officials held a video conference for NGOs and government officials on the U.S. Government's trafficking in persons report.
Jamaica is a constitutional parliamentary democracy; in March the ruling People's National Party chose Portia Simpson-Miller to replace P.J. Patterson as prime minister. Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, there were serious problems in some areas, including unlawful killings by security force members and impunity for police who commit crimes; poor prison conditions, including abuse of detainees and prisoners; an overburdened judicial system and frequent lengthy delays in trials; violence and discrimination against women; trafficking in persons; and violence against suspected or known homosexuals.
The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy focused on promoting democracy and good governance and increasing the government's ability to enforce the rule of law and protect the human rights of its citizens. The United States' target areas included strengthening the capabilities of existing governmental and civil society organizations to help institutionalize democracy; instilling a sense of civic duty and national pride through information, education, outreach, and civil society engagement; and building awareness of the importance of good governance, transparency, and respect for the rule of law. These efforts included helping the government, the private sector, and other sectors of society stamp out corruption and related unethical or illicit practices and modernizing and professionalizing law enforcement institutions and the military through training, technical assistance, and engagement to enhance effectiveness and recognition of accountability to civil authority and adherence to basic human rights practices.
The United States supported the political process by providing grant funding to a local NGO to assist in the training of local volunteer observers for the forthcoming national elections (constitutionally due no later than October 2007). One person was sent on an International Visitor Leadership Program that focused on citizen participation in a democracy.
To promote media freedom and freedom of speech, a U.S. program sponsored two speakers from the United States to participate in a three-day program designed to raise awareness of libel laws by providing examples from the U.S. experience. The speakers also participated in discussions on issues of press freedom and freedom of expression and worked closely with the representative body for media owners to discuss a draft proposal and lobbying efforts to change the overly stringent libel laws in the country. The United States also provided funding for a U.S. speaker to participate in a three-day journalists' workshop on reporting HIV/AIDS issues, with particular emphasis on discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. The workshop resulted in several major articles in local newspapers and radio spots on raising awareness and improving the level of reporting on HIV/AIDS issues.
In support of the country's civil society, the United States provided assistance to a local NGO to establish two research and documentation centers, which provided central repositories of information on citizens' rights. As a result of this U.S. assistance, the public had broader accessibility to information on the Internet.
U.S. programs sponsored several programs on community policing, including for the Jamaica Constabulary Force, and continued to support implementation of this form of policing in the Kingston inner-city community of Grants Pen. The police reached consensus on a new operational policy to implement community policing, and U.S. assistance developed the police academy curriculum to train new recruits. U.S. programs encouraged police anticorruption work through the Professional Standards Branch. The branch consolidated several units responsible for officer conduct into one internal affairs and anticorruption unit. Specialized training and equipment enabled this new unit to investigate police conduct more professionally. Police prepared approximately 20 cases for the Director of Public Prosecutions to prosecute police personnel. Court verdicts obtained against corrupt police personnel resulted in their permanent removal from the force.
U.S. officials frequently discussed with local officials and civil society leaders respect for the rights of women, children, and persons with disabilities. To address stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS, the United States helped local businesses establish an HIV/AIDS Business Council to support the development and implementation of workplace policies to combat discrimination. The United States also assisted the Ministry of Health to develop systems to gain information about persons who are at high risk for HIV infection. This U.S. assistance helped the government develop more effective outreach efforts. The Ambassador's Fund for HIV/AIDS supported educational outreach to all areas of the country, and a U.S. grant sponsored a program aired on national television for World AIDS Day, which focused on preventing and combating stigmatization.
The United States funded training for 84 members of the Jamaica Defense Force who participated in a variety of courses, including human rights instruction. This training prepared enlisted personnel to assist local police units in patrolling high crime areas and included topics on basic leadership, operations in urban terrain, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society. Courses aimed at senior military officers highlighted the impact of the rule of law on protecting human rights and the importance of incorporating human rights considerations in military operations.
To support the fight against trafficking in persons, U.S. officials maintained an open dialogue with the government on the prosecution and criminalization of trafficking. U.S. officials worked with NGOs and relevant government ministries to press for vigorous enforcement of the Child Care and Protection Act, particularly the sections prohibiting the trafficking or sale of children. The United States provided funding for an awareness program implemented by a local NGO that worked with young persons, ministries, and government departments across the country to educate youth about the risks of commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking. The program utilized techniques such as seminars, training sessions for police, and brochures distributed at airports and other public places to get the message to a broad range of people. Urged by the U.S. Government, the Ministry of Justice implemented an awareness campaign to brief journalists, police, and other stakeholders in the fight against human trafficking. The campaign also informed the public about the definitions and costs of human trafficking. The United States encouraged the government to conduct police raids of businesses around the island where credible evidence of trafficking existed.
Venezuela is a constitutional democracy. In December voters reelected President Hugo Chavez of the Fifth Republic Movement with approximately 63 percent of the popular vote. Official observation missions from both the European Union and Organization of American States deemed the elections generally free and fair, notwithstanding irregularities such as continued problems with the voter registries, government intimidation of public employees, a perception of progovernment bias on the part of the National Electoral Council, and questions about the role of the military in its heavy election-day presence.
The human rights situation during the year was characterized by politicization of the judiciary and harassment of the media and of the political opposition, all manifestations of the increasing concentration of power in the executive branch. The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings; disappearances reportedly involving security forces; torture and abuse of detainees; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; a corrupt, inefficient, and politicized judicial system characterized by trial delays, impunity, and violations of due process; illegal wiretapping and searches of private homes; official intimidation and attacks on the independent media; widespread corruption at all levels of government; violence against women; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on workers' right of association.
The U.S. strategy for promoting democracy and human rights was to support the efforts of the country's citizens to strengthen independent civil society, particularly through assistance to groups working to deepen respect for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.
The U.S. strategy also included diplomatic efforts, with senior U.S. officials speaking publicly on behalf of freedom of association, freedom of the press, and other human rights. The United States worked closely with other governments to coordinate support for democracy and human rights in the country, especially in defense of the media and civic associations facing increased government pressure and harassment, including the government's refusal to renew the license of the country's oldest independent television network.
To help strengthen the country's debilitated political parties, U.S. funding supported projects focused on political party renewal and internal democratization. These projects provided technical assistance to enhance political parties' responsiveness to their members and constituents.
U.S. officials continued a series of exchanges between young political leaders from the United States and Venezuela. One example was a 12-day program in three cities, Caracas, Maracaibo, and Barquisimeto, for a delegation of U.S. citizens who met with their Venezuelan counterparts who represented a wide range of political views.
A combination of new laws governing libel and broadcast media content, legal harassment, and physical intimidation resulted in limitations on freedom of speech and of the press, creating a climate of self censorship. The government employed a variety of mechanisms--legal, economic, regulatory, judicial, and rhetorical--to harass the private media, engendering a repressive attitude toward a free press. The United States continued to express publicly its concerns that the media law passed by the National Assembly in December 2004 threatened freedom of the press. U.S. officials met privately with media representatives to express solidarity and to underscore the concerns of the United States regarding restrictions on freedom of speech in the country. U.S. Embassy officials invited visitors from other countries, including judicial experts, to speak about the negative ramifications of the media law for press freedom. The United States also hosted a series of conferences and events concurrent with the Venezuelan Day of the Journalist to send the strongest possible message to the country's media that the United States supported their struggle to maintain press freedom. U.S. programs provided grants to support media involvement in human rights reporting and to strengthen the press corps' investigative journalism skills.
The United States provided support for a broad spectrum of NGOs and civil society groups, especially those focused on encouraging peaceful debate and conflict resolution. This assistance supported a culture of democratic participation and tolerance by encouraging active engagement by citizens in institutions and through civic education. U.S. programs worked to strengthen human rights NGOs in the country, some of which worked in a climate of intense government pressure and harassment. One grant provided training to human rights organizations and practitioners in successful strategies employed by human rights defenders in other countries. The program also sought to increase NGOs' institutional capacity through exchanges with other human rights groups in the region and to solidify links between the country's human rights defenders and other key human rights activists in Latin America. Four human rights activists traveled as Voluntary Visitors Program Grantees to the United States for a 10-day program to confer with jurists, NGOs, and government agencies concerned with human rights. Visiting U.S. experts conducted programs with NGOs on anticorruption strategies and on general management issues. The United States also used video conferences and exchange visits to put civil society representatives in the country in touch with academic human rights experts from the United States and Puerto Rico. The participants at these video conferences discussed topics such as due process and the inter-American human rights system.
The United States worked closely with Hemispheric and European partners to address and raise concerns about the government's proposed international cooperation law. If passed, this law would undermine the independence and autonomy of civil society, restrict the ability to receive foreign donor support, and give the government greater control over NGOs.
U.S. Embassy officials worked to promote respect for the rule of law and to strengthen judicial processes, including guarding against political prosecutions and ensuring due process. U.S. officials continued to observe criminal trials of persons associated with the political opposition to demonstrate U.S. concern regarding due process. U.S. officials also invited opposition leaders under investigation and government supporters to U.S. Government events in the country, to demonstrate U.S. support for democracy, political tolerance, and rejection of judicial intimidation. U.S. officials also delivered messages to the government in defense of NGO leaders accused of treason for accepting U.S. funding for nonpartisan purposes.
The United States actively engaged with a number of prominent NGOs in the areas of human rights, freedom of the press, the rule of law, prisoner rights, and women's issues. The United States also facilitated and supported several NGOs in their efforts to request audiences or present cases before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The United States continued to stress to the government the need to do more to combat trafficking in persons. U.S. officials attended, at the invitation of the country's government, each of the two planning sessions charged with drafting a national plan of action to combat trafficking. Through a grant, the United States supported a local NGO dedicated to the rehabilitation and reinsertion into society of trafficking victims. The grant served to expand the NGO's presence in a particularly impoverished area of Caracas and to reach more potential victims.