Update, June 17, 2012: After my interview with Steve Lendman, which was extremely critical of both safety and international meddling in Honduras, I received feedback through Twitter that more people would be happy to weigh in. Inti Martínez Alemán was one such person—legal assistant to Octavio Sanchez-Barrientos, the Honduran government’s chief of staff and head of the Special Development Regions (REDs) initiative.
Listen to that interview here (MP3, 20 minutes):
Martínez shared a few key insights into why he believes the REDs will prove successful:
- Honduras’ location, right in the middle of Central America and very close to the United States, will facilitate trade and investment.
- Honduran government officials are eager for reform and welcoming to the REDs initiative, particularly those in the executive branch.
- Growing transparency and international interest in the projects will bring accountability and help to steer it towards its initial goals of competitive and innovative governance.
June 6, 2012
While I’ve been eager to promote the promise of Honduras, an article this week offered a compelling and cautionary perspective on life there. The writer, Steve Lendman, came on The Stateless Man and warned people that Honduras holds the title of murder capital of the world for good reason.
Click here or below to hear that interview (20 minutes):
He provided a counterweight to my optimism and that of earlier TSM guests, and he identified a few key concerns:
- A lack of national sovereignty and accountability in government. While I am not an expert on the Honduran constitutional crisis of 2009, Lendman asserted that American government officials played a prominent role and gave approval for the ousting of the sitting president.
- The farce of the drug war and associated violence. Why anyone would want to perpetuate international drug prohibition at this point, I do not understand. Perhaps the saddest part of the policy is the tendency for it to feed organized crime and the associated violence, particularly in places such as Honduras where people are most desperate economically. Innocent bystanders inevitably suffer, and Lendman noted 7,000 murders in 2011, in a country of just eight million. That’s a 250 percent increase in six years and the highest rate in the world.
- A lack of free speech and political intimidation. Lendman believes people speaking and writing as he does would face immediate consequences and grave risk to their lives. Another writer I’m familiar with, an American expat living in Honduras, shares his concern. She works hard to maintain her anonymity as she maintains a popular blog, La Gringa’s Blogicito, and has not been willing to accept an interview on this show.
Lendman is the author of two books, How Wall Street Fleeces America and The Iraq Quagmire, and he hosts his own show, The Progressive Radio News Hour. During the interview, I mentioned this article from Lendman on his skepticism of the BBC. And the original article that caught my attention is below—drawn from Freedom’s Phoenix, which is a valuable, pro-liberty media outlet.
Police State: Violence-Wracked Honduras
On June 28, 2009, a coordinated State Department-Pentagon project allied with Honduran military commanders and top opposition figures ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
Industrialists, financial interests, large landowners, and transnational corporations supported the coup.
A Porfirio Lobo fascist dictatorship replaced him. Washington backs, arms and funds it.
All Honduran officers from captains on up train at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
Formerly it was called the School of the Americas (SOA). It’s popularly known as the “School of Assassins.”
It teaches how to torture, repress, exterminate poor and indigenous people, overthrow democratically elected governments, assassinate targeted leaders, and suppress popular resistance when it erupts.
Its graduates specialize in state terror. They brutalize, disappear, and massacre elements perceived as threats to their authority. No one lives safe under these conditions.
Honduras’ reputation as the world’s murder capital is well deserved. Political and human rights activists, unionists and independent journalists are especially at risk. Conditions are exacerbated by Washington’s complicity.
On May 11, a US helicopter attack killed four Hondurans, including two pregnant women. Another four were wounded during an anti-drug raid.
American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) militants were involved. They then stormed homes while occupants slept.
Witnesses said masked men spoke English. Hilaria Zavala said six men kicked in her door at 3AM, threw her husband to the floor, and threatened him at gunpoint.
Earlier, the DEA acknowledged its involvement in Honduras. Nonetheless, spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said agency personnel weren’t in the village on May 11.
Honduran security ministry spokesman Hector Ivan Mejia said he knew nothing about the raid. Police claimed cocaine was aboard the targeted vessel. They said those onboard fired first. They shot back in “self-defense.”
Conflicting Honduran military reports said agents fired on civilians by mistake. Another claimed those killed were drugs traffickers.
Villagers are enraged. Nearby Ahuas Mayor Lucio Vaquedano said they have nothing to do with drugs. Victims were fishing. Helicopter fire machine-gunned them to death. It was cold-blooded murder.
Indigenous Miskito group leaders said:
“For centuries we have been a peaceful people who live in harmony with nature, but today we declared these Americans to be persona non grata in our territory.”
Candelaria Trapp, one of the slain victims, left behind six motherless children.
In response, residents burned government buildings. They demand US agents leave. On May 5, The New York Times headlined “Lessons of Iraq Help US Fight a Drug War in Honduras,” saying:
Washington established “three new (Honduran) forward bases.” The country “is the latest focal point in America’s drug war.” Allegedly US forces only fire in “self-defense.” May 11 proved otherwise.
Moreover, an alleged “drug war” is a red herring. America’s CIA trafficked them for decades. Wall Street and other major banks launder billions in illicit profits.
Written or acknowledged rules of engagement authorize free fire zone directives. In Iraq and Afghanistan they ordered killing every military-aged man in sight. Honduras perhaps is no different.
US wars on terror, drugs, or for other reasons get carte blanche authority to operate freely. Limitations don’t apply. Honduran and US Special Forces work with DEA agents. It’s more about repression than stopping trafficking.
Rights Action reports often on conditions in the country. On May 17, it headlined “Honduras: A Violence, Repression and Impunity Capital of the world,” saying:
“There is no end in sight to violence and repression in Honduras. There is also no end in sight to American and Canadian governments and business maintaining political, economic and military relations with the military-backed regime.”
Besides being Latin America’s murder capital, it’s also the region’s “journalist killing capital….an LGBT killing capital, a prisoner killing capital, a lawyer killing capital, etc.”
Unrestrained violence continues. America’s support and involvement facilitates it. Human rights abuses rage out of control. State terror is policy. Ordinary Hondurans haven’t a chance.
Resistance is their only option. Another coup may follow electoral change if achieved. Odds against it are long.
Zelaya’s wife Xiomara heads a LIBRE political party. It represents the Nacional de Resistencia Popular (FNRP) popular resistance.
Its Declaration of Principles calls revolution “inevitable.” An “unsustainable economic, political and social system” rules Honduras.
Crisis conditions followed the June 2009 coup. It unleashed reign of terror violence. Repressive, anti-democratic, neoliberal forces rule. Predatory capitalism exploits and kills. Hondurans demand change. Perhaps one day they’ll get it. For now, it’s nowhere in sight.
On January 26, a New York Times Dana Frank op-ed headlined “In Honduras, a Mess Made in the US,” saying:
“IT’S time to acknowledge the foreign policy disaster that American support for the Porfirio Lobo administration in Honduras has become.”
“Ever since the June 28, 2009 coup that deposed Honduras’s democratically elected president, José Manuel Zelaya, the country has been descending deeper into a human rights and security abyss.”
“That abyss is in good part the State Department’s making.”
Headlines reflect daily horror stories. A UN report calls Honduras the world murder capital. State-sponsored terror is mostly to blame.
Lobo replicates the worst of other world despots. Elections lack credibility. Democracy isn’t tolerated.
Last October, Obama praised Lobo for “restor(ing) democratic practices.”
Last May, 87 congressional members pushed back a little, not enough. In a letter to Hillary Clinton, they urged suspending military and related aid. House Foreign Affairs ranking Democrat, Howard Berman (D. CA) asked whether Washington was arming a dangerous regime.
In December, Senator Patrick Leahy (D. VT) and others won small concessions on what’s supplied, but not enough to matter.
“Why has the State Department (backed) the Lobo administration,” Frank asked? In part, it caved to right-wing ideologue Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, (R. FL), House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman.
Extremists like her infest Congress like crabgrass besets lawns. As a result, repression proliferates. Deaths follow. Hondurans face “a tragic abyss.” It’s time to stop “feeding the beast.” Alternative approaches are long overdue.
Hondurans, not America’s State Department “have the right to lead their country forward.”
Frank is a University of California, Santa Cruz, Professor of History. The Times provided rare op-ed space for honest opinion.
On January 24, a Miami Herald editorial headlined “Central America’s free-fire zone,” saying:
US Peace Corps volunteers left. It’s “one more sign (Honduras) deteriorated to crisis levels not seen since the” 1980s Contra wars. “The country is quickly turning into a disaster zone.”
US-backed Honduran officials “are complicit in the violence and criminality.” The country is a virtual “free-fire zone.” Its murder rate exceeds 82 per 100,000. In Miami, it’s 5.5 per 100,000.
In a nation of eight million, nearly 7,000 2011 homicides were reported. It increased 250% in the last six years. It reflects the world’s highest per capita rate.
Security forces are directly involved. State-sponsored violence is policy. Police and military elements are “enforcers and bodyguards for drug traffickers.”
Journalists, whistleblowers, and prosecutors courageous enough to point fingers are murdered. Top law enforcement officials are involved. National Police director Jose Ricardo Ramirez del Cid is complicit.
Internal police reports named him and others. Violations go unaddressed. Lobo looks the other way. He’s directly complicit. So are lawmakers, government bureaucrats, and top Washington officials.
The stench of corruption and other crimes in Honduran high places is too clear to ignore. By providing arms, funding and training, Washington’s directly involved.
“(W)here’s the accountability,” asked the editorial? “Congress should withdraw assistance if the Honduran government blocks reforms. This crisis requires more than tough talk.”
So far, meaningful change remains elusive. Washington’s to blame for the region’s worst state terror. It backs other notorious despots globally.
It’s official state policy. Bipartisan support backs it. Change depends on Americans no longer putting up with what no one should tolerate. Perhaps one day they will. They better. Human survival’s at stake.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.