Posts Tagged ‘US involvment in narcotrafficing’

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid organizations, governments and multilaterals providing Honduras with assistance, and it is the central theme of media coverage inside and outside of of the country.

There are good reasons for this focus. Violence disproportionately impacts people in poor and marginal areas and tends to remain concentrated in those communities, closing the circle on a vicious cycle that impoverished nations find hard to break. In addition, violence impedes economic development and disrupts lives across a wide socio-economic spectrum. It can lead to major demographic shifts and crises as large populations move to urban areas or try to migrate to other nations. It can undermine governance and democracy, and it can serve as a justification for repression and hardline security policies that divert resources away from much-needed social and economic programs, thus perpetuating the problem.

Organized crime plays a role in this violence, but it is more like the gasoline than the engine: it provides an already corrupt system with the fuel it needs to run. That corrupt system is the focus of this study on Honduras. Its most visible manifestation is an inept and criminalized police force that a former security minister once called “air traffic control men” for drug flights coming into the country.1 Parts of this police force also work as custodians and assassins for criminal groups; rob drugs and resell them to the underworld; and, for a price, they can attack client’s rivals and disrupt criminal investigations.

Honduras-elites-crime-pdf-cover

This is one part of a multipart series concerning elites and organized crime. Read full Honduras report (pdf). See other parts of the series here.

But beneath this most obvious form of criminal connection to state officials is a more insidious brand of corruption. This is further from the headlines and much more difficult to tackle since it is embedded in the country’s political, economic and social systems. It operates in a gray area, mixing legal and illegal entities, paper companies and campaign contributions, and sweeping its illicit acts under the rug using co-opted members of the justice system and security forces.

What we are talking about, of course, is the elite connection to organized crime that this investigation exposes. The elites in Honduras are not like those in the rest of the region. The traditional, agro-export and industrial elites who rule in places like Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua are less prominent in Honduras, mostly because of the country’s long history as an enclave economy dominated by multinational companies: the original Banana Republic. Instead, the country’s most powerful economic elites have emerged from the service, banking, media, and telecommunications sectors. They are called transnational elites since many of them are first or second generation immigrants from the Middle East and Eastern Europe and depend on international business dealings to accumulate capital. Traditional, land-based elites are present in Honduras. But they have long been relegated to a second tier, forced to seek power through control of government posts, rather than using financial leverage.

While the ruling elites in Honduras do not share the same origins or economic base as their counterparts elsewhere in the region, they do share their neighbors’ penchant for employing the state for their own ends and systematically impoverishing it. Both the traditional and transnational elites have for years used the military and police to protect their personal land holdings and businesses. They have benefitted from the sale of public companies and lands, and they have enjoyed tax exonerations for their multitude of businesses. They have also pillaged its resources, and, as the government’s importance to the economy has grown, relied on it to generate more capital. Their dependence on the state has opened the way for a third set of what we are calling bureaucratic elites, who have developed a power base of their own because of the government positions they occupy.

Honduras, meanwhile, has become one of the poorest, most unequal and indebted countries in the world. Any attempts to change this system have been met with stern and often unified opposition from elites of all stripes. And attempts to exert more regulatory control over the activities of the elites are smothered before they begin. It is little surprise then that the country offers criminals, large and small, one of the most propitious environments from which to work. On one side, an ineffective justice system and corrupt security forces, long exploited by these elites, opens the way for large criminal groups to operate with impunity. On the other side, an impoverished populace — which sees and understands exactly how elites abuse a broken system — seeks to get its share by working directly with criminals in the illegal and legal enterprises these criminals operate. Crime, as it turns out, is one of the few forms of social mobility.

It is within this gray area that the elites themselves also interact with organized crime. Far from being distant from illegal activities, the elites have long operated in this realm. From dealing in contraband goods and services to buying permission for their illegal dealings and “get-out-of-jail-free cards,” those who do politics or business in Honduras understand that the laws governing the nation of eight million people are but a means to make money. Their connection to the underworld therefore is about societal, commercial and political interactions in the multiple spaces where business and politics happen in Honduras. The result is an organic relationship with organized crime that helps some elites reach the top and others stay there.

Elites in Honduras

HondurasElites

Honduran elites have a peculiar history compared to other elites in the region.2 The country’s economy was built on exports, like its neighbors. Unlike them, however, Honduras’ principal export industries — first mining and then bananas — were almost wholly foreign owned. Local economic elites were enmeshed in cattle and other agro-industrial projects and formed the backbone of the traditional political groupings, the National and Liberal Parties. But a strong, local elite based on the control of land and agro-exports, of the type found in the other countries in the region, did not materialize.

“The root … of Honduran exception was the country’s insertion into the world market and the development of its domestic political apparatus under the aegis not of a national agro-exporting oligarchy, but of US monopoly capital,” writes Rachel Sieder.3

The most famous of these monopolies was United Fruit Company, which Sieder argues “consolidated its hegemony” over local politics in the 1930s and 1940s during a military dictatorship.4 Meanwhile, a smaller more traditional, landed elite shared power — first with these foreign companies and later with foreign settlers who concentrated their efforts on facilitating foreign-owned businesses and controlling the influx of foreign capital.5 These immigrant communities arrived from Europe and the Middle East throughout the 20th century. They have since been dubbed the “transplant” or “transnational” elites (or “Turcos,” a broad-sweeping and quasi-racist reference to their Middle Eastern origins).

These transnational communities established control over what have become the dominant industries in Honduras: the financial and service sectors, telecommunications and media. They also acquired land, competing with and eventually overtaking the traditional elite’s hold on the agrarian economy as it shifted towards non-traditional exports. This traditional elite was largely land-based, depending on activities such as cattle, coffee and cacao to exert its influence. But it never coalesced the way landed elites did in neighboring Guatemala, leaving it largely sidelined, even as US capital slowly exited the country when commodity prices slipped because of increased, worldwide competition. Today, it can be difficult to differentiate between the traditional elites and the transnational elites. Although crossover is more commonly associated with the transnational than the traditional elites, both have diversified their economic portfolios, and both are deeply involved in politics.

What is clear, however, is that Honduras’ top economic groups are run by relatively recent transplants that accumulated capital over the past half-century. The biggest business conglomerates in Honduras carry distinctly foreign names like Facussé, Maalouf and Rosenthal.6 Meanwhile, traditional, landed elites have shifted their focus to controlling government posts and elected offices. Two of the last three presidents come from cattle ranching families, and current President Juan Orlando Hernández is from a coffee family. For both the traditional and transnational elites, their business and political prospects are intertwined with a government that was, for most of its existence, less of an enforcer than an enabler.

Throughout Honduras’ history, the state has been a source of both legal and physical protection for this export economy, the traditional landholding and transnational commercial classes. The public sector was seen, as Hugo Noé Pino notes, as a “concessionary state,” one that “stimulates investment but does not collect taxes.” The government was also a means through which the elites could expand their interests. The political parties represented, for many years, a manifestation of these elite interests.

What came first for the transnational elite — economic or political power — is a matter of some debate. As Noé Pino says, there are two visions of the political-economic nexus at the apex of power in Honduras: 1) that the accumulation of capital was intimately related to the political connections throughout; 2) that the accumulation of capital was what led to these close political connections. Certainly elements of both were at play. And as the country’s traditional exports declined, particularly in the 1970s, and therefore the power of the traditional elites waned, the transnational elites surged to take more direct control of the traditional political parties.

Indeed, the state’s evolution during this period was intimately related to the development of the transnational economic elites. This class tied themselves to the traditional political parties, often making contributions to both parties during elections, ensuring their influence would remain intact whoever won. Noé Pino argues this group created business associations to channel their needs and influence, and that many of its members have been part of the revolving door between government ministries and the private sector that has characterized Honduras for at least the last half century.

For the transnational elites, the state’s role was simple: to create and enforce rules that favor their continued power over key industries and the capital accumulation that accompanies it. Along the way, they managed public discourse as well: they bought newspapers, radio and television stations, and have steered popular sentiments and political messages towards their favored candidates and in support of their modus vivendi. Since the 1970s, the media has largely become an instrument of this elite, and a source of its revenue.7

honduras-en

The dependence of the elites on the state security forces to protect their enterprises led to the emergence of the military as a political and an economic player. This growth was aided by the United States, which, fearing the rise of communism in the region, began training Honduran officers en masse and supplying greater amounts of aid,8 a process that would accelerate in the 1980s and help transform the institution forever. Members of the armed forces became what we are calling a “bureaucratic elite,” something we will cover in more detail in the first Honduras case study. Some of their offspring are the political and economic elite of Honduras today and the institution is at the center of the changing dynamics of power in the country.

The influx in US aid came as traditional exports continued a steep decline, and the country tried to diversify its economy. At the behest of its largest donor nation, the United States, Honduras expanded its export portfolio, lowered tariffs, sold state-owned businesses, and gave financial incentives for local and foreign investment, mostly in the form of reduced taxes. In the 1990s, as US aid dropped precipitously, multilateral banks filled the void and pushed for further liberalization policies.

The efforts to diversify the economy, however, largely failed. Lacking a solid revenue base, and with a state that was unwilling or unable to extract tax revenue from the traditional and transnational elites, the government relied on outside sources to motor the economy. Loans from multilateral banks and others have since made Honduras a perennial pariah in the global banking community, further hampering economic growth. (In March 2014, Honduras had a $7 billion debt, up from $2.7 billion in 2007.9) And while the central idea was to reduce government’s role in the economy, as GDP sputtered, the state assumed an increasing burden to keep the economy afloat. Since 1980, the percentage of GDP that public administration, defense and other state services represent have gone from 16 percent to 22 percent.10

Despite these broad failures, both the traditional and the transnational elites have found ways to keep making money at the expense of the vast majority of Hondurans. For their part, the transnational elites took advantage of the market liberalization policies that began in the 1980s, and dominate the textile industry as well as tourism and telecommunications. They have become particularly powerful in the service sector, financing and constructing malls, buying into international food franchises and profiting from one of the country’s largest sources of revenue: remittances. Remittances represent some 18-20 percent of the country’s current GDP, powering the internal consumption that drives the service sector’s growth.

table1Honduras-productive-sector

Source: ICEFI 2012

 

There were other new sources of licit and illicit revenue besides remittances, foremost among them are non-traditional agriculture projects such as African palm plantations and proceeds from the trafficking of drugs through the country. Drug trafficking money can itself be considered as a form of remittances, as the illicit capital resulting from this trade enters the Honduran economy, passing through the financial sector and fueling growth in the agro-industrial sector, construction and tourism industries. It is through this financial flow that the elites interact with illicit actors. As we shall discuss in more detail later, all forms of elites can benefit from this illicit economic activity, both directly and indirectly.

Meanwhile, the traditional, landed elite has experienced a resurgence of sorts by re-gaining control of the traditional political parties, capturing the increase in state expenditures and controlling more of the flow of foreign capital via their hold on public offices. Like the transnational elite, this group sees the state as an enabler of business enterprises, although in their case the opportunities frequently come via publicly funded projects. The corruption in this system is endemic, widespread and infused.11 They use these monies to maintain their grip on power, undermining or ignoring the rule of law when it suits them.

The battle for these resources is at the center of many political disputes and, in some ways, shapes the country’s government and political parties. The deal-making around these resources can get messy, as it involves billions of dollars. It is, in the end, seen by the elites as a zero-sum game: those who control the government levers control the spoils in this system; those who are separated from these levers, risk getting marginalized. As the dependence on these government resources increases, so does the need to control the government filters for these resources.

The result of this growing dependence on state resources has been the emergence of the aforementioned bureaucratic elite. As illustrated in our first case study, the beginnings of these elites can be traced to the military rule of the 1960s and 1970s, and the de facto military control that continued through the 1980s. But it is in the last decade that these bureaucratic elites have become a force on their own and in conjunction with members of the traditional elites.

This new hybrid elite’s most prominent representative is President Juan Orlando Hernández himself. Educated in a military school, Hernández has surrounded himself with military officers, including his brother who is a colonel in the army. He has placed military personnel in posts traditionally reserved for civilians, and has centralized control of the security forces and intelligence gathering under the presidency. The hybrid group under Hernández’s control, often referred to as the Colobrí Group, combines military personnel, local politicians and the landed gentry, and works closely with the state at the regional and national levels. Colobrí is Spanish for hummingbird.

The resurgent traditional landed elites and bureaucratic elites have centered their capital growth on the control of government resources, and of key government posts that give access to various income streams. Those who control these posts use them to block other elites’ access to these income streams, and to penalize rivals. Their dependence on these government posts and funds is what drives these elites to create their own political movements or develop factions within larger parties, as well as establish private companies that service the government’s needs.

Obtaining and maintaining these political posts is of the utmost importance, and it is within this context that the darkest alliances occur. The elites must gain public and private backing for their bids for government office. This backing comes via direct financial contributions, media coverage and support, as well as networking, and local political and economic alliances. The candidates constantly jockey for position, and their various suitors are ever-changing. Among them are the powerful actors of the Honduran underworld.

Organized Crime in Honduras

Strong, organized criminal groups in Honduras date back almost 50 years. At their highest levels, they have centered on facilitating the movement of illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine from the southern production regions to the northern consumer nations. More recently they have also facilitated the entry of precursor chemicals used to mass-produce synthetic drugs. The money garnered from this trade dwarfs many traditional businesses and has the ability to upset the balance of power on a local, national and even a regional scale.

There are three basic categories of criminal groups present in Honduras. First, there are transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), such as those from Colombia or Mexico, who use the country as a transport bridge and as a storage facility for cocaine that they are moving wholesale to the US or other markets. They tend to operate in small teams. Usually their emissaries seek to ensure that drug loads are secure, that officials are in line and that transactions go as planned. Honduras’ status as a safe haven for TCOs has grown in recent years, making it a good base of operations for increasingly high-level figures in these groups. There have been reports of members of the “board of directors” of the Sinaloa Cartel, for instance, having a base in San Pedro Sula.12

Second, there are local transport groups — or “transportistas” — that operate in Honduras. These are mostly Honduran families or tight business networks from the country that move legal and illegal goods through Honduras. They work closely with wholesale sellers and purchasers, as well as with other transport networks in Central America and elsewhere. They move shipments and can also store them for long periods of time. Neither job is easy. There are numerous rival organizations that steal and resell illegal goods. These include members of the security forces, which very often include the police. The transport groups also have to deal with multiple officials from border to border. However, if done well, transportation can be a highly lucrative venture.

Finally, there are local criminal groups and street gangs operating in Honduras. These groups focus on less lucrative business ventures such as local drug distribution, extortion, kidnapping, and human smuggling. The competition for these criminal markets, in particular for local drug dealing and extortion, is what makes Honduras one of the most violent countries on earth. Gangs routinely eliminate rivals and have internal purges. They also deploy corrupt security officials to attack rival groups. Their territorial control in some areas is absolute, although their interaction with elites is minimal.

The criminal groups that have the most interaction with elites in Honduras are the transportistas and the TCOs. As we shall see in our case studies, these organizations need authorities to help them move illicit goods through a difficult terrain. They interact with security forces to ensure safe passage, and interact with powerful businessmen to launder proceeds and legitimize their illicit capital. Throughout, they establish political contacts, funding candidates for public office in an effort to obtain high-level protection and more business opportunities.

The money garnered from this trade dwarfs that made from many traditional businesses and has the ability to upset the balance of power on a local, national and even a regional scale. This was best illustrated in Latin America during the late 1980s, when Colombia’s infamous trafficking organization, the Medellín Cartel, began kidnapping elites, assassinating judges and policemen, and detonating bombs in public places. However, the roots of this dynamic can be found many years previously when Colombian, and later Central American and Mexican criminal organizations, began to move cocaine and other drugs to the US market.

The pioneer for this transport activity in Honduras was a man named Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros, the subject of one of our Honduras case studies.13 In the 1970s, when Matta Ballesteros emerged as a prominent trafficker, Honduras already had criminal groups that were involved in this transport business.14 Matta Ballesteros’ distribution network eventually stretched from Colombia through Mexico. His allies in Mexico became known as the Guadalajara Cartel, which would later spawn some of the most important criminal groups in that country: the Sinaloa, Juárez and Tijuana Cartels. His allies in Colombia were members of what would become the Medellín Cartel.

As we shall see, Matta Ballesteros’ Honduran network included members of the military, an institution on the ascent thanks in large part to US aid stemming from the Contra War in neighboring Nicaragua.15 It was during this era that Honduras earned the moniker USS Honduras. A US government document from 1988 described Matta Ballesteros as “a class I DEA violator.”16 His legitimate businesses in Honduras were also growing. By one count, he had coffee, tobacco, spice, dairy and cattle holdings, and founded construction and agro-industrial companies in Honduras.17

In 1985, everything changed when the Guadalajara Cartel, seemingly angered by a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation to seize large tracts of its marijuana crops in Mexico, kidnapped and killed Enrique Camarena, a DEA agent. With Camarena’s death, the United States government began a law-bending quest for justice. Over the next several years, numerous Guadalajara operatives and leaders were arrested and convicted in Mexico. Matta Ballesteros was arrested in Colombia, but with the Medellín Cartel’s help, he escaped and made his way back to Honduras, where he felt protected by his vast network and wealth.

In 1988, capitulating to US concerns about Matta Ballesteros’ increasing influence, the military and US Marshals intercepted him following his morning jog, bundled him up and transported him to the Dominican Republic where US marshals officially arrested and charged him with participating in the murder of Camarena, among other criminal acts. From there, he was taken to the US. Up to 2,000 two of Hondurans, mostly students angered by the move, attacked the US embassy, setting fire to several annex buildings and burning vehicles. At least four of the protesters were killed, and US officials said it took two hours for the Honduran authorities to respond their their call for help.18 Matta Ballesteros was later convicted in a Los Angeles court of kidnapping19 and drug trafficking, and remains in a US federal prison.

Following Matta Ballesteros’ dramatic fall, the country continued to be a bridge for traffickers to move illicit goods.20 The list goes beyond drugs: weapons, money, people, and all types of contraband move in and out of Honduras. A group of Salvadoran smugglers, for instance, moved dairy products from Honduras to El Salvador during the civil war in that country. The so-called “Cartel de los Quesos” (Cheese Cartel) would later be dubbed the “Perrones,” and would develop a drug trafficking network that still stretches from Panama to Guatemala. One of their chief operators, José Natividad Luna Pereira, alias “Chepe Luna,” operated his network from San Pedro Sula where he had close contact with elites until he was assassinated in 2014.21

In the early 2000s, Honduras experienced another surge of drug trafficking activity. At the time, Mexican criminal organizations that had emerged after the demise of the Guadalajara Cartel were establishing more control over the distribution chain, and began using Central America as their primary bridge. Several local transport groups emerged. Among them were Chepe Luna’s in El Salvador and Honduras, José Miguel “Chepe” Handal Pérez’s group in San Pedro Sula, the Valle Valle family in Copán, the Zelaya clan in Atlántida, and the Cachiros organization in Colón.22 The Cachiros are the subject of one of our Honduras case studies. These groups’ main function was moving cocaine through the region, but they also had numerous side businesses such as human smuggling and local drug distribution.

The size of this criminal industry is massive when compared to Honduras’ economy. The US State Department estimates that 95 percent of cocaine transported from South America to the United States moves through the Mexican and Central American corridor; 80 percent of this stops in Central America.23 The price charged for moving this cocaine is normally the difference between the wholesale price where the drugs are received and where they are dropped. In the case of Honduras, this difference in price is somewhere in the range of $2,000 to $2,500 per kilo from the time it enters to the time it leaves the country.24 The price of cocaine varies, of course, but this price difference has remained steady for several years. This means the transport market alone is valued at between $600 million and $750 million per year, or somewhere between 3 and 4 percent of the country’s GDP.25 By our estimates, drug proceeds amount to more than half of those generated by the country’s top export, coffee, does.26

All five groups mentioned above had strong political and economic connections that helped them develop close relationships with the authorities, as described above in the case of Matta Ballesteros and the military. One of them, Handal, was an aspiring congressman before the US Treasury Department added him to its “Kingpin List” in April 2013.27 He denied being involved in drug trafficking before going on the run.28 Handal was captured in March 2015.29

Figure 2: Handal Organizational Chart

US Treasury Handal Organizational Chart

Source: Taken from US Treasury

For his part, Francisco Zelaya Fúnez had various construction companies and had signed a number of public works contracts with the municipality of La Ceiba before he was captured in Mexico in 2013. A newspaper described him as being connected to a “high level official in the previous administration.”30 For their part, the Valle Valle family had strong connections to Alexander Ardón, mayor of a town on the Guatemalan border named El Paraíso. Ardón’s brother, Hugo, ran the central government’s road construction and maintenance fund known as Fondo Vial. The core of the Valle Valle family was captured and extradited to the US in 2014.31

This type of connection between criminals and political actors has become commonplace over the years. In 1987, congressman Félix Cerna Salgado admitted having a close relationship with Matta Ballesteros. In the early 2000s, three congressmen were captured for transporting drugs. In July 2014, Honduran authorities arrested Arnaldo Urbina, the mayor of Yoro, and charged him and numerous others of running a drug trafficking and assassination ring that was responsible for the murder of 137 people and the disappearance of 45 others.32

The criminal organizations’ ability to accumulate capital and wield this economic power to their advantage is largely hidden from view, since Honduran authorities have developed few strong judicial cases against them and there is not a vibrant local media. What’s more, public officials threaten these interests at their own peril. In December 2009, police assassins killed Honduran drug czar Julián Arístides González, and two years later his outspoken one-time advisor, Alfredo Landaverde was gunned down. Investigating detectives quickly determined that the triggermen were police officers operating under orders of top police brass. But the detectives just as quickly buried those investigative reports, and they did not come to light until years later. In April 2013, gunmen assassinated Orlán Chávez, the country’s top money laundering prosecutor.33 The day before his death, Chávez had led a raid on several of aforementioned Chepe Handal’s suspected properties and seized them. Suspicion fell on Handal, but the case remains unresolved.

The economic might of these groups only began to come into view when the United States deemed Handal, and then the Cachiros, as specially designated narcotics traffickers, and placed them on the so-called “Kingpin List.”34 Handal’s business holdings included various auto parts stores, a motorcycle distributor, and a clothing store. A US indictment, issued in the Southern District of Florida, called for him to forfeit $38 million in proceeds from his illicit business dealings.

After authorities began raiding the Cachiros’ properties in September 2013, however, it was clear that Handal was small by comparison. The US Treasury, in its “Kingpin” designation, named five businesses that it said belonged to the organization,35 and officials from both countries estimated the group’s assets were in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

In later part of 2014, US and Honduran authorities also targeted the Valle Valle family organization. That family’s assets, the US Treasury said in an August 2014 “Kingpin” designation, included several coffee plantations and a cattle ranch. The group, the US Treasury declared, was moving upwards of 10 tons of cocaine through Honduras per month. Rough calculations by InSight Crime put the group’s annual earnings near $300 million or about 1.6 percent of Honduras’ GDP.

Figure 3: Valle Family Organizational Chart

US Treasury Valles Organizational Chart

Source: Taken from US Treasury

Perhaps more important than their coffee and cattle holdings was the group’s direct link to Ardón, the mayor of El Paraíso, and to his brother, Hugo.36 Between the two of them, the Ardóns managed dozens of state contracts which facilitated the movement of money between themselves and their legitimate and illegitimate partners. The merry-go-round created by this type of money flow is a critical part of understanding how corruption and crime work in places like Honduras. Money moves from state coffers into licit and illicit businesses whose owners then bankroll the candidates who are financing their projects or facilitating their money laundering activities. In the process, the Honduran public is left out of the loop. The Ardón brothers had the perfect machine to keep this merry-go-round spinning.

But by late 2014, the Honduran government appeared to have them in its sights, making veiled references to the network in the press (calling it the “Cartel de Alex”). The network had created a powerful group that reached the highest echelons of power in Honduras. This, as our case studies illustrate, is the norm in the country rather than the exception, and it is changing the entire complexion of Honduras‘ ruling elite.

*This report was written by Steven Dudley. Dudley, Javier Meléndez — who acted as coordinator for research for this project — along with researchers from the Centro de Investigación y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos (CIPRODEH) and the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), assisted in the investigation and production of this report. Map by Jorge Mejía Galindo. Graphics by Andrew J Higgens.

Ramón Sabillón Pineda, a police general, says corruption in Honduras is even larger than suggested in a set of leaked papers. Credit Orlando Sierra/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MEXICO CITY — A former chief of the Honduran national police says the government has mounted a “crude setup” by fabricating and leaking documents to implicate high-ranking officers in the assassination of two top antidrug officials, adding a new twist to a scandal that is peeling back the collusion between drug traffickers and the police.

The former chief, Ramón Sabillón Pineda, a police general, has taken to television airwaves and appeared voluntarily before the prosecutor investigating the documents to assert that the plot — and the extent of corruption in the nation’s institutions — is even larger than the papers suggest.

“Evidence has been planted, which is common in institutions that are permeated by organized crime,” said Mr. Sabillón, who led the police for 11 months before being dismissed in November 2014.

The controversy stems from the assassination of the nation’s antidrug czar as he drove to work in 2009, only months after the Honduran president was ousted in a coup. Two years later, the antidrug czar’s senior adviser was killed in the same way, a grisly example of the tight grip traffickers hold over the country.

His reason for speaking out now, he said, is that he wants to “end the work I began,” referring to the extradition of drug traffickers. He said the fabrication and leak of the report were part of an effort to “neutralize the Honduran national police, which is not in favor of the government.”

He accused the government of handing control of the security forces, including the police, to the military in an effort to shore up control as President Juan Orlando Hernández seeks re-election.

In response to the documents, Mr. Hernández appointed a commission last week that he put in charge of purging the police. Late Thursday, the commission recommended that Mr. Sabillón, along with a police chief named as a chief conspirator in the documents, Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, be suspended during the investigation. Ebal Diaz, an adviser to the president, told Honduran reporters that Mr. Sabillón had been suspended for criticizing the government on television.

Mr. Hernández said during his announcement that “the prosecutor has no other option but to call all the ministers, police directors and officers to testify,” and he asked for a new anticorruption mission backed by the Organization of American States for its support in the case.

The debate over whether the police should fall under civilian or military control emerged from the creation of a military police force by Mr. Hernández after he took office early this year, fulfilling his main campaign promise. The police “are uncomfortable with my proposal,” Mr. Hernández said during a recent television interview.

“I only have two options,” the president said in the interview. “Either we shut down the police or you show me that you have the willingness to make the changes I am demanding,” he said he had told the police leadership. “They say they can do the cleanup. We will give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The rest of the police generals named in the reports, including Mr. Ramírez, have also argued that the reports were fabricated for political ends.

A series of arrests in recent years suggest just how high drug trafficking has reached inside the government.

Last year, the son of Mr. Hernandez’s predecessor as president, Porfirio Lobo, was arrested with a drug shipment in Haiti in a joint operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Haitian police.

A few months later, Jaime Rosenthal, a former vice president, and his nephew Yankel Rosenthal, who served as investment promotion minister in the current government, were named in a United States indictment accusing them of laundering drug money through their Banco Continental for the Rivera Madariaga crime family.

Wilfredo Méndez, director of the Honduras Center for Research and Promotion of Human Rights, said the release of the police papers indicated a power struggle.

“This is a fight among the corrupt and the criminals who eliminate each other in conflicts of control over territory for their activities,” he said. “It isn’t the first time that these things are said in the country. It’s cyclical.”

Though they happened years ago, the assassinations rattled the country again this month after the documents surfaced. They were first obtained by a Honduran newspaper and then by The New York Times.

About two dozen police officers are named in the documents, from the highest-ranking officials to lower-level officers who mounted the traffic stops that allowed motorcyclists to pull up alongside the antidrug officials’ cars and shoot.

Mr. Sabillón does not argue that the police are innocent. “It did happen, but in another way, and the implicated officers are not exactly the same ones who appear in the reports,” he said in a telephone interview. “There are civilians, police and military implicated in this, but fewer than the numbers that appear in the report. They are alive. They would kill even me if I would advance higher.”

But Mr. Sabillón said that the documents failed to expose the broader involvement of political figures beyond the police force.

By focusing only on the traffickers’ infiltration of the police, Mr. Sabillón argued, the documents divert attention from the drug gangs’ collusion with the nation’s political elite.

“In Honduras, drug trafficking is politics,” Mr. Sabillón said.

“I arrested eight drug traffickers and extradited them to the United States,” he said. “And then businessmen, politicians and even the son of a president have fallen.”

Mr. Sabillón said he had testified at the attorney general’s office about the links between organized crime and politicians. “With all the formalities, I handed over important documents to the prosecutor that involve political personalities in organized crime,” he said.

The leaked documents do not suggest that Mr. Sabillón had any role in the assassinations. But they do indicate that he was aware of the documents and asked for them to be kept under guard.

He argued that his signature was faked, and that he did not have the authority at the time to make such a request. He said the documents had been written later by someone in the police force.

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.


The Honduran Shipwreck: Hillary Clinton’s Coup Turns 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED:
US Pushes Militarization and Neoliberalism in Central America

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

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

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

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

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

RELATED:
Central America Rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous Activist Berta Cáceres Assassinated in Honduras

Human Rights Organizations Demand an Investigation of the Circumstances Surrounding the Assassination of Berta Cáceres, the General Coordinator of COPINH

https://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/indigenous-activist-assassinated-in-honduras

HONDURAS – At approximately 11:45pm last night, the General Coordinator of COPINH, Berta Caceres was assassinated in her hometown of La Esperanza, Intibuca. At least two individuals broke down the door of the house where Berta was staying for the evening in the Residencial La Líbano, shot and killed her. COPINH is urgently responding to this tragic situation.

Berta Cáceres is one of the leading indigenous activists in Honduras. She spent her life fighting in defense of indigenous rights, particularly to land and natural resources.

Cáceres, a Lenca woman, grew up during the violence that swept through Central America in the 1980s. Her mother, a midwife and social activist, took in and cared for refugees from El Salvador, teaching her young children the value of standing up for disenfranchised people.

Cáceres grew up to become a student activist and in 1993, she cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to address the growing threats posed to Lenca communities by illegal logging, fight for their territorial rights and improve their livelihoods.

Berta Cáceres and COPINH have been accompanying various land struggles throughout western Honduras. In the last few weeks, violence and repression towards Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the communities they support, had escalated. In Rio Blanco on February 20, 2016, Berta Cáceres, COPINH, and the community of Rio Blanco faced threats and repression as they carried out a peaceful action to protect the River Gualcarque against the construction of a hydroelectric dam by the internationally-financed Honduran company DESA. As a result of COPINH’s work supporting the Rio Blanco struggle, Berta Cáceres had received countless threats against her life and was granted precautionary measures by the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights. On February 25, 2016, another Lenca community supported by COPINH in Guise, Intibuca was violently evicted and destroyed.

Since the 2009 military coup, that was carried out by graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, Honduras has witnessed an explosive growth in environmentally destructive megaprojects that would displace indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land was earmarked for mining concessions, creating a demand for cheap energy to power future mining operations. To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects around the country, privatizing rivers, land, and uprooting communities. Repression of social movements and targeted assassinations are rampant. Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate. Honduran human rights organizations report there have been over 10,000 human rights violations by state security forces and impunity is the norm – most murders go unpunished. The Associated Press has repeatedly exposed ties between the Honduran police and death squads, while U.S. military training and aid for the Honduran security forces continues.

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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

by Alexander Main

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

Congresistas de EE.UU. piden al Departamento de Estado que presione a Honduras

Publicado: 30 may 2014 | 5:30 GMTÚltima actualización: 30 may 2014 | 5:34 GMT

Congresistas de EE.UU. piden al Departamento de Estado que presione a Honduras

Más de 100 miembros de la Cámara de Representantes de EE.UU. se han dirigido al secretario de Estado, John Kerry, para que presione a Honduras con cortarle la financiación por la situación denunciada por expertos respecto a los DD.HH.
Los congresistas piden revisar las condiciones en las que Washington desembolsa la ayuda a Tegucigalpa y “asumir un papel más activo”, asegurando que los derechos humanos se respeten en el país latinoamericano. El Departamento de Estado debe “presionar” específicamente en defensa de los grupos vulnerables, entre los cuales la petición destaca a la comunidad LGBT, a coordinadores laboristas y activistas indígenas y campesinos.
Lo primero que debería hacer EE.UU. es dejar de seguir dando dinero a las organizaciones que son los peores violadores de los derechos humanos

“Lo primero que debería hacer el Gobierno de Estados Unidos es dejar de seguir dando dinero a las organizaciones que son los peores violadores de los derechos humanos: la Policía y los militares”, expresó a RT la profesora universitaria de Antropología, Adrienne Pine.

Los congresistas se muestran preocupados en su petición por los casos de palizas a manifestantes y algunos miembros del Congreso Nacional. Aluden a la atmósfera de amenazas en Honduras y suponen que el rumbo actual podría empeorar aún más el respeto de los derechos humanos, pero en realidad no indican la raíz del problema.

“Ahora, con la Administración de Juan Orlando Hernández, se ha impuesto una policía militar y el país está totalmente militarizado”, sugiere la investigadora. “EE.UU. tiene que dejar de apoyar esa política para que paren las violaciones gravísimas y diarias de derechos humanos que están pasando aquí”.
http://actualidad.rt.com/actualidad/view/129622-congreso-eeuu-apoyo-derechos-honduras