Archive for the ‘Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI)’ Category

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.


Death Squad Revelations and the New Police in Honduras

Wednesday, 06 July 2016 00:00 By Annie Bird, CIP Americas Program | News Analysis

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/36710-death-squad-revelations-and-the-new-police-in-honduras

On June 21, 2015 the London-based Guardian newspaper published an article describing the testimony of a soldier who says he deserted the army after his unit was given an order to kill activBerta Cáceres13ists whose names appeared on two lists. He reported seeing one list given to his Military Police unit that formed part of the Xatruch task force, and a second for a Military Police unit that formed part of the National Force of Interinstitutional Security (FUSINA) task force. The second contained the name of Lenca indigenous leader Berta Caceres, murdered on March 3, 2016.

On June 22 Honduran Defense Minister Samuel Reyes published a response to the Guardian article, claiming that the Military Police did not have a seventh battalion, that the FBI had not trained military forces in Honduras and that the TESON (Troops Specialized in Jungle and Nocturnal Operations) training course did not have US military trainers.

Military dictator of Honduras ' Juan Orlando Hernandez

Military dictator of Honduras ‘ Juan Orlando Hernandez

bottom right of photo of JOH, button on his uniform

bottom right of photo of JOH, button on his uniform

However, the Honduran military has reported to local press that the Military Police is in the process of creating a series of ten battalions, each with slightly under 500 soldiers.  In December 2014 the military reported that the fifth and sixth battalions had graduated, and by January 2016 it reported that there were 4,000 active Military Police, making it clear at least eight battalions are in operation.

The Guardian article referred to reports of training by the FBI and other US agencies of the FUSINA joint task force in an activity Secretary Reyes himself announced in a press conference with US Embassy personnel on May 13, 2015, as reported by AFP and Honduran media.

The Guardian article referred to two specialized training courses, including the TESON course described by the soldier, with US and Colombian trainers. The US Special Operations Command as recently as January 2016 affirmed its support of Honduran of forces.  The US Army Rangers helped create the TESON course and have reported support since. Graduates of the TESON training course are considered the elite forces and are spread across military units.

On May 2, 2016 five men were arrested for Berta Caceres’ murder, including Major Mariano Diaz Chavez.  A special-forces officer, Major Diaz participated in joint US-Honduran military operations in Iraq, and a multilateral peacekeeping operation in the Sahara, and is reported to have graduated from the TESON special-forces training course.  Major Diaz was a Military Police for Public Order [PMOP] instructor based in Tegucigalpa. There are two bases in Tegucigalpa which have been used for PMOP training, the base in La Venta and the base in Tamara.   In the three weeks prior to Mariano Diaz Chavez’s arrest, the 53rd Brigade of the Florida National Guard conducted training operations with soldiers and the TIGRES police unit on the base in Tamara, potentially working with Major Diaz.

Military Police, FUSINA and the National Police

Military Police in the cities

Military Police in the cities

When the Central American Regional Security Strategy of the System for Central American Integration (SICA) was announced in April 2011, the Inter-American Development Bank and US State Department announced creation of a “Group of Friends” of the initiative. From this time forward, a program of counter-insurgency policing began to be implemented in Honduras, coupling the creation of “stabilization” police forces—FUSINA, the elite force TIGRES and the Military Police — with so-called “community policing”, the stated goal of the constantly failing police reform efforts.

On August 24, 2013 the law creating the Military Pollice for Public Order (PMOP) was published, authorizing a military force of up to 5,000 soldiers dedicated to civilian policing. Upon passage of the PMOP law, the National Defense and Security Council (CNDS) created the FTCCI, and in February 2014 the CNDS created the National Force for Interinstitutional Security (FUSINA). The law mandated the Military Police to operate as part of the Combined Interinstitutional Joint Task Force (FTCCI), with embedded judges with national jurisdiction, a figure created in June 2011.

The PMOP law, along with a February 2014 amendment, allows these judges to preside over proceedings via internet from undisclosed locations even outside of the country. It also allows them to enter and leave the country bypassing normal immigration processes.

Just weeks before the creation of PMOP, Congress passed the legislative proposal creating the elite TIGRES police unit. It mandated the new unit to operate with the Honduran military as part of inter-agency task forces. The TIGRES law, passed in June 2013, was the second TIGRES proposal. The first proposal failed to pass congress in 2012 under heavy criticism that it was a revival of the counterinsurgency death squads from the 1980s.

The failed 2012 version amalgamated military and police into a hybrid, carabinero/ gendarmerie-style security force, whose command could shift between civil and military authorities. This proposal met with strong opposition, despite announcements that a $65 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank would be dedicated to supporting the creation of the new force.

The response was apparently to divide the proposal into two new agencies, bound to act together via inter-agency task forces — what is today the TIGRES of the National Police, and the PMOP on the military side.

Over the past three years the Honduran Military has conducted a series of training courses to create Military Police battalions, with the stated goal of establishing 10 battalions with a total of 5,000 soldiers throughout the country, each specialized in different operational capacities. The First and Second Battalions, trained in late 2013, specialize in intelligence operations. In January 2013 it was reported that a total of 4,000 PMOP were in operation.

FUSINA has also grown quickly. Just two years after its creation, it mobilized 11,000 military, police and other agents in a Holy Week security operation. In June of 2016, the total size of the Honduran National Police forces was 14,500 agents, though plans were announced to reduce that force by 5,500.

The planned National Police purge, the latest in a series of failed police reform initiatives since 2011, is under the guidance of a police reform commission, made up of four individuals, including the current Minister of Security and former commander of FUSINA, Julian Pacheco, and lawyer Vilma Morales.

The commission lacks legitimacy. In addition to the current scandal surrounding FUSINA, respected police reform advocate and former Chief of Internal Inspections of the National Police, Maria Luisa Borjas, claims Morales made a deal with former Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez to bury a case against former police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla who was facing charges of running a death squad. She was an acting Supreme Court Magistrate at the time.

Boots on the Ground Can’t Address the Roots of the Violence 

So-called “stability operations” in Honduras will not solve the problems of poverty and violence whose effects spill over into the United States. Honduras is not in “a transition”; rather Honduras has an entrenched and increasingly militarized political and economic system that uses institutionalized corruption to control resources for the benefit of a small, violent, ruling class whose hold on power was clenched in a military coup seven years ago.

Only a strong justice system can dismantle this system, yet the State Department is not supporting efforts to reform the justice system that the Honduran government refuses to accept, like the offer by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to sponsor an independent group of experts to investigate the murder of Berta Caceres.

But even the strongest efforts for justice system reform cannot combat the root problems unless the actors that enable it, including the US government that continues to fund abusive security forces and international business interests that benefit from public funds channeled to them by development banks like the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and Overseas Private Investment Corporation, cease to reward the repression and corruption.

Until this happens, real community policing efforts will continue to fail, and stability policing agencies will continue to be tools of repression to enforce the interests of the corrupt economic elite that Berta confronted.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Annie Bird

Annie Bird is a contributor to CIP Americas Program.

How Hillary Clinton Militarized US Policy in Honduras

 

People hold up photos of slain Honduran indigenous leader and environmentalist Berta Cáceres outside the coroner’s office in Tegucigalpa. (AP Photo / Fernando Antonio)

In 2012, as Honduras descended into social and political chaos in the wake of a US-sanctioned military coup, the civilian aid arm of Hillary Clinton’s State Department spent over $26 million on a propaganda program aimed at encouraging anti-violence “alliances” between Honduran community groups and local police and security forces.

The program, called “Honduras Convive,” was designed by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to reduce violent crimes in a country that had simultaneously become the murder capital of the world and a staging ground for one of the largest deployments of US Special Operations forces outside of the Middle East.

It was part of a larger US program to support the conservative government of Pepe Lobo, who came to power in 2009 after the Honduran military ousted the elected president, José Manuel Zelaya, in a coup that was widely condemned in Central America. In reality, critics say, the program was an attempt by the State Department to scrub the image of a country where security forces have a record of domestic repression that continues to the present day.

“This was all about erasing memories of the coup and the structural causes of violence,” says Adrienne Pine, an assistant professor of anthropology at American University who spent the 2013-14 school year teaching at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. “It’s related to the complete absence of participatory democracy in Honduras, in which the United States is deeply complicit.”

“With the coup, Clinton had a real opportunity to do the right thing and shift US policy to respect democratic processes,” added Alex Main, an expert on US policy in Central America at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, after being told of the program. “But she completely messed it up, and we’re seeing the consequences of it now.”

Honduras Convive (“Honduras Coexists”) was the brainchild of the Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), a controversial unit of USAID that operates overseas much like the CIA did during the Cold War.

Sanctioned by Congress in 1994, OTI intervenes under the direction of the State Department, the Pentagon, and other security agencies in places like Afghanistan, Haiti, and Colombia to boost support for local governments backed by the United States. Sometimes, as it has in Cuba and Venezuela, its programs are directed at stirring opposition to leftist regimes. Clinton gave the office a major boost after she became Secretary of State; its programs are overseen by an under secretary of state as well as the top administrator of USAID.

OTI’s activities, the Congressional Research Service noted in a 2009 report, “are overtly political” and based on the idea that “timely and creative” US assistance can “tip the balance” toward outcomes “that advance U.S. foreign policy objectives.”

In Honduras, OTI seems to have followed the model it set in Iraq, where it sent some of the first US aid personnel after the 2003 invasion. At the time, CRS said, OTI’s strategy in Iraq was to convey “the tangible benefits of the regime change.”

The objective of Honduras Convive is spelled out on USAID’s website: “To disrupt the systems, perceptions and behaviors that support violence by building alliances between the communities and the state (especially the police and security forces).” A USAID official confirmed that the program is still ongoing, but played down US ties with Honduran security forces. Convive, he said, is “working in communities to build the capacity of civil society and government institutions, while strengthening community cohesion.” It was initiated “at the request of USAID and the broader U.S. Government due to high levels of violence in Honduras,” he added. “The beneficiaries of the Convive program are the Honduran people.” Much of the country’s violence is blamed on gangs and drug cartels and has led thousands of Hondurans to send their children north to flee the region.

But contractor documents obtained about the program show that it was based in part on communications strategies to win “hearts and minds” developed during the counterinsurgency phase of the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several OTI officials and contractors overseeing the project came to Honduras from Afghanistan, where they managed the civilian, nation-building side of the war. They included Miguel Reabold, OTI’s country representative in Honduras, who previously represented OTI in Afghanistan.

In addition, a key part of the project was subcontracted to a company owned by David Kilcullen, who was the senior counterinsurgency adviser to Army General David Petraeus in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Kilcullen’s research methodology, according to a contract proposal I obtained, was “built around a streamlined set of metrics” that provide a “manageable method for assessing counterinsurgency campaigns that can be replicated and customized in other insecure environments.” The contract was submitted to Reabold on October 16, 2012.

The USAID official confirmed that Kilcullen’s company, Caerus Associates, “received two grants totaling approximately $77,000 to assist USAID/OTI to assess licit and illicit networks in San Pedro Sula,” Honduras’s largest and most violent city. But, he added, “the Honduras Convive program is not a counterinsurgency program.”

In a lengthy e-mail, the official added that Convive “has drawn its lessons from best practices in violence prevention, community policing, and community cohesion from urban environments all over the world.” Since the program began, he insisted, violence has declined. He provided figures showing “marked reductions in homicides between 2013 and 2014 in some of the city’s most dangerous communities,” with declines of between 18 and 46 percent in several municipalities.

“USAID believes that homicides are decreasing due to a combination of factors, included among them a more cohesive community, represented by empowered leaders, working closely with Honduran government partners (including the police); international donors; and complementary USAID programs,” the official wrote in his e-mail.

But nowhere in the USAID documents does the word “coup” appear. The agency’s claims and statistics stand in stark contrast to the situation in Honduras, where civil society has been reeling from a wave of political violence and assassinations perpetuated by what many believe are state-sponsored death squads.

Even as Convive was being formulated in 2012, repression and violence had become a pressing issue for Hondurans. That January, UC-Santa Cruz historian Dana Frank described the carnage in The New York Times, reporting that “more than 300 people have been killed by state security forces since the coup, according to the leading human rights organization Cofadeh.” It appears to be just as bad in 2016.

A month ago, on March 3, the renowned environmental activist Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home by unknown gunmen. Two weeks later, Nelson Garcia, a member of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), co-founded by Cáceres, was shot to death. Since then, thousand of Hondurans have protested what Democracy Now! has described as a “culture of repression and impunity linked to the Honduran government’s support for corporate interests.”

The killings have brought the US government’s programs in Honduras under increased scrutiny and drawn sharp criticism of Clinton’s covert support for the 2009 coup while she was Secretary of State.

In particular, opponents of Clinton have seized on her own admissions in her autobiography, Hard Choices, that she used her power as Secretary of State to deflect criticism of the coup and shift US backing to the new government. “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot,” Clinton wrote.

In 2014, two years before her murder, Cáceres herself condemned Clinton’s statements about the coup, saying “this demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country.” Clinton, she added, “recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency…even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity.”

The Clinton campaign did not respond to e-mails seeking comment on her department’s role in Honduras Convive or in shaping US policy toward Honduras. But in March, after Cáceres’s statements on Clinton were reported in The Nation, a campaign official told Latino USA that charges that the former Secretary of State supported the 2009 coup were “simply nonsense.” “Hillary Clinton engaged in active diplomacy that resolved a constitutional crisis and paved the way for legitimate democratic elections,” she said.

*  *  *

The players in Honduras Convive provide a glimpse into the privatized world of covert operations managed by USAID and OTI, and how they dovetail with broader US foreign-policy goals of supporting governments friendly to US economic and strategic interests. They also show how Hillary Clinton might manage US foreign policy as president.

Under Clinton’s 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, OTI’s programs were expanded and strengthened, and the State Department pledged to “work much more closely” with the office. “We will build upon OTI’s business model of executing programming tailored to facilitate transition and promote stability in select crisis countries,” the review said. The overall plan for OTI was overseen by a Clinton deputy and the administrator of USAID. Most of its projects are contracted to a group of private aid companies in Washington.

Honduras Convive, for example, was outsourced to Creative Associates International (CAI), a company that has worked closely with USAID’s OTI on projects in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. In 2010, CAI teamed up with OTI to run a clandestine operation in Cuba dubbed “Cuban Twitter,” as revealed in 2014 by the Associated Press. It was designed to use social media to spark anti-government unrest in that country.

A key piece of CAI’s project in Honduras, determining the social networks responsible for violence in the country’s largest city, was subcontracted to Caerus, Kilcullen’s company. It was founded in 2010 while Kilcullen was working as a top counterinsurgency adviser to US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. In addition to advising Petraeus, Kilcullen served during the Bush administration as a senior adviser on counterinsurgency to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

One of Kilcullen’s first contracts in Afghanistan, according to the Caerus documents I obtained, was to design and manage a $15 million USAID program measuring stability in Afghanistan—a key task of the counterinsurgency effort. Kilcullen also developed close ties to the Office of Transition Initiatives. OTI is “the closest thing we have now to an organizational structure specifically designed to deal with the environments of the last ten to twenty years,” Kilcullen said in a talk to the New America Foundation in 2013.

Like Kilcullen himself, the Caerus contractors who led the Honduras project had extensive experience with the wars in Afghanistan. Stacia George, Caerus’s “Team Leader” on the Honduras project, was employed at Caerus from 2012 to 2014, where one of her tasks was training “Department of Defense professionals on using development as a counterinsurgency tool in Afghanistan” (she is now deputy director of OTI). Another Caerus associate involved in the Honduras program, William Upshur, taught counterinsurgency tactics in Afghanistan for the Army’s 10th Mountain and 82nd Airborne divisions from 2010 to 2013 (he’s now an associate with intelligence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton).

The Caerus proposal to OTI, which I obtained, emphasizes the company’s extensive experience with counterinsurgency, surveillance, and data collection in Afghanistan as well as its ties to OTI. Many Caerus staffers “have worked directly for [OTI] developing policy, implementing field programs, and managing program evaluations based on stabilization goals and objectives,” it says.

CAI, the prime contractor for Honduras Convive, deferred all questions about the project to USAID. But a CAI spokesperson said that “Creative doesn’t do counterinsurgency work and doesn’t have anybody on staff involved in counterinsurgency.”

*  *  *

The AID/OTI program was part of a grand US plan to improve security in Central America by building closer ties with local military forces and using US troops to train their police. Honduras has become a litmus test for the plan.

Today, hundreds of US Special Forces and Navy SEALs are training Honduran units for civilian law enforcement. The plan is “driven by the hope that beefing up police operations will stabilize a small country closer to home,” The Wall Street Journal reported. The training is set to expand in the $1 billion “Alliance for Prosperity” program for the region that was unveiled in late January of 2015 by Vice President Joe Biden.

Main, the CEPR analyst, says Central Americans should greet the Biden plan with skepticism. “From the U.S.-backed dirty wars of the 1980s to the broken promises of economic development under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the historical record shows that U.S. policies and assistance have often undermined prosperity, stability, and democracy in the region,” he wrote last year in NACLA Report on the Americas.

In Honduras, Main told me, the overriding US interest has been “keeping this government in power.” The “window dressing” of Honduras Convive, he added, has “been going on pretty much since the coup.” Many observers, including lawmakers, agree.

On March 16, 730 scholars organized by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs signed a letter urging the State Department to demand human rights accountability in its dealings with Honduras. “We are deeply concerned that the U.S. government condones and supports the current Honduran government by sending financial and technical support to strengthen the Honduran military and police, institutions that have been responsible for human rights violations since the coup d’état of 2009,” the letter stated.

That same week, 23 members of Congress and the AFL-CIO called on Secretary of State John Kerry to address the violence in Honduras directed against trade unionists and human rights defenders. And on March 14, activists with SOA Watch, which opposes the School of the Americas, where many Honduran and Central American military leaders have been trained, raised a banner in front of USAID’s headquarters in Washington reading “Stop Funding Murder in Honduras!”

“I’ve been pretty much appalled by US policy with respect to Honduras,” Lawrence Wilkerson, the former deputy to Secretary of State Colin Powell, told me when I brought OTI’s Honduras program to his attention in an interview last year. “If I could sum it up for what it’s been for so many years, that’s protecting all the criminals in power, basically for US commercial interests.”

Why Is Hillary OK With Honduran Death Squads?

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

18 March 16

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/35818-why-is-hillary-ok-with-honduran-death-squads

Honduran assassination has deep American roots if not fingerprints

 

hen a Honduran death squad gunned down internationally-honored environmental activist Berta Caceres, 44, a retired teacher and mother of four, in her home on March 3, the media-filtered world as we know it took note, briefly, expressed some regret, provided little context, and moved on. The outcry from rest of the real world included demands from the UN, more than 20 U.S. Congress members, and hundreds of NGOs for an independent investigation of this political assassination [a 2014 letter from 108 congressmen to Secretary of State John Kerry calling for the U.S. to address human rights abuses in Honduras had little impact]. Now, in response to a similar request, the U.S. has sent FBI agents to help the Honduran government, whose first action was to detain the only witness, Gustavo Castro Soto, himself shot twice in the same attack (and still in Honduran custody two weeks later).

What our media-shielded world mostly did not note is that Honduras is one of the original banana republics, long open to corporate plunder under the protection of the U.S. government. Nor was there much attention to longstanding political corruption in Honduras with its “elected” puppet government and major American military presence. Also omitted generally was how Honduras has served as a main base of American military operations at least since the Reagan administration’s illegal and war-crime saturated war against Nicaragua in the 1980s. Several hundred U.S.Marines are deployed in Honduras with official missions to train Hondurans and fight the war on drugs (similar to the missions of 3,500 Marines in Peru and others elsewhere), consistent with U.S. military expansion in Central America during President Obama’s first term.

But how could any of this be relevant to the assassination of yet another Honduran activist defending human rights, defending the rights of indigenous people, defending the environment, or defending the Honduran majority against military repression? None of the people currently running for president have apparently thought it worth more than a passing comment at most, not even Bernie Sanders, whose vision of an America run by billionaires has long been a grotesque reality in oligarchical Honduras. Pretty much irrelevantly, Sanders did take a glancing swipe at Clinton’s relationship with Honduras (rated “Mostly True” by Politifact) during their March 9 debate:

One of the great human tragedies of recent years is children came from Honduras where there’s more violence than in any place in this country, and they came into this country…. And I said welcome these children into this country. Secretary Clinton said, send them back. [This omits Clinton’s lawyerly conditions for expatriation, but accurately characterizes her bottom line: “Send them back.”]

So why are Honduran children fleeing in the first place?

Perhaps the most interesting contextual aspect of the Berta Caceres assassination is that it’s an extension of American “engagement” in Honduras and provides a lucid paradigm of foreign policy as Hillary Clinton practices it.

On June 27, 2009, Honduras had a legitimately elected president, Manuel Zelaya, himself a multi-millionaire oligarch, who was accused of instigating a months-long power struggle over whether he could extend his term-limited presidency by democratic but constitutionally-challenged, nonviolent means. Zelaya denied this intent, saying he would leave office as scheduled in January 2010. His opposition, including the Congress, attorney general, and Supreme Court, were holding their own in June. Congress had begun to consider impeachment. The stated issue was apparently not the real issue.

In the mid-1970s, Zelaya’s father had been convicted for taking part in the massacre of at least 15 priests, students, and other protestors, killed by Honduran military forces. Victims’ bodies were burned, castrated, and otherwise mutilated. In 1980, Zelaya’s father was freed by an amnesty after less than two years of a 20-year sentence. Zelaya, during his rise to the presidency, was accused of embezzling all or part of a missing $40 million, but he was not prosecuted. He won the presidency in 2005 with 45.6% of the vote. Zelaya ran as a traditional Honduran conservative from the Liberal Party and seemed at first to be no great threat to the Honduran sense of order, control, and wealth distribution. The National Party accused the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of gross errors and contested Zelaya’s 3.4% margin of victory, only to concede the election ten days later.

Once in office, Zelaya started doing things that displeased the elites as well as the United States. He led Honduras to join ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba to promote social, political, and economic integration of Latin countries. Although the U.S. remained Honduras’s main trading partner, Zelaya pursued expanded trade with Oceania and Africa. His foreign policy included improving relations with Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro. This alienated Honduran business elites, as did his other initiatives, including: education for all children, subsidies to small farmers, lower bank interest rates, an 80% increase in the minimum wage, and numerous programs that reduced poverty by 10% in Honduras (one of the world’s poorer countries with a 62.8% poverty rate in 2014, substantially higher than when Zelaya was in office). For three years, Honduran mass media, owned by just six families (media concentration similar to the U.S.) provided little unbiased coverage, leading Zelaya to invoke a little-used law to force the media to carry government broadcasts.

U.S.-sanctioned military coup ended Honduran non-crisis

On June 28, 2009, Honduran military forces seized President Zelaya and took him to a nearby U.S. military base. From there, Zelaya was sent into exile in Costa Rica, setting off protests around the region and the world, including a UN General Assembly resolutionon June 30, with Zelaya present at the UN (in Washington, Obama officials refused to meet with him). The resolution, agreed to by consensus, unanimously condemned the coup and demanded immediate, unconditional restoration of democratically-elected President Zelaya. The U.S., by choosing not to block the consensus, managed to avoid voting for or against a resolution that condemned its own proxies’ actions.

In October 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement re-affirming the June resolution that “condemns the coup d’état in the Republic of Honduras that has interrupted the democratic and constitutional order and the legitimate exercise of power in Honduras.”

At least part of the explanation for U.S. duplicity was made clear in an email to Clinton from Tom Shannon, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, saying that he planned on “calling the new SouthCom Commander to ensure a coordinated U.S. approach [since] we have big military equities in Honduras through Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano airbase.” Coincidentally or not, Shannon was in Honduras a week before the coup, consulting with the military and civilian groups later involved in the coup.

Given the longstanding, close, bi-partisan ties between U.S. and Honduran governments, especially their military establishments, it is all but inconceivable that high-ranking officials in the Obama administration, perhaps Obama himself, did not have at least some advance notice of (if not involvement in planning) the coup. How else does the Honduran military take a president at gunpoint and fly him to a U.S. military base only to be welcomed with open arms?

The Obama administration has never offered a credible, principled explanation for indirectly supporting and directly securing the Honduran coup. Early on, President Obama gave appropriate lip service to opposing the coup: “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there.” By avoiding calling the transparent military coup a “military coup,” Obama avoided triggering an American law that would have imposed significant sanctions against Honduras and especially the Honduran military. Instead, the Obama administration applied only token sanctions, did little to resist Republican support for the coup government, maneuvered to take the issue out of public view, and acted as if the Honduran government’s investigation of itself was sufficient response. The point person in this exercise in anti-democracy was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who described her actions in her official autobiography “Hard Choices” (now out in paperback with the Honduran section scrubbed).

Hillary Clinton’s “diplomacy” whitewashed the military coup

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was excellently positioned to move the question of the Honduran military coup out of the potentially pro-democratic forum of the Organization of American States into more sheltered talks that included both Zelaya and his appointed successor, Roberto Micheletti Bain, who publicly offered to step down during the summer of 2009 on the condition Zelaya would not return to power. During that same period, Clinton received an email from Ann-Marie Slaughter, then director of policy planning at the State Department, strongly urging her to “take bold action … find that [the] coup was a ‘military coup’ under U.S. law,” a position the administration had refused to take for the prior six weeks. Slaughter’s August 16 email added:

I got lots of signals last week that we are losing ground in Latin America every day the Honduras crisis continues; high level people from both the business and the NGO community say that even our friends are beginning to think we are not really committed to the norm of constitutional democracy we have worked so hard to build over the last 20 year [sic]. The current stalemate favors the status quo; the de facto regime has every incentive to run out the clock as long as they think we will have to accept any post-election government. I urge you to think about taking bold action now to breathe new life into the process and signal that regardless what happens on the Hill, you and the president are serious.

No such seriousness was forthcoming from the administration. Clinton, with no interference from Obama, played out the clock until bogus elections, held under the complete control of the coup government, could produce a result satisfactory to the U.S. The State Department kept negotiations alive among a variety of parties (including Zelaya and Micheletti) until it was effectively too late to have a meaningful democratic election. During September and October, Micheletti suspended five basic constitutional rights (including freedom of association, movement, speech, and personal liberty, as well as habeas corpus). On October 30, a joke of an “agreement” was announced by mediator and Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. Under this agreement, Zelaya was to be reinstated, almost powerless, in the final weeks before the election, which would remain under the control of the coup government, and even this farce included its own poison pill: the requirement  that the Honduran Congress approve Zelaya’s temporary reinstatement. Not surprisingly, the agreement was never realized, in part because four days later, the U.S. said it would honor the coup government’s “elections” whether Zelaya was ever reinstated or not. So much for the restoration of democracy in Honduras under Secretary Clinton.

What good is an election that doesn’t confirm the power structure? 

The November 27 sham election held under the control of a “unity government” that included no constitutionally-legitimate members, was punctuated by police violence and widespread media censorship. The winner was Porfirio Lobo Sosa, another multi-millionaire agricultural oligarch, who had lost to Zelaya in 2009. In an election boycotted by numerous candidates and with a turnout 6% lower than 2005, Lobos won 56.6% of the vote. The result was rejected by Spain and 11 Latin American countries, but widely accepted by the U.S. and its allies – and got a hypocritically glowing gloss from Assistant Secretary Shannon in an email to Clinton aide Cheryl Mills that falsely hyped the voter turnout:

The turnout (probably a record) and the clear rejection of the Liberal Party shows our approach was the right one, and puts Brazil and others who would not recognize the election in an impossible position. As we think about what to say, I would strongly recommend that we not be shy. We should congratulate the Honduran people, we should connect today’s vote to the deep democratic vocation of the Honduran people, and we should call on the community of democratic nations (and especially those of the Americas) to recognize, respect, and respond to this accomplishment of the Honduran people….

As president, Lobo presided over the further descent of Honduras (literally “the depths”) into violence, chaos, and corruption. Political assassinations now run to the hundreds as Honduras has achieved the highest murder rate in the world. Lobo (and now his dubious successor) have nurtured a vicious but U.S.-friendly government that has allowed its country to grow so violent that Hondurans flee northward by the thousands, while those who stay behind to resist are murdered by the hundreds. The environmental organization Global Witness, which tracks assassinations of environmentalists worldwide, found Honduras the most dangerous country per capita for environmental activists.

Among Clinton’s foreign policy achievements, Honduras may or may not be more disastrous than Libya. In “Hard Choices,” Clinton assessed Honduras this way:

We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.

In retrospect, the “strategy” failed to restore order, ensured no free and fair elections, nor any legitimate election – but it did effectively legitimize a military coup undertaken in America’s interest (as in Haiti or Egypt – sorry, Madagascar).

Clinton’s record seems unknown only to Americans  

In a healthy democracy, one might expect candidates for president to challenge the one who actively supported a military coup that helped turn an impoverished country into an expanding charnel house. In the United States in 2016, the devastation produced by American foreign policy is an issue only for those who see it as inadequate. In the home countries, American depredation is not such a secret, least of all to those who resist it. In 2014, more than a year before her assassination, Berta Caceres named Clinton as one of the perpetrators of Honduran suffering (translated):

We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after, there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community – officials, the government, the grand majority – accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.[emphasis added]

Writing in The Nationhistorian Greg Grandin amplified what Caceres meant when she warned that Clinton policy “was going to be very dangerous.” Once the sham election installed a U.S.-compliant government, Honduras adopted Washington-sponsored terrorism and counterintelligence laws that criminalized political protest. Clinton’s policy consolidated the power of murderers, Grandin noted, and led to the murder of Caceres:

Well, that’s just one horror. I mean, hundreds of peasant activists and indigenous activists have been killed. Scores of gay rights activists have been killed. I mean, it’s just—it’s just a nightmare in Honduras. I mean there’s ways in which the coup regime basically threw up Honduras to transnational pillage. And Berta Cáceres, in that interview, says what was installed after the coup was something like a permanent counterinsurgency on behalf of transnational capital. And that was—that wouldn’t have been possible if it were not for Hillary Clinton’s normalization of that election, or legitimacy.

Of course, it was also Obama’s discreet blessing of a predator state that keeps Honduras bleeding. There’s blood enough for his hands as well as Clinton’s and all the apparatchiks at the White House and State Department who enthusiastically helped this enduring crime against humanity go down.

And now there is another victim that we know about among the hundreds still unknown. On March 15, another death squad (or perhaps the same one) shot a man four times in the face in his home. He was a member of the same indigenous people’s organization as Caceres (she is one of 14 members killed so far). He was Nelson Noe Garcia Lainez, 39, father of five and a community leader. His execution followed a violent government eviction of indigenous people from their homes because they were protesting the megadam project (Agua Zarca, funded in part by USAID) that would destroy their ancestral land.

The Associated Press reported, with profound but apparently unintended irony: “The United States Embassy condemned the killing, saying that ‘coming so close to the murder of his colleague Berta Cáceres, his death is cause for particular concern.’” So it would not be a cause for concern had it happened later?

When Latino USA asked if Clinton “is still proud of the hell she helped routinize in Honduras,” a Clinton spokesperson said criticism of Clinton’s Honduras policy “simply nonsense.” Clinton is not known to have expressed regret for any part of her Honduran activities, not even sending children back to hell. Running an empire ain’t for sissies.

 

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

 

 

 

 

 

The U.S. Re-militarization of Central America and Mexico

by Alexander Main

https://nacla.org/article/us-re-militarization-central-america-and-mexico

 

2661 Honduran paratroopers with U.S. Special Forces soldiers during a “static line jump” (UNASOC News Service / Creative Commons)

During his brief visit to Costa Rica in May 2013, President Obama appeared eager to downplay the U.S. regional security agenda, emphasizing instead trade relations, energy cooperation, and youth programs. “So much of the focus ends up being on security,” he complained during a joint press conference with his Costa Rican counterpart Laura Chinchilla. “But we also have to recognize that problems like narco-trafficking arise in part when a country is vulnerable because of poverty, because of institutions that are not working for the people, because young people don’t see a brighter future ahead.” Asked by a journalist about the potential use of U.S. warships to counter drug-trafficking, Obama was adamant: “I’m not interested in militarizing the struggle against drug trafficking.”

Human rights organizations from Central America, Mexico, and the United States see the administration’s regional security policy very differently. In a letter sent to Obama and the region’s other presidents last year, over 145 civil society organizations called out U.S. policies that “promote militarization to address organized crime.” These policies, the letter states, have only resulted in a “dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves. Human rights abuses against our families and communities are, in many cases, directly attributable to failed and counterproductive security policies that have militarized our societies in the name of the ‘war on drugs.’”

The latest round in the ramping up of U.S. security assistance to Mexico and Central America began during President George W. Bush’s second term in office. Funding allocated to the region’s police and military forces climbed steadily upward to levels unseen since the U.S.-backed “dirty wars” of the 1980s. As narco-trafficking operations shifted increasingly from the Caribbean to the Central American corridor, the United States worked with regional governments to stage a heavily militarized war on drugs in an area that had yet to fully recover from nearly two decades of war.

In 2008 the Bush Administration launched the Mérida Initiative, a cooperation agreement that provides training, equipment, and intelligence to Mexican and Central American security forces. A key model for these agreements is Plan Colombia, an $8 billion program launched in 1999 that saw the mass deployment of military troops and militarized police forces to both interdict illegal drugs and counter left-wing guerrilla groups. Plan Colombia is frequently touted as a glowing success by U.S. officials who point to statistics indicating that drug production and violence has dropped while rebel groups’ size and territorial reach have significantly receded. Human rights groups, however, have documented the program’s widespread “collateral damage,” which includes the forced displacement of an estimated 5.7 million Colombians, thousands of extrajudicial killings, and continued attacks and killings targeting community activists, labor leaders, and journalists.

Under President Obama, the U.S. government has renewed and expanded Mérida and, in 2011, created the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). From 2008 to 2013, these programs have received over $2 billion and $574 million respectively, according to a 2014 report by the Igarapé Institute. Though administration spokespeople emphasize investments made in judicial reform and drug prevention programs, most funds have been spent on supporting increasingly warlike drug interdiction and law enforcement.

The surge in U.S. security assistance has coincided with a notable regional increase in the militarization of law enforcement activities. Starting in 2007, former President Felipe Calderón of Mexico began deploying tens of thousands of troops as part of his government’s crackdown on drugs and organized crime. In El Salvador troops were deployed in the streets in 2009 and their presence was increased in 2011. In 2011 and 2012 Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes appointed active and inactive military officers to top security posts, breaking with the tradition since the country’s 1992 peace accords of keeping these posts in civilian hands. In Guatemala, meanwhile, over 21,000 army troops have taken up policing missions, often far outnumbering the number of police personnel in the areas where they are deployed. According to the Center for International Policy (CIP) approximately 40% of Guatemala’s security-related posts have been filled by former military officers, since former army chief Otto Perez Molina’s 2012 ascension to the presidency.

*

U.S. security funding to Honduras was briefly suspended following the June 2009 military coup. But by the following year the United States had resumed funding at a higher rate than before the coup, even though the Center for Justice and International Law noted that “high-ranking Army officers or former members of the Army against whom complaints were brought for their participation in the coup d’état, are occupying executive positions in government offices.” In November 2011 the Honduran government began sending military patrols into the streets to fight common crime, and in August 2013 a new Military Police for Public Order was created, tasked with cracking down on gang activity. Military involvement in policing duties had been prohibited under the Honduran constitution, but in January 2014 the country’s legislature amended the constitution to permit a military police force.

Though the U.S. government has remained silent regarding military involvement in law enforcement activities, the steady increase of U.S. assistance to national armed forces has, if anything, been an indicator of tacit U.S. support. But the U.S. role in militarization of national police forces has been direct as well. In 2011 and 2012, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST)—which had previously carried out military-style missions in Afghanistan—set up camp in Honduras to train a local counternarcotics police unit and help plan and execute drug interdiction operations in the Mosquitia, a remote region in eastern Honduras that has recently become a hub for the transit of drug shipments northward.

Supported by U.S. helicopters mounted with high caliber machine guns, these operations were nearly indistinguishable from military missions, and locals routinely referred to the DEA and Honduran police agents as “soldados” (soldiers). According to The New York Times, five “commando style squads” of FAST teams have been deployed across Central America to train and support local counternarcotics units.

In July 2013, the Honduran government created a new “elite” police unit called the Intelligence Troop and Special Security Group, or TIGRES (Spanish for “tigers”). The unit, which human rights groups contend is military in nature, has been deployed in tandem with the new military police force and has received training in military combat tactics from both U.S. and Colombian Special Forces units.

*

Outside of Honduras, Colombian military and police trainers are now active throughout the region as well. Eager to help export the “successful” Plan Colombia model, the United States has funded training programs carried out by Colombian security forces in Mexico, Central America, and beyond. In 2012, President Obama and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos announced a joint multi-million dollar Action Plan on Regional Security Cooperation that draws on “Colombia’s established and expanding expertise and capacity for countering transnational organized crime…and shared U.S. responsibility to address the demand for illicit narcotics,” according to a State Department release.

2660 A Honduran paratrooper and U.S. Special Forces soldier shake hands (UNASOC News Service / Creative Commons)

Human rights groups such as the Fellowship for Reconciliation (see Lindsay-Poland, this issue) note that many members of Colombia’s police and military forces are—like many of their Mexican and Central American counterparts—implicated in extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses. Transnational crime organizations are believed to have permeated a large number of the region’s police and military units as well.

The U.S. government presents the increased support to Mexico and Central America’s security forces as a necessary response to the alarming rise in drug-trafficking activity which has, in turn, fueled violent crime. But has U.S. policy borne positive results? The question is complicated because the United States and its partners have failed to publicly establish clear metrics to assess counternarcotics efforts. One of the few measures used by the U.S. Congress is “the pace of equipment deliveries and training opportunities” according to a Congressional Research Service Report, though this information says nothing about the effectiveness and impact of aid. U.S. officials highlight statistics showing that there is less cocaine available in the U.S. today than in the years prior to the Mérida Initiative, but it appears likely that this trend is counterbalanced by the increased availability and popularity of other drugs like heroin.

What is certain is that the surge in U.S. security assistance has been accompanied by a dramatic spike in violent crime in several countries. Homicide rates have skyrocketed in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the countries that have received the bulk of CARSI funding. Today those countries—often referred to as the Northern Triangle—comprise one of the most violent regions on earth. In Mexico, meanwhile, Human Rights Watch estimates that around 80,000 people have died in drug-related killings since 2006. Drug violence has also led to the displacement of over 200,000 Mexicans, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

U.S. officials have suggested that the epidemic of violence in the region actually indicates the effectiveness of the war on drugs. The head of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, William Brownfield, recently told the Associated Press that “the bloodshed tends to occur and increase when these trafficking organizations…come under some degree of pressure.” This theory doesn’t seem to be supported by any concrete evidence, and appears to disregard the fact that many of those killed have no links to drug trafficking.

The chilling reality is that the majority of U.S. security assistance flowing to Mexico and Central America is going to police and military forces that only two decades earlier were engaged in horrifying acts of killing and torture against political opponents and indigenous communities. With few exceptions, security forces across Central America have undergone no serious reform since the 1980s, and the state agents responsible for past human rights violations have not been brought to justice for even the most egregious crimes, such as the massacre of entire villages. Today, the region’s judicial institutions—particularly in Mexico and the Northern Triangle—remain deeply corrupt and inefficient, and only a tiny proportion of crimes involving security forces are successfully investigated and prosecuted.

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The U.S. government has been reluctant to acknowledge the growing number of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses reportedly perpetrated by members of state security forces receiving U.S. support. In 2011, Human Rights Watch presented evidence of Mexican security forces’ involvement in “more than 170 cases of torture, 39 “disappearances,” and 24 extrajudicial killings since 2006.” And these incidents are likely only a drop in the bucket. From 2007 to April 2011 Mexico’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office opened 1,615 investigations into alleged military crimes against civilians, but not a single one of these investigations resulted in a prosecution.

As documented in an in-depth report by Rights Action and the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and by journalist Kaelyn Forde in NACLA’s Fall 2013 issue, on May 11, 2012, a drug interdiction operation involving Honduran police and DEA FAST team agents flew into the tiny municipality of Ahuas and opened fire on a passenger boat, resulting in the killing of four indigenous villagers, none of whom were known to have links to drug trafficking. To this day, the families of the victims of the Ahuas killings await justice and compensation from the Honduran and U.S. governments. And in a number of documented instances across Central America, attacks by security forces have targeted civil society groups engaged in peaceful protests or other forms of non-violent opposition. In Guatemala troops have killed indigenous protestors demonstrating against the government’s economic reforms. Honduran military and police units are accused of killing dozens of land rights advocates in the Bajo Aguán valley close to the Atlantic coast, and a peaceful demonstrator protesting a hydroelectric project further west in the Rio Blanco Valley.

Killings and attacks against women, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, LGBT activists, union leaders, and political opposition leaders have risen sharply. In Honduras, many occur in death squad fashion, with individuals kidnapped by masked men in unmarked vehicles, shot and left by the roadside, sometimes with evidence of torture. Given the tactics, many suspect the involvement of security forces, but those responsible are almost never brought to justice.

Citing these widespread abuses, human rights groups and many members of Congress have pushed back against the U.S. security spending frenzy. In 2012, 94 members of the U.S. House of Representatives demanded the complete suspension of police and military assistance to Honduras. Congressional appropriators have conditioned portions of security aid to Mexico and Honduras pending State Department certification of governments’ compliance with human rights and accountability provisions. They have also maintained a long-standing ban on foreign military funding and training of Guatemalan army units in appropriations funneled through the State Department.

But the Obama administration has consistently certified Mexico and Honduras as compliant with human rights conditions in spite of, in the case of Honduras, public objections from over 20 U.S. senators. The ban on some security assistance to Guatemala is amply compensated by direct Department of Defense support to military units, among them those that reportedly include members of the Kaibiles, Special Forces troops implicated in past massacres.

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Recently, the United States began channeling more sophisticated and insidious forms of support to the region’s security forces. Through CARSI, the U.S. government has equipped police institutions with surveillance technology and encouraged widespread wiretapping activity. The overt intention may be to improve local law enforcements’ ability to intercept drug traffickers’ calls, but—given the absence of effective judicial accountability—civil society actors legitimately fear that this enhanced surveillance capacity is being directed at them.

Despite the United States’ enormous investment, the State Department’s 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report notes that “approximately 90 percent of illegal drugs from South America destined for the United States are smuggled through the seven Central American countries and Mexican corridor.” Why have billions of dollars been spent on a failed policy that has only generated more violence? And why, in an apparent repetition of the dark days of Central America’s dirty wars, does Washington invest so heavily in strengthening and empowering corrupt security forces with appalling human rights records?

U.S. officials’ unwavering faith in the Colombian militarized model is no doubt part of the reason. But a stubbornly persistent Cold War mindset may also be at play. Based on hours of interviews with State Department officials and Congressional staffers, investigative journalist Hector Silva Avalos recently observed in an Inter-American Dialogue report that the U.S. security agenda in the Northern Triangle is driven in part by the perceived threat of the growing regional power of the Venezuelan government. A new “anti-American narrative,” he argues, has replaced the prior communist threat in the eyes of key policy makers.

Avalos’s findings echo a 2007 U.S. strategy memorandum—part of the WikiLeaks trove of diplomatic cables—on the “Southern Cone Perspective on Countering Chávez and Reasserting U.S. Leadership.” Though the memo focuses on policy toward the Southern Cone, its message would no doubt resonate among U.S. Central America policy makers. “We should continue to strengthen ties to those military leaders in the region who share our concern over [late Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez,” stated the memorandum

The U.S. government’s failed and destructive regional anti-drug policy now faces a swelling movement of resistance from Central American leaders and grassroots movements alike. Governments are debating alternative policies that include potential decriminalization of drug possession and use.

Human rights groups and social movements are increasingly united in decrying the use of army troops and militarized police in repressing popular movements and defending corporations in their efforts to wrest resource-rich lands from communities. The priority, they believe, is building strong, transparent judicial institutions to address human rights crimes and ensure accountability. To eradicate the scourge of violent crime, investment is needed, not in military equipment and police and military training, but in equitable and sustainable economic development that addresses the basic needs of the poor.

 


 

Alexander Main is the Senior Associate for International Policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), with a focus on U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean.