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How the US Props Up Criminals and Murderers All in the Name of Our Catastrophic Drug War

The US appears to be repeating its historically catastrophic strategy of propping up human rights abusers and simplistically relying on militarization to root out social problems.

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Annie Bird argues U.S. security aid to Central America is supporting gross human rights abuses in Honduras. Bird is co-director of Rights Action, a Washington-based organization that works with Central American human rights groups, “In Honduras we have reports of paramilitary and death-squad networks operating. One paramilitary group especially has been engaged in widespread killings and disappearances.” According to Bird, some 400 private security contractors employed by powerful palm oil producers are being trained at the Rio Claro base in Toca, Colon, home of the Honduran Army’s 15th battalion. She adds, “It’s very clear that they are working in coordination with the military and the police. [They] Sometimes put on Honduran military uniforms [...] and act as military officers.” Reports of Chinook helicopter entering and exiting the base have raised concerns of a possible U.S. presence at the facility.

The security problem in Hondurans is aggravated by reported links between state security forces and the DTOs they are tasked with combating. A 2008 diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks reveals U.S. supplied weapons “lost” by the Honduran military turned up in Mexico and Colombia. The cable cites a 2008 Defense Intelligence Agency report entitled, “Honduras: Military Weapons Fuel Black Arms Market,” which notes that three light anti-tank weapons (LAWs) were recovered in Mexico City in January of 2008. The next month another LAW was found in the profoundly violent border city of Ciudad, Juarez and in March of that year six more were recovered on San Andres Island, Colombia. Serial numbers on the weapons verified they had been supplied to the Honduran government by the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program.

The infiltration of DTOs in Honduras is apparently not confined to a few “bad apples.” According to McClatchy News, a former member of the Honduras Council Against Drug Trafficking estimates as much as 10 percent of the Honduran Congress is linked to drug traffickers and roughly 42 percent of all cocaine flights from Colombia are believed to be passing through the country.

Not only is the U.S.-funded Honduran government in bed with international criminal organizations, it is also conducting a violent crackdown on progressive activists throughout the country. Since the coup that forced President Manuel Zelaya from office in 2009, Gerrardo Torres has seen a surge in state violence directed at those who oppose the policies of the current Honduran president, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo. Torres is an independent journalist and a leading member of the National Popular Resistance Front, a non-violent activist movement comprised of students, women's groups, LGBT activists, campesinos, indigenous peoples and Afro-Hondurans. On March 18 of this year Torres witnessed Honduran security forces kill prominent teacher-activist Ylse Ivania Velázquez Rodríguez by deliberately firing a tear gas canister at her face from poi nt-blank range, unable to breathe she was subsequently struck by a car. According to Torres, “900 women have been killed,” in Honduras since June of 2009. He adds that, “Only 60 of the cases are in the process of investigation by the police.” While the government has come down hard on the Honduran teachers’ movement, the student movement and the campesino movement, he points out, “The most violent crimes have been committed against the people of the LGBT community.” Torres cites reports of assaults on Honduran LGBT community members after being detained by the police. He adds, “This is the people that the United States is giving money to.”

U.S. reluctance–or refusal–to respond ongoing problems in Honduras is explained in no small part by the United States’ relationship to the Honduran military. Honduras has historically been a strategic U.S. ally in Central America and is home to the Soto Cano Air Base, where U.S. forces conduct training and other assistance for the armed forces of Honduras. The extent to which the U.S. officials are aware of the Honduran government’s alleged efforts to support the lethal targeting of campesinos and activists is unknown. The historic influence and continued presence of the U.S. military in the country, however, is cause for concern. John Lindsay-Poland describes the U.S. strategy in Latin America as one in which the United States builds coastal bases, turns them over to local armed forces, then develops an, “intimate relationship with the militaries that are using them.” According to Lindsay-Poland, the United States, through the Department of Defense is, “very engaged in the Northern Triangle and in the rest of Central America.”