Archive for the ‘US intervention in Honduras’ Category

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.

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USAID Funds Honduran Company Implicated in Berta Caceres Murder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”Berta Cáceres86 -poster

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.”

Berta’ Mother: The Honduran State is Responsible for this Crime

Public Letter from Austra Bertha Flores López.

Austra Bertha Flores López mother of Berta Caceres

As you know, I am the mother of Bertha Isabel Cáceres Flores, assassinated on March 2nd of this year. A month has gone by since this abominable and cowardly crime took place. I write this public letter despite the pain it causes me, in order to reach as many people as possible with these messages:

1. I want to express my deepest thanks to all of the people, social movement organizations, human rights organizations, representatives of indigenous and afro-descendant peoples, women’s organizations, representatives of different churches, diplomats, teachers’ organizations, youth organizations, LGBT organizations, environmentalist organizations, members of the media, in summary, to all of those who have shown solidarity during this tremendously difficult time that I have had to live through as a result of this violent crime. The same is true, of course, for my grand daughters and my grandson, who had their mother stolen from them in the most horrendous way imaginable, along with all of the other family members who have suffered this irreparable loss.
I have painstakingly served my people as a midwife, a mayor, a governor and a congresswoman, roles which allowed me to push for the approval of ILO Convention 169, for the defense of women, of children and of human rights in general. At 83 years of age this crime has hit me hard and I am only able to stay strong thanks to the steadfast solidarity that I have received from you. I want to tell you that I hope not to leave this world before achieving justice for my daughter Bertita, who has given her life for our mother earth, for the rights of indigenous and black peoples, for women and for the rivers. For this reason I ask you to please continue to vigorously support me so that we may achieve justice and end impunity in a country so beaten down by the oppressors’ political violence against those who work to build a more just and humane society. I reiterate to you my appreciation, and ask that we make our cries for justice even louder, since that is the only way we can end the impunity that has surrounded this crime. You all can decide on the way to do this, whether through a prayer, a poster, a march, a drawing on a wall, or a non-violent but powerful action. Our sisters and brothers have demonstrated enormous creativity. Keep it up, so that a world without violence can one day be possible.

2. Secondly, I write to you to say that it is the Honduran state that is responsible for this crime, for the following reasons: The Honduran state was under obligation to comply with the protective measures ordered to secure my daughter’s life, yet the state did not fulfill these international commitments. It was the Honduran state that approved the concessions of our natural resources, including the Gualcarque River, a river that is part of the Lenca territory, without the required prior, free, and informed community consultation, despite knowing that it is required to do so under an international agreement approved by the Honduran state. That agreement is the Untied Nations International Labor Organization Convention 169, which mentions the right to consultation. The violation of this convention has generated tremendous conflict, leading to bloodshet in the communities, assassination of indigenous leaders and environmentalists.
The Honduran state criminalized my daughter by leveraging state institutions to mount several cases against her for the crime of carrying out her work in defense of our natural resources and the rights of indigenous and black peoples in Honduras. The Honduran state has taken it upon itself to defend the private interests of extractive companies, to such an extent that when my daughter, as general coordinator of COPINH, led a march this past February, she was insulted, vilified and threatened by people linked to DESA’s interests in front of the police and the army, whose response was to repress her and the Lena people that were mobilizing, going so far as to seize the buses that were transporting them.
The Honduran state contaminated the crime scene instead of preserving and investigating it. It has been a month already and despite national and international pressure, the state has been unable to capture the material or intellectual authors of this crime that has brought grief to our family and our people.
After the coup d’état lists of people to be targeted by death squads for assassination circulated. The first person on those lists was Bertha Isabel.
I know that nobody can bring my daughter back to life, but that will not stop my determination to fight with all of my strength so that Bertita’s assassination does not remain in impunity. That means fighting for the Honduran state to allow an independent commission to investigate this painful assassination and to cancel all of the concessions of natural resources that have been handed out in clear violation of ILO Convention 169, particularly the concessions along the Gualcarque River, for which my daughter struggled and continues to struggle from wherever she may be. It means the Honduran government must commit to not allow any more crimes against the women and men who defend human rights. That Honduras allow our family to participate in the investigation. That the Honduran state cease the criminalization of COPINH and the social movement organizations.
I would like for UNESCO to designate the Gualcarque River as part of humanity’s cultural and natural heritage.

I also want to use this opportunity to express how happy I am that Gustavo Castro, a dear friend and another victim of this crime, has been able to return to his country.
I close by asking that all of our people in Honduras and all of the peoples of the world take up the struggle in defense of life and mother earth. Towards that end, I leave you with the words of my daughter: “WAKE UP HUMANITY, THERE’S NO TIME LEFT.”
With conviction, appreciation and solidarity, sincerely,
Austra Bertha Flores López

The U.S. Role In Honduras by Stephen Zunes

The US role in the Honduras coup and subsequent violence

https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/the-u-s-role-in-honduras-by-stephen-zunes

 

People carry the coffin of indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Caceres after a five-hour autopsy at the Forensic Medicine Center in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 3. (CNS/EPA

Stephen Zunes  |  Mar. 14, 2016NCR Today

On March 3, Berta Cáceres, a brave and outspoken indigenous Honduran environmental activist and winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize, was gunned down in her hometown of La Esperanza. Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director for Amnesty International, noted how “For years, she had been the victim of a sustained campaign of harassment and threats to stop her from defending the rights of indigenous communities.”

She is just one of thousands of indigenous activists, peasant leaders, trade unionists, journalists, environmentalists, judges, opposition political candidates, human rights activists, and others murdered since a military coup ousted the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

Despite being a wealthy logger and rancher from the centrist Liberal Party, Zelaya had moved his government to the left during his four years in office. During his tenure, he raised the minimum wage and provided free school lunches, milk for young children, pensions for the elderly, and additional scholarships for students. He built new schools, subsidized public transportation, and even distributed energy-saving light bulbs.

None of these were particularly radical moves, but it was nevertheless disturbing to the country’s wealthy economic and military elites. More frightening was that Zelaya had sought to organize an assembly to replace the 1982 constitution written during the waning days of the U.S.-backed military dictator Policarpo Paz Garcia. A non-binding referendum on whether such a constitutional assembly should take place was scheduled the day of the coup, but was cancelled when the military seized power and named Congressional Speaker Roberto Micheletti as president.

Calling for such a referendum is perfectly legal under Article 5 of the 2006 Honduran Civil Participation Act, which allows public functionaries to perform such non-binding public consultations regarding policy measures. Despite claims by the rightist junta and its supporters, Zelaya was not trying to extend his term. That question wasn’t even on the ballot. The Constitutional Assembly would not have likely completed its work before his term had expired anyway.

Attention, Seattle! NCR on Tap is coming to your city April 5. Join editor Dennis Coday and others for an evening of food, drinks and good conversation about the church. Learn more.

The leader of the coup, Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, was a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas, a U.S. Army training program nicknamed “School of Assassins” for the sizable number of graduates who have engaged in coups, as well as the torture and murder of political opponents. The training of coup plotters at the program, since renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, isn’t a bygone feature of the Cold War: General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, who played an important role in the coup as head of the Honduran Air Force, graduated as recently as 1996.


More: Catholic groups write John Kerry to urge US scrutiny of Honduran activist’s death


There is no evidence to suggest that the Obama administration was behind the coup. However, a number of U.S. officials — most notably then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — played an important role in preventing Zelaya’s return to office and the junta consolidating its power in the face of massive nonviolent protests.

Clinton insisted the day after the coup that “all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to yesterday’s events.” When asked if her call for “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself, she didn’t say it necessarily would. State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly evaded reporters’ questions as to whether the United States supported Zelaya’s return, placing the United States at odds with the Organization of American States, the Rio Group, and the U.N. General Assembly, all of which called for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya.

U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens, reflecting the broad consensus of international observers, sent a cable to Clinton entitled “Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup,” thoroughly documenting that “there is no doubt” that Zelaya’s ouster “constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup.” Similarly, Ann-Marie Slaughter, then serving as director of Policy Planning at the State Department, sent an email to Clinton strongly encouraging her to “take bold action” and to “find that [the] coup was a ‘military coup’ under U.S. law.” However, Clinton’s State Department refused to suspend U.S. aid to Honduras — as required when a democratically-elected government is ousted in such a manner – on the grounds that it wasn’t clear that the forcible military-led overthrow actually constituted a coup d’état.

Emails released last year by the State Department also show how Clinton rejected calls by the international community to condemn the coup and used her lobbyist friend Lanny Davis — who was working for the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, which supported the coup — to open communications with Micheletti, the illegitimate interim ruler installed by the military.

Leaders of Latin American nations, the U.N. General Assembly and other international organizations unambiguously demanded Zelaya’s immediate return to office. However, in her memoir Hard Choices, Clinton admits that she worked to prevent restoring the elected president to office: “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary Espinosa in Mexico. 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.”

The elections, held under military rule and marred by violence and media censorship, were hardly free or fair. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) declared they would not recognize elections held under the de facto government and the Organization of American States drafted a resolution that would have refused to recognize Honduran elections carried out under the dictatorship, but the State Department blocked its adoption.

In the subsequent six years, the horrific repression and skyrocketing murder rate — now the highest in the world — has resulted in tens of thousands of refugees fleeing for safety in the United States. Ironically, as Secretary of State, Clinton rejected granting political asylum and supported their deportation.

Clinton’s role in supporting the coup in Honduras is a reminder that the Middle East is not the only part of the world in which she is willing to set aside principles of international law and human rights to advance perceived U.S. economic and strategic interests. Indeed, it may be a troubling indication of the kind of foreign policies she would pursue as president.

[Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, Contributing Editor to Tikkun Magazine, and is currently serving as a visiting professor at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand.]

Duty to Warn

by Dr. Gary Kohls

The Execution of Berta Caceres, the United Fruit Company and the US Military: A Historical Timeline Identifying Some of the Perpetrators

By Gary G. Kohls, MD

THE FOLLOWING QUOTES (EXCEPT AS NOTED) ARE FROM:HTTPS://NEWREPUBLIC.COM/ARTICLE/120559/HONDURAS-CHARTER-CITIES-SPEARHEADED-US-CONSERVATIVES-LIBERTARIANS

“In the early 1950s the United Fruit Company hired legendary public relations expert Edward Bernays to carry out an intense misinformation campaign portraying then-Guatamalan president Jacobo Arbenz as a communist threat.” – Scott Price, IC Magazine

“Between the time of the (Honduran) coup (June 2009) and February 2012, there were at least 59 politically motivated assassinations of civilians associated with the resistance movement. This is a low estimate, as intimidation and fear of reprisal prevents communities and family members from reporting many such deaths. There were at least 250 violations of human rights in the military junta’s first three months alone.” – Committee of Family Members of the Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), respected human rights organization.

“I’ve seen all sorts of horrific things in my time. but none as detrimental to the country as this.” – Honduran journalist Sandra Maribel Sanchez

 “In 2013, the (illegitimate) Honduran government passed a law…which is to create autonomous free-trade zones that are governed by corporations, instead of the countries in which they exist.”

 “…the project will allow multinationals to violate labor and environmental rights. It’s unconstitutional and violates national sovereignty. According to the charter city law, Honduras will sell territory to investors, and that territory becomes an autonomous region (that is) no longer governed by Honduran laws or police.”

“This is nothing more than a plan to get rid of the national debt by auctioning off the country,” ex-president Manuel Zelaya, overthrown in a US-backed 2009 coup.

“Many fear the ZEDEs (‘Special Economic Development Zones’ [‘Privatized Free Trade Zones’]) in Honduras because they will become a tool for organized crime to strengthen its hold on the country”

“Nine Americans remain key players in the ZEDEs—six of whom served in the administration of former President Ronald Reagan.” (They are Mark Klugmann, Grover Norquist, Richard Rahn, Loren A. Smith, Reagan’s son, Michael and Mark Skousen – see below for more details.)

“US investor-members (of the Honduran Special Economic Development Zone’s  so-called Committee for the Application of Best Practices) include Mark Klugmann, speech writer for presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and image consultant to Honduran post-coup president Lobo; Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform; Richard Rahn, vice president of the Chamber of Commerce during the Reagan administration and senior member of the (Libertarian)Cato Institute; Loren A. Smith, federal judge and chief campaign advisor to Reagan in 1976 and 1980; Reagan’s son, Michael; and Mark Skousen, former CIA economic analyst and Forbes columnist.”

“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” – Jay Gould, railroad robber baron, as he hired armed Pinkerton detectives (and other goon squad thugs) to brutally break a labor union strike.

This time we can’t just call up the police ‘cause the criminals got all the cops on a leash” – Songwriter Ethan Miller, from his powerful pro-worker songOrganized Crime

Hondura’s President Porfirio Lobo talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Guatemala City on March 5, 2010. (Photo: Guatemala Presidency/Handout)

Hondura’s Illegitimately-elected right-wing President Porfirio Lobo met with President Obama in October 2011 following the military coup that deposed the social democratic president Zelaya

Wounds inflicted by the Honduran military upon a Lenca tribal anti-dam activist, whose father was murdered in the same attack

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Last Sunday I attended a vigil at Peace Church here in Duluth, MN that commemorated the life and death of assassinated Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres, a 44 year-old mother of 4.

Caceres has been devoting her life organizing her fellow aboriginal tribal members (the Lenca Indians), fellow Hondurans and other justice-loving citizens of the world in resisting the privatization of their ancestral lands, resources and rivers by foreign investor groups and the traitorous collaborating politicians and businessmen that rule Honduras. Those “traitors” to her homeland’s indigenous rights are being militarily backed-up by the Honduran military, the private corporation’s armed guards, and shadowy “death squads” who have been harassing Berta and other resistors with death threats, intimidation and killings over the years.

The vigil was somber and meditative and a call to some sort of action to those in attendance. To me it was also a call to do something to resist other tyrannical corporations that are forging ahead with their nefarious plans to exploit and extract our precious, irreplaceable resources by any means necessary.

I have long believed that, in order to be effective, it is necessary to name out loud, not just the evil that is being done to the land and it creatures, but also the suspected or proven evil-doers  That exercise was effective in my practice of holistic health care, where victims of neglect or psychological, sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual trauma needed to not only identify the signs and symptoms of their mental ill health, but also to name the perpetrators of the violence, which were individuals, groups or cultures. Doing so was very therapeutic and often curative.

So, in addition to commemorating the life and death of another martyr to the cause of peace and environmental justice, I feel that it is important to understand the history of the power-hungry perpetrators of violence to the land, its creatures, whether it be greedy individuals, greedy corporate entities, blinded or co-opted bureaucracies or military or police organizations that solve their problems by inflicting violence on others.

Therefore I offer below the following timeline of historical events in Honduras that led up to Berta’s execution, starting with the gold-obsessed Christopher Columbus and the evil conquistadors that followed him to a new world that was already occupied by First Nations’ peoples who were massacred or otherwise cheated out of their sovereign right to make use of their own land, mineral and water resources as they saw fit. I have obtained the information from a multitude of historically accurate sources.

(Note that this March 30 is the 117th anniversary of the merger of two US banana companies into the United Fruit Company (now called United Brands),that did everything in its power to violently enslave the aboriginal people of Central America by illegally and immorally removing them from their ancestral lands, refusing to pay them livable wages for their work, putting their lives and health at serious risk and by hoarding massive amounts of their land, thus impoverishing the original inhabitants,

Of course this pattern of exploitation should familiar to anybody who is awake. It happened (and is still happening) to aboriginal peoples in our own backyard, whether it is in the United States, Canada or in the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, New Zealand or most everywhere else around the world.

Powerful entities like extractive, polluting and otherwise exploitive multinational corporations like PolyMet, Twin Metals, Glencore and Enbridge (just to mention the few companies that are threatening the environmental health of northern Minnesota) need to be resisted. Please offer any help you can give to the Duluth 7 activist group, which is facing criminal trespass charges when they tried to deliver a protest letter to the corporate Duluth offices of Enbridge Energy, a Canadian oil pipeline company on November 2, 2015. Their arraignment is scheduled for April 1.

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A Historical Timeline from Columbus to the Berta Caceres Assassination

1502 During 4th voyage Christopher Columbus reaches the coast of Honduras, then travels south to Panama.

1525 Spain conquistadors begin the brutal military assault on Honduras and all of Central and South America, with millions of innocents displaced and executed.

17th century The northern coast of Honduras falls to British buccaneers. British Honduras (now Belize) is established as a British colony, along with many Caribbean island nations.

1860 William Walker, US physician and pro-slavery soldier of fortune from Nashville, TN, leads mercenary soldiers in temporarily “conquering” Nicaragua. He is executed by firing squad by the Honduras government.

1898 April-December: Spanish-American war. Following the war, the US militarily occupies Cuba and Puerto Rico.

1899, March 30 The Boston Fruit Company merges with the Snyder Banana Company, and renames itself the United Fruit Company. The company at one time controlled 75% of the banana market in the US.

1903 November: The United States, with an eye on digging an interoceanic canal, conspires with separatist groups in the Colombian state of Panama to declare independence from Colombia. The US government sends the US Navy to prevent Colombia from recovering its territory. As soon as Panama’s independence is assured, the US obtains control over a strip of land (ultimately called the Canal Zone) through which it plans on building the canal.

1903 The United States invades Honduras.

1903 US invades the Dominican Republic.

1906 The US Army re-invades Cuba. The American occupation remains until 1909.

1907 US troops invade Nicaragua and establish a protectorate in the country.

1907 Due to political violence, US re-invades Honduras during the war with Nicaragua to “protect American lives”.

1909 US Army re-invades Nicaragua.

1911 US helps to overthrow President Miguel Devila of Honduras

1912 The US Army sends troops to Cuba.

1912 US marines land in Panama during the contested presidential elections.

1912 The US Army intervenes again in Honduras.

1914 The US Navy fights against rebels in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

1915 The US Army invades Haiti.

1916 The US Army invades the Dominican Republic.

1917 The US Army invades Cuba. The American occupation lasts until 1933.

1918 The US Army intervenes in Panama and keeps a police force in the country.

1919 The US marines land in Honduras during the presidential campaign.

1920 The US Army lands in Guatemala and fights for two weeks and puts down a peasant union movement against the United Fruit Company.

1924 US military “intervenes” in Honduras to “protect American interests” (ie, the profitability of the United Fruit Company) during a presidential election.

1925 US Army lands in Panama during a general strike against the banana plantation owners.

1932 US Navy intervenes in the Marti Revolt in El Salvador.

1932-49 Honduras suffers under the military dictatorship of General Tiburcio Carias Andino and his  right-wing National Party of Honduras (NPH).

1933 First election to the presidency of Honduras of General Carias, who developed close ties with his fellow right-wing, neofascist , military dictators in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, all supported by the US. He remained in office until 1949.

1934 In a military coup, US-backed military dictator Anastasio Somoza takes power in Nicaragua and outlaws political parties that favor the poor and working class. He was assassinated on September 17, 1980.

<<snip>>

1945 The United Fruit Company introduces Miss Chiquita Banana as the company’s official symbol.

1953 President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorizes Operation PBSUCCESS, a covert operation in which the CIA funds, arms, and trains 480 men led by Carlos Castillo Armas, the first of many of Guatamala’s (and other Central and South American) military dictators vigorously supported by the US.

1954 After escaping from prison following an abortive military coup attempt (1950) against the Guatemalan government, strongman and dictator-to-be Carlos Castillo established an army in neighboring Honduras. Castillo received financial and military support from the CIA and political support from Republican US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA Director Allen Dulles. The Dulles brothers were once lawyers for the United Fruit Company.

1954 Castillo’s army invades Guatemala in June, 1954, successfully overthrowing the democratically-elected Jacobo Arbenz, who had instituted land reform benefitting the landless peasants (the 99%) – opposed vigorously by the United Fruit Company, its bought-and-paid-for politicians and wealthy landowners (the 1%).

1954 Che Guevara witnesses the CIA-backed coup in Guatemala against Arbenz and is convinced that only armed revolutions can overthrow fascists and wealthy land-owning tyrants.

1956 The Honduras military ousts civilian president Lozano Diaz in a bloodless coup. Honduras was subsequently ruled by a military junta for the next two years.

1957 José Ramón Adolfo Villeda Morales is elected Honduran president. He serves for 6 years.

1963 October 13 The presidential candidate of the Liberal Party of Honduras, campaigning on the platform to abolish the military, is expected to win the election. But Honduran democracy is again thwarted by a military coup d’etat shortly before election day.

1963 General Osvaldo Lopez took power after the coup and served as president until 1971.

1972 General Lopez again takes power in another coup d’etat and serves until 1974.

1974 General Lopez resigns after he was exposed for accepting a bribe of over a million dollars from United Fruit.

1974 Hurricane Fifi devastates Honduras, killing 5,000.

1975 Colonel Juan Alberto Melgar Castro takes power.

1978 General Policarpo Paz Garcia ousts Melgar in a coup.

1981 Roberto Suazo Cordova, of the Centrist Liberal Party of Honduras, is elected president. He leads the first civilian government in more than a century.

1982 Brutal Guatemalan dictator (and fundamentalist Christian) Rios Montt meets with US President Ronald Reagan in Honduras. Reagan dismisses reports of egregious human rights abuses in the region and resumes weapons sales to military rulers.

1986 President Reagan issues an executive order granting emergency aid for Honduran army.

1988 Amnesty International reports increases in human rights violations by Honduran armed forces, and right-wing death squads.

1989 General Alvarez is assassinated.

1990 Rafael Callejas is sworn in as president; last Nicaraguan Contras leave Honduras.

1990-1998 Honduran military death squads kill hundreds.

1995 Compulsory military service is abolished. First military officers charged with human rights abuses.

1997 Carlos Flores, Liberal Party,is  elected president, pledging to restructure armed forces.

1998 Hurricane Mitch devastates Honduras. Cholera and malaria epidemics ensues.

1999 Honduran armed forces is placed under civilian control.

2001 Honduran Committee for Defense of Human Rights states that more than 1,000 street children were murdered in 2000 by death squads backed by the Honduran police. A drought ravages Central America, and Honduras loses 80% of its grain crops.

2002 Honduras restores diplomatic ties with Cuba.

2003 Thousands of protestors across Honduras unite to demand that the government revoke debt payment agreements with the IMF. Sadly, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua agree to the terms of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

2004 Honduras signs NAFTA.

2005 Liberal Party’s Manuel Zelaya, a social democrat, wins presidential election. Honduran Congress approves Central American Free Trade Agreement.

2006 Zelaya inaugurated as new president, promises to fight corruption.

2008 Honduras joins Bolivarian Alternative for Americas, headed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

2008 Zelaya administration blocks many hydroelectric dam projects, siding with the aboriginal people who would be most affected.

2009 June President Zelaya forced into exile following a US-supported military coup d’etat. Porfirio Lobo of the conservative National Party of Honduras installed as president in a fraudulent election November 2009.

2009 In the first three months of President Lobo’s administration, at least 250 violations of human rights occur and over the first two years, over 59 assassinations of civilians are documented. 2010 President Lobo’s rallying cry was “Honduras is Open for Business.”

2010 September The post-coup nationalist government awards 47 hydroelectric dam concessions in just one law, without consulting the indigenous communities which rely on the rivers for food and water. The law was part of a tsunami of pro-business laws passed by the National Congress led by

2010 President Juan Orlando Hernandez becomes the country’s president in an election marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation. Orlando, a businessman, is a staunch supporter of foreign investments in dams, mining, tourism and oil.

Since the 2009 coup, the US builds up its air base presence in Honduras through the establishment of three forward operating bases, ostensibly for “drug interdiction”.

2011 Honduras receives more than $50 million in Pentagon contracts. 62 percent of all Defense Department funds intended for Central America that year go to Honduras.

2012 January President Orlando is invited to visit the US Military’s Southern Command headquarters in Miami to meet with high-ranking officials.

2012 May At least 4 people are gunned down by Honduran forces firing from a US State Department helicopter, under the supervision of uniformed DEA and US Navy agents.

<<snip>>

March 3, 2016 The courageous anti-tyranny activist Berta Cáceres is executed in her sleep by a right-wing death squad connected to those who were issuing the constant death threats. Cáceres was the cofounder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras (COPINH). She was an unrelenting activist protecting her Lenca Tribe’s First Nation’s natural resources, lands and rivers against powerful, military-backed, consortiums of US banks, IMF and World Bank predatory lenders, dam construction companies and mining companies that are intent on unethically – and illegally (in violation of international law) – exploiting the indigenous people’s natural resources.

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Dr Kohls is a retired physician from Duluth, MN, USA. He writes a weekly column for the Reader, Duluth’s alternative newsweekly magazine. His columns mostly deal with the dangers of American fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism, malnutrition, psychiatric drugging, over-vaccination regimens, Big Pharma and other movements that threaten the environment or America’s health, democracy, civility and longevity. Many of his columns are archived athttp://duluthreader.com/articles/categories/200_Duty_to_Warn

For Hondurans it does not really matter whether the Democratic or Republican Party wins. The USA government has always maintained close ties with the arm forces and the corporate and political elite groups; and that is why they have turned this country into a huge United States military base. On our grounds we have 13 United States military bases. US was behind the coup back in 2009 which harmed us in evry way. One thing is the people of the United States; however, its government is a totally different story.

Hillary Clinton’s Real Scandal Is Honduras, Not Benghazi

Saturday, 26 July 2014 11:09 By Emily Schwartz Greco, OtherWords | Op-Ed

2014 726 hil swHilary Clinton speaking at a Rally in North Carolina, May 2, 2008. (Photo: Keith Kissel / Flickr)Is it too soon to predict who will be the next president of the United States?

Without officially declaring her intention to run again, Hillary Clinton has cornered Democratic frontrunner status. Given the weak and crowded Republican field, that makes her the presumptive next occupant of a prestigious office lacking – as comedian Jon Stewart observes – any corners.

Clinton’s apparent unbeatability this time around helps explain the right-wing hysteria over the Benghazi tragedy. The conspiracy theories about the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya amount to a desperate effort to discredit the Democratic Party’s strong centrist candidate. It’s no surprise that this ploy isn’t making a dent on her popularity.

What beats me is why more Democrats aren’t deeply troubled by the legacy of Clinton’s foreign policy blunder in Honduras.

Maybe you’ve forgotten what happened in that small country in the first year of the Obama administration — more on that in a moment. But surely you’ve noticed the ugly wave of xenophobia greeting a growing number of Central American child refugees arriving on our southern border.

Some of President Barack Obama’s supporters are trying to blame this immigration crisis on the Bush administration because of an anti-trafficking law George W. signed in 2008 specifically written to protect Central American children that preceded an uptick in their arrivals. But which country is the top source of kids crossing the border? Honduras, home to the world’s highest murder rate, Latin America’s worst economic inequality, and a repressive U.S.-backed government.

When Honduran military forces allied with rightist lawmakers ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, then-Secretary of State Clinton sided with the armed forces and fought global pressure to reinstate him.

Washington wields great influence over Honduras, thanks to the numerous military bases built with U.S. funds where training and joint military and anti-drug operations take place. Since the coup, nearly $350 million in U.S. assistance, including more than $50 million in military aid has poured into the country.

That’s a lot of investment in a nation where the police, the military, and private security forces are killing people with alarming frequency and impunity, according to Human Rights Watch.

In short, desperate Honduran children are seeking refuge from a human rights nightmare that would cast a dark cloud over Clinton’s presidential bid right now if the media were paying any attention.

That wouldn’t give Republicans a big advantage, of course. Until they stop alienating a majority of female voters and communities of color, I find it hard to see the party of Mitt Romney and John McCain winning the White House.

Given the Democratic Party’s demographic edge, progressives have nothing to lose by seizing on the GOP field’s weakness and pressing for a viable alternative to another Clinton administration. Senator Elizabeth Warren could prove a contender. Unfortunately, the consumer-rights firebrand and Massachusetts Democrat lacks any foreign policy experience.

And foreign policy is no afterthought these days. Israel – the recipient of $3.1 billion a year in U.S. military aid – is waging a ground war in Gaza, and the stakes in the Russia-Ukraine conflict just grew following the downing of that Malaysia Airlines jet. Plus, Iraq is growing more violent and unstable once more. On all these issues, Clinton is more hawkish than most of the Democratic base.

But other Democrats with a wide range of liberal credentials and foreign policy expertise are signaling some interest in running, especially if Clinton ultimately sits out the race.

Even if Clinton does win in 2016, a serious progressive primary challenge could help shape her presidency. As more and more Honduran kids cross our border in search of a safe haven, voters should take a good look at her track record at the State Department and reconsider the inevitability of another Clinton administration.

James D. Nealon
Civilian Deputy to the Commander,
Foreign Policy Advisor
United States Southern Command 

NealonJim Nealon assumed duties as Civilian Deputy to the Commander and Foreign Policy Advisor, U.S. Southern Command, Miami, FL,
in September 2013. As Civilian Deputy to the Commander, he is primarily responsible for overseeing the development and ongoing refinement of USSOUTHCOM regional strategy as well as the Command’s strategic communications, public affairs and human rights activities. He also plays a key role in  interagency and business engagement. As Foreign Policy Advisor, he advises the Commander and other principals on U.S. foreign policy issues linked to the region and supports the Command’s relationship with the Department of State and U.S.Embassies abroad. 

Mr. Nealon came to SOUTHCOM after serving as Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa,Canada (2010-2013). His other assignments include serving as Deputy Chief of Mission in Lima, Peru (2007-2010); Charge d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Montevideo, Uruguay (2005-2007); Counselor forPublic Affairs at the Embassies in Madrid, Spain and Budapest, Hungary; Press Attaché at the Embassies inManila, Philippines and Budapest; Cultural Attaché in Montevideo, Uruguay; and Assistant Press Attaché in Santiago, Chile. Mr. Nealon also served at the United States Information Agency’s Bureau of HumanResources in Washington, DC. 

Mr. Nealon is a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister-Counselor. He has been awarded the State Department’s Superior Honor Award as well as numerous senior performance awards. 

A native of Virginia, Mr. Nealon holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Brown University and completed additional graduate work in history at Boston College. Prior to joining the Foreign Service in 1984, he was a high school history teacher and athletics coach. He speaks Hungarian and Spanish. 

Mr. Nealon and his wife Kristin, a teacher of English as a Second Language, have four grown children

US ambassador to Honduras offers tacit support of brutal crackdown

American diplomat condemns campesino and indigenous groups for protesting land grabs for private development projects

January 7, 2014 7:15AM ET

http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/1/u-s-ambassador-humanrightsviolationshonduras.html

 

In remarks last month, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske decried pervasive impunity in Honduras as the single biggest threat to human rights during an International Human Rights Day commemoration. In a country already plagued by grinding poverty and unrelenting violence, entrenched impunity does present a terrifying threat to justice. However, despite her own admission that the Honduran legal system is dysfunctional, Kubiske blamed those being oppressed by that impunity for taking the law into their own hands to defend their rights.

Kubiske specifically reproached peasant farmers in the fertile lands of the Lower Aguan Valley, who are engaged in a desperate struggle with local wealthy landowners and the government for control over their lands, which has left 113 members of their campesino community dead since the 2009 coup that overthrew democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. Over the last two decades, campesinos lost the lands granted to them in the 1970s under agrarian reform initiatives through a combination of corruption, intimidation, intentional division, force and fraud. Efforts to seek legal redress were largely unsuccessful. Zelaya was ousted shortly after he vowed to institute measures that would reverse illegitimate land grabs by oligarchs, including Miguel Facusse Barjum, a palm-oil magnate. When land grabs continued under President Porfirio Lobo, a landowner, the campesinos, with no other options, resisted the encroachment by peacefully occupying their lands. State security and paramilitary forces responded with escalating repression and bloodshed. Last month, after a complaint lodged by Rights Action, an international human-rights organization, the World Bank’s independent auditor issued a report on its private lending arm’s funding for Dinant Corp., which is headed by Facusse Barjum. World Bank President Jim Kim has indicated that he is preparing an action plan in response to the findings. As the investigative process drags on, repression continues unabated in the Lower Aguan.

Kubiske also admonished the indigenous Lenca community in Rio Blanco, which organized a peaceful blockade to halt the construction of a hydroelectric dam on their ancestral lands after exhausting legal efforts to challenge its development. After the 2009 coup, the Honduran government passed a number of neoliberal laws, including one granting water concessions to international companies essentially privatizing water resources in the country and spawning proposals for a number of hydroelectric dam projects. Transnational investments have since poured in. But investors face a problem: Under international law, including the International Labor Organization Convention 169, projects on indigenous territories require the informed consent of those communities. One project, the Agua Zarca, has gone ahead as planned despite a resounding nay vote by indigenous assemblies as well as public protests. The project is run by Honduras’ Desarrollos Energeeticos S.A. (DESA) in partnership with Sinohydro, a Chinese-owned hydropower engineering and construction company. Agua Zarca’s funding has come from the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, which, according to a report by Rights Action, appears to be funded by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) through the Central American Mezzanine Infrastructure Fund.

In recent years, the World Bank has retreated from funding large-scale hydroelectric dam projects after allegations of egregious human-rights violations and environmental concerns in Guatemala, India and other places. However, the bank has changed its policy and now supports hydroelectric projects, claiming it has instituted protections to prevent human-rights violations from recurring.

Given Honduras’ notoriously corrupt and ineffective legal system, the marginalized have no other option than peaceful resistance.

The Rio Blanco community filed numerous complaints, including to the special prosecutor for ethnic groups, the secretary for the environment and natural resources and the National Congress, with support from the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH). Because of pervasive and endemic corruption and inefficiency in the Honduran legal system, none of the complaints received a full and fair resolution of charges that construction of the dam and the associated repression violates international law. Finally, in April, when construction threatened irreparable harm to their community, the residents blocked access to the site. The government’s response to protesters was swift and brutal, triggering a cycle of forcible evictions and community resurrections of their blockade. Since the crackdown, threats against and intimidation of Lenca protesters continue to escalate. On July 15, COPINH leader Tomas Garcia was killed by state security forces as he led a protest march, and his son was seriously injured. Despite efforts of the dam’s proponents, the blockade continues, and tensions remain high.

Shortly after Honduran papers claimed in June of last year that Kubiske called for the prosecution of those who engage in land occupations and human-rights defense, DESA filed charges against COPINH leaders Berta Caceres, Tomas Gomez and Aureliano Molina for inciting the blockades, land usurpation and other charges that found a sympathetic audience in the Honduran courts, which issued an arrest warrant for Caceres. With understandable skepticism that the court would provide her with a fair hearing, Caceres is in hiding. Threats of violence against her, her elderly mother and her four children continue. Amnesty International has indicated that if Caceres is incarcerated, she would be a “prisoner of conscience.” The criminalization of resistance sends an unmistakable message: The courts will protect the powerful and come down hard on those who challenge the status quo.

The wrong message

On International Human Rights Day, of all days, Kubiske should have sent a clear message to the Honduran government that its actions are unacceptable and that the rights of the marginalized need the most protection. Instead she offered tacit endorsement of the crackdown.

While condemning the organized civil disobedience of campesino and indigenous communities, Kubiske failed to mention how exactly they should protect their rights in a state that does not respect the rule of law. Honduran elites control the courts, the security forces and the legislative and executive branches. Given the country’s notoriously corrupt and ineffective legal system, which constantly fails to protect all Hondurans, the marginalized have no other option than peaceful resistance.

The Obama administration has a range of tools in its arsenal to encourage respect for human rights and the rule of law in Honduras. With the largest voting share in the World Bank and 30 percent of the voting shares in the IDB, which is also instrumental in funding development projects, the U.S. could push for making continued funding contingent on strict adherence to international human-rights standards. In addition, since the Leahy Law requires the U.S. government to withhold financial assistance to groups that commit verifiable gross human-rights violations, Washington should leverage its support for Honduran security forces to advance human rights. The law requires local embassies to vet the credibility of human-rights abuse reports compiled by nongovernmental organizations and media sources. Kubiske, therefore, is empowered to protect those targeted by the Honduran military and police. Instead of using that power, however, she has condemned the acts of dispossessed campesinos and indigenous populations. An alarming statement from a Honduran military official after the ambassador’s comments suggest that the military feels it can act with relative impunity from U.S. interference.

On Dec. 12, in a statement reported by La Tribuna newspaper and repeated elsewhere, Col. German Alfaro, commander of the U.S.-funded and -trained Honduran military Xatruch III forces in the Aguan Valley, declared that Annie Bird, a highly respected human-rights advocate, was being investigated for alleged subversive activities related to her work defending the human rights of the campesinos in the Lower Aguan. Bird is a U.S. citizen from Rights Action. Human Rights Watch expressed alarm about this development and denounced the U.S. for failing to repudiate Alfaro’s comments.

At least one news story included Bird’s photo, raising concerns that she will be targeted for an extrajudicial attack. Observers fear that the investigation is an attempt to intimidate and deter international human-rights defenders from working in Honduras or is a precursor to an imminent intensification of repression in the country. Others warn that Honduran authorities are testing international response to escalating violence in the aftermath of a contested presidential election, in which right-wing law-and-order candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez was declared the winner.

The United States has a long and shameful history of supporting anti-democratic and repressive regimes in Latin America. Despite its rhetoric on human rights, the U.S. government has failed yet again to use its influence in the region to promote justice for Honduras’ most vulnerable and besieged inhabitants.

Lauren Carasik is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Western New England University School of Law.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America’s editorial policy.

US Aids Honduran Police Despite Death Squad Fears
By ALBERTO ARCE and KATHERINE CORCORAN Associated Press
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras March 23, 2013 (AP)
The U.S. State Department, which spends millions of taxpayer dollars a year on the Honduran National Police, has assured Congress that money only goes to specially vetted and trained units that don’t operate under the direct supervision of a police chief once accused of extrajudicial killings and “social cleansing.”

But The Associated Press has found that all police units are under the control of Director General Juan Carlos Bonilla, nicknamed the “Tiger,” who in 2002 was accused of three extrajudicial killings and links to 11 more deaths and disappearances. He was tried on one killing and acquitted. The rest of the cases were never fully investigated.

Honduran law prohibits any police unit from operating outside the command of the director general, according to a top Honduran government security official, who would only speak on condition of anonymity. He said that is true in practice as well as on paper.
Celso Alvarado, a criminal law professor and consultant to the Honduran Commission for Security and Justice Sector Reform, said the same.

“Every police officer in Honduras, regardless of their specific functions, is under the hierarchy and obedience of the director general,” he said.

The official line from Honduras, however, is that the money does not go to Bonilla.

“The security programs that Honduras is implementing with the United States are under control of the ministers of security and defense,” said Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, who negotiates the programs with the State Department.

But the security official attributed the contradiction to the politics necessary in a country in the grip of a security emergency.

With 91 murders per 100,000 people, the small Central American nation is often called the most violent in the world. An estimated 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. — and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America — pass through Honduras, according to the State Department.

The allegations against Bonilla, along with other concerns about police and military killings, prompted the U.S. Congress to freeze an estimated $30 million in Honduran aid last August. Most has been restored under agreements with the U.S. Department of State over the monitoring of Honduran operations receiving U.S. money.

The agreement doesn’t specifically mention Bonilla, but Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led a Congressional group that has questioned human rights violation in Honduras, said last week that he made his intentions clear:

“No units under General Bonilla’s control should receive U.S. assistance without credible information refuting the serious allegations against him,” Leahy said in an email to the AP.

That information so far has not been provided by the State Department, and the AP’s findings have prompted more questions.

“Senator Leahy has asked the State Department to clarify how they differentiate between what they told the Congress and what is being said by those within Honduran police units under his authority,” Leahy aide Tim Rieser said Friday. “Sen. Leahy, like others, made clear early on his concerns about Gen. Bonilla and the conduct of the Honduran police.”

Dozens of U.S. Congressmen, Leahy chief among them, have been raising concerns for many years about abuses of authority and human rights violations by the Honduran police, a force of 14,000 officers that is considered among the most corrupt in the world.

The AP reported on Sunday that two gang-related people detained by police in January have disappeared, fueling long-standing accusations that the Honduran police operate death squads and engage in “social cleansing.” It also found that in the last three years, Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula.

The country’s National Autonomous University, citing police reports, has counted 149 civilians killed by police in the last two years, including 25 members of the “18th Street” gang, one of the largest and most dangerous in the country.

California Rep. Sam Farr sent the AP report to every member of Congress on Friday, saying, “I share the concerns outlined in this article about the continued lack of investigations into human rights violations at the hands of Honduran law enforcement officials.”

U.S. law, according to an amendment that bears Leahy’s name, requires the State Department to vet foreign security forces receiving U.S. aid to make sure the recipients have not committed gross human rights violations. If violations are found, the money is withheld. The State Department in a report last August said Honduras met the provisions of the Foreign Operations and Related Programs Act, which requires that the secretary of state provide Congress proof that Honduras is protecting freedom of expression and investigating and prosecuting all military and police personnel accused of human rights violations.

The department “has established a working group to examine thoroughly the allegations against (Bonilla) to ensure compliance with the Leahy Law,” the State Department report to Congress said. “While this review is ongoing, we are carefully limiting assistance to those special Honduran law enforcement units, staffed by Leahy-vetted Honduran personnel who receive training, guidance, and advice directly from U.S. law enforcement, and not under Bonilla’s direct supervision.”

When asked by AP if the specially vetted Honduran police units working with the U.S. Embassy still report to Bonilla, the Honduran security official said: “Yes, that’s how it works, because of personal loyalty and federal law.”

U.S. support goes to Honduran forces working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on anti-narcotics operations, and anti-gang, anti-kidnapping and border-security units, according to an embassy official who was not authorized to speak on the record.

On Monday, the State Department announced another $16.3 million in support to Honduran police and prosecutors to battle violence and money laundering and to improve border security. Some of the U.S. money will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla.

“I only report to the director general, all of the programs of the Honduran police are directed personally by him,” said Otoniel Castillo, a police sub-commissioner. “He has a personal and intense closeness to all projects of international cooperation, especially because of his good relationship with the U.S. Embassy.”

Assistant Secretary of State William R. Brownfield, who appeared on Monday with the country’s vice president to announce the new funding, did not answer questions.

“The United States undertakes stringent vetting procedures, as required by U.S. law, to ensure U.S. assistance doesn’t go to individuals or units in the Honduran police and military if there is credible information they’re linked to human rights abuses,” said William Ostick, a spokesperson in the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau of the State Department. “We’re in close communication with the U.S. Congress and Senator Leahy on this issue. Promoting human rights and the rule of law is, and will remain, central to our engagement in Honduras.”