Archive for the ‘American Embassy in Honduras’ Category

Central America braces for return of US military-led foreign policy

Trump’s homeland security chief to lead meeting on region’s economic and security issues, as experts say aid cuts and deportations could fuel instability

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/13/central-america-us-foreign-policy-deportations-aid

A woman looks at a bus burnt by gang members in Honduras.
A woman looks at a bus burnt by gang members in Honduras. Analysts fear a return of a ‘1980s drug-war model’ of US foreign policy. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Central America is bracing itself for a return to military-led US foreign policy amid rising fears that sweeping aid cuts and mass deportations could destabilise the region.

Gen John Kelly, the US secretary of homeland security, will this week lead a high-level meeting on economic and security issues in Central America, where violence, corruption and poverty have forced tens of thousands to seek refuge in Mexico and the United States.

The talks will be held in Miami at the base of Southern Command, which oversees US military operations in Latin America and which Kelly led before entering the Trump administration.

The two-day meeting comes less than a month after Trump proposed slashing foreign aid to Mexico and Central America while increasing funds for the Pentagon.

Analysts say such a move would in effect kill Barack Obama’s ambitious – though imperfect – policies to tackle some root causes of forced migration by investing in justice and security reforms, and prevention and development programmes.

“In the worst-case scenario, they will slam brakes on Obama’s more holistic, less military focus, and go back to the 1980s ‘drug war’ model and good old fashioned increases in military aid,” said Adam Isacson, a security expert at the Washington Office for Latin America.

During the cold war, the US directed billions of dollars of military aid to the region in support of dictatorships which confronting leftwing rebel groups in a series of interlocking conflicts which killed tens of thousands and forcibly displaced millions.

“Kelly’s department has taken over the direction of security policy for every country north of Panama,” he added.

Almost 15,000 people were murdered in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – known as the northern triangle – in 2016, making it the most dangerous region outside of Syria. Impunity is rife across the region.

The UN refugee agency estimates that about 200,000 Central Americans crossing into Mexico each year are fleeing violence and would qualify for international protection.

Activists are alarmed by the leadership, location and scope of the Miami meeting, which appears to focus on boosting business and security, instead of helping build institutions and promoting the rule of law.

More than 100 organisations from across the region have signed a letter condemning the plans to “discuss US policy towards the region solely from a security and economic lens, without addressing the protection needs and human rights of families, individuals, and children from the region”.

Daniella Burgi-Palomino, senior associate at the Latin America Working Group, said: “We’re very concerned at the detrimental impact of Gen Kelly inserting homeland security into what should be foreign policy decisions, especially as he’s shown no understanding of the root causes driving migration and refugees.”

Last month Kelly said that the vast majority of asylum seekers were coached by smugglers to lie about threats and fears in order to stay in the US. Then, at a Senate hearing, he called a programme to help unaccompanied child migrants a “total scam”.

Government officials have seized upon the sharp drop in detentions at the US border since Trump’s inauguration as proof that Central Americans are coming in search of jobs, not safety.

Juan José Hurtado Paz y Paz, from Asociacion Pop Noj, which works with Guatemalan minors deported by the US, believes any reduction will prove temporary.

A Guatemalan girl, 14, waits along with more than 500 other migrants after a minor train derailment in Mexico.
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A Guatemalan girl, 14, waits along with more than 500 other migrants after a minor train derailment in Mexico. Photograph: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

“Trump’s policies have created a psychosis of fear, but fear subsides, and regardless of how many walls are built, people will find a way to reach the US unless the multiple root causes of migration are tackled,” he said.

There are signs this may be starting to happen: 14,535 people were apprehended on the US southern border in May, a 31% increase from April.

This week’s meeting is co-hosted by Mexico, which had been threatening to rethink a pact made during the Obama administration to detain and deport Central Americans.

Trump repeatedly attacked Mexico throughout his presidential campaign, threatening to rip up the North American free trade agreement and build a 2,000-mile border wall to keep “bad hombres” out.

But in recent weeks, Trump’s attention has turned to Central America, with pledges to deport members of the MS-13 gang to El Salvador.

In addition, plans are afoot to abandon the temporary protected status (TPS) – a special work visa sanctioned for a handful of countries prone to natural disasters – which could lead to the deportation of 250,000 Salvadorans and Hondurans.

Noah Bullock, director of the violence prevention organisation Cristosal in El Salvador, said: “Deportations that exceed the 2016 level could lead to great social instability and [such a policy] has little chance of reducing migration. Rather, it would likely feed the cycle of migration and insecurity that is already destabilizing the region.”

This week’s meeting is the latest evidence that the Pentagon is playing a central role in efforts to stop the migratory flow. In April, defence chiefs from across the region reportedly agreed to increase intelligence and information cooperation with US armed forces in order to conduct aerial, land and reconnaissance patrols on Mexico’s southern border.

In Honduras, the most dangerous country in the world for environmental and land activists, there are particular concerns about the US encouraging investment in large-scale extractive and agribusinesses.

Joaquin Mejia, from a Jesuit human rights group, said: “Experience tells us that police and military will be used as a mechanism to control and repress social conflicts generated by development projects imposed without proper consultation with communities.”

Guilty by Association: How the United States is Permitting Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

 By Jessica FarberResearch Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

 Guilty by Association: How Washington is Complicit in Human Rights Abuses in Honduras

In an opinion piece that appeared in the New York Times on August 11, titled “How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth got Safer,” Sonia Nazario paints a misguided picture of Honduras as a country that was once ravaged with violence, but has since been bravely rescued and is now stable thanks to aid from the United States.[i] On the one hand, the author highlights an important point: some violence-prevention programs funded by the United States in Honduras are indeed working, and their focus on human capital and social justice is a welcome departure from the “iron-fisted” security measures that have characterized U.S. aid in the past. What the author neglects to mention, however, is that an enormous portion of the same aid package is also funneled to a government that, in conjunction with a corrupt military and police force, is carrying out massive human rights violations against its citizens. Given the increasing number of activists killed with impunity under the rightwing government, whose power the United States helped to consolidate following the 2009 coup against democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, continued funding to Honduras deserves additional scrutiny.

A Contradictory Approach

As Nazario rightfully acknowledges, the withdrawal of all funding to Honduras could be harmful because it would interrupt successful violence-prevention initiatives at the local level. The pilot programs she describes, in which the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.) partners with community leaders to implement programs that engage and counsel gang members and other vulnerable youth, are both novel and exemplary. With such programs, the United States finally seems to acknowledge that simply intensifying security measures to kill off gang members does nothing but fuel the fire. Nazario admirably emphasizes the need to address the long-term structural factors behind gang violence and advocates for the implementation of more of these types of programs throughout Central America. Furthermore, in “a striking rebuke against the rising isolationists in American politics,” Nazario highlights the positive impact that U.S. spending can have for both Americans —in terms of stemming the flow of migrants— as well as for marginalized populations in the developing world.[ii] The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a longtime proponent of grassroots and social justice programs, applauds Nazario for her intentions in this respect.[iii]

While Nazario is not wrong to shed light on the specific U.S. initiatives that are succeeding in violence prevention, it is far too soon to claim that the United States has single-handedly created a dramatically safer Honduras. On the contrary, such a position ignores the complex roots of the violence in Honduras, and leads one to question whether the author is not trying to obfuscate U.S. complicity in the violence. As Nazario mentions in her article, crime and violence are major issues plaguing Honduran society, but she erroneously attributes most of this violence to gangs, narco-trafficking and other forms of organized crime that the Honduran government needs help in dealing with. To genuinely contribute to the overall sustainable development of Honduras, it is essential for the United States to acknowledge that much of the gang and drug-related violence, as well as the scores of uninvestigated murders of activists, are politically motivated and are carried out at the urging of elements of the military and the police. The article effectively distracts readers from the government’s abysmal human rights record and its own role in perpetuating violence in a country where 98 percent of crimes go unsolved.[iv] Amnesty International’s Marselha Gonçalves Margerin recently told National Public Radio that “the U.S. government has been treating these [Central American] governments as victims of organized crimes and not really making them responsible for how they are treating, and failing to protect, their citizens.”[v]

Berta Cáceres: A Symbol of Impunity

This year, the collusion between private actors, the military and the government in Honduras, was placed in the international spotlight. The assassination of indigenous activist Berta Cáceres six months ago is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of human rights violations in Honduras over the past seven years. Her death, however, is the “smoking gun” that makes it impossible for the United States to turn a blind eye to the Honduran government’s complicity in human rights violations against opposition activists.

Just before midnight on March 2 of this year, 44-year-old Berta Cáceres, founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Hondurans (COPINH), was gunned down in her home. In the months leading up to her death, Berta had been carrying out a peaceful yet vocal campaign to prevent the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on a sacred river belonging to the indigenous Lenca population. While the government was entirely aware of the threats to Berta’s life, and was repeatedly urged by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to offer her protection, any protection given was clearly inadequate. Given Berta’s stature as the winner of the international 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, and an inspiring leader of a global movement to preserve indigenous rights, her death triggered fear among activists all over Honduras.

The response of the Honduran government to Cáceres’ death was wholly inadequate and emblematic of the way it deals with human rights violations against opposition leaders. Instead of immediately interviewing individuals from any of the 33 construction companies against whom she had lodged complaints of death threats, the government selectively interrogated individuals within Berta’s own COPINH organization. It was not until May 2, exactly two months after Berta’s assassination, that the government finally launched a so-called “comprehensive” investigation to find the culprits.[vi]

This state-led “Jaguar Operation,” initiated in large part due to growing international scrutiny over the government’s inaction, finally resulted in the arrests of five individuals. Unsurprisingly, two of the charged individuals were linked to the construction company behind the dam, Desarollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), two others were active members of the military and one was a retired military officer. Yet evidence increasingly indicates that the assassins were not alone in plotting the attack, and that they received their orders from the state.[vii] In a previous article, COHA referred to the Jaguar Operation as a “sham investigation” that “was designed not to serve justice,” but was rather a “strategy to protect the masterminds behind Berta Cáceres’ murder.”[viii]

What the inherently biased investigation did reveal, however, is “the blatant collusion between private interests linked to DESA, active members of the Honduran army, and a corrupt administration,” according to COHA Research Associate, Emma Tyrou.[ix] A June report in The Guardian exposed further proof of the state’s ties to the murder. The article disclosed testimony from a former Honduran military sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, suggesting that Berta’s name had appeared on a military “hit-list.” “I’m 100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army,” he told the newspaper.[x] The government’s reluctance to interview the sole eyewitness to the murder—Mexican activist Gustavo Soto who was also a victim of the attack—as well as its initial attribution of the crime to little more than a failed attempt at burglary, further suggests the government’s likely role in scuttling the investigation.[xi]

In the six months since Berta’s death, the administration of President Juan Orlando Hernandez has continuously neglected the pleas of her family and the international community to allow an independent investigation to take place. Since the IAHCR derives its mandate from the Organization of the American States, and is therefore a competent authority in Honduras, it is the only body that can create a commission of independent experts to carry out an impartial investigation.[xii] “The Honduran state is too closely linked to the murder of my mother to carry out an independent investigation,” Berta’s youngest daughter, Laura Cáceres, 23, told the Guardian in May. [xiii] “It is the government who awarded the dam commission and the government who sent military and police to work with DESA’s private security guards, who threatened my mother.”[xiv] To date, the Honduran state has refused to allow experts from the IACHR into the country, further suggesting it has something to hide.[xv]

As the closest ally of the right-wing Honduran government and the country’s largest bilateral donor, the United States is uniquely positioned to pressure President Hernandez to do something about the appalling state of human rights in Honduras. At the very least, such pressure could seek to persuade him to allow an independent investigation of the Cáceres murder to take place.

The Honduran government’s murky role in the case of Berta Cáceres illustrates the controversial nature of U.S. aid to the country. Berta’s assassination is not an isolated incident and the United States cannot view it as such—she remains a symbol of the hundreds of Honduran activists targeted and killed by government, military, and police forces. Just days after Berta’s death, environmental activist, Nelson García was killed, and in July Lesbia Yaneth Garcia, another COPINH employee, was found dead with a machete wound in her skull. At least one member of the military and one man working on the hydroelectric project she was protesting have been implicated in Yaneth García’s death.[xvi] Global Witness recently reported that Honduras is the second most deadly country in which to be an environmental activist, and the Spanish newspaper, El País, described the nation as “a field of death for environmentalists.”[xvii] So while the overall number of homicides in the country may have decreased over the past few years, as Nazario notes in her article, the number of activists killed has markedly increased. Since 2010, 114 environmentalists have been murdered in Honduras.[xviii] And environmental defenders are not alone; anyone who publicly voices opposition to the state faces similar danger. According to the National Human Rights Commissioner of Honduras (CONADEH), 43 journalists were murdered between 2010 and 2014, and only twelve of the alleged murders had been brought to trial by the end of that year.[xix] The IACHR received reports of the murders of 86 legal practitioners and 22 human rights defenders in the same period.[xx] The Human Rights Watch World Report 2016 also found that peasants’ rights activists as well as LGBTQ activists have been victims of hundreds of uninvestigated attacks.[xxi] Essentially, it is no longer possible to express dissatisfaction with the government without becoming a target of the state.

 Towards a “More Safe” Honduras

The uptick in activist murders can be traced back to the period directly following the 2009 coup d’état against President Manuel Zelaya. Zelaya had supported rural peasant and environmental movements, such as Berta’s, in their fight against land dispossession and mining. However, after 2009, the new administration led by President Porfirio Lobo cut subsidies for social programs, rolled back progressive land reforms, and sought to open infrastructure construction to foreign investors, declaring in 2011 that Honduras was “open for business.” [xxii] Encouraged by the United States, the successive rightwing governments have proceeded to grant mining concessions and dam-building contracts to foreign companies, displacing many indigenous communities in the process.[xxiii] This has made peasants’ rights groups and indigenous activists —who argue that the affected communities were not properly consulted by the foreign firms—political opponents of the government.[xxiv] As Greg Grandin reported in The Nation, “since Zelaya’s ouster, there’s been an all-out assault on these decent people—torture, murder, militarization of the countryside, repressive laws, such as the absolute banning of the morning-after pill, the rise of paramilitary security forces, and the wholesale deliverance of the country’s land and resources to transnational pillagers.”[xxv]

While the existing evidence is not sufficient to prove the United States’ involvement in plotting the coup, it is now clear that the State Department under Hillary Clinton was a key player in legitimizing the post-coup government and effectively prevented Zelaya from running for re-election. Though the Obama administration initially criticized the military coup that put Roberto Michelletti in the presidency and other leaders of the coup in his cabinet, the United States was the first to recognize the new Porfirio Lobo government that was put in place by elections months later.[xxvi] This recognition was granted despite the fact that all opposition candidates had boycotted the elections and all international observers (besides the U.S. Republican party) withdrew, refusing to recognize the elections’ legitimacy.[xxvii] While the U.N. General Assembly called for the “immediate and unconditional return of Zelaya,” and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) refused to recognize the outcome of the elections, the U.S. State Department blocked the Organization of American States’ (OAS) resolution to not recognize elections held under the de facto government.[xxviii] Instead the United States praised Lobo for “restoring democracy” and promoting “national reconciliation.”[xxix]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Washington continues to stand idly by as the rule of law in Honduras deteriorates. While former Secretary of State and current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton continues to deflect criticism of her involvement in the 2009 coup and her running mate, Tim Kaine, touts his time in Honduras as the most formative eight months of his life, the U.S. government maintains its commitment to propping up the very agents who are perpetuating injustice. Since 2009, the U.S. has sent $200 million USD in aid directly to the military and police force in the name of fighting crime and drug trafficking.[xxx] Instead, this money has allowed the state and the military to maintain the status quo, which is the violent repression of its citizens. Only a shallow analysis could describe such aid as a heroic contribution towards a safer Honduras. By solely focusing on the role of non-military spending in Honduras, Nazario’s article upholds the narrative that an infusion of U.S. taxpayer dollars will help to pull Honduras from the depths of poverty and violence. Last year, Congress approved a $750 million USD budget for the Alliance for Prosperity Plan (APP) to be administered by the U.S., Guatemalan, Honduran, and Salvadoran governments. The plan aims to address the “push factors” of violence in the so-called Northern Triangle. As analyzed in previous COHA articles, the APP could, in theory, be beneficial, but an alarming 60 percent of the funds to Honduras go to military financing and training.[xxxi] It remains to be seen how the vague conditions on this aid play out in practice.[xxxii]
With so much money invested in the training of the Honduran security forces, the United States cannot remain oblivious to the mounting evidence that the military is behind the recent murders. Fusina, one of the units of the military that allegedly received the “hit-list” with Berta Cacéres’ name on it, receives direct military training from the U.S. Marine Corps and the F.B.I.[xxxiii]

The Honduran police force teems with corruption as well. Marvin Ponce, Vice President of the Honduran Congress estimates that over 40 percent of the police force is involved in organized crime. [xxxiv] Additionally, Human Rights Watch reports that “the use of lethal force by the national police is a chronic problem… Investigations into police abuses are marred by inefficiency and corruption … and impunity is the rule.”[xxxv] Perhaps even more concerning, the assassinations of two Honduran investigators (in 2009 and 2011) looking at the complicity between drug traffickers, police leaders, and organized crime, were found to be linked to top Honduran police officials, according to leaked documents.[xxxvi] Of course, the Honduran government has fiercely refuted claims that either the state or the military are involved in human rights violations.[xxxvii] Following President Hernandez’ lead, U.S. State Department spokesperson John Kirby claimed at a June 22 press briefing that “there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights” in Honduras.[xxxviii]

So why is it that the United States so steadfastly supports the Honduran state, despite all the evidence that it is allowing its citizens to be murdered with impunity? The answer stems from the strategic economic and military importance of Honduras. Honduras holds the United States’ only air base between South America and the United States, and since the contra war in Nicaragua in the 1980s, Honduras has served as the regional hub for U.S. military operations in Central America. American corporations also have extensive mining and hydroelectric investments in Honduras, as well as banana companies like Dole and Chiquita, and apparel, auto industry and other manufacturing plants. Out of all the Central American governments, the Honduran government is also the most ideologically aligned with the United States.

Public Pressure Mounts in the United States

Aside from Berta Cáceres’ three daughters who have traveled the world in recent months to call for international pressure on the Honduran government, international organizations, civil society groups, and U.S. policymakers alike have urged the Obama administration to leverage its financial support of the Honduran state to call for justice. Ever since 2009, in the face of mounting evidence that the United States is funding a criminal regime whose collusion with private interests is now well-documented, pressure on the U.S. government has grown. In 2010, thirty congressmen sent a letter to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging the Obama administration to stop funding the Honduran state, especially the police and military, until the culture of impunity is addressed. [xxxix]

After years of similar pressure on the State Department, including another congressional letter to Secretary John Kerry last year with lackluster results, opposition to the funding reached a crescendo this summer after Berta’s death. In June and July, a vocal campaign to “Stop Aid to Honduras” gained traction in the United States, using the U.S. Leahy law as the crux of its argument. Under this law, the State Department and Department of Defense are prohibited from contributing funds to any foreign military unit where there is “credible evidence of human rights abuses.”[xl] The United States is also prohibited from providing funds to a government instituted through a military coup.[xli] Despite a Wikileaks-exposed email from the U.S. ambassador to Honduras stating that the overthrow of Zelaya undoubtedly “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup,” the Obama administration has avoided calling it a military coup so that aid can continue unabated.[xlii]

On June 14, Henry C. Johnson (D-GA) proposed the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act, which offers the opportunity for the United States to hold the Honduran government accountable for its actions. The bill would halt all aid to Honduras for military operations, training, and arms until the government carries out exhaustive and transparent investigations into the deaths of activists that have been linked to the Honduran police and military.[xliii] This is the bill to which Nazario refers in her article, classifying the legislation as “an attack from the left.” Though she acknowledges that the human rights concerns that the bill represents are legitimate, she claims that its passage “would be a mistake,” due to the beneficial violence prevention programs carried out by the police.

Conclusion

Because of the United States’ tightly bound relationship with Honduras—most importantly, the Honduran government’s dependency on U.S. aid—Washington has a responsibility to the Honduran people to make a serious commitment to ending the ongoing human rights crisis. Simply providing the government funds to “reform itself” will no longer suffice. It is time for the United States to recognize its complicity in funding a criminal regime, and halt all aid to the Honduran military and police until that government can prove its own commitment to justice. Once this happens, the United States can continue to fund beneficial social justice programs such as the ones Nazario mentions in her article. Until that happens, however, human and environmental rights defenders will face extreme peril at the hands of a government that does nothing to protect them and is in collusion with the very actors who use violence to maintain control over marginalized groups. In Berta Cáceres’ own words in her acceptance speech of the 2015 Goldman Prize, “Despertemos, despertemos humanidad, ya no hay tiempo”—wake up humanity, we’re out of time.

By Jessica FarberResearch Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Original research on Latin America by COHA. Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and instituional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to LatinNews. com and Rights Action.

Featured Photo: Crowd. Taken from Flickr.

[i] Nazario, Sonia. “How the Most Dangerous Place on Earth got Safer.” 11 August 2016. New York Times. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/opinion/sunday/how-the-most-dangerous-place-on-earth-got-a-little-bit-safer.html

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Farber, Jessica. “War in Peace: Exploring the Roots of El Salvador’s Gang Violence.” 18 July 2016. Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.coha.org/war-in-peace-exploring-the-roots-of-el-salvadors-gang-vio-lence/

[iv] Farr, Sam. “Obama Asked to Curtail Assistance to Honduras.” 19 October 2010. The North American Congress on Latin America. Accessed 26 August 2016.  https://nacla.org/news/obama-asked-curtail-assistance-honduras

[v] Gonsalves Margerin, Marcelha. “Seeking Justice after the Murder of Honduran Activist Berta Cáceres.” National Public Radio. 27 April 2016. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.wnyc.org/story/seeking-justice-after-murder-honduran-activist-berta-caceres/

[vi] “Una amplia y exhaustiva investigación basada en métodos técnicos y científicos,” statement issued by the Public Ministry of Honduras, published on social media by the Honduras media TN5 Estelar. May 2, 2016. Accessed July 7, 2016. https://www.facebook.com/TN5Estelar/photos/a.330734023616440.77404.326888920667617/1113789491977552/?type=3&theater

[vii] Lakhani, Nina and Ed Pilkington. “US investigating allegations Honduran military had hitlist of activists to target.” 8 July 2016. The Guardian. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/08/honduras-military-hitlist-activists-us-investigation

[viii] Tyrou, “The Symbol of Berta Cáceres Continues to Expose Criminal Coup Regime and its Deadly Extracgive Formula for Honduras.” 12 July 2016. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.coha.org/the-symbol-of-berta-caceres-continues-to-expose-criminal-coup-regime-and-its-deadly-extractive-formula-for-honduras/#_ftn11

[ix] Tyrou, Emma. “Justice for Berta Cáceres: Yet Another Murder Proves that Death and Impunity Prevail.” 11 July 2016. Washington Report on the Hemisphere, vol. 36, issue 11. Accessed 26 August 2016.

[x] Lakhani, Nina. “Berta Cáceres’ name was on Honduran military’s hitlist, says former soldier.” 21 June 2016. The Guardian. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/21/berta-caceres-name-honduran-military-hitlist-former-soldier

[xi] Birss, Moira and Gustavo Castro-Soto, “In Crisis, we Find Hope.” 28 April 2016. The North American Congress on Latin America. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://nacla.org/news/2016/04/28/crisis-we-find-hope

[xii] Oscar Arias Sánchez to President of the Republic of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández. April 27, 2016. Accessed 26 August, 2016. http://bertacaceres.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Ex-Costa-Rican-president-and-Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner-Oscar-Arias-urges-JOH-to-allow-IACHR-investigation.pdf

[xiii] Lakhani, Nina. “Berta Cáceres murder: four men arrested over Honduran activist’s death.” 2 May 2016. The Guardian. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/02/berta-caceres-murder-four-men-arrested-honduras

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Blitzer, Jonathan. “Should the U.S. Still be Sending Aid to Honduras?” 17 August 2016. The New Yorker. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/should-the-u-s-still-be-sending-military-aid-to-honduras

[xvi] Associated Press. “ Police in Honduras arrest three in slaying of activist.” 13 July 2016. The Los Angeles Times. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-honduras-activist-arrest-20160713-snap-story.html

[xvii] “New Data on the Murder Rate of Environmental and Land Activists in Honduras, the Highest in the World.” 4 March 2016. Global Witness. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/global-witness-releases-new-data-murder-rate-environmental-and-land-activists-honduras-highest-world/

[xviii] Planas, Roque. “U.S. Aid to Honduras in Doubt after Killings of Activists.” 11 August 2016. The Huffington Post. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/honduran-aid-activist-killings_us_57acf39fe4b007c36e4dec10

[xix] “The World Report 2016: Events in Honduras in 2015.” The Human Rights Watch . Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/honduras

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] “Honduras is Open for Business.” 26 July 2011. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.coha.org/honduras-is-open-for-business/

[xxiii] Carasik, Lauren. “Blood in Honduras, Silence in the United States.”16 July 2016.  Boston Review. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://bostonreview.net/world-us/lauren-carasik-blood-honduras-silence-united-states

[xxiv] Isacson, Adam, and Sarah Kinosian. “Which Central American Military and Police Units Get the Most U.S. Aid?” Washington Office on Latin America. April 15, 2016. Accessed July 08, 2016. https://www.wola.org/analysis/which-central-american-military-and-police-units-get-the-most-u-s-aid/

[xxv] Grandin, Greg. “The Clinton-Backed Honduran Regime is Picking Off Indigenous Leaders.” 3 March 2016. The Nation. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-clinton-backed-honduran-regime-is-picking-off-indigenous-leaders/

[xxvi] Frank, Dana. “Honduras: Which Side is the US on?” 22 May 2012. The Nation. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/honduras-which-side-us/

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Zunes, Stephen. “The U.S. Role in the Honduras Coup and Subsequent Violence.” 19 June 2016. The Huffington Post. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-us-role-in-the-honduras-coup-and-subsequent-violence_us_5766c7ebe4b0092652d7a138

[xxix] Frank, Dana. “Honduras: Which Side is the US on?” 22 May 2012. The Nation. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/honduras-which-side-us/

[xxx] Blitzer, Jonathan. “Should the U.S. Still be Sending Aid to Honduras?” 17 August 2016. The New Yorker. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/should-the-u-s-still-be-sending-military-aid-to-honduras

[xxxi] Iesue, Laura. “The Alliance for Prosperity Plan: A Failed Effort for Stemming Migration.” Council on Hemispheric Affairs. 1 August 2016. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.coha.org/the-alliance-for-prosperity-plan-a-failed-effort-for-stemming-migration/

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Isacson, Adam, and Sarah Kinosian. “Which Central American Military and Police Units Get the Most U.S. Aid?” Washington Office on Latin America. April 15, 2016. Accessed July 08, 2016. https://www.wola.org/analysis/which-central-american-military-and-police-units-get-the-most-u-s-aid/

[xxxiv] “Ponce claims 40% of police tied to organized crime.” 21 July 2011. Honduran Weekly. Accessed 26 July 2016. http://www.hondurasweekly.com/joomla-pages-iii/archieved-articles/53-news/national/6730-ponce-claims-40-of-police-tied-to-organized-crime

[xxxv] Frank, Dana. “Honduras: Which Side is the US on?” 22 May 2012. The Nation. Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.thenation.com/article/honduras-which-side-us/

[xxxvi] Malkin, Elizabeth and Alberto Arce. “Files Suggest Police Leaders Ordered Killing of Antidrug Officials.” 15 April 2016. The New York Times. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/world/americas/files-suggest-honduras-police-leaders-ordered-killing-of-antidrug-officials.html?_r=0

[xxxvii] “HONDURAS: Government Denies That Military Killed Cáceres” Latin News, June 24, 2016. Accessed July 8, 2016. http://www.latinnews.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=69211&uid=17952&acc=1&Itemid=6&cat_id=802664 &utm_content=buffer7ec07&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[xxxviii] “Press Briefing with John Kirby.” 22 June 2016. U.S. Department of State. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/06/258980.htm

[xxxix] Farr, Sam. “Obama Asked to Curtail Assistance to Honduras.” 19 October 2010. The North American Congress on Latin America. Accessed 26 August 2016.  https://nacla.org/news/obama-asked-curtail-assistance-honduras

[xl] Carasik, Lauren. “Blood in Honduras, Silence in the United States.”16 July 2016.  Boston Review. Accessed 26 August 2016. http://bostonreview.net/world-us/lauren-carasik-blood-honduras-silence-united-states

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] “A Selection from the Cache of Diplomatic Dispatches.” 19 June 2011. The New York Times.  Accessed 26 June 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/28/world/20101128-cables-viewer.html?hp&_r=0#report/cables-09TEGUCIGALPA645

[xliii] “H.R. 5474: Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act.” 14 June 2016. Govtrack Accessed 26 August 2016. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/114/hr5474/text

Blood in Honduras, Silence in the United States


Protesters look on at a vigil for activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered this March. / Photo by Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos

Honduran indigenous and environmental rights leader Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated by masked gunmen in the spring, had long lived under the shadow of threats, harassment, and intimidation. The slain leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) was gunned down in her home in La Esperanza on March 3 after months of escalating threats. She was killed, it appears, for leading effective resistance to hydroelectric dam projects in Honduras, but she understood her struggle to be global as well. For Cáceres, the fight to protect the sacred Gualcarque River and all indigenous Lenca territory was the frontline in the battle against the unbridled transnational capitalism that threatens her people. She felt that as goes the Gualcarque River, so goes the planet. Her assassination sent shockwaves through the Honduran activist community: if an internationally-acclaimed winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize can be slain, there is little hope for anyone’s safety.

The Agua Zarca Dam, which put Cáceres in the crosshairs, is one of many to have been funded by foreign capital since the 2009 Honduran military coup. The ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, had alarmed the country’s elites—and their international allies—with his support of agrarian reforms and increased political power for laborers and the disenfranchised. After his removal, the Honduran government courted investors, declaring in 2011 that Honduras was “open for business.” Among the neoliberal reforms it undertook, which included gutting public services and cutting subsidies, the government granted large mining concessions, creating a demand for energy that heightened the profitability of hydroelectric dam projects. The aggressive privatization initiatives launched the government on a collision course with indigenous and campesino communities, which sit atop rich natural resources coveted by investors. The ensuing conflicts between environmentalists, traditional landowners, and business interests have often turned lethal.

These killings have taken place in a climate of brutal repression against labor, indigenous, and LGBTI activists, journalists, government critics, and human rights defenders. Cáceres, a formidable and widely respected opposition leader, was a particularly jagged thorn in the side of entrenched political and economic powers. Miscalculating the international outcry the murder would incite, Honduran officials at first couldn’t get their story straight: Cáceres’s murder was a robbery gone wrong, perhaps, or internal feuding within her organization, or a crime of passion. However, activists within and outside Honduras have successfully resisted all efforts to depoliticize Cáceres’s killing.

“It’s like going back to the past,” she said. “We know there are death squads in Honduras.”

Unfortunately, Cáceres’s death was not the first violent assault on COPINH leaders, nor has it been the last. In 2013 unarmed community leader Tomás García was shot and killed by a soldier at a peaceful protest. Less than two weeks after Cáceres was murdered, COPINH activist Nelson García was also gunned down, and just last month, Lesbia Janeth Urquía, another COPINH leader, was killed. Honduran authorities quickly arrested three people for Urquía’s murder, characterizing it as a familial dispute, but members of COPINH dispute this. “We don’t believe in this [official] version,” Cáceres’s successor, Tomás Gómez Membreño, told the Los Angeles Times. “In this country they invent cases and say that the murders have nothing to do with political issues. The government always tries to disconnect so as to not admit that these amount to political killings.”

Urquía was murdered soon after an explosive report in The Guardian in which a former member of the Honduran military said Cáceres’s name was at the top of a “hit list” of activists targeted for killing. The list, he said, was circulated among security forces, including units trained by the United States. The Honduran government vehemently denies these claims, despite evidence supporting many of the allegations. Cáceres had previously said she was on a list of targeted activists. At a U.S. congressional briefing in April, Honduran human rights activist Bertha Oliva Nativí testified that activists had not faced such dangers since the 1980s. “Now, it’s like going back to the past,” she said. “We know there are death squads in Honduras.”

After an initial investigation into Cáceres’s murder that was tainted by multiple missteps, officials arrested four suspects, including an active member of the military, and later detained a fifth man. But many believe that the orders for her murder were issued higher up the chain of command, and that the government cannot be trusted to police itself. However, state officials have refused calls for an independent international investigation.

Nonetheless the United States continues to send Honduras security assistance that aids the government in militarizing the “war on drugs” and enforcing the aggressive neoliberal policies Washington favors for the region. Some American lawmakers have been paying close attention, sending letters to the U.S. State Department expressing concern about the role of state security forces in human rights abuses. In a sign of increasing impatience with State Department inaction, Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia and other legislators introduced a bill in Congress on June 14, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which seeks to suspend “security assistance to Honduran military and police until such time as human rights violations by Honduran state security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice.” As the bill’s original cosponsors argued in an op-ed in The Guardian, “It’s even possible that U.S.-trained forces were involved in [Cáceres’s] death,” since “one suspect is a military officer and two others are retired military officers. Given this information, we are deeply concerned about the likely role of the Honduran military in her assassination, including the military chain of command.”

As the hit list story broke, State Department spokesperson John Kirby maintained at a June 22 press briefing that “there’s no specific credible allegations of gross violations of human rights” in Honduras. That assertion is contradicted by the State Department’s own 2015 human rights report on Honduras, which documented “unlawful and arbitrary killings and other criminal activities by members of the security forces,” findings echoed by the United Nations. The Guardian reported on July 8 that the State Department is reviewing the hit list allegations, repeating the claim that it had seen no credible evidence to support them. U.S. ambassador to Honduras James Nealon told the Guardian, “We take allegations of human rights abuses with the utmost seriousness. We always take immediate action to ensure the security and safety of people where there is a credible threat.” Under the Leahy Law, the State Department and the Department of Defense are prohibited from providing support to foreign military units when there is credible evidence of human rights violations. Yet the mechanics of compliance with the Leahy law are shrouded by state secrecy, making it difficult to have confidence in the legitimacy of an investigation into the conduct of a close ally. And satisfying Leahy law obligations alone is insufficient. Half of the $750 million in aid that Congress approved in December for Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador comes through the Plan of the Alliance for the Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, a package of security and development aid aimed at stemming immigration from Central America. And disbursement of that money is conditioned merely on the Secretary of State certifying that the governments are making effective progress toward good governance and human rights goals.

In the aftermath of Zelaya’s removal, Secretary of State Clinton helped cement the post-coup government.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has undermined human rights in Honduras. In the aftermath of Zelaya’s removal, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped cement the post-coup government. Cáceres herself denounced Clinton’s role in rupturing the democratic order in Honduras, predicting a dire fallout. As historian Greg Grandin told Democracy Now, “It was Clinton who basically relegated [Zelaya’s return] to a secondary concern and insisted on elections, which had the effect of legitimizing and routinizing the coup regime and creating the nightmare scenario that exists today.”  The election held in November 2009 was widely considered illegitimate.

When questioned by Juan González during a meeting with the New York Daily News editorial board in April, Clinton said that Washington never declared Zelaya’s ouster a coup because doing so would have required the suspension of humanitarian aid. In so doing, she relied on the technicality that an aid cutoff is triggered by the designation of a military coup. Therefore the term was never officially used, despite the military’s clear involvement in removing Zelaya from the country. Clinton claimed the legislature and judiciary had a “very strong argument that they had followed the Constitution and the legal precedents,” despite nearly universal condemnation of the coup, including by the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization of American States. And Clinton’s account is contradicted by then U.S. ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens, who concluded in a leaked cable “there is no doubt” that the ouster of Zelaya “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup,” a characterization repeated by the State Department many times. Yet the administration stalled the suspension of aid to Honduras, in contrast to much quicker cutoffs following coups in Mauritania (August 2008) and Madagascar (March 2009).

The dire human rights situation in Honduras may receive more attention following Clinton’s selection of Tim Kaine as her running mate. The Virginia senator, who touts the nine months he spent in Honduras as a Jesuit volunteer as a formative experience, has added his voice to those pressuring Secretary of State John Kerry for a thorough investigation into Cáceres’s death. But Grandin argues that Kaine “has consistently supported economic and security policies that drive immigration and contribute to the kind of repression that killed Cáceres.” This critique of U.S. economic policy was recently echoed by one of Cáceres’s four children, Laura Zuñiga Cáceres, who joined a caravan from Cleveland to Philadelphia demanding justice for her mother. She was among those protesting outside the Democratic National Convention, linking Washington’s trade policy with the misery it engenders in Honduras. “We know very well the impacts that free trade agreements have had on our countries,” Zuñiga said. “They give transnational corporations, like the one my mom fought against, the power to protect their profits even if it means passing over the lives of people who defend the water, forest and mother earth from destruction caused by their very own megaprojects.”

Washington is again signaling to Honduras that stability and its own self-interest trump human rights concerns. Historically the United States has been agonizingly slow to cut off support for repressive Latin American governments so long as they advance its geopolitical and economic agenda. But there have been pivotal moments in history when the tide has turned against U.S.-allied repressive states, such as the killing of Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989, which spurred international condemnation of the Salvadoran government and prompted Washington to rethink its support. The death of Cáceres should be one of those moments. This time, Washington should act quickly to stop its money from funding human rights abuses in Honduras before more blood is spilled.

Eat, Pray, Starve: What Tim Kaine Didn’t Learn During His Time in Honduras

The vice-presidential nominee supports policies that hurt the country that was the “turning point” in his life.

https://www.thenation.com/article/eat-pray-starve-what-tim-kaine-didnt-learn-during-his-time-in-honduras/

 

Early in Hillary Clinton’s primary contest against Bernie Sanders, Berta Cáceres, an indigenous environmental leader in Honduras, was murdered by a coup regime that Clinton, as Secretary of State, helped consolidate in power. Apart for one quick statement denying any wrongdoing—“simply nonsense,” a spokesman said of the charges that Clinton was in anyway responsible for Cáceres’s killing—the Clinton campaign largely ignored the issue. As far as I know, the only journalist who asked Clinton directly about Honduras was Juan González, during Clinton’s interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News. Clinton provided a wordy and vague answer. She admitted that the situation was bad, that activists were being slaughtered, but insisted that at the time she “managed a very difficult situation, without bloodshed, without a civil war, that led to a new election. And I think that was better for the Honduran people.” For the most part, criticism of Clinton on Honduras largely stayed on the margins of the primary process, even as the killing in Honduras continued and evidenced mounted that Washington was once again was funding old-school death squads (see the invaluable investigation by Annie Bird).

Now, having beat back that part of the Democratic rank-and-file that cares about dead feminist activists in small third-world countries, the Clinton campaign has gone full Sun Tzi, turning its Honduran weak point into a strength, or, à la Karl Rove, its vulnerability into a virtue.

In picking Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate, the campaign has front-and-centered Honduras—not as a victim of Clinton’s realpolitik neoliberalism but as a sacred space of healing poverty.

Kaine, a Catholic, spent nine months in Honduras, from 1980 to 1981, in the Jesuit mission in El Progreso, very close to the company towns and plantations of the storied multinational banana company, United Fruit.

The sojourn, Kaine says, changed his life. Honduras “was really the turning point in my life. I was at Harvard Law School and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. And I took a year off and worked with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras,” Kaine told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “Every day I think of the lessons I learned from my friends there,” Kaine said elsewhere. The experience, he says, set him on his life’s journey to fight for social justice. Honduras “made him who he is,” said Kaine’s mother, Kathleen.

As soon as Clinton announced her pick, the liberal press converged, following the Clinton campaign’s talking points that spun Kaine as a progressive. “A Pope Francis Catholic.” Fine. To be expected. But that Honduras—Honduras!—is being highlighted as the beginning of Kaine’s conversion narrative truly is audacious.

James "Guadalupe" Carney sj

James “Guadalupe” Carney sj

Kaine, then twenty-two years old, showed up in Honduras during an especially consequential moment. The country in 1980 was quickly turning into the crossroads of Cold War. A year earlier, next door, Nicaragua’s Sandinistas had won their revolution. Father James Carney, a Chicago-born Jesuit priest who was executed in Honduras in 1983, recalled the moment in the Spanish-version of his memoir (published in English as To Be a Revolutionary): “If Nicaragua won, El Salvador could win, and then Guatemala, and then Honduras could win.” Carney said that in early 1980, El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero, himself soon to executed, had declared that all conditions had been met for Christians to join the revolution:  Life had become intolerable; All non-violent avenues of reform had been tried and failed; And, considering the misery in which most people lived, it would have been impossible for the revolution to produce injustices worse than those that already existed. “The popular war for liberation in Central America was one single war,” Carney wrote.

At the same time, CIA operatives quietly began to move into the Honduran capital Tegucigalpa’s discreet Hotel Alameda, and began setting up the paramilitary network that would execute the Contra War against Nicaragua, a war that would claim 50,000 lives and lay the Sandinista Revolution to waste. CIA agents also began to work closely with Honduras’s security forces, which began their campaign of political disappearances in late 1979. On January 31, 1980, Guatemalan security forces firebombed the Spanish embassy, killing dozens of peasant protestors, including Rigoberta Menchú’s father, an atrocity that inaugurated a three year genocidal campaign that would claim hundreds of thousands of Mayan lives. In March 1980, Monsignor Romero was murdered. Ronald Reagan took

John Negroponte USA regime destabilizer and advisor to death squads

John Negroponte
USA regime destabilizer and advisor to death squads

office in January 1981, and appointed John Negroponte ambassador to Honduras. Negroponte, who later in his diplomatic career would move on to larger operations in Iraq, helped cover up the activities of Battalion 316, a death squad that disappeared scores of Hondurans. On May 14, 1980, Salvador’s National Guard, along with a paramilitary unit, slaughtered at least 300 people trying to flee into Honduras across the Sumpul River. On December 11, 1981, the US trained Atlacatl Battalion massacred upward of 900 people in the remote Salvador village of El Mozote. Throughout the region, including in Honduras, “multinational ‘hunter-killer’ squads on the Condor model” began claiming victims. Thousands of refugees, from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, poured into Honduras.

It was into this whirlwind that young Tim Kaine flung himself on his voyage of self-discovery.

The Jesuit order was on the frontlines of Central America’s political upheaval. By no means were most Jesuits leftwing, but many, perhaps the majority, were at least broadly committed to what was called the “social gospel.” Some, like Father Carney in Honduras and Fernando Hoyos in Guatemala, committed themselves to the revolution and gave their lives. Others were more intellectual, deciding to master worldly knowledge, obtaining advanced degrees in political science, economics, sociology,

The Jesuits were dragged out in the yard in front of their campus home and were shot in the head, on November 16, 1989.

The Jesuits were dragged out in the yard in front of their campus home and were shot in the head, on November 16, 1989.

history, psychology, and anthropology, and then use that knowledge to work for social justice. The most well-known among this group were the six Jesuits who would be executed in San Salvador in 1989 by the Atlacatl Battalion (the same U.S. trained battalion that committed the El Mozote massacre).

By the time Kaine arrived in Honduras, the Jesuit mission in El Progreso was focusing its work on labor issues and the welfare of plantations laborers and their families.  Jeff Boyer, an anthropologist who did fieldwork in rural Honduras around the time Kaine was in El Progreso, tells me that the Jesuits “consistently endeavored to be thorn in the side” of the company, they had “no qualms going after United Fruit.” Boyer recalls a split among Honduras’s “North Coast Jesuits,” caused by, on the one hand, the rise of leftwing Liberation Theology and, on the other, the 1979 investiture of Pope John Paul II, a theological conservative who actively worked to weaken Liberation Theology in Latin America. According to Boyer, the U.S. Jesuits in Honduras tended to be more conservative, while younger Latin American and European Jesuits “consistently held democratic socialist positions.” (The one exception to this was Father Carney.)

In interviews, Kaine says his mentor in El Progreso was Father Jarrell “Patricio” Wade—known as Padre Patricio—a Jesuit who spent nearly his whole life ministering in Honduras and who passed away there in 2014 at the age of 81. By all accounts, Wade was a decent, caring, and well-liked cleric—a “bear of a man,” remembers Boyer—but his ethics were more pastoral than political. Father Carney says that Wade blamed his political work with peasants for provoking the growing repression against priests.  A “traditional Jesuit,” remembers Boyer, unable to see the need for structural change.

Jesuits con Tim Kaine

Tim Kaine met with Jesuits during Holy Week 2016 in El Progreso

Kaine was in Honduras for nine months (though two-year commitments for US volunteers were the standard for Jesuits). Mary Jo McConahay, a journalist with longtime experience in Central America, told me that it is “notable that Kaine’s work is being described as ‘missionary,’ as if fishing for converts, when it was anything but.” According to his own account, he provided politically neutral technical training, helping with a program that taught carpentry and welding. Yet, as Boyer tells me, “if Tim Kaine was working as a Jesuit volunteer in 1980, he could not have avoided become immersed in these socio-religious, political currents and cross-currents.  He would have been exposed to both conservative and generally more left and activist work of his hosts and mentors.”

Kaine, in other words, had found himself in the cauldron of the Cold War. “It was hot,” Boyer remembers of the Jesuit debates over what the proper course of action should be.

None of this, however, comes across in anything Kaine says about his time in Honduras. Kaine didn’t run for public office until the 1990s, so there is no public record of what his opinion was of the Contra War, or the Guatemalan genocide, or the 1989 murder of the Jesuits in El Salvador, or what his Honduran mentors thought of Pope John Paul II’s efforts to neutralize Liberation Theology. Rather, Kaine, who has been talking about his time in Honduras at least since the early 2000s, when he was mayor of Richmond, uses his nine-month stay as a kind of platitudinous catch-all, to prove he is a true Christian to Virginia conservatives, to court the Latino vote, and, now, to convince rank-and-file Democrats he’s a progressive.

Recently, in a C-SPAN interview, Kaine was asked what he learned about “America” during his time in genocidal, insurgent, impoverished, revolutionary, counter-revolutionary, priest- and peasant-killing Central America in 1980-1981. “Happiness is not that correlated with wealth,” he said; and, since Honduras was a “dictatorship.… It really taught me about things that we take for granted here…having a government that is the rule of the law.”

That dictatorship was created and maintained by the US, a fact lost in Kaine’s uplift. Here’s a report from NACLA from 1981: “Honduras almost outdoes the stereotype of a banana republic. The vast plantations run by United Fruit (now United Brands) envelop the countryside, while Honduras is second only to Haiti in per capita poverty. It has seen 150 governments in 160 years, and spent the last 18 under military rule.” It should be noted that that 18-year dictatorship was installed by the JFK administration, in a coup, one of many in Latin America brokered by Washington following the Cuban Revolution. In 1980, exactly the moment Kaine landed in El Progreso, Honduras “was the second largest recipient of U.S. economic assistance to Latin America, despite a sparse population of three million. It has received $3.5 million in military aid since April 1980, with $10.7 million projected for fiscal 1982.” Happiness indeed is not that correlated with wealth—or at least the wealth that comes in the form of military aid from Washington.

One story that Kaine likes to tell—and he’s been telling it for a decade now, through his runs for Virginia governor and senator, and may again this Wednesday in his acceptance speech—is how he once tried to refuse a gift of food from a family with four, malnourished children. Padre Patricio accepted the food, and when Kaine asked how the Jesuit could take food from the needy, Patricio told him: “Tim, you really have to be humble to accept a gift with food from a family that poor.” Kaine say he has “not forgotten the lesson.”

All this Christian charity would be fine, had Kaine, during his time in public office, especially as Senator, taken political action to help make food less expensive in Honduras. But he supports NAFTA and the Central American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA. Though he wasn’t in the Senate yet to vote on those treaties, he says anyone opposed to free trade exhibits a “loser’s mentality.” So while Kaine is decent on immigration, and has signed on a letter to Secretary of State, John Kerry, asking for an investigation into Berta Cáceres’s death, he has consistently supported economic and security policies that drive immigration and contribute to the kind of repression that killed Cáceres.

CAFTA has been an unmitigated disaster for the peasants Tim Kaine thinks about every day. It has flooded local markets with cheap, agro-industry produced corn and other products, leading to a collapse in the price of locally grown food stuff but a rise in the cost of food in general. Malnutrition increased under CAFTA, and, during some acute periods, so did starvation. The trade treaty makes it difficult, if not impossible, for local governments to impose regulations on certain industries, like mining. A recent report issued by Congress’ Progressive Caucus concluded that “free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) have led to the displacement of workers and subsequent migration from these countries.”

In Honduras, extreme poverty has increased since CAFTA has gone into effect, as has political repression, especially following the 2009 coup. Kaine, as far as I can tell, has said nothing about that coup (his beloved Jesuits condemned it in no uncertain terms). Watching Kaine talk about Honduras, he does seem troubled by the country’s poverty and political repression. But like most neoliberal politicians, he disassociates in his political rhetoric the trade and security policies he votes for from the catastrophic consequences of those policies. As I wrote elsewhere about Clinton’s Latin American policies, “there’s no violence caused by over-militarization that more militarization can’t solve. There’s no poverty caused by ‘free trade’ that more ‘free trade’ can’t solve.”

Kaine helps the Clinton campaign transform Honduras from a real place, engaged in political struggle, into an imaginary kingdom of banality. The sharp political and economic analysis of someone like Berta Cáceres, who before her death named Hillary Clinton and US policy as responsible for Honduras’s terror regime, is converted into the virtues of anonymous poor people offering up their ever-more costly (thanks to CAFTA) food as a life lesson in humility.  It’s a neoliberal Eat, Pray, Love.  Or, better, Eat, Pray, Starve.

America’s funding of Honduran security forces puts blood on our hands

We should not work with Honduran police and military until the government defends human rights and holds security forces responsible for their crimes

honduras
‘The murder of Berta Cáceres illustrates a bleak state of affairs in Honduras.’ Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

On 2 March 2016, armed men burst into the home of Berta Cáceres, a prominent environmental and indigenous activist in Honduras, and shot her to death. Earlier that day, the government had rescinded Ms Cáceres’s meager security detail, leaving her unprotected. Of the 33 threats against her, including death threats, none had been investigated. Members of the Honduran military have been implicated in her murder, and requests by the global community for an independent investigation have been ignored.

Until the Honduran government protects human rights and holds its security forces responsible for their crimes, we should not be working with its police and military. As long as the United States funds Honduran security forces without demanding justice for those threatened, tortured and killed, we have blood on our hands. It’s time to suspend all police and military aid to Honduras.

Berta Cáceres10Ms Cáceres’s murder fits an ongoing pattern of violence against organizers, activists, and civilians since the 2009 coup deposed Honduras’ democratically elected government. It’s even possible that US-trained forces were involved in her death – one soldier alleges that Berta Cáceres’s name appeared on a hit list distributed to an elite Honduran military police unit that is part of the national interagency security force (Fusina). Fusina was trained last summer by 300 US military and civilian personnel, including Marines and FBI agents.

Despite this dangerous track record, the United States continues to pour money into Honduran security forces. The US has already allocated at least $18m to Honduran police and military for 2016. Barack Obama’s 2017 budget request calls for increased funding for the Honduran police and military. In addition, the Inter-American Development Bank has lent $60m to the Honduran police, with US approval.

The Honduran police are widely documented to be corrupt. In August 2013, a government commission charged with cleaning up the police admitted nearly three-quarters of the police force were “beyond saving”. Human Rights Watch reports: “The use of lethal force by the national police is a chronic problem. Investigations into police abuses are marred by inefficiency and corruption … and impunity is the rule.”

Leaked documents implicate top Honduran police officials in the 2009 and 2011 assassinations of two police investigators, Julian Aristídes Gonzales and Alfredo Landaverde. Those men were investigating the connections between police leaders, drug traffickers, and organized crime.

But even the work of Gonzales and Landaverde may have been directed by the corrupt Honduran government. A New York Times article suggests the Honduran government may have fabricated elements of the police corruption as an excuse to clean up the police by replacing them with the military. President Juan Orlando Hernández’s personal commitment to cleaning up the police is questionable. He reappointed Hétor Iván Mejía, an alleged human rights abuser, as chief of operations for the national police, for example, and has a track record of supporting the coup and undermining the rule of law on multiple fronts.

This scandal is one of many with the alleged involvement of the Honduran military and police. Over 100 small-farmer activists have been killed in the Aguán Valley since 2009. In July 2013, Tomás García, a peaceful Lenca Indigenous activist was killed. In December 2015, two Afro-Indigenous men were killed as they attempted to push a car out of a sandbank. Despite documented involvement of Honduran security forces, none of these crimes have been properly investigated, and the cases remain in impunity.

President Hernández’s response is misguided. He’s extended the military into domestic policing, in violation of the Honduran constitution. The expanded military police have killed unarmed men passing through checkpoints. They’ve tear gassed and beaten members of opposition party Libre inside the main hall of Congress. They’ve arrested and beaten a prominent advocate for children, Guadalupe Ruelas, after he criticized the government. Creating a military police is clearly not the solution.

The murder of Berta Cáceres illustrates a bleak state of affairs in Honduras. Corruption, impunity and judicial and institutional weaknesses have created a human rights crisis in which no one is safe – not even a world-famous recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

Recently, five suspects were arrested in Ms Cáceres’ case – one suspect is a military officer and two others are retired military officers. Given this information, we are deeply concerned about the likely role of the Honduran military in her assassination, including the military chain of command. Our colleague Senator Patrick Leahy observed in the Senate that the Honduran government was “complicit in condoning and encouraging the lawlessness that Ms Caceres and her community faced every day”.

In multiple letters to the secretary of state, stretching back to 2010, we have joined with our colleagues in the House to call for an immediate suspension of security aid to Honduras. Enough is enough – it’s past time to suspend the aid and instruct the US Treasury department to vote no on all loans from multilateral development banks to security forces in Honduras.

The Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (HR 5474) would suspend those funds – and prohibit international loans providing for security assistance – from being dispersed unless Honduras makes serious inroads to addressing blatant human rights violations by police and military forces.

Once justice is restored and impunity for human rights abuses ends, we’ll reconsider.


USAID Funds Honduran Company Implicated in Berta Caceres Murder

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/USAID-Funds-Honduran-Company-Implicated-in-Berta-Caceres-Murder-20160529-0019.html

Activists demand justice for Berta Caceres in front of a police line in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 17, 2016.

Two of the five suspects arrested in connection with Berta Caceres’ murder are linked to DESA, the company behind the dam project she fought to stop.

Washington’s complicity in human rights abuses and repression of social movements in Honduras has come to the fore once again as an investigation published in Counterpunch revealed that the private Honduran energy company that murdered Indigenous activist Berta Caceres long resisted has signed a funding deal with a USAID partner just months before her high-profile assassination.

The company behind the controversial Agua Zarca hydroelectric project on Lenca land, Desarrollos Energeticos S.A., better known as DESA, signed a contract with USAID partner Fintrac in December 2015, less than three months before Caceres was murdered in her home on March 3.According to Central America-based freelance journalist Gloria Jimenez, the funds were destined for a USAID agricultural assistance program in Western Honduras.

But Caceres’ Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras, or COPINH, which has long fought against DESA’s Agua Zarca dam for its threats to the sacred Gualcarque River and lack of consent from local communities, has argued that despite the corporation’s promises, DESA takes much more than it gives back.

The Fintrac-DESA agreement was signed by Sergio Rodriguez, a DESA employee and suspect arrested in connection with Caceres’ murder along with four others.

In a statement released after the arrests, DESA confirmed that Rodriguez worked for the company as the manager of its social and environmental issues division. DESA did not confirm any relation to suspect Douglas Bustillo, who elsewhere has been identified as the firm’s head of security.

In a recent email to teleSUR, DESA declined an interview, saying it cannot comment on cases under investigation in Honduran courts.

“Additionally, our company operates completely in line with the law and the strictest business values,” the email added.

Caceres’ family members have claimed that DESA and the Honduran government are ultimately responsible for the Indigenous leader’s murder.

RELATED:
US Activists: ‘USAID Stop Funding Murder in Honduras’

In the months leading up to her murder, Caceres denounced dozens of death threats, incidents of harassment, and threats of sexual violence, allegedly at the hands of state and private agents.

Over two years ago, DESA sought charges against Caceres and two fellow COPINH leaders for land usurpation, coercion, and damages and painted the activists as violent “anarchists.” COPINH members and human rights defenders interpret the case as one part of a larger campaign by DESA to criminalize COPINH and eliminate opposition to the Agua Zarca project.

COPINH and Caceres’ family members continue to call for an independent expert investigation into the murder in the name of identifying those who ordered the killing, not just those who pulled the trigger. They also demand the permanent cancellation of Agua Zarca.

An international day of action on June 15 at Honduran embassies around the world is planned to echo COPINH’s demands at the global level.

International human rights defenders have repeatedly called on the United States to stop funding repression in Honduras through backing of controversial corporate projects and government funding for corrupt Honduran security forces.

U.S. Funded Evangelicals and Coup Supporters Behind the New Commission to Purge the Honduran Police

Another scandal exposing police corruption and involvement of Honduran police commanders in assassinations and organized crime hit the press again in March 2016. Shortly after, on April 7, the Honduran Congress approved a decree legislating the purging of the National Police, declaring a clean up of the police a “national priority.” The decree called for the creation of a Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police.

It is not the first time a scandal incited the approval of legislation to cleanup corrupt security forces. In January 2014, the Commission for Public Security Reform was also created, and today is widely admitted to have been a huge failure, even by those that applauded its effort. Some are not surprised that it never achieved what it was created to do.    

So the Honduran government is at it again. Days after the 2016 decree was approved, a three-member Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police was formed. I thought it was worth taking a look at the organizational associations and backgrounds of the three appointed Commissioners – Omar Rivera, Alberto Solórzano, and Vilma Morales. 

From left to right: Ministry of Security, Julian Pacheco, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, ASJ's Omar Rivera, Vilma Morales, and Pastor Alberto Solórzano. Photo credit: el heraldo 

From left to right: Ministry of Security, Julian Pacheco, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, ASJ’s Omar Rivera, Vilma Morales, and Pastor Alberto Solórzano. Photo credit: el heraldo 

Omar Rivera, Advocacy Director, Association for a More Just Society (ASJ); Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ)

Association for a More Just Society (ASJ) is a Honduran and U.S. faith-based organization that receives significant U.S. support from USAID to run Centros de Alcance that focus on “anti-gang and violence prevention” programs promoting extensively to address youth migration to the U.S; the Legal Advisory and Anti-Corruption Centers (ALAC); and a grant for an education program given under the Impulsing Citizen Participation, Transparency and Social Opportunities (Impactos), amongst others. ASJ receives support from the evangelical Christian Reformed Church in North America.

ASJ coordinates an initiative known as the Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ), a broad group of “civil society organizations” that tends to dominate any spaces where “civil society” is consulted about important national issues including security, impunity, and corruption. Allies of APJ include the Civil Society Group, Transformemos Honduras, MOPAWI, and the Cofraternidad Evangelica de Honduras, amongst others. APJ is funded by the National Democratic Institute (who funds almost exclusively the same organizations allied with APJ) and the US Department of State, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, created to “improve the effectiveness and coherence of the U.S. government in conflict situations.”

Its almost impossible to research one of ASJ’s programs without connecting it to U.S. funding and programs that promote U.S. policy and cosmetic solutions to major structural problems like corruption and impunity. Many in the Honduran social movement see ASJ and the U.S. Embassy as one in the same.

Pastor Alberto Solórzano. President, Confraternidad Evangelical (CE), board member, Alliance for Peace and Justice (APJ)

As mentioned previously, the Confraternidad Evangelica is one of the members of the ASJ-coordinated initiative APJ. It claims to represent 90% of all evangelical organizations in Honduras. A well-known pastor of the “Abundant Life” church and representative of the Confraternidad Evangelica, Evelio Reyes recently led public prayers in the Presidential Palace with Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the First Lady Ana de Hernandez, and attendees of many evangelical churches and organizations. Evelio Reyes, a close relative of the Minister of Defense, Samuel Reyes, and friend of President Hernandez, was the subject of a 2013 law suit filed by well-respected LBGTI Honduran activist, Erick Martinez. The pastor made discriminatory and degrading insults against the LBGTI community to his congregation telling them not to “vote for homosexuals or lesbians who corrupt the model of God.”

In Reyes defense, the Confraternidad Evangelica wrote a public letter, signed by Pastor Alberto Solórzano, one of the members of the Police Purging Commission, expressing their disagreement with the investigation against Pastor Reyes and justifying the homophobic statements as “moved by the interest to present a salvation plan for humanity in order to seek the preservation of the society.” These verbal attacks and hate speech against the LGBTI community are alarming considering the violence and assassinations reported by Honduran organizations. In the last seven years, 215 LBGTI people have been murdered in Honduras, 37 of which occurred in 2015 alone.

Upon nomination to the Police Purging Commission, individuals questioned the participation of Pastor Solórzano. According to a former Attorney General, Edmundo Orellana, “no religious minister can assume public functions,” claiming that the Pastor’s nomination was illegal. Orellana’s criticisms were ignored.

It is worth mentioning that the two alternates for the Police Purging Commission are Carlos Hernandez, the President of ASJ, and Jorge Machado, a Board member of the Confraternidad Evangelica.

Vilma Morales, former President of the Supreme Court; member, Intervention Commission of the Honduran Social Security Institute (IHSS); and member, Intervention Commission of National Welfare Institute for the Teaching Profession (IMPREMA).

Vilma Morales is best known for her participation in “intervention commissions” in at least two public Honduran institutions since 2009. She is also known as a major supporter of the 2009 military coup, denying in the weeks following that a coup taken place in Honduras. Morales represented the de-facto regime of Roberto Micheletti in negotiations after the coup, and insisted that the overthrown President Manuel Zelaya would face criminal charges upon returning to Honduras.

In Honduras, “intervention Commissions” have become understood as “privatization commissions”. In many occasions, as was the case with the IMPREMA, IHSS, and the telecommunications company, Hondutel, all public institutions were “intervened” or briefly handed over to a Commission for a structural review, that would later, propose structural reforms that set the institutions on the path to privatization. Vilma Morales was involved in two of the institutions mentioned and helped whitewash the corruption linked to high level officials in the Honduran government in both occasions, guaranteeing impunity, while ushering in major neoliberal reforms in both institutions. Morales will be known in Honduran history as a lapdog for the International Monetary Fund that ushered in the structural adjustments to the institutions.

In 2009, the de-facto government of Roberto Micheletti ransacked more than $40 million of pension funds from the Honduran teachers, one of the strongest bases of the post-coup social movement, the National Front of Popular Resistance (FNRP). The resulting financial crisis led to the intervention commission, which Morales headed, and later, recommended serious neoliberal reforms to the institution. With the intervention of their pension fund, teachers lost control of managing small loans, social benefits, and together with the approval of a new education law, Morales and the intervention commission assisted in ushering in some of the largest changes in public education in Honduras. The teachers’ movement, one of the strongest social movements in Honduras, fell apart as a result of the major structural changes to IMPREMA, which paved the way to a slow, incremental path to privatization of public education.

Years later in 2014, Vilma Morales was appointed as head of the IHSS Intervention Commission after Honduran journalist David Romero broke a $350 million dollar corruption scandal in the Honduran Social Security Institute.  The scandal involved the creation of a series of ghost companies that laundered money from the IHSS that managed social and medical benefits for public employees. The stolen money was linked to high-level officials in the current political party in power and multiple checks were deposited in the accounts of the National Party of Honduras. In the process, a financial crisis in the IHSS ensued. The IHSS was depleted of medicines, equipment, care and human resources and an estimated 3,000 people lost their lives as a result. As the crisis exploded and thousands of Honduras took to the street demanding justice, Morales was appointed to join the Intervention Commission set to review finances and restructure the IHSS. One of the Commission’s recommendations was the approval of the Law for Social Protection that was later passed in Congress and received heavy endorsement by Morales herself. Honduran unions and public workers heavily criticized the new law and mobilized to stop it with little success.

In December 2014, the Honduran government signed a $189 million dollars agreement with the IMF. In the stand-by agreement summary, the IMF applauds the structural changes made in IMPREMA, and the importance of modeling the restructuring of the IHSS off of the lessons learned in IMPREMA. Both institutional restructuring occurred after a “crisis” of corruption, the appointment and work of an Intervention Commission, and a new law that proposed radical neoliberal economic adjustments.

Vilma Morales, Omar Rivera, and Pastor Alberto Solórzano are individuals tied to strong interests in Honduras – U.S. embassy, evangelical and golpista interests. Their participation on the Special Reform Commission for the Purging and Transformation of the Police may provide a guiding light as to the U.S. position on decisions that the Commission will have to make given Rivera and Pastor Solórzano’s strong ties to U.S. funding. Examining Rivera and Solórzano’s associations also raises important questions about the strong U.S. support and funding for evangelical churches and organizations in Honduras. Vilma Morales’ role in the Commission may be reflective of some sort of economic restructuring, although to date, the Commission has not touched on the matter.

Berta Cáceres’s name was on Honduran military hitlist, says former soldier

A unit trained by US special forces was ordered to kill the environmental activist who was slain in March, according to an ex-member who now fears for his life

One human rights expert said: ‘This … reinforces calls that the US must withdraw military aid from Honduras where there’s been a bloodbath since the 2009 coup.’
 One human rights expert said: ‘This … reinforces calls that the US must withdraw military aid from Honduras where there’s been a bloodbath since the 2009 coup.’ Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

 in Mexico City

Berta Cáceres, the murdered environmental campaigner, appeared on a hitlist distributed to US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military months before her death, a former soldier has claimed.

Lists featuring the names and photographs of dozens of social and environmental activists were given to two elite units, with orders to eliminate each target, according to First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, 20.

Cruz’s unit commander, a 24-year-old lieutenant, deserted rather than comply with the order. Cruz – who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for fear of reprisal – followed suit, and fled to a neighbouring country. Several other members of the unit have disappeared and are feared dead.

“If I went home, they’d kill me. Ten of my former colleagues are missing. I’m 100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army,” Cruz told the Guardian.

Cáceres, an indigenous Lenca leader who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for a campaign against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, was shot dead in her home in March. Before her murder, she had reported 33 death threats linked to the campaign and had warned international human rights delegates that her name was on a hitlist.

Berta Cáceres campaigned to preserve her people’s environment, threatened by a hydroelectric project.
 Berta Cáceres campaigned to preserve her people’s environment, threatened by a hydroelectric project. Photograph: Tim Russo

According to Cruz, Cáceres’s name appeared on a list given to a military police unit in the Inter-institutional Security Force (Fusina), which last summer received training from 300 US marines and FBI agents.

Five men have been arrested for her murder, including Maj Mariano Díaz Chávez, an active-duty major in the Honduran army. Díaz had previously participated in joint US-Honduran military operations in Iraq, and is reported by local media to be a graduate of the elite Tesón special operations course which is partly taught by US special forcesDiaz was a military police instructor when arrested, but has since been given a dishonourable discharge.

Annie Bird, director of the group Rights and Ecology which documents human rights abuses in Honduras, said: “Cruz’s testimony suggests death squads are targeting political opposition, but the justice system is so broken, and directly controlled by figures implicated in corruption, that there is no one [in Honduras] who can credibly investigate.”

The Guardian interviewed Cruz several times by telephone and video call, and spoke with several people – academics, community leaders and activists – who have interviewed Cruz and confirmed his identity and military background.

Cruz enlisted in the army in December 2014, and after three months of basic training, was transferred to the 7th Battalion of the military police, which was created in 2013 to replace a civilian police force mired in allegations of corruption and abuse.

He completed two gruelling specialist training camps, including the Tesón course, where he received instruction from foreign military advisers including Americans, Colombians and instructors who spoke a foreign language which Cruz could not identify. Last year, the Tesón course became the subject of intense controversy when footage emerged showing a trainee being forced to eat the head of a dog.

During his training, Cruz was hospitalized twice with dehydration, but he completed the course and in October last year, Cruz and 15 other men from his battalion were picked to serve in the Xatruch taskforce – one of two multi-agency forces in Honduras deployed on specialist counter-narcotics and anti-gang operations.

The Xatruch force covers the Caribbean coast, which has become an important way station for drug cartels smuggling cocaine from South America to the US. The second taskforce, Fusina, operates nationwide.

In mid-December, Cruz’s commander gathered his subordinates after a Tuesday evening football match and showed them several sheets of paper with names, photographs, addresses and phone numbers of each target. One list was assigned to their unit; the second to a similar unit in Fusina.

“The lieutenant said he wasn’t willing to go through with the order as the targets were decent people, fighting for their communities. He said the order came from the joint chiefs of staff [and] he was under pressure from the Xatruch commander to comply,” Cruz said.

A few days later, the lieutenant left the base and has not been seen since.

It was not the first time Cruz had seen the lists. A few weeks earlier in Punta Piedra, a town on the Caribbean coast, similar sheets of paper had fallen out of his commander’s vest in the jeep which Cruz drove.

“I only had them in my hand for 20 or 30 seconds but I recognised some faces as leaders from the Bajo Aguán [region]. I didn’t say anything,” Cruz said.

The Bajo Aguán region – where the Xatruch taskforce is based – has been the setting for a string of violent land disputes between powerful palm oil magnates and local farmers. More than 100 people, mainly peasant activists, have been killed, many at the hands of state or private security forces.

Among the names on the hitlist seen by Cruz was that of Juan Galindo, an activist who had fled the region after receiving threats, but was murdered in November 2014 after returning home from exile to visit his sick mother.

Cruz also recognised Johnny Rivas and Vitalino Álvarez, high-profile members of the United Peasant Movement (Muca). Both men were among 123 activists in the Bajo Aguán named by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2014 as requiring urgent protective measures.

Peasant activist Vitalino Álvarez: ‘The rumours are I’m now top of that list.’
 Peasant activist Vitalino Álvarez: ‘The rumours are I’m now top of that list.’ Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Álvarez, 52, who has survived four assassination attempts since 2010, said: “There’s been a systematic strategy to eliminate the most belligerent social leaders. Since they killed Berta, the rumours are I’m now top of that list.”

Human rights groups have condemned US support for Honduran security forces amid mounting evidence implicating police and military in systematic abuses. In April, activists warned Congress that death squads were targeting opposition activists, much like they did during the “dirty war” in the 1980s.

The US has given Honduras an estimated $200m in police and military aid since 2010 as part of its efforts to stem organised crime and undocumented migration, according to defence and state department figures. In addition, Honduras shares the $750m Alliance for Prosperity fund approved by Congress last year for Central America’s violent Northern Triangle.

Both aid packages include human rights conditions, but neither has been restricted, even though the state department’s most recent human rights report says that “unlawful and arbitrary killings and other criminal activities by members of the security forces” remain one of the country’s most serious problems.

Neither the Honduran defence ministry nor the US state department responded to repeated requests for comment by the Guardian.

After Cruz’s lieutenant deserted in mid-December, the other members of his unit were redeployed separately. Cruz worked for about 10 days with the commander of the Xatruch taskforce.

During this brief deployment, Cruz said he was woken up in the middle of the night to transport black plastic bags to the River Tocoa, in Bajo Aguán, where colleagues emptied out human remains over the bridge.

He also described seeing a “torture room” near a military installation in the town of Bonito Oriental. “I didn’t see anyone but there was fresh blood, a hammer, nails, a chain and pliers in the room.”

Shortly afterwards, Cruz and his colleagues were all sent on extended leave. Now increasingly anxious for his own safety, Cruz fled, crossing the border illegally as his identification documents were still with the army. He is now in hiding and his family have reported that military policemen have questioned their neighbours over his whereabouts.

Lauren Carasik, director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University, said the US must stop turning a blind eye to the lawlessness.

“This is disturbing smoking-gun evidence which reinforces calls that the US must withdraw military aid from Honduras where there’s been a bloodbath since the 2009 coup.”

Violence in Honduras increased dramatically after a military-backed coup in July 2009 forced President Manuel Zelaya from power. Environmental campaigners bore the brunt of the repression after the new rightwing government licensed hundreds of mega-projects, including mines and hydroelectric dams in environmentally sensitive areas. At least 109 activists were murdered between 2010 and 2015, making Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous countries for environmental defenders.

A growing number of US politicians have expressed concern over the situation.

In August 2015, 21 members of Congress wrote to the secretary of state, John Kerry, raising specific concerns about US support for Fusina, which has repeatedly been accused of human rights violations.

Last week, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act in Honduras – which would suspend US security assistance until human rights violations by security forces cease – was introduced to Congress by Representative Hank Johnson.

“We provide millions of dollars in security assistance to Honduras but these same forces have been found to attack and kill environmental, labour and human rights activists like Cáceres without any effective response from the authorities,” said Johnson.

Cáceres’s daughter, Bertita Zúñiga, said Cruz’s testimony strengthened the family’s calls for an independent international investigation to find the intellectual authors.

“This shows us that death squads are operating in the armed forces, which are being used to get rid of people opposing government plans. It shows us that human rights violations are state policy in Honduras.”

State Department spokesperson John Kirby on Wednesday repeatedly denied that the government of Honduras kills its own citizens, saying more than a dozen times that he has not heard “credible evidence” of “deaths ordered by the military.”

His comments came in the wake of a high-profile assassination of Honduran native-rights activist Berta Cáceres in March, and a report in the Guardian that a high-level deserter from the Honduran army said he is “100 percent certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the [Honduran] army.”

The deserter explained that Cáceres’s name and picture appeared on a kill list including “dozens of social and environmental activists,” which had been distributed to two elite, U.S.-trained units.

Since Honduras’s right-wing regime seized power in a coup in 2009, media and human rights organizations have compiled overwhelming evidence of Honduran military and police violence.

Kirby said he was aware of “media reports alleging the existence of a Honduran activist hit list,” but noted that “at this time, there’s no specific, credible allegations of gross violations of human rights that exists in this or any other case involving the security forces that receive U.S. government assistance.”

Kirby’s comments were even at odds with the State Department’s own human rights reports on Honduras, which for the last two years have referred to “unlawful and arbitrary killings and other criminal activities by members of the security forces.”

The U.S. maintains a very close relationship with Honduran military. Since a military coup deposed leftist President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, the United States has provided nearly $200 million in military aid to the Central American nation. The U.S. also maintains a network of at least seven military bases in Honduras, which house a permanent force of more than 600 special operations troops. In February, the Wall Street Journal published a video showing American forces teaching Honduran forces how to conduct night raids.

In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton played a central role in legitimizing the new coup regime. While President Obama initially called Zelaya’s ouster “illegal” and said it would set a “terrible precedent,” Clinton refused to call it a military coup, and aid continued to flow. She also pushed for a sham election to “render the question of Zelaya moot,” according to Clinton’s memoir – which was later scrubbed of references to Honduras during her presidential campaign.

Officially linking U.S.-backed Honduran forces with human rights violation would trigger legally-required reductions in aid – in addition to putting the State Department in the uncomfortable position of criticizing a client state, and casting doubt on Clinton’s wisdom in backing the coup.

After The Intercept asked Kirby to respond to the report that the U.S. trained Cáceres’s killers, he repeatedly denied the existence of “specific, credible allegations.”

After other reporters joined in the questioning, Kirby expressed frustration that he had repeat that there was “no credible evidence” of state murders more than a dozen times. “The reason you’re being asked to repeat it is because it’s kind of hard to believe,” said Associated Press diplomatic correspondent Matt Lee.

Watch the video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv-nuwvs0aM

Kirby also refused to outline the steps the U.S. was taking to follow up on the allegation. He insisted that the State Department took the report “seriously,” but admitted that he was “unaware” of any meetings between the Department and Honduran activists, and that the department had not followed up with The Guardian.

CNN’s Elise Labott asked: “Have you been looking for evidence or you’re just waiting for it to fall into your lap, in which case you would launch an investigation?” Kirby insisted it was the former.

The murder of Cáceres – a renowned environmental and native rights activist – drew international condemnation and prompted a U.N.-supported investigation. Cáceres won the prestigious Goldman Prize in 2015 for overcoming death threats and organizing opposition to the Agua Zarca dam – stopping the internationally bankrolled hydroelectric project that threatened the land and livelihood of the native Lenca people.

Since 2009, Honduras has seen a sharp rise in political violence. By 2012, Honduran security forces had assassinated more than 300 people, including 34 opposition leaders and 13 journalists, according to Honduran human rights organizations. In the lead up to the 2013 elections, 18 candidates from Zelaya’s party were murdered.

The A.P. reported in 2013 that in Honduras’s largest two cities, there were more than 200 “formal complaints about death squad style killings” over the previous three years. Reports included the killing of people at military checkpoints, and even police assassination of a top anti-drug government official.

In 2014, more than 100 members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, raising concerns about “death-squad style killings by Honduran police” and urging him to abide by the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits aid to any military unit guilty of “gross violations of human rights.”

In the wake of Cáceres’s murder, Honduran human rights activists have traveled to D.C. to brief lawmakers about the security situation. At a congressional briefing in April, Bertha Oliva, founder of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras, told lawmakers that “it’s like going back to the past” and that “there are death squads in Honduras.” Oliva compared the situation to the 1980s, when the Reagan administration funded, armed, and trained death squads which disappeared, tortured, and killed hundreds of citizens.

At the briefing on Wednesday, the A.P.’s Lee asked Kirby how much responsibility the U.S. would share if it were true that it had trained Honduran government death squads.

“We absolutely have a responsibility to … hold them to account for those human rights abuses, and we do do that,” said Kirby. “Are we going to blame ourselves for the specific human rights violations of another human being in that regard? That’s a pretty difficult connection to make.”

While the State Department turns a blind eye to the Honduran government’s human rights record, Congress may restrict military aid on its own. Under appropriations laws, Congress can withhold 50 percent of its Honduras aid budgeted for the State Department. Last week, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., also introduced the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, which would cut off all military and police aid until the government’s human rights record improves.

Dana Frank, a history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a widely published expert on Honduras, called Kirby’s remarks “mindboggling.”

“What State is saying sounds exactly like the Reagan Administration, when the State Department denied vast horrors committed by Honduran security forces for years, only to be later exposed for having known all about them and suppressed the evidence,” said Frank. “This denial of any evidence is a scary and newly aggressive counterattack.”

Top Photo: Soldiers and policemen are deployed in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, next to a blockade.

The Honduran Shipwreck: Hillary Clinton’s Coup Turns 7

  • U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton removed a key passage from the paperback edition of her autobiography "Hard Choices" about her role in the 2009 military coup in Honduras.

    U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton removed a key passage from the paperback edition of her autobiography “Hard Choices” about her role in the 2009 military coup in Honduras. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 June 2016
In the aftermath of the coup, Honduras’ homicide rate has soared along with other forms of violence.

I recently contributed a chapter titled “Hillary Does Honduras” to a collection of essays edited by Liza Featherstone: “False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton.”

While preparing the essay last year, I discovered that a key passage from the hardcover edition of Clinton’s autobiography had been struck from the paperback version. In the original, the current U.S. presidential hopeful outlines her contributions to Honduran politics in the aftermath of the June 28, 2009, coup against that country’s president at the time, Manuel Zelaya.

In her capacity as secretary of state under Barack Obama, Clinton tells us, she and various colleagues in the region jointly “strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras [following Zelaya’s ouster] and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot and give the Honduran people a chance to choose their own future.”

The problem with the ostensibly democratic pursuit of free and fair elections and Honduran choices is, of course, that it is categorically anti-democratic — not to mention illegal — to forcibly “render moot” a democratically-elected leader.

Zelaya’s great offense, for which he had incurred the wrath of the Honduran right wing and its devoted support group in the United States, had been to allow the Central American country to drift slightly to the left — i.e. away from its established position as the “U.S.S. Honduras,” as it was endearingly called during the Cold War.

Among his many treasonous acts, Zelaya raised the urban and rural monthly minimum wages to $290 and $213, respectively, and demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to ask communities affected by pernicious foreign corporate mining practices how they felt about the arrangement.

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Obviously, the coup orchestrators couldn’t come right out and argue that it was a bad thing for poor people to be a bit less poor, or for folks living in mining areas to suffer fewer persistent skin rashes and spontaneous abortions. So they concocted a whole existential scenario in which the diabolical Zelaya — in cahoots with Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, and all other malevolent forces of the universe — was working to bring Honduras to Communist ruin by installing himself in power for eternity.

Lest anyone thought they were making things up, the coup-mongers offered tangible proof of Zelaya’s nefarious designs: he had dared to suggest a non-binding public opinion survey, scheduled for June 28, 2009, in which Honduran citizens were to be asked to register their opinions regarding the possibility of installing an extra ballot box at upcoming elections. The purpose of this ballot box, in turn, would be to gauge public interest in convening a constituent assembly to tweak the national constitution, which had until then enshrined the oligarchic elite’s stranglehold on the country.

As the pro-coup argument went, the singular purpose of the whole charade was to violate Honduran democracy and rewrite the constitution to eliminate the prohibition on presidents serving more than one term. Somehow, the fact that the extra ballot box would be installed at elections in which Zelaya was already ineligible to run was not deemed to be relevant information.

Instead of the proposed survey, June 28 thus played host to the expatriation to Costa Rica of a pajama-clad Zelaya, courtesy of the Honduran military. Clearly, public opinion surveys and ballot boxes are not the stuff of democracy — but militarized pajama-kidnappings are.

Following the coup, I spent four months in Honduras, primarily in the capital of Tegucigalpa. Day after day, masses of people marched peacefully in the streets demanding a return of the elected leader; Honduran security forces were decidedly less peaceful, and subjected crowds to tear gas, water cannons loaded with pepper spray, and more lethal projectiles.

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Meanwhile, Clinton & Co. scurried around behind the scenes rendering the Zelaya question moot. Fresh elections were eventually held under the illegitimate and abusive coup regime, meaning that they were fundamentally neither “free” nor “fair.”

And it’s been a nonstop party ever since. In the aftermath of the coup, Honduras’ homicide rate has soared along with other forms of violence. As the Guardian’s Nina Lakhani recently noted in an article on the March assassination of Honduran human rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceres, whose name reportedly appeared on a hitlist belonging to U.S.-trained Honduran special forces:

“Human rights groups have condemned US support for Honduran security forces amid mounting evidence implicating police and military in systematic abuses. In April, activists warned Congress that death squads were targeting opposition activists, much like they did during the ‘dirty war’ in the 1980s.”

In other words, the U.S.S. Honduras is going strong, despite what amounts to SOS signals emanating from a significant chunk of the population. Rest assured that the current obsessively rightwing regime won’t be rendered moot anytime soon.

As I note in my “False Choices” chapter, legend has it that the name “Honduras” derives from Christopher Columbus’ expression of relief, in 1502, at averting a nautical demise off the coast of Central America. “Gracias a Dios que hemos salido de estas honduras,” Columbus is said to have exclaimed. “Thank god we’ve gotten out of these depths.”

More than half a millennium later, Honduras has sunk to new depths, thanks in no small part to the post-coup machinations of another imperial emissary — this one by the name of Hillary Clinton.

On the coup’s seventh anniversary, as Clinton does her best to expunge her role from the record, one would like nothing more than to see her own ship sink.

Belén Fernández is the author of “The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work,” published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine