Militarizing the Police and Killing Natives: How the US Drug War Is Ripping Honduras Apart
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US and Honduran officials, in contradictory statements, say that security forces fired in self-defense after the passenger boat rammed into and then fired upon a drug boat that had been seized by two Hondurans and one US agent. Honduran and US officials agree that only Hondurans controlled the helicopters’ mounted guns, and that the pilots were Guatemalan military and contractors. At least two of the helicopters were titled to the US State Department.
It is still unclear exactly what security forces were present. The Honduran Human Rights Commissioner says a DEA FAST team participated in the May 11 operation. FAST teams are a military policing model developed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia that operate with the logistical support of the US military to interdict drug shipments. It appears that DEA agents permanently assigned to Honduras may have also participated.
What is clear is that Honduran and US officials claim it was the Honduran police that pulled the trigger. DEA and embassy officials explained that the DEA officers in Honduras work beside a special unit of the Honduran police, the Tactical Response Team (TRT), which was created by and reports directly to the DEA. In the past, the US military joint task force in Honduras had piloted helicopters for the teams, but claim they did not participate on May 11.
In early August, the State Department issued a report explaining it was “carefully limiting assistance to special Honduran law enforcement units, staffed by Leahy-vetted Honduran personnel who receive training, guidance and advice directly from U.S. law enforcement and are not under [Juan Carlos] Bonilla’s direct supervision,” while it investigates allegations that the current director of Honduran police had directed a death squad in 2002.
This description appears to fit the TRT and a new security force being created as the State Department issued the report, the Intelligence and Special Security Response Groups Unit (TIGRES). Though it's unclear whether the force has received training, guidance and advice directly from the US government, the team’s mandate closely matches US strategic interests in the region.
According to Honduran press, the TIGRES will live in military barracks, be commanded by military and police officers, and report directly to the Minister of Security, though they will report to the Minister of Defense in times of war. The force will focus on intelligence, information and communications technology; areal and maritime combat; control of population and territory; and combating organized crime, drug trafficking, and illicit association. The TIGRES will operate with “embedded” justice officials, public prosecutors and judges.
The day the law to establish the new force was presented, July 26, Honduran officials announced the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) would fund the force with a $57 million loan. Two hundred TIGRE agents were already in training, scheduled to be completed in August.
The IDB loan is one of 22 planned for Central America within the framework of the Central American Regional Security Strategy of the Central American System for Regional Integration [SICA], an initiative spearheaded by the Inter American Development Bank and the US Department of State. A group of friends was created to promote the strategy, including Chile, Colombia, the US, Canada, the OAS, the United Nations and others.
Chile, Colombia and the US are playing a hands-on role in implementing the strategy, which clearly promotes the use of the military in policing. Chile’s Carabineros--a militarized police force renowned for forming death squads and reprimanded by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights in October 2011 for excessive use of force in recent student protests-- are working closely with SICA and the OAS to reform the region's police forces. The US has partnered with Colombian police who are training Central American police and military in a new center located in Panama.