On May 25, 2015 PEN Canada joined PEN Honduras in awarding the inaugural Escribir sin Miedo prize for investigative/public interest journalism to journalist and documentary filmmaker, Fred Alvarado. An English translation of his prize-winning essay on American military imperialism in Honduras in Central American is below. The original Spanish language version can be found here.
Translator Rosalind Gill is a Senior Scholar, Glendon College, York University (Translation and French Studies). She has served as a human rights translator for the last 12 years, with a focus on Latin America.
THE PLOT TO OUST ZELAYA: THE SHADOW OF THE SOUTHERN COMMAND
In the early hours of June 28, 2009, President Manuel Zelaya, dressed in pyjamas, was seized by a squad of hooded soldiers that had been tactically trained by US Special Forces.1 They stormed Zelaya’s residence with assault rifles in a military operation to transfer him to the Hernán Acosta Mejía airbase and put him on an airplane that would make a stop at the US airbase in Palmerola, then fly on to Costa Rica, where the President would be left in exile.
Manuel Zelaya remembers clearly the details of those moments after he was put on the plane, accompanied by armed servicemen wearing balaclavas:
“The first stop the plane made was at Palmerola. When they seized me in my house and took me to the plane, they threatened me both verbally and with their guns. As I arrived in Palmerola, I looked out the window and saw troops moving, people running. I couldn’t tell if they were Honduran or foreign troops, but I knew I was in Palmerola. It was around 6AM when we landed there. I also remember that four soldiers boarded the plane, all of them masked and carrying a pistol. When I asked one of them: “Where are you taking me? ” he responded: “I am not authorized to answer your questions.” “At least tell me where the plane is going!” He responded again: “I am not authorized to answer your questions.” I did not insist. We were there for some 20 minutes. Then we took off in a southerly direction. I said to myself, “They’re taking me to Chávez.” But the plane made a turn and headed for Nicaragua. I think they were looking for a place to land. Then we landed in Costa Rica.”2
In repeated public statements, Zelaya declared that his forced removal had been planned the year before in Miami (headquarters of the Southern Command) 3and strategically coordinated from Soto Cano airbase, in a joint military operation with the Honduran armed forces. He also declared that the operation had been prompted by the fact that he had distanced himself from Mérida Initiative policies to combat drug trafficking, by his plan to convert the military airbase at Palmerola into a civilian facility and by measures he adopted in 2006 that directly affected US multinational oil companies4It is, indeed, interesting to note that after the coup d’état, the US Pentagon maintained its pre-coup military presence (Joint Task Force-Bravo) at the Palmerola base, and did not suspend tactical training activities for Honduran troops in various locations on Honduran soil.
It is also worth noting that, in a classified diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks5 – 08TEGUCIGALPA459, sent by US Ambassador Charles Ford on May 15, 2008, to major dependencies and agencies of his government (the CIA, the Southern Command, Joint Task Force-Bravo, Department of Defense, the White House), the Ambassador warns that Manuel Zelaya represents a threat to American interests:
“President Manuel “Mel” Zelaya Rosales is a throwback to an earlier Central American era (…). There also exists a sinister Zelaya, surrounded by a few close advisors with ties to both Venezuela and Cuba. Zelaya’s public position against the Contra War and against the establishment of Joint Task Force Bravo at Soto Cano Air Force Base are manifestations of this underlying viewpoint. In a word, he is not a friend. His views are shaped not by ideology or personal ambitions but by an old-fashioned nationalism where he holds the United States accountable for Honduras’ current state of poverty and dependency. (…) The last year and a half of the Zelaya Administration will be, in my view, extraordinarily difficult for our bilateral relationship. Honduran institutions and friendly governments will need to be prepared to act privately and in public to help move Honduras forward. In my view, we will have to continue to engage Zelaya whenever we can, in order to minimize damage and protect our core interests.”
One month after Ambassador Charles Ford warned his government of Manuel Zelaya’s rebellious profile and hence, the threat represented by bilateral relations with the US, the Ambassador was transferred to the US Southern Command headquarters in Miami, to serve as Chief Advisor on Public-Private Partnerships.6 The timing of this strategic change of personnel instigated by the US Department of State and the Pentagon backs up Zelaya’s claim that the US had had plans to remove him from office since June, 2008. Also, at that time, Deputy Secretary of State, John Dimitri Negroponte paid a visit to Tegucigalpa.7 Negroponte came to Honduras to warn Zelaya about his intentions to form an alliance with Hugo Chávez and sign a treaty with Petrocaribe. On June 4, 2008, Negroponte met with Zelaya but he also had a private interview with the President of the National Congress of Honduras, Roberto Micheletti, who would become interim, de facto President of Honduras one year later. As well, Negroponte held private meetings with ex-Presidents Carlos Flores Facussé (1998–2002) and Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006), and with businessmen and influential politicians. However, in other sectors, Negroponte’s visit met with protest.8 Popular organizations and indigenous and human rights groups remembered the former US ambassador to Honduras (1981–1985) as an disreputable figure who had been responsible for implementing the National Security Doctrine, leading to the creation of death squads and forced disappearances and advancing state terrorism in Honduras. While Negroponte was Ambassador to Honduras, Honduran territory, especially the Palmerola airbase, was used to promote American military occupation and the Nicaraguan counter-revolution, and this included the participation of Argentinian and Chilean mercenaries and professional torturers. Negroponte personally supervised the building of El Aguacate airbase, where, during the ’80s, the US trained the paramilitary force known as the Contras for combat against all left-wing movements in Central America.
On August 25, 2008, Honduras joined ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas) in a historic ceremony in Tegucigalpa, attended by Presidents Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega and other guests. Hugo Chávez’s speech in Tegucigalpa was seen as an insult and affront to the US government:
“As long as we do not free ourselves from American imperialism, Yankee imperialism, there will be no future for our peoples. Countries have been dominated, chained and enslaved for a long period of time. This must stop now. We have to stand up and say this, even though the Yankee-loving oligarchs of this continent will react like wounded wild beasts. It is these Yankee-loving oligarchs that give our countries away to the voracity of American imperialism. We don’t care if they bark. In the words of Don Quijote de la Mancha: “When the dogs bark, it means we are moving forward.” The Yankee-loving oligarchs are barking, that means we are going down the road to independence, dignity, a future for our people.”9
On September 10, 2008, the State Department sent Hugo Llorens10 to be the new US Ambassador to Honduras. In protest, Zelaya refused to meet with him. He decided that he would delay acceptance of the Ambassador’s credentials as an act of solidarity with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who, at that moment, was confronting an internal political crisis bordering on civil war and was accusing the US government of interference causing destabilization in Bolivia through its agencies USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and NED (National Endowment for Democracy).11
HONDURAS: A GEOSTRATEGIC MILITARY STRONGHOLD OF THE PENTAGON
Since it signed the Bilateral Military Assistance Agreement in 195412the Republic of Honduras has lived up to its unfortunate reputation as a “Banana Republic.”13 Honduras is one of the poorest and most unstable countries in Latin America. It has a long history of American military intervention and to date, the US has maintained the same pattern of military expansion and logistical support throughout Honduras, training Honduran servicemen in counterinsurgency and for the so-called “war on drugs.” Strategically well-located at the centre of Latin America and the Caribbean, Honduras has become an important American military platform, operating as a centre for advanced tactical training and joint military operations under the Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). From the Honduran coast, foreign military forces are able to control the Caribbean and carry out regional monitoring along maritime borders of Colombia, Mexico, Grand Cayman, Nicaragua, Cuba, Belize, Guatemala and Jamaica.14
Honduras first served as a base for military intervention when the American government trained the Central American mercenaries that led the anti-communist coup d’état against the progressive government of President Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. Honduran troops acted as conduits by supplying American arms to the paramilitaries who carried out the coup.
After the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the United States set up a radio station on Honduran soil (Radio Swan, La Voz Internacional del Caribe)15 on the Swan Islands, which are situated between the coastlines of Honduras and Cuba. The intention was to carry out a clandestine CIA propaganda campaign designed to destabilize Cuba. As well, Honduras served as a location for training a group of Cuban exiles that had participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.16
In the ’80s, the United States appropriated Honduran territory as a military platform to unleash a low intensity war in Central America. New protocols were added to the 1954 Bilateral Military Agreement, allowing for deployment of US troops throughout the country to participate in a large number of training exercises. In 1983, the US established Joint Task Force-Bravo in Palmerola, which then became a base for intelligence and counterinsurgency operations in Central America, involving large-scale joint manoeuvres with Honduran armed forces.17
The initial deployment of American troops on Honduran territory involved 1,600 US Army servicemen and more than 270 Special Forces instructors, who would provide training in anti-subversive operations to Salvadoran, Honduran and Guatemalan forces at the Regional Military Training Centre (CREM) in Puerto Castilla, 20 kilometres north of Trujillo.18
During 1983-1984, 5,000 American servicemen took part in a large-scale joint military training exercise and naval manoeuvres deploying American warships along the Caribbean coast. In May, 1985, 7,000 American troops and 5,000 Honduran armed forces servicemen were deployed on the north coast, involving 39 American warships and American Navy amphibians.
In 1987, Operation Solid Shield involved more than 7,000 American troops and 3,000 Honduran troops, in a large-scale demonstration of military force on land and sea, with 3,000 American air assault troops using helicopters from the 101st Division, Fort Campbell combined with 1,800 US Navy servicemen.19
The Pentagon’s military strategy in Central America permitted the US to use Honduran territory as a laboratory for new experiments in making war at a very low cost. Through agreements with docile governments whose armed forces were prepared to implement American intervention plans, the US used geographic location exclusively for its own military advantage in the context of the Cold War in Latin America.
American interests in Honduras were at the centre of the US strategy to use the National Security Doctrine to combat any threat from revolutionary movements or governments opposing the United States. To this end, Honduran servicemen were trained at the School of the Americas in counterinsurgency techniques such as interrogation, torture, infiltration, intelligence, kidnapping and disappearing of political opponents, military combat, and psychological warfare.20
During the ’80s, Honduras experienced an increase in the level of political violence. The intelligence unit known as Battalion 3–16, a death squad, was personally managed by the head of the armed forces, General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez (1981-1984), with the logistic support of the American Embassy. The Battalion was implicated in 93 extrajudicial murders, the disappearance of 112 individuals, and 108 documented cases of torture. 21 The US government secretly provided funds to pay Argentinian counterinsurgency experts to train anti-communist forces in Honduras. In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, June, 1995, Oscar Álvarez, a Honduran lieutenant trained by US Special Forces and nephew of General Álvarez Martínez, provided the following information:
“The Argentines came in first, and they taught how to disappear people. The United States made them more efficient. The Americans … brought the equipment. They gave the training in the United States, and they brought agents here to provide some training in Honduras. They taught us interrogation techniques.” 22
We should also note that during this period, the government of Ronald Reagan (1981–1989) provided funding, arms, and training for the Contras, mainly through the CIA, to combat the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. This information was fully documented in the International Court of Justice in 1986.23
Throughout the ’80s, US financial backing for the counterrevolution created benefits for high-ranking military personnel who became involved in narco-activities within the Honduran armed forces, creating ideal conditions for traffickers to use Honduras as a transmission point for drugs between Colombia and the United States24 Both US officials and Honduran political leaders were fully aware that tons of cocaine were being sent to the United States through Honduras.
As large quantities of drugs crossed Honduran territory en route to Mexico and the United States, the US embassy, through the CIA, had full information concerning those military personnel in the Honduran armed forces who were facilitating transport of cocaine through Honduras; however, the ideological war on communism in Central America strategically removed drug trafficking from the official agenda of the State Department; and hence, the issue disappeared from public opinion.
At a time when the White House was pressuring the United States Congress to re-activate military aid to the Contras, the Kerry Committee Report25 published in 1989 by Senator John Kerry, revealed that the Contras war was infiltrated by drug traffickers who exchanged money, arms and equipment for help in introducing cocaine into the United States. The report concluded that members of the State Department were also involved in illicit activities related to drug trafficking.
FROM COUNTERINSURGENCY TO THE WAR ON DRUGS
Global threats to the national security of the United States have undergone a process of significant change since the Cold War. This geopolitical reality has become much more complex since the 9/11 attacks of 2001. The impact of these attacks led the US government to declare a “global war on terror,” a foreign policy of militarization that seeks military solutions to any transnational threat to the security of its citizens. 26 The Western Hemisphere is not exempt – remilitarization in Latin America and the Caribbean forms part of the present anti-terrorist agenda of the Pentagon. To maintain US military hegemony in this region, counterinsurgency and paramilitarization geopolitical strategies are used to criminalize popular resistance, progressive regional alliances and Latin American social movements.
The increase and proliferation of drug trafficking has been declared a threat to the national security of the US27and is, thus, closely linked to rapid regional militarization. American bases and military installations have been established at strategic points in Latin America and the Caribbean, to be used for mobility and war on drugs operations. Narco-terrorism has replaced communism as the main threat to the United States in this region. The so-called “war on drugs” has imposed a politico-military agenda that gives the armed forces a major role, with logistic support from the Southern Command and funding for regional war on drugs initiatives.28
The best way to gauge the present level of US intervention in the internal affairs of post-coup Honduras, is to look at the regional strategy of the US in Honduras, which has been to reinforce its military presence, on the grounds that Honduras has played a strategic role in the lucrative drug-trafficking business. The US State Department estimates that up to 87% of all drug flights to the United States from South America go through Honduras.29
In 2008, the Bush administration put forth the Merida Initiative, a war on drugs and terrorism cooperation agreement centred on provision of training, equipment and logistic support to military forces in Mexico and Central America. The Merida Initiative falls in line with US military, political and intelligence strategy. In the case of Mexico, implementation of the initiative has led to the militarization of public security and of large areas of Mexican territory, resulting in a war that has been on-going for the last six years, with more than 50,000 deaths, thousands of forced disappearances and the criminalization of social movements. The Merida Initiative upholds the Plan Colombia external intervention model which is designed, on the one hand, to drastically reduce production and exportation of narcotics, and on the other, to strengthen counterinsurgency against terrorists groups. The US government has identified the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) as terrorist groups.
Since its initiation in 1999, Plan Colombia has produced poor results in Colombia, where the war has only worsened. US support in deploying thousands of military troops and military police in the combat against drug trafficking and terrorism has led to broad-spread violence and the proliferation of paramilitary groups. This, in turn, has benefitted American multinationals and landowners involved in African palm plantations for the production of agro combustibles. Landowners and big companies have been the main beneficiaries of Plan Colombia. They now occupy large areas of land, some 5.5 million hectares, or 10% of the agricultural land of the country, land that was formerly in the hands of peasants.30 In 1999-2000, Colombia signed numerous contracts with transnational oil companies ((Shell, Exxon, BP and Chevron), with the stated objective “to introduce measures to attract foreign investment and promote business.”31
The geopolitical importance of Colombia, its vast territory, and the combination of various threats such as drug trafficking, organized crime, guerrillas, terrorism, paramilitarism etc. have prompted a massive and on-going increase in US aid to Bogota. The model used for providing this aid involves indirect intervention in the internal affairs of Colombia, as was the case in Honduras in the ’80s,32 with US support to the Contras. Previously, the war on drugs was not on the US agenda in Central America – before, the principal concern of the US in this area was the war on communism. But ten years later, with the implementation of Plan Colombia, the war on drugs has became a major initiative. To this end, in the period 2000- 2008, Washington transferred close to US $6 billion to Colombia and drastically increased its military presence in the country. 33 However, Plan Colombia has proven to be a failure. Drug trafficking is on the rise and expanding, despite the fact that the Colombian government carried out large-scale coca eradication, approved the extradition of hundreds of Colombians, heavily militarized the combat against drugs, broke-up the big drug cartels, and rejected all forms of alternative policy.
In 2009, at the end of his second term, Colombian President Álvaro Uribe tried to strengthen military ties between Colombia and the United States, using the war on drugs as justification for broadening the agreement with the US and giving the American government geostrategic access to seven bases on Colombian territory: Larandia, Tolemaida, Malambo, Palanquero, Apiay, Cartagena and Bahía Málaga. The tension in the region caused by US military presence fuelled debate between the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and the Council of South American Defense at an extraordinary emergency summit called in Bariloche, Argentina on August 28, 2009, two months after the politico-military coup d’état in Honduras. In his speech, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa made the following comments about Plan Colombia:
“Plan Colombia has expended billions of dollars but it has been a failure. I want to read to you the conclusions of the US Senate Investigation Committee whose members included Barack Obama and John Kerry (December 2005): “Plan Colombia was implemented in 2000 to achieve the following objectives: first, to put an end to armed conflict; second, to eliminate the production and trafficking of cocaine; third, to promote economic and social development in Colombia.”
And the conclusion of the report says the following:
“The lack of clear evidence of documented progress in the war on drugs and the neutralization of paramilitaries is disconcerting, considering the millions of dollars approved by Congress for financing Plan Colombia since 2000.” It has thus been demonstrated that this military strategy has been a failure in the combat against drugs. And this does not mean that with more foreign soldiers, more airplanes and more radar, the drug problem will be solved. That would be a grave error. The problem with Americans using Colombian bases is that their presence provokes and increases the military destabilization that already exists in the region and this creates instability that affects peace in the region.”34
William Brownfield, one of the State Department officials assigned to the Western Hemisphere, played a leading role in US intervention policy and in maintaining the regional militarization process through Plan Colombia and the Merida Initiative. In 1981, during the war on communism in Central America, Brownfield was assigned to the US embassy in San Salvador. At the same time, John Negroponte was appointed as Ambassador to Honduras. Both men played a decisive role in coordinating covert military operations with the Salvadoran military and creating death squads.35Later, William Brownfield was temporarily assigned as Political Advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Command (1989-1990), during the US military invasion of Panama, which brought about the removal of the military regime of Manuel Noriega for the crime of drug trafficking. Subsequently, Brownfield was appointed as Ambassador to Chile (2002-2004). He is remembered for his statement on September 11, 2003, at a public event to commemorate the coup d’état that brought down the socialist government of Salvador Allende. The coup in Chile (September 11, 1973) happened on the same day and month as attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon (September 11, 2001).
“Those who hate the United States must be controlled, arrested or eliminated.”
Two years after the 2002 coup d’état in Venezuela, Brownfield was appointed US Ambassador to Venezuela (2004-07). His mandate was to unify opposition leaders and set in motion destabilization of the Chávez government, on the grounds that Chávez was promoting international terrorism and protecting FARC leaders whom the government of George Bush had identified as terrorists.36
Since its creation in 1999, Plan Colombia has been used indirectly by the US to intervene in the internal affairs of the Venezuelan Government, through covert military operations and financial support. The objective was to install in Venezuela a government that would support American corporate interests. Bolivian President, Evo Morales, speaking at the extraordinary UNASUR summit in Bariloche,37 cited an article entitled “Starting with Colombia,” written by US Senator Paul Coverdell, published in The Washington Post, April 10, 2000:
“To protect American oil interests in Venezuela, military intervention in Colombia is necessary.”38
In 2013, Wikileaks published a confidential leaked document revealing that the US government had a strategy to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution through various initiatives and funding of more than $15 million to be administered by USAID to NGO’s in Colombia. The US Ambassador to Venezuela at the time, William Brownfield had drawn up a five point plan.39 “1) Strengthen democratic institutions; 2) Penetrate the political base of Hugo Chávez; 3) Divide the Chávez support; 4)Protect the vital business interests of the United States and 5) Isolate Chávez internationally.”
In April 2006, President Hugo Chávez warned Ambassador Brownfield that he would declare him persona non grata and expel him from the country if he continued making incendiary remarks about Venezuelan internal affairs. Chávez referred to Brownfield as a “ridiculous demagogue and a cynic.”40 Brownfield was strategically transferred to Colombia for the period 2007-2010, during the second mandate of President Álvaro Uribe. At that time, an agreement to broaden the Plan Colombia was signed, giving American troops and advisors access to at least seven Colombian military bases. Later, in 2011, William Brownfield was appointed Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, where he was responsible for overseeing the Plan Colombia and the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), an extension of the Merida Initiative in Central America.
In his first visit in this capacity to the region, Brownfield visited Honduras, both to reinforce the US intervention agenda in the hemisphere in the so-called war on drugs and to respond to a request from the post-coup Honduran government to bring a “Plan Colombia” to Honduras.41
After the 2009 coup d’état, Honduras drew up a new security agenda, adhering to the regime of American foreign policy. The coup d’état, legitimized by the Honduran Supreme Court, brought in an institutional change of government whose vision of security was influenced by US military logic in the war on drugs42
During the mandate of President Manuel Zelaya, there was visible political-ideological distancing from US political influence in the internal affairs of Honduras. This did not sit well with the State Department. Relations between the two governments progressively deteriorated. The appointment of Jorge Arturo Reina as Honduran Ambassador to the United Nations was not welcomed by the American Embassy. Reina was sanctioned and his American visa was suspended on the grounds of supposed terrorist connections. Zelaya’s rapprochement with Hugo Chávez to join Petrocaribe in exchange for publicly acknowledging that the FARC were not terrorists,43 and his supposed link with international organized crime,44 led the US government to distrust his implementation of anti-narcotics and public order policies. In October, 2008, Zelaya put forth a plan to liberalize drugs, strongly criticizing the prohibitionist policy for the control of narcotics. When Zelaya participated in the annual regional meeting of heads of organizations dealing with drug trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean, he made the following remarks:
“The trafficking of arms, drugs and persons is an international calamity with a strong economic network that prevents us from responding as effectively and precisely as we could in a normal legal situation. That is why we are proposing legalization of the sale of drugs. Then, instead of pursuing and killing drug traffickers, we could invest those resources in education and training, so that consumption and addiction can be reduced and controlled in our society.”45
With these remarks, Zelaya publically distanced himself from the anti-narcotics policy of the US government and as well, criticized US regional security initiatives, alluding indirectly to their failure. Zelaya’s proposal to legalize drugs came four months after Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte’s visit to Tegucigalpa to promote the Merida Initiative and highlight the role of the US in the war on drugs.46 At that time, Negroponte had taken advantage of the opportunity to remind Zelaya that Honduras had been an ally in matters of US foreign policy and had warned him about his rapprochement with Chávez and the FARC. The international campaign against Manuel Zelaya and his links to Hugo Chávez in the protection of organized crime and narcotrafficking would be the strategy used by the US government to justify its support for the coup d’état that removed Zelaya.
Manuel Zelaya proposed that in the November, 2009 elections, the Honduran people be surveyed in a non-binding “fourth ballot” poll regarding a binding referendum to be scheduled for June 28. The referendum, financially supported by Venezuela, would give the people the opportunity to vote Yes or No for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly.
Zelaya’s proposal met with protest. The “Union Civica Democratica” (UCD) representing the business sector, (COHEP) with financial support from the NED (National Endowment for Democracy) and USAID,47 the Catholic and Evangelical Churches and the Honduran Military Reserves participated in massive demonstrations protesting Hugo Chávez ‘s intervention in the country and asking Congress to remove Zelaya. In the meantime, the US Embassy, in its role as mediator, the National Congress, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Honduran armed forces all gave a green light to a coup d’état. The Supreme Court gave an order to reinstate the Chief of the armed forces, General Romeo Vásquez, who had been removed from his post by Zelaya for refusing to obey an executive order to distribute the ballot boxes for the fourth ballot poll. In the early hours of June 28, Vásquez led a military operation to detain Zelaya and expel him from the country.
The crisis provoked by the events of June 28, 2009 marked a turning point in Honduran history. Militarization took a deeper hold on Honduran society and exacerbated instability in the country. Changes brought about by the coup d’état made it possible for drug traffickers to find new routes for transmitting cocaine, turning the country into the main transfer point for drugs going to Mexican cartels and bringing illicit funds into the political and economic system. Criminal groups have progressively penetrated the highest levels of Honduran government. In the last five years, corruption has been unbridled.48
THE REMILITARIZATION OF HONDURAS: THE FAILURE OF THE CARSI PROGRAMME
President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia was the first international leader to recognize the government of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo. The United States also endorsed the victory of the National Party of Honduras in the specious elections of November 2009, publicly recognizing the result as a significant step towards re-establishing “democratic order.”49Uribe’s visit to Tegucigalpa three days after the swearing in of the new President was fundamental in firming up relations between the two nations. The US was pleased to bring Honduras back into its orbit of hegemonic interests in the region. Cooperation agreements to carry out an Action Plan for security in Honduras by February 2010 set Porfirio Lobo’s agenda to begin the process of “Colombianization” of Honduras, bolstered, of course, by military and logistics backup from the Southern Command.50 With democratic order broken, and a Honduran government that supported transnational interests and the US policy to militarize the region, conditions were ripe for implementation of a militaristic Action Plan for security.
The criminalization of the opposition and protests resulting from ideological polarization in the post-coup period, competition for land and natural resources, targeted assassinations of civil society leaders, journalists, union leaders, campesinos, lawyers, left-wing activists and members of diversity and popular movements, demonstrated that the military action plan, with its repressive and anti-subversive operations, was underway. The new ultra-conservative militaristic policy was in place.
On October 19, 2010, The Honduran Minister of Security, Oscar Álvarez, publicly requested that the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, David Johnson, set up a “Plan Colombia” type programme to combat drugs in Central America. Álvarez declared that Honduras would benefit from technical, tactical and economic assistance from the United States in the war on drugs. 51Porfirio Lobo agreed to create a multinational force whose purpose would be to integrate the domestic security policies of the so-called Northern Triangle countries (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), with the assistance of the United States.
In February, 2011, William Brownfield visited Central America after being sworn in as the new US anti-drug tsar. The purpose of his visit was to announce a major $200 million programme. In response to Oscar Álvarez’s request, Brownfield announced that a regional security programme, known as CARSI (Regional Security Initiative for Central America) was to be implemented.52
In an article entitled, “Will Biden’s billion dollar plan really help Central America?” (February, 2015), Alexander Main, analyst of US foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean, questions the US policy of financial support for the Northern Triangle countries. Ambiguous and ineffective results of programmes such as CARSI have provoked debate in the US Congress about the true objective of this funding:
“In recent years the majority of CARSI funds have gone to the Northern Triangle, despite countless reports of abuses carried out by the police and army there—including frequent extrajudicial killings. The involvement of Honduran military and police forces in killings and attacks targeting civil society leaders, with near total impunity, prompted 94 members of the US Congress to urge the Obama administration to cut off all security assistance to Honduras.”53
Vice-President Joe Biden made two visits to Central America, in 2012 and 2015, to reiterate US financial assistance to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, through initiatives to combat organized crime and drugs. Nonetheless, US foreign policy in this region has clearly been counterproductive and ineffective: the failure of the policy is demonstrated in the elevated levels of violent death in the region. Presently, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. The United Nations has estimated that in 2011, there were 92 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in Honduras, mainly in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. This makes Honduras the crime capital of the world.54 In 2011, the UN Global Commission on Drug Policy made the following statement in its report:
“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Vast expenditures on criminalization and repressive measures directed at producers, traffickers and consumers of illegal drugs has clearly failed to effectively curtail supply or consumption.”55
In the last five years, under the leadership of the Southern Command, the US has reinforced and increased American military detachments in Honduras, significantly strengthening its military presence on Honduran territory.56 David Vine, anthropologist and researcher at the American University, Washington D.C., has carried out an extensive study of the Pentagon’s silent strategy to build a system of US military facilities overseas. A case in point is Honduras, which Vine takes as an example of the “lily-pad strategy,”57 a strategy to install overseas, a system of small, secretive, remote facilities or bases with limited numbers of troops. With this new strategy, the US Pentagon ensures the existence of advanced, remote, independent, strategically-located US facilities that can be expanded in the future, if deemed necessary by the US military. Vine’s research on the increase in US access to military bases in Honduras revealed the following :
“We have observed that the United States can access basically any Honduran military installation it wishes to. Some of these bases go silently unnoticed. It is very difficult to measure the exact level of US military presence in Honduras because much of this is secretive, but as far as I have been able to ascertain, the US has access to at least 13 bases in Honduras: 1) the Palmerola base, a regional military centre where Joint Task Force- Bravo is located; 2) Caratasca naval base, used for the war on drugs; 3) Guanaja, Islas de la Bahía, war on drugs base; 4) Puerto Castilla naval base, located 20 kilometres north of Trujillo; 5) Avanzada Operations Base in Mocorón, Gracias a Dios Department; 6) Tropic Regions Test Center in Mocorón, Gracias a Dios; 7) El Aguacate airbase; 8) Puerto Lempira naval base; 9) military training base in Rio Claro, Trujillo; 10) military base in Naco, Cortés; 11) parachuting zone in Támara; 12) La Venta military base; 13) El Zamorano firing range.”58
Military bases and facilities strategically located in the remote jungle, Mosquíta, region of Honduras (Mocorón, Caratasca, Puerto Lempira) have been used for joint exercises and operations with American troops, DEA instructors and agents, and Honduran troops, for purposes of the so-called war on drugs. Research carried out on the Mocorón base on how counterinsurgency lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the war on drugs in Honduras, reveals the following:
“The United States military has brought lessons from the past decade of conflict to the drug war being fought in the wilderness of Miskito Indian country, constructing this remote base camp with little public notice but with the support of the Honduran government. The effort draws on hard lessons learned from a decade of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, where troops were moved from giant bases to outposts scattered across remote, hostile areas so they could face off against insurgents.59
Conflict between campesinos and landowners on African palm plantations in the Aguán Valley has left more than 45 campesinos dead since the 2009 coup d’état. The Honduran government’s response to the conflict has been to militarize the zone with US government assistance.
Bertha Cáceres, founder of COPINH (National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations),60 recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize for her struggle to defend the natural heritage and national sovereignty of Honduras. Cáceres has strongly opposed the process of remilitarization and establishment of American bases on Honduran soil. In her frequent speeches on the subject, she uses the expression, “América Latina, territorio de paz” (Latin America, territory of peace). In 2013, she revealed to the world that the United States was planning to build the “biggest military base in Latin America,” in Honduras. The base would be used as a platform for aggression against Venezuela. She also revealed that Honduran authorities had signed an agreement to “hand over three million hectares of Honduran land and shoreline” to the transnational company, British Gas Group, for oil exploitation and exploration:
“This base poses a threat to our people (…) Honduras has always been used as a platform for military occupation, interventionism and militarization. This is similar to what happened in the 80’s against Nicaragua and Central America. This time it could be against Venezuela and Cuba. This area has not been chosen by chance, as the region is very rich in hydrological resources, as well as being strategically located. The objective of the US is to pillage and militarize the region.”61
The US intends to build this large-scale base as a platform for aggression. The base forms part of the Pentagon’s “Half Moon” strategy in the Caribbean, Central America and Colombia for the economic war against Venezuela. Nelson Ávila, Honduran academic and international geopolitical analyst has said the following on the topic:
“The Pentagon has adopted a special initiative and this can be observed in the fact that the US economic war on Venezuela has become much more direct. And other countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil are not excluded. The “Half Moon Strategy,” as it is called in the Pentagon, gets its name from the fact that 3000 US troops are concentrated in Haiti, Guantanamo, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, forming a half moon. The Pentagon has declared that it is possible geopolitically, to have five simultaneous war fronts, one in Afghanistan; the second in Iran; the third in North Korea; the fourth in the Middle East; and the fifth, the “Half Moon Strategy” front, is the war against any process for change in South America.”62
Since his election as President of Honduras in 2014, Juan Orlando Hernández has strengthened military cooperation with the Southern Command by reinforcing the militarization of security forces in Honduras. The objective is to protect US transnational interests. The American government has requested that the Honduran government allow 250 Naval Marines to be deployed to the Soto Cano airbase by June 2015, to carry out joint exercises with Honduran troops.
Hernández came to power in January, 2014, as a result of two consecutive fraudulent internal elections: the first, November 2012 and the second, the General Elections of 2013, endorsed by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Already in 2013, as President of the National Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández had paved his way for election to the presidency when he set up a “coup d’état” through a vote in Congress in the early hours of August 14, that had four Supreme Court judges dismissed. 63
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Feature photo credit: Bob Simons, US National Archives