Archive for the ‘military death squad in Honduras’ Category

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

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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.

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.


(written by Silvio Carrillo, nephew of Berta Cáceres, who lives in California)

It happened again in Honduras

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 7.00.54 PM

It happened again in Honduras. Another environmental activist has been murdered.

Yaneth Urquia, a 49-year-old mother of three, was a member of COPINH, an indigenous rights group that was co-founded by my aunt Berta Cáceres, who was also murdered for her activism.

Authorities claim Yaneth’s murder was either a robbery gone awry, an extortion case, and/or a family dispute. Basically anything to make it seem like it wasn’t a politically motivated killing.

Yaneth’s body was found near a garbage dump, with severe injuries to her head.

It seems like a horrible repeat of what happened to my aunt. Hours after Berta was killed in her home last March, authorities claimed her murder was an attempted robbery. Then they said it was a crime of passion, or possibly some other type of power struggle.

None of those theories are true. Today, there are five people in custody for Berta’s assassination, including at least one member of an elite Honduran Army battalion who received training from U.S. forces, according to media reports. But the intellectual authors remain free.

Similar to my aunt Berta, Yaneth had been fighting against the construction of a hydroelectric dam that was being built on Lenca land without their consultation or approval. The dam project is owned by Arnoldo Castro, husband of Gladys Lopez, the vice president of the Congress and head of the ruling National Party.

Here are two things that weren’t reported in local and international press. Yaneth’s murder, which happened in normally peaceful town of Marcala (population 30,000), was the fourth to occur there in a week. And, the day Yaneth was killed, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was in Marcala for a surprise visit—something that some people in town saw as a sign of official intimidation by the National Party.

Yaneth’s assassination is part of a well-documented pattern of intimidation and harassment against those who stand up to business interests promoted by Honduras’ elite. Arnold Castro got his government concession to build the Santa Elena dam an hour from Marcala without ever consulting the Lenca indigenous people who have lived on the land for generations. Neither he, nor his wife, have been linked to her killing.

Notwithstanding the fact that Honduras’ crime rate is one of the highest in the world, the string of murders is not related to random acts of violence. They are calculated acts of social control. An acquaintance of mine whose family lives in Marcala and is also an activist and organizer for indigenous and environmental rights tells me her family’s house has been shot at several times. It’s a clear message.

Despite the overwhelming amounts of evidence of collusion and corruption within Hernandez’ administration, the U.S. continues its unabashed support for this criminal syndicate that calls itself a government. U.S. Ambassador James Nealon has even told local media that the U.S. “is proud to work with” President Hernandez.

Well, I am Honduran-American, and that partnership doesn’t make me proud.

Honduras Lenca Communities Reject Energy Project After Murder

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Honduras-Lenca-Communities-Reject-Energy-Project-After-Murder-20160711-0015.html

Friends and supporters gather near the coffin of Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, member of COPINH, before her burial, in Marcala, Honduras, July 8, 2016.

Friends and supporters gather near the coffin of Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, member of COPINH, before her burial, in Marcala, Honduras, July 8, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Although the local population is overwhelmingly against the Los Encinos dam, their resolution is non-binding, and unlikely to deter government officials.

Lenca communities in the western Honduran region of La Paz have voted overwhelmingly against a controversial hydroelectric dam in their territory against the construction of a hydroelectric dam, which sparked an Indigenous resistance movement following the 2009 U.S.-backed coup. 

 

Ninety percent of the 1,200 Hondurans who cast ballots in 15 pollintg places across nine communities Sunday voted against the dam on the Chinacla river in the municipality of Santa Elena.  The Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz, also known as MILPAH, has been fighting for recognition of their land rights since 2010 when the redevelopment project by the corporation, Los Encinos, was approved without any community input.

The struggle launched into the international spotlight last month, when local activist Ana Mirian Romero won the annual international Front Line Defenders Award for her commitment for fighting for human rights despite threats against her life.

The communities consulted in Sunday’s vote also rejected the creation of a land register that would have pave the way for further division of Lenca territories.

 

The vote comes after another member of MILPAH’s sister movement COPINH, Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, was murdered last week, just four months after internationally-renowned leader Berta Caceres was shot dead in her home on March 3. Another COPINH member, Nelson Garcia, was assassinated less than two weeks after Caceres.

Romero and other MILPAH activists have also faced death threats and a slew of other personal harassment and intimidation as a result of her involvement in the movement.

Leading up to Sunday’s vote, over a year in the making, MILPAH accused local officials, including the mayor of Santa Elena, of trying to frustrate their attempts to hold the consultation. The movement insisted that the “intimidating acts,” including Yaneth Urquia’s murder, would not stop the vote from going forward.

Hydroelectric companies and other developmen5t projects began surfacing in Santa Elena and surrounding Lenca communities, following the 2009 military coup against former President Manuel Zelaya, which was supported by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That was the same time that Hondurans indigenous communities began experiencing an escalation of government repression.

The Los Encinos hydroelectric project on the Chinacla river, a sacred site in Lenca spirituality and important for the subsistence of local communities, has also been controversial for its links to the country’s political elite. According to the human rights organization Rights Action, the dam is part of an energy project funded by Gladys Aurora Lopez, a lawmaker with the ruling right-wing National Party and Vice President of Congress.

COPINH has specifically singled out Lopez — along with the Honduran government and military — for responsibillity in Yaneth Urquia’s murder and a  “permanent source of threats” in La Paz by promoting controversial energy projects.

But while the nine Lenca communities have ratified their rejection of the Los Encinos dam with a resounding “no” vote, the overwhelming precedent in the country suggests that the government will continue to violate the community’s internationally-enshrined Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent for all development projects on their traditionally territory.

COPINH and other Indigenous movements have repeatedly called for an end to all corporate projects on Lenca territory to “put a stop to death, impunity, and injustice” in Honduras.

THIS WILL NOT STOP
Another Political Assassination in Honduras; Continued Silence from Most U.S. and Canadian Politicians, Media, Companies and Investors

By Grahame Russell, Rights Action, July 7, 2016

http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=ea011209a243050dfb66dff59&id=7a3d18454c

Assassinated: Lesbia Janeth Urquia Urquia, 49 years old, mother of two daughters and one son.

On July 6, 2016, the body of Lesbia Janeth Urquía Urquía was found stabbed to death, dumped at a place called “Mata Mulas” (Kills Mules) by the Marcala municipal dump, in the western department of la Paz.

Body of Yaneth found near a garbage dump with severe wounds to her head

Lesbia was, since the 2009 U.S. and Canadian backed military coup, a member of COPINH (Consejo de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas).  COPINH writes:“This assassination occurred 4 months and 4 days after the assassination of our leader and companera Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores, and confirms again the plan to erradicate those of us who defend Mother Earth and our common goods.”

Lesbia was at the forefront of a community struggle to oppose the illegal imposition of a privatized hydro-electric dam project along the Chinacla river in Marcalas, La Paz.

This project is headed up by Gladys Aurora Lopez (president of the governing National Party; vice president of the National Congress) and was “authorized” by the very same National Congress without free, prior and informed consent from the affected communities.

Lesbia was at the forefront of community efforts to carry out a public, legally binding community consultation … when she was assassinated and her body dumped in a place for all to see, a message to anyone involved in efforts to oppose this project of the vice president of the National Congress and president of the National Party.

Since the 2009 military coup, hundreds of Hondurans have been assassinated for political reasons.

This will not stop.

Until the international supporters of the corrupted, repressive Honduran regime stop doing business as usual with the economic-political-military elites, benefitting from repression, corruption and impunity, this will not stop.

Until the U.S. government suspends all military “aid” and economic relations with the regime, this will not stop.  Until the Canadian government rescinds the “free trade agreement” it improperly (illegally?) signed with the military backed regime and corrupted congress of Honduras, this will not stop.

Until there are proper media and political investigations into how the U.S. and Canadian governments supported and legitimized the June 28, 2009, military coup and post-coup regimes in Honduras, this will not stop.

State repression and killings are not accidental in Honduras; this how the elites do business with their international business and political partners.

Courageous groups across Honduras, along with Rights Action and many groups across the U.S. and Canada, will not stop documenting and denouncing the endemic killings and repression, corruption and impunity, and the direct complicity of the U.S. and Canadian governments and companies, as well as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and other global investors and companies.

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.