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History Repeats: Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared of Honduras February 12, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by James Rodriguez   
Thursday, 11 February 2010 16:28
Source: MiMundo.org 

Photos by James Rodriguez

“The so-called 80’s were characterized by a wave of violence in several countries in Latin America. Our country, Honduras, was not an exception. Even though the phenomenon of ‘disappearances’ occurred mostly during the military dictatorships, many people also vanished during democratically elected governments.” (1)

“A forced disappearance can be defined as: The illegal detention of a person by a State security agent or a force acquiesced by it, without the appropriate legal procedure, and in which the act is denied without any further information regarding the location or wellbeing of the detainee.” (2)

“An important characteristic of forced disappearances is that ultimately the victim is executed and the body hidden for good, hence disappeared. In all cases, the main objective is to avoid that the remains be found. Or, if the body is found, to make sure the victim cannot be identified due to grave disfigurement. This important aspect differentiates forced disappearances from another tragic human rights violation: the extrajudicial execution.” (3)

“The victims are not only those disappeared, but also the parents, spouses, offspring, or any other close friend or relative. These secondary victims are placed in a situation of uncertainty and anguish that can last for many years. Due to these reasons, forced disappearances tear open deep wounds within the social fabric of a nation-wide community which ultimately affect political, social and professional circles, and thus weaken the fundamental institutions of a country.” (4)

“By 1982, sixty-nine families were victims of forced disappearances. On November 30th of that same year, twelve families came together to form the Committee of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH). The organization’s primary objective was to recover alive, if possible, their family members disappeared by State forces. As sometimes the victims were held in clandestine jails for weeks or months before being irreversibly disappeared, COFADEH’s main objective was accomplished in a few cases. But most of the victims’ remains were never recovered. Between 1980 and 1989, one hundred and eighty-four people were disappeared by the State of Honduras without any due course of legal action followed by the authorities against those responsible.” (5)

“Halfway through the 90’s, COFADEH proceeded with attempts to exhume bodies found in clandestine cemeteries, where some of the disappeared were brutally dumped… Beginning in 1998, a new series of objectives are included in the organization’s formal mission: To defend collective rights, the right to a healthy environment, and liberty of expression. In addition, COFADEH has contributed to demilitarize Honduras, build democratic processes, and act as a human rights watchdog over State security forces.

The importance and quantity of COFADEH’s work increased dramatically after the military coup d’état removed democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya on June 28th, 2009. During the following seven months of de facto governance by Roberto Micheletti, the COFADEH’s offices served as a central headquarters for documentation and analysis of the human rights situation. Human rights violations carried out by the illegal regime continue to be compiled and recorded here on a daily basis, and numerous foreign delegations and alternative media members head here first for last minute information. Just between June 28th and October 10th, 2009, COFADEH has documented 4,234 human rights violations. (7)

For more information on the coup d’état carried out on June 2009, please view these previous photo essays:
Mel, Our Friend, the People are with You!
Tragedy at Toncontin: Army Shoots and Kills Protesters

Shortly before Micheletti’s de facto regime carried out a dubious national election on November 2009, Bertha Oliva de Nativí, director of COFADEH, declared: “I believe we are experiencing a dictatorship without precedents, even worse than in the 80’s. Back then, while we lived under the military boot, paramilitary groups and death squads would assassinate and disappear people in a clandestine manner, so that it was difficult to point them out as the criminals. Today, they do it in broad daylight, openly challenging all national and international structures of human rights and governance.” (8)

Tomás Nativí, founder of the People’s Revolutionary Union (URP), was abducted from his home, in Tegucigalpa, before dawn on June 11th, 1981. His wife, Bertha Oliva, three months pregnant at the time, witnessed the illegal abduction and recognized one of the assailants as Alexander Hernández, leader of Intelligence Battalion 3-16. Mr. Nativí was forcibly detained-disappeared by State forces and 30 years later, his corpse has still not been found. (9)

During the 80’s, General Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez was primarily responsible for the organization of the death squads in Honduras. First as Chief of the Public Security Forces (FUSEP) and eventually as Chief Commander of the Honduran Armed Forces, Álvarez Martínez established “an elite counterinsurgency force [in Battalion 3-16] that became the spearhead of the dirty war in Honduras.” The whole setup emulated the Argentinean counterinsurgency structure and was assessed by military personnel from Argentina, the U.S. and former Nicaraguan Elite Guard members (pro-Somoza dictatorship). (10)

“The information acquired from witnesses, surviving victims, family, and press regarding the forced disappearances, clearly indicates that special units such as the National Direction of Investigation (DNI) and Intelligence Battalion 3-16 were [directly] responsible for the atrocities… This latter unit specialized in vigilance and the production of intelligence regarding specific Honduran citizens who were suspected of subversive acts by the Armed Forces.“ (11)

As in other countries, powerful elites in collaboration with the armed forces nurtured the dirty war in Honduras economically and ideologically. These national elites – who have historically controlled the government in order to protect its economic interests—literally felt threatened by the 1979 triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in neighboring Nicaragua. This powerful oligarchy allied with foreign corporate and political interest groups, helped finance the dirty war through an entity named the Association for the Progress of Honduras (APROH).

“The APROH was the sole creation of two men: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez and [U.S. ambassador to Honduras] John Dimitri Negroponte [in 1982]. Its origins go back to secret meetings held by Álvarez with elite businessmen, bankers, industrialists, commerce moguls, public administrators and [right-wing] intellectuals.” (12) The APROH gained legal status through a presidential resolution issued by then-President Roberto Suazo Córdoba and its board members were: “President: Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez; Vice-president: Miguel Facussé; Secretary: Oswaldo Ramos Soto; Treasurer: Bernand Casanova; Finances and Membership: Rafael Ferrari… [in addition to] Paul Vinelli, Leonardo Callejas Romero, Osmond Maduro, Benjamín Villanueva, Abraham Bennaton, Edgardo Sevilla and Emín Barjún.” (13)

Leticia Salomón, researcher from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, states: “The coup [against Mel Zelaya on June 2009] was planned by a loose association of businessmen lead by Carlos Roberto Flores Facussé, former President of Honduras (1988-2002). Flores Facussé’s ‘La Tribuna’ newspaper, in cahoots with two other major newspapers ‘La Prensa’ & ‘El Heraldo’, and TV channels 2, 3, 5 and 9, were the main pillar behind the coup… This group of businessmen, who control 90% of the country’s wealth, also includes Jaime Rosenthal and Gilberto Goldstein (directors of the Continental Group, a conglomerate that monopolizes the Honduran banking system, agro industry, and owns mass media outlets like ‘El Tiempo’ and channel 11), José Rafael Ferrari, Juan Canahuati, financier Camilo Atala, lumber mogul José Lamas, energy industrialist Fredy Násser, Jacobo Kattán, sugar baron Guillermo Lippman, construction tycoon Rafael Flores, and real estate and African palm magnate Miguel Facussé”. (14)

The similarities between the APROH from the early 80’s and the elite businessmen association identified by Leticia Salomón are remarkable. Aside from the fact that some men are found on both lists (Ferrari, Facussé), the two groups represent and defend the same economic interests. And, just as in the 80’s, these economic elites are once again fueling repression via death squads run by the criminals of yesteryear. During an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, ousted president Zelaya confirmed that Billy Joya Améndola, former member of Battalion 3-16 who has been accused of numerous human rights violations during the 80’s, served as advisor for Micheletti and has lead terror and torture campaigns for the de facto regime.

Recently-inaugurated president Pepe Lobo has wasted no time in revealing his firm associations with the coup plotters. “His first presidential act consisted of ratifying a political amnesty law proposed by the National Congress, intended to clear all crimes related to the political crisis stemming from Zelaya’s forceful removal from power.” (16) Such bold action awards full impunity to the hundreds of criminals who committed thousands of human rights violations against members of the civic resistance movement.” (16)

In addition, Lobo immediately set forth his strategy of containment against the ever-growing popular resistance catalyzed by last June’s events, by naming Oscar Álvarez as his Minister of Security. Having already served this post during the presidency of Ricardo Maduro (2002-2006), Álvarez has been highly criticized for his evasion of legal procedures, disregard for human rights, and hard-line approach, all reminiscent of his uncle, the aforementioned Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez Martínez. “Less than 24 hours after having been sworn in, Minister Álvarez carried out one of his infamous madrugones, or pre-dawn raids. These illegal forced-entry procedures, which often violate national laws, were rather common during his stint under Maduro. On this occasion, he sent a clear message to the Popular Resistance Movement.” (17)

Researcher Robinson Salazar Pérez analyzes: “The coup d’état in Honduras on June 28th, 2009, clearly marks a turning point in the future path of Latin American politics. Three issues in particular, have been clearly signaled and appear to be the target of right-wing hardliners: Avoid any economic alternative [i.e. ALBA] that may block the markets of multinational corporations, detain the progressive advance of the nationalist governments of Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and sow the seeds of fear among Latin American leaders, by reminding them that extra-national interests are well above legitimate internal governance, even if this latter one is backed up by votes.” (18)

The powerful Hall of Living Memories, inside COFADEH’s headquarters, reminds us that certain chapters in history must not repeat themselves. Nevertheless, in Honduras, the oppressors of the past, using proven methods, once again apply their tyrannical despotism in 2010. A concerned Bertha Oliva concludes: “I am convinced that this is a project they want to emulate throughout Latin America. If they succeed in Honduras, they will also try to do so in other countries that have already been identified.” (19)

Version en español aquí.

Spanish-English Translation: MiMundo.org

1 Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Los hechos hablan por sí mismos: Informe preliminar sobre los desaparecidos en Honduras 1980-1993. 2a. Edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Editorial Guaymuras, 2002. P. 19
2 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 20.
3 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 21.
4 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 19.
5 http://www.cofadeh.org/html/historia/index.htm
6 Ibid.
7 Comité de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos en Honduras (COFADEH). Violaciones a Derechos Humanos en el marco del Golpe de Estado en Honduras: Cifras y Rostros de la Represión. Segundo Informe. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 22 de octubre de 2009. Full report can be downloaded here (in Spanish only):
8 Trucchi, Giorgio. “Esta dictadura es peor que la de los 80”. Rel-UITA, 29 de Noviembre, 2009.
9 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. Pp. 267-8.
10 Becerra, Longino. Cuando las tarántulas atacan. 11a edición. Tegucigalpa, Honduras. 2008. Pp. 390-1.
11 Op. Cit. Comisionado Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. P. 258
12 Op. Cit. Becerra. P. 404.
13 Ibid. P. 285.
14 http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=89427
15 http://www.democracynow.org/2009/7/30/exclusive_ousted_honduran_president_manuel_zelaya
16 http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/69434
17 “Oscar Alvarez inicia gestión con prepotencia y soberbia amenazando a la Resistencia”. El Libertador. 28 de enero, 2010. http://ellibertador.hn/Nacional/3726.html
18 Salazar Pérez, Robinson. “Honduras factor estratégico que cambió el rumbo de América Latina”. America Latina en Movimiento. Golpe de Estado en Honduras: ¿Laboratorio de dictaduras siglo XXI?. Publicada por la Agencia Latinoamericana de Información (ALAI). Agosto 2009. P. 9. (http://alainet.org/publica/447.phtml)
19 Op. Cit. Trucchi.


From Coup-lite to Truth-lite: US Policy and Death Squad Democracy in Honduras January 4, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Hilary Clinton making nice with Lobo (wolf in Spanish),  the illegitimate president of Honduras
Published on Monday, January 4, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby Andrés Thomas Conteris

In the Top Ten Ways You Can Tell Which Side the United States Government is On With Regard to the Military Coup in Honduras, Mark Weisbrot correctly illustrates U.S. backing for the coup regime and its lack of support for democracy.  For more than 100 days, I have been holed up inside the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, accompanying President Manuel Zelaya and covering the story for Democracy Now! and other independent media. In case Mark’s points were not convincing, here are 10 more ways to help you decide.

10. The resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on June 30th strongly condemned the coup in Honduras. The United States, however, prevented the UN Security Council from taking strong measures consistent with the resolution.

9. When President Zelaya returned to Tegucigalpa and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy on September 21st, Lewis Amselem, the U.S. representative at the Organization of American States (OAS), called it “foolish” and “irresponsible.”  Amselem, whose background is with the U.S. Southern Command, is known in the halls of the OAS as “the diplomator.”  He led the charge for validating the Honduran elections, while most countries opposed recognition of elections held under the coup regime.

8. The U.S. Southern Command sponsored the PANAMAX 09 joint maneuvers from September 11-21 off the coast of Panama with military forces from 20 countries.  Even though the U.S. publicly stated that ties had been severed with the Honduran military, the invitation for Honduras to participate in these maneuvers stood firm.  The Honduran armed forces finally said they would withdraw from the exercises, only after several Latin American countries threatened to boycott them.

7. Key members of the Honduran military involved in the coup received training at the School of the Americas (which changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation — WHISC), including Generals Romeo Vasquez and Luis Javier Prince.  Even after the June 28th coup, the Pentagon continued training members of the Honduran military at WHISC in Ft. Benning, Georgia.

6. The negotiating teams for both sides of the conflict reached an Accord on October 30th. Days later, when the U.S. made it clear it would honor the November 29th election whether or not he were reinstated as president, Zelaya declared the Accord to be a “dead letter”.  In spite of the U.S. claim that they only recognize Zelaya as the president of the country, they refuse to accept that he withdrew from the Accord.  The practice of ignoring the will of the Honduran president is also evidenced by the failure Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama to respond to letters he sent them.

5. Although U.S. officials continue to sing the praises of the Accord, they have been cherry picking around which parts of the agreement to underscore and which to ignore.  The Verification Commission mandated by the Accord only came together on one occasion for a photo-op.  The Accord stipulates the need for international aid for the Commission to function, but the U.S. provided no economic or political support.  Had the Verification Commission been activated, it would have denounced the November 5th deadline passing without the formation of a government of national unity.  It would have to consider rebuking coup leader Roberto Micheletti for assuming he would preside over this new government. Given these violations, the Commission would have to rule whether or not the November 29th elections should have proceeded, or be recognized.

4. The U.S. supports a comprehensive amnesty, a component intentionally left out of the Accord. The coup regime filed 24 criminal charges against President Zelaya, yet he is willing to face all of them in an impartial court of law.  He has called for an independent international tribunal and rejected the option of amnesty for himself and the coup perpetrators.  If amnesty is declared, impunity will be enshrined for the “golpistas,” as well as for the U.S. Pentagon and civilian officials complicit in the crimes of the coup.

3. The Accord calls for the establishment of a Truth Commission during the first half of 2010.  U.S. officials say they favor this; however, “truth-lite” seems to be what they prefer.  In recent decades, most Truth Commissions have limited truth-telling to circumstances within their country’s borders.  One exception occurred in Chad where the role of foreign governments in funding and training the perpetrators of human rights crimes was investigated.  If Honduras followed Chad’s example, its Truth Commission could examine the U.S. role before, during and after the coup.  Some possible questions: What role did those formerly employed by the U.S. government, like John Negroponte, Otto Reich, and Lanny Davis, play before and after the coup? Why did the plane carrying the kidnapped president on June 28th land just 60 miles away from the capital at the airbase where the U.S. Joint Task Force Bravo is headquartered? (U.S. officials claim it was to “refuel”). Why did the U.S. allow aid to continue to flow to the coup regime while not declaring that a “military coup” took place against the advice of the State Department’s legal advisors?  Top U.S. officials labeled what happened in Honduras as a coup; but given their actions, it’s more like “coup-lite.”

2. In August 2009, at the Summit of North American Leaders in Mexico, President Obama had harsh words for opponents of his policy by declaring, “The same critics who say that the United States has not intervened enough in Honduras are the same people who say that we’re always intervening. . . I think what that indicates is that maybe there’s some hypocrisy involved in their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations. . .”

The ongoing U.S. intervention and hypocrisy in Honduras goes well beyond what Mark Weisbrot and I have described.  Aid continues to flow to the de facto regime, despite U.S. law that mandates cutting aid to military coups; that is intervention. Lifting the symbolic sanctions temporarily imposed on the dictatorship after the Accord was signed but not implemented; that is intervention.  Bestowing harsher criticism on President Zelaya and his nonviolent supporters rather than on the perpetrators of gross human rights crimes; that is hypocrisy.

1. Here in the Brazilian embassy, death threats are part of the psychological warfare directed against those who continue to accompany President Zelaya.  Elsewhere in Honduras: resistance leader Carlos Turcios was kidnapped and beheaded on December 16th; two members of the United Peasant Movement of Aguan were abducted by four hooded men on December 17th; resistance member Edwin Renán Fajardo, age 22, was tortured and murdered on December 22nd.  In an open letter to fellow Central American Presidents on December 28th, President Zelaya cited over 4,000 human rights violations by the coup regime, including 130 killings, over 450 persons wounded, over 3000 illegal detentions, and 114 political prisoners.

The silence of the U.S. government over the last six months regarding the ongoing human rights atrocities by the “golpistas” in Honduras confirms that the Obama regime has sought to support a death-squad democracy, rather than reinstating its elected leader.

That is intervention. That is hypocrisy.

Andrés Thomas Conteris is Program on the Americas Director for Nonviolence International, and works with Democracy Now! en Español.

Showdown in ‘Tegucigolpe’ July 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Saturday, July 11, 2009 by Foreign Policy in Focus by Stephen Zunes
One of the hemisphere’s most critical struggles for democracy in 20 years is now unfolding in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa (nicknamed “Tegucigolpe” for its long history of military coup d’états, which are called golpes de estado, in Spanish). Despite censorship and repression, popular anger over the June 28 military overthrow of democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya is growing. International condemnation has been near-unanimous, and the Organization of American States has suspended Honduras, the first time the hemisphere-wide body has taken so drastic an action since 1962. In a reversal of many decades of U.S. support for right-wing golpistas in Latin America, the Obama administration has denounced the coup. However, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rather than backing the largely nonviolent popular uprising for Zelaya’s unconditional return to power, has instead been pushing for the country’s legitimate ruler to compromise with the very forces which illegally exiled him from the country and have been violently suppressing his supporters.

The United States is now offering support for mediation efforts to be led by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias. The Obama administration tried to discourage the exiled Honduran president from his attempt this past Sunday to return to his country and has apparently succeeded, for the time being, in preventing him from trying again. Clinton pressed this point on Tuesday in pushing for mediation, arguing that it would be a “better route for him to follow than attempt to return in the fact of the intractable opposition of the de facto government.”

Clinton also said, “Instead of another confrontation…let’s try the dialogue process.” What this ignores is that while the coup plotters have no legitimate standing, the Honduran people have a constitutionally guaranteed right to rebel under such circumstances. According to Article 3 of the Honduran constitution:

No one owes obedience to a government that has usurped power or to those who assume functions or public posts by the force of arms or using means or procedures that rupture or deny what the Constitution and the laws establish. The verified acts by such authorities are null. The people have the right to recur to insurrection in defense of the constitutional order.

What the Obama administration apparently fears is that if it allows the burgeoning pro-democracy movement to take its course, it may end up with a similar outcome to what transpired in Venezuela in 2002 — following a similar coup against that country’s left-leaning president, Hugo Chávez. Within days, a popular movement had forced right-wing elements of the military and their wealthy civilian allies to step down. Chávez returned to govern and emboldened by such a popular outpouring of support, he moved the country further to the left.The United States could help such a movement succeed if it wanted to. If the Obama administration chose, the United States could impose strict economic sanctions on Honduras that would, combined with ongoing strikes and other disruptions, grind the economy to a halt and force the illegitimate junta in Tegucigalpa to step down.

Unfortunately, while there’s no evidence suggesting that the United States was responsible for the coup, there appear to be reasons the Obama administration may not want the coup plotters to suffer a total defeat.

Zelaya’s Significance

Despite being a wealthy logger and rancher from the centrist Liberal Party, Zelaya has moved his government well to the left since taking office in 2005. During his tenure, he raised the minimum wage and provided free school lunches, milk for young children, pensions for the elderly, and additional scholarships for students. He built new schools, subsidized public transportation, and even distributed energy-saving light bulbs. He also had Honduras join with Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Cuba, and three small Caribbean island states in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an economic alliance challenging the neoliberal orthodoxy that has dominated hemispheric trade in recent decades.

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

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

Yet the Obama administration is implying that the country’s legitimate democratic president somehow shared responsibility for his illegal overthrow. The initial White House response was rather tepid, initially failing to denounce the coup, simply calling upon “all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.” Similarly, Clinton insisted the day after the coup that “all parties have a responsibility to address the underlying problems that led to yesterday’s events.” When asked if her call for “restoring the constitutional order” in Honduras meant returning Zelaya himself, she didn’t say it necessarily would. Similarly, in a press conference on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly evaded reporters’ questions as to whether the United States supported Zelaya’s return. This places the United States at odds with the Organization of American States, the Rio Group, and the UN General Assembly, all of which called for the “immediate and unconditional return” of Zelaya.

There are serious questions as to whether Clinton can be trusted to make a clear stance for democracy, given her traditionally pro-interventionist position on Latin America. As a senator, she argued that the Bush administration should have taken a more aggressive stance against the rise of left-leaning governments in the hemisphere, arguing that Bush has neglected such developments “at our peril.” In response to recent efforts by democratically elected Latin American governments to challenge the structural obstacles that have left much of their populations in poverty, she expressed alarm, saying, “We have witnessed the rollback of democratic development and economic openness in parts of Latin America.” Though no doubt aware that U.S. policy toward leftist regimes in Latin American in previous decades had included military interventions, CIA-sponsored coups, military and financial support for opposition groups, and rigged national elections, she argued that “We must return to a policy of vigorous engagement.”

The United States and Honduras

The United States certainly has a history of “vigorous engagement” in Honduras, actively supporting a series of military dictatorships from 1963 through the early 1980s. Though military rule formally ended by the end of 1982, the weak civilian presidents who followed in the subsequent decade served only at the pleasure of Honduran generals and the U.S. embassy. John Negroponte, who later served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Iraq and the United Nations, as well as his Director of National Intelligence (DNI) was the U.S. ambassador to Honduras during this period.

During the 1980s, thousands of U.S. forces were sent to Honduras to train Honduran security forces as well as train and support the rightist Nicaraguan contras, which were engaged in a series of cross-border terrorist attacks. The CIA organized, trained, and equipped a special military unit known as backed Battalion 316, bringing in Argentine counterinsurgency experts as advisors on surveillance and interrogation. These advisors had been part of the “dirty war” in their country during the 1970s, in which more than 10,000 people were murdered. Honduran armed forces chief Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez personally directed the unit with strong U.S. support, even after acknowledging to Negroponte that he intended “to use the Argentine method of eliminating subversives.”  Though Alvarez’ personal involvement in large-scale human rights abuses were well-known to State Department and other U.S. officials, the Reagan administration awarded him the Legion of Merit for “encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras.”

Former Honduran congressman Efraín Díaz told the Baltimore Sun, in reference to U.S. policy towards human rights abuses in his country, “Their attitude was one of tolerance and silence. They needed Honduras to loan its territory more than they were concerned about innocent people being killed.” Under Negroponte, CIA officers based in the U.S. Embassy frequently visited a secret prison where captured dissidents were routinely tortured. It was one of a number of facilities to which U.S. officials had regular access that were off-limits to civilian Honduran officials, including judges looking for victims of kidnapping by right-wing paramilitary units.

Despite this history, including revelations of his role in covering up for such human rights abuses, Negroponte had little trouble on Capitol Hill during the Bush administration. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), then the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, praised Negroponte for having “served bravely and with distinction,” and for bringing “a record of proven leadership and strong management.” Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), then the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, praised him as “a seasoned and skilled diplomat, who has served with distinction,” saying he was a “smart choice” to become the first DNI. This enthusiastic support for Negroponte among leading congressional Democrats, despite his well-documented role in human rights abuses while U.S. ambassador to Honduras, is indicative of how little regard the majority party in Congress cares about democracy in Central America. 

The Legacy Today

The legacy of U.S. support for repression in Honduras is very much part of recent events.

The leader of the June 28 coup, Honduran General Romeo Vásquez, is a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas, a U.S. Army training program nicknamed “School of Assassins” for the sizable number of graduates who have engaged in coups, as well as the torture and murder of political opponents. The training of coup plotters at the program, since renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” isn’t a bygone feature of the Cold War: General Luis Javier Prince Suazo, who played an important role in the coup as head of the Honduran Air Force, graduated as recently as 1996.

Former members of Battalion 316 were involved in the coup as well.

Unfortunately, while far more knowledgeable of recent history than most recent presidents, Obama doesn’t seem willing to apologize, much less make amends, for U.S. complicity in supporting repression in Latin America. I am writing this article en route to Chile, where the United States played a major role in the downfall of another democratically elected leftist leader, Salvador Allende, back in September of 1973. Just five days before the coup in Honduras, Chilean president Michelle Bachelet visited President Obama in Washington. When asked by Chilean reporters whether he was willing to apologize for the U.S. role in bloody 1973 coup and its aftermath, Obama brushed off the suggestion by saying, “I’m interested in going forward, not looking backward.”

Meanwhile, U.S.-armed and trained security forces have violently dispersed largely nonviolent demonstrators protesting across the country, including shooting into a  crowd of demonstrators near the airport on Sunday, killing two. Rather than acknowledge the widespread popular opposition to their illegitimate rule, the Honduran junta, like its authoritarian counterparts in Iran, have instead tried to blame outsiders for the unrest, in this case Cuba and Venezuela. Yet the Honduran people, like the Iranians, don’t need outside agitators or foreign funding in order to resist. This isn’t about geopolitics but about democracy. Unfortunately, backers of the rightist junta in Honduras, like backers of the rightist regime in Iran, are repeating fabricated stories of outside interference to discredit a genuine home-grown pro-democracy movement.

What may be at work in these U.S. and Costa Rican-led mediation efforts is some kind of deal where Zelaya can return, but under conditions that would preclude a constitutional assembly, any challenges to oligarchic interests, or any further efforts to promote economic justice. Similar kinds of pre-conditions were forced upon the deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, prior to U.S. assistance in his initial return from exile in 1994.

How much the junta leaders are willing to compromise will depend on what is going on outside the meeting rooms.

One factor would be the ability of the pro-democracy movement to organize, think strategically, expand their ranks and maintain a nonviolent discipline. Fortunately, the rebellion thus far has been largely nonviolent, which would be far more effective in such circumstances. 

For various historical reasons, Hondurans don’t have the same kind of history of armed revolution as their neighbors. Even during the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s— while the country’s immediate neighbors Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua experienced major armed insurrections — the armed Honduran revolutionary movement was quite small and never had much of an impact.

By contrast, civil society organizations engaged in strategic nonviolent conflict have grown dramatically in recent years, including peasant organizations, indigenous and Afro-Honduran movements, human rights monitoring groups, environmental groups, women’s groups, an anti-militarization movement, and student groups, as well as three major labor federations. A series of strikes, blockages of major highways, and land seizures occurred over the past year as civil society became increasingly mobilized.

The second factor which could tip the balance is how firmly the United States comes down in support for democracy. Obama has at times been clear in his support for the legal process, declaring, “We believe that the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya remains the democratically elected president there.” Recognizing larger implications of this stance, he added, “It would be a terrible precedent if we start moving backward into the era in which we are seeing military coups as a means of political transition rather than democratic elections.”

Still, it was a full week before the United States announced it would slash aid to Honduras, and there have been no imminent signs of tougher sanctions. Unlike most Latin American countries, the United States has not withdrawn its ambassador from Tegucigalpa.

The United States, which hosts a U.S. Southern Command task force at the Soto Cano Airbase, 50 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa, exerts enormous influence on Honduras. Therefore, the pressure pro-democracy forces in the United States can bring to bear upon our government may prove as crucial as the efforts of brave pro-democracy forces within Honduras.

Copyright © 2009, Institute for Policy Studies.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and a Foreign Policy In Focus senior analyst.

Dirty Business, Dirty Wars: U.S.-Latin American Relations in the 21st Century February 10, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
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Written by Cyril Mychalejko   
Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Source: New Politics Winter 2009, Vol. XXII

Much is being made across the political spectrum in the United States about Washington’s waning influence in Latin America. The region has seen an emergence of left and center-left presidents voted into office, many as a result of budding social movements growing democracy from the grassroots. Some pundits and analysts are suggesting that this phenomenon is occurring because of the Bush Administration’s perceived neglect of the region. Rather, what is happening is blowback from Washington’s continued meddling in the economic and political affairs of an area arrogantly referred to as the United States’ “backyard.” Latin America’s growing unity in rejecting the Washington Consensus remains fragile in the face of U.S. opposition. Washington has been quietly using the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, and a neo-cold war ideology to institutionalize a militarism in the region that risks returning us to the not so far off days of “dirty wars.”

Breaking the Chains

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998 sparked the beginning of the leftward electoral paradigm shift in the hemisphere. After he orchestrated a failed coup attempt in 1992, he was elected six years later based on a campaign that promised to lift up the impoverished nation’s poor majority through economic policies that ran counter to the free market fundamentalism and crony capitalism pursued by the country’s oligarchs, with the aid of Washington and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Chavez also began to challenge the idea of U.S. hegemony in the region by advocating a united Latin America based on the ideas of one of his intellectual mentors, Simón Bolívar, the 19th century revolutionary instrumental in defeating Spain’s control of the region. Chavez, who also claims to be influenced by the teachings of Karl Marx and Jesus Christ, has championed what he calls a “Socialism of the 21st Century.” A fierce and outspoken critic of neoliberalism, Chavez has said “I am convinced that a path to a new, better and possible world is socialism, not capitalism,” words that have been scarce in the region’s capitals with the exception of Cuba.

ImageSince Chavez’s ascent to power, we have seen presidents elected in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Uruguay which translates into a majority of countries in the region advocating center-left and left-wing political programs (while Mexico and Peru missed joining this new Latin American consensus by narrow, if not fraudulent, election outcomes).

While it is true that, despite these developments, socialism is a long way off from taking hold in the region, the rejection of Washington’s Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) back in 2003, long before the left had firmly taken hold in the hemisphere, marked the beginning of an outright challenge to free market orthodoxy, U.S. hegemony, and corporate power. Since then we have seen multinational corporations booted out of countries and defiantly confronted by social movements, U.S. ambassadors expelled from three nation’s capitals, free trade agreements protested, illegitimate foreign debts challenged, and U.S. drug policies rejected. In addition, alternative political and economic institutions and policies have been advocated and created.

Venezuela’s Chavez developed the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an antithesis to the FTAA that advocates a trade regime based on economic, social, and political integration guided by the principals of solidarity and cooperation. Even Honduras, long seen as a U.S. satellite state dating back to the days it assisted Washington in overthrowing Guatemala’s government in 1954, has joined ALBA, showing that the creeping tide of Bolivarianism is extending to the still fragile Central America. Meanwhile, Brazil’s Lula de Silva, viewed by Washington and the U.S. corporate media as part of the “acceptable” or “responsible” left, declared in 2007 that “Developing nations must create their own mechanisms of finance instead of suffering under those of the IMF and the World Bank, which are institutions of rich nations . . . it is time to wake up.” And the region has woken up as the “Bank of the South” was formed to make development loans without the draconian economic prescriptions of Washington-controlled financial institutions, which in the past have forced countries to cut social spending, deregulate industries, and open markets to foreign capital — policies that have exacerbated poverty and inequality in the past and as a result compounded dependence on foreign capital and Washington.

In terms of security cooperation, both Brazil and Venezuela have led efforts to create a South American Defense Council, a NATO-style regional body that would coordinate defense policies, deal with internal conflicts and presumably diminish Washington’s influence in its “backyard.” While U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said back in March that Washington “had no problem with it” and looked “forward to coordination with it,” Bloomberg News reported that Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that the United States should “watch from the outside and keep its distance,” and that “this is a South American council and we have no obligation to ask for a license from the United States to do it.” In a similar challenge to U.S. military presence and influence, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa decided to force the United States. to close its military base in the port city of Manta. And then there is China’s and Russia’s growing economic and political ties to the region — something that would not only be unheard of in the past, but not tolerated.

Developments such as these led the Council on Foreign Relations to declare in May that the “era of the United States as the dominant influence in Latin America is over.” Frank Bajak, writing for the Associated Press on Oct. 11, echoed this observation when he wrote, “U.S. clout in what it once considered its backyard has sunk to perhaps the lowest point in decades” and that “it’s unlikely to be able to leverage economic influence in Latin America anytime soon.” Meanwhile, The Washington Post took a more indignant and belligerent position in an Oct. 6 editorial when it questioned whether Washington should “continue to subsidize governments that treat it as an enemy” while “a significant part of Latin America continues to march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism that has governed the region for a generation.”



While conventional thinking has led many to believe that Latin America’s independence from the United States may be an irreversible paradigm shift, behind the scenes Washington has put into place policies that could unleash a reign of terror not seen since the 1980’s. Colombia has served as laboratory for this new counterinsurgency program that can be interpreted as a continuance of U.S. supported state terrorism and a re-emergence of the national security state in Latin America.

The U.S. government has sent more than $5 billion in mostly military and counter-narcotics assistance to Colombia since 2000 to fund “Plan Colombia,” a counter drug program said to be designed to fight cocaine production and narco-trafficking, as well as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in turn further intensifying the country’s long-standing civil war. But as the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) reported in 2001 in a study sponsored by the Center for Responsive Politics, “The protection of U.S. oil and trade interests is also a key factor in the plan, and historic links to drug-trafficking right-wing guerrillas by U.S. allies belie an exclusive commitment to extirpating drug trafficking.”

The ICIJ investigation also found that “Major U.S. oil companies have lobbied Congress intensely to promote additional military aid to Colombia, in order to secure their investments in that country and create a better climate for future exploration of Colombia’s vast potential reserves.” In addition, corporations with interests in the region were reported to have spent almost $100 million lobbying Congress to affect U.S. Latin America policy.

Eight years later, Colombia has evolved into a full-fledged paramilitary state. President Álvaro Uribe, Washington’s staunchest ally in the region, his extended family, and many of his political supporters in the government and military are under investigation for ties to paramilitaries and right-wing death squads. As far as U.S. corporate collusion goes, Chiquita Brands International Inc. was forced to pay the U.S. Justice Department a $25 million settlement in 2007 for giving over $1 million to the right-wing terrorist organization United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). Even more damaging is the fact that Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, at the time assistant attorney general, knew about the company’s relationship with AUC and did nothing to stop it. Alabama-based coal company Drummond Co., Inc. and Coca-Cola have also been accused of hiring right-wing death squads to intimidate, murder or disappear trade unionists. This is what the ICIJ meant when they wrote about securing investments and creating a “better climate” for business.

According to the U.S. Labor Education on the Americas Project, Colombia accounts for more than 60 percent of trade unionists killed worldwide. There have also been at least 17 murders of trade unionists just this year, which, according to a report released in April 2008, accounts for an 89 percent increase in murders over the same time period from 2007. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported in August that the collateral damage from Colombia’s civil war has resulted in more disappearances than occurred in El Salvador and Chile, while Colombia’s attorney general believes there could be as many as 10,000 more bodies scattered across the country — meaning totals would surpass those from Argentina and Peru.

Despite what should be considered as a total failure from a policy and, more importantly, human rights standpoint, this same Colombian model has been promoted by Washington to other nations in the region, and — remarkably — has been embraced by these countries. In 2005, Guatemalan officials called for their own “Plan Guatemala,” while Oscar Berger, president at the time, asked for a permanent DEA station in the country and for U.S. military personnel to conduct anti-narcotics operations. In addition, he was a proponent of a regional rapid deployment force, initially conceived to fight gangs, but later adjusted to include counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism in order to attract U.S. support. It should be noted that the AFL-CIO, along with six Guatemalan unions, filed a complaint, allowed through labor provisions of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), on April 23, 2008, charging the Guatemalan government with not upholding its labor laws and for failing to investigate and prosecute crimes against union members — which include rape and murder. This speaks to the idea of securing a “business-friendly” climate like in Colombia, which many in Washington want to reward with a free trade agreement. Guatemala’s government is currently led by President Alvaro Colom, a politician who represents the country’s ruling oligarchs. Pre-election violence during his campaign claimed the lives of over 50 candidates (or their family members) and political activists, in a country Amnesty International reports is infested with “clandestine groups” comprised of members of “the business sector, private security companies, common criminals, gang members and possibly ex and current members of the armed forces” responsible for targeting human rights activists.

This regional militaristic strategy finally materialized into policy on June 30 when President Bush signed into law the Meridia Initiative, or “Plan Mexico,” which according to Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program “could allocate up to $1.6 billion to Mexico, Central American, and Caribbean countries for security aid to design and carry out counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security measures.”

ImageJust one day later, investigative journalist Kristen Bricker reported that a video had surfaced showing a U.S.-based private security company teaching torture techniques to Mexican police. This led Amnesty International to call for an investigation on July 3 to determine why techniques such as “holding a detainee down in a pit full of excrement and rats and forcing water up the nostrils of the detainee in order to secure information” were being taught. Later in July the Inter Press Service published a story about a 53-page report on Human Rights and Conflicts in Central America 2007-2008 that suggested “Central America is backsliding badly on human rights issues, and social unrest could flare up into civil wars like those experienced in the last decades of the 20th century.”

Nevertheless, Washington continues to push for the re-militarization of the region, as evidenced by a $2.6 million aid package given to El Salvador in October to “fight gangs.” Coincidentally, this was announced just months after the Inter Press Service reported in a June 16 article that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte “expressed concern over supposed ties between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN),” while also announcing that “the Bush administration is on the alert to Iran’s presence in Central America.”

Playing the Terror Card

In order to up the ante as a means of promoting this militaristic vision for the Americas and to vilify strategic “enemies” such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Washington has added the “War on Terror” into the equation by spreading unfounded allegations about Islamic terrorist infiltration into the region.

Journalists Ben Dangl and April Howard of Upside Down World, reporting for EXTRA! in Oct. 2007, wrote “In the Cold War, Washington and the media used the word ‘communism’ to rally public opinion against political opponents. Now, in the post– September 11 world, there is a new verbal weapon — ‘terrorism.'” This puts into context Washington’s evidence-lacking assertions that the Tri-Border Area, where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, is a hub for Islamic Terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, claims the mainstream media have obsequiously parroted, yet Dangl and Howard helped disprove. Dangl and Howard, reporting from Ciudad del Este, a city located in the center of this alleged “hotbed” of terrorsim, talked with Paraguayan officials, as well as local residents, all of whom denied there was any presence of foreign terrorist groups. They pointed out that the governments of Brazil and Argentina have also denied the claims. But the terrorist assertions haven’t stopped there.

Norman A. Bailey, a former U.S. spy chief for Cuba and Venezuela, testified before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on July 17 that “financial support has been provided [by drug traffickers] to insurgent groups in certain countries, most notoriously to the FARC in Colombia, as well as to ETA, the Basque separatist organization, and most importantly to Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, through their extensive network in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America.”

The State Department’s David M. Luna, Director for Anticrime Programs, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, gave a statement on Oct. 8 claiming that international terrorist organizations will collaborate with regional criminal networks to smuggle WMD’s across the U.S.’s border with Mexico.

“Fighting transnational crime must go hand in hand with fighting terrorists, if we want to ensure that we ‘surface them,’” stated Luna. He also went on to regurgitate the empty claims of the Tri-Border Islamic threat.

That same day the Associated Press reported that U.S. officials were concerned with alliances being formed by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaida and Hezbollah and Latin American drug cartels.

“The presence of these people in the region leaves open the possibility that they will attempt to attack the United States,” said Charles Allen, a veteran CIA analyst. “The threats in this hemisphere are real. We cannot ignore them.”

And on Oct. 21 The Los Angeles Times reported that U.S. and Colombian officials allegedly dismantled a drug and money laundering ring used to finance Hezbollah.

This post-Sept. 11 fear-mongering, being carried out for years now, has served as a pretext for Washington to deploy Special Operations troops in embassies across the globe, including Latin America, “to gather intelligence on terrorists…for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them.”

The New York Times, which broke the story on March 8, 2006, reported that this initiative, led by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, was an attempt to broaden the U.S. military’s role in intelligence gathering. The soldiers, referred to as “Military Liaison Elements,” were initially deployed without the knowledge of local ambassadors. This changed after an armed robber in Paraguay was killed after attempting to rob a group of soldiers covertly deployed to the country. Senior embassy officials were “embarrassed” by the episode as the soldiers were operating out of a hotel, rather than the embassy.

But in a follow-up by The Washington Post on April 22, “the Pentagon gained the leeway to inform — rather than gain the approval of — the U.S. ambassador before conducting military operations in a foreign country” when deploying these “elite Special Operations Troops.” This development has remained largely under the radar, with the exception of analysis by Just the Facts, a joint project of the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America.

A New Cold War?

ImageIn Oct. 2006 President Bush signed a waiver that authorized the U.S. military to resume certain types of training to a number of militaries in the region which had been suspended as a result of a bill intended to punish countries not signing bilateral agreements that would grant immunity to U.S. citizens from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

Bush was forced to act as a result of Venezuela’s growing influence in the region, as well as the “red” threat that China’s growing business in the region presented.

“The Chinese are standing by and I can’t think of anything that is worse than having those people go over there and get indoctrinated by them. And I think maybe we should address that because that’s a very serious thing,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), at a March 14, 2008, hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), at the same hearing, said this was “a serious threat” and called for ending the restrictions on U.S. military training programs imposed on Latin American nations for refusing to sign the bilateral immunity agreements. Of course, Latin American nations should not be subject to sanctions for quite properly rejecting the immunity agreements; but neither should there be training programs for their repressive militaries, to teach these militaries repressive practices.

The Associated Press reported in Oct. that “China’s trade with Latin America jumped from $10 billion in 2000 to $102.6 billion last year. [And] In May, a state-owned Chinese company agreed to buy a Peruvian copper mine for $2.1 billion.”

These developments should further perpetuate the “Red Scare” making its way through the Senate. Then there is Russia’s military sales and cooperation with Venezuela. U.S. News and World Report’s Alastair Gee wrote a fear-mongering article on Oct. 14, 2008, in which he stated, “This is not the first time Russians have sought close links with Latin America. In 1962, the stationing of Soviet missiles in Cuba nearly precipitated nuclear war with the United States. The Soviets also funded regional communist parties and invited students from the region to study in Soviet universities.”

But more importantly, it is the region’s “march away from the ‘Washington consensus’ of democracy and free-market capitalism” that has drummed up a cold war mentality in Washington. With democratically elected presidents in the region openly embracing socialism and socialist-style policies, economic programs in various countries that include nationalizing industries and “redistributing the wealth”, and social movements ideologically and physically confronting free market capitalism, it should come as no surprise that anti-globalization movements have found themselves classified as a national security threat to the United States. A declassified April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate entitled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,” states, “Anti-U.S. and anti-globalization sentiment is on the rise and fueling other radical ideologies. This could prompt some leftist, nationalist, or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests.”

ImageMoving Forward

Developments in Latin America are reason for hope and optimism that “a new, better and possible world” could be on the horizon. But these very same reasons are cause for concern.

With Washington’s imperial stretch on the decline, both militarily and economically, both history and current conditions suggest it will try to reassert itself in Latin America — just as it did after Vietnam.

But because of the deeply embedded and institutionalized nature of Washington’s imperial machine, it doesn’t matter much which party controls the White House and Congress. To fight these developments, we need to continue to grow grassroots media projects and support independent journalists, build long-term solidarity with Latin American social movements and build social movements in the United States, fight free trade and do our part to shed light upon the structural violence threatening Latin America’s promising future — which is directly tied to ours.

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at http://www.UpsideDownWorld.org.