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The Banana Republic of Honduras by Hector Luis Alamo Jr.
Photo: Jose Cabezas/Newscom
Last week, historian Dana Frank wrote an article for The Nation in which she details a cocaine smuggling triangle involving a prominent Honduran billionaire, military and police backing from the Honduran government, and backdoor funding by the U.S. State Department.
The relationship between the United States government, the Honduran army and Honduras’ biggest cocaine importer was revealed by recently released Wikileaks cables. They show that the private security forces of biofuels baron Miguel Facussé – described by the American embassy in Tegucigalpa as “the wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country” – have been working closely with Honduran military and police in Facussé’s war with the small farmers in Honduras’ northeastern region. As Frank bluntly writes, “U.S. ‘drug war’ funds and training, in other words, are being used to support a known drug trafficker’s war against campesinos.”
The evidence is damning. The cables released on September 30 show quite clearly that the U.S. government has known for at least seven years that Facussé is one of Central America’s most operative cocaine smugglers. A 2004 cable from Ambassador Larry Palmer to Washington, for instance, informs the State Department that “a known drug trafficking flight with a 1,000-kilo cocaine shipment from Colombia … successfully landed March 14 on the private property of Miguel Facussé.” Then, just months before the coup in June 2009, El Heraldo newspaper reported that a private plane carrying 1400 kilos of cocaine had again landed at the Facussé estate.
Most troubling of all is that the State Department actually met with Facussé on two separate occasions. The first was in June 2006, after they were well aware that he was a major trafficker. The meeting came during the coup in September 2009. Facussé was a major supporter of the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, and the 2009 lunch included the billionaire and embassy officials, as well as former President Rafael Callejas, another supporter of the coup government.
The information is difficult for any American to accept; more so for a Honduran American. I have been an ardent critic of America’s role in the drug wars ravaging our hemisphere, but my criticism has mostly been aimed at our consumption: globally speaking, America is the addict. But it’s appalling to see not only complacency toward drug traffickers on the part of our government, but borderline cooperation.
In the entirety of Frank’s essay, the following two paragraphs are perhaps the most chilling:
“In the past two years since the coup US funding for the Honduran military and police has escalated dramatically. The US has allocated $45 million in new funds for military construction, including expansion and improvement of the jointly operated Soto Cano Air Force Base at Palmerola (supplied now with US drones) and has opened three new military bases. Police and military funding, almost $10 million for 2011, rose dramatically in June with $40 million more under the new $200 million Central American Regional Security Initiative, supposedly to combat drug trafficking in Central America—which is, indeed, rampant, dangerous and growing in Honduras under Lobo’s post-coup government, especially in the Aguán.
“Honduran military operations in the lower Aguán valley, including joint operations with Facussé’s guards, benefit from these funds, as well as special training. This summer seventy members of Honduras’ [Fifteenth Battalion] received a special thirty-three-day training course from the U.S. Rangers. According to the Honduras Solidarity Network, members of the Xatruch Special Forces group in the Aguán Valley, in a September meeting, ‘confirmed that they had received training from the United States military in special operations, which include sniper and anti-terrorism training.’ Eyewitnesses informed Rights Action they saw U.S. Rangers also training Facussé’s security guards.”
So, to put it all together, Honduras – whose murder rate is worse than Afghanistan’s – is being torn apart by a drug war fueled by a ravenous American market for narcotics. Evidence proves that Honduras’ richest and most powerful man is also its biggest cocaine importer. To protect his empire against poor small farmers and the enemies of drug traffickers, he’s implemented a private security force heavily supported by Honduran military and police. The Honduran military and police, in turn, receive tens of millions of dollars from the United States every year, supposedly to combat drug smugglers, and both the private forces and the Honduran forces are being trained by U.S. Army Rangers. The whole thing reads like a Tom Clancy novel.
According to the Associated Press, Honduras is now the main hub for cocaine smuggling between South America and Mexico. This means that the violence which threatens America’s southern border can be sourced to Honduras as the primary hub, but instead of making it harder for drug traffickers to operate in that country, the U.S. government funds and trains the forces that ensure Honduras remains the main hub in the region.
For anyone familiar with the history of U.S.-Latin American relations, that Honduras is now the main hub for cocaine smuggling in Central America and that the United States is directing it all offstage seems like no discovery at all, something Noam Chomsky would describe as “a footnote to history.” For nearly 200 years, the United States has followed a pattern of control over the whole Western Hemisphere. It began in the 1820s with the Monroe Doctrine, an official declaration that the United States would not interfere with European affairs in the Eastern Hemisphere so long as the Europeans did not intervene in the Americas. To this was added the “Big Sister” policy in the 1880s, a policy designed by the State Department to establish political and economic hegemony over Latin America, and the Roosevelt Corollary in 1904, which asserted the United States’ prerogative to intervene in Latin American countries to protect its interests.
The Roosevelt Corollary, specifically, was the beginning of heavy U.S. intervention in Latin America. As historian Walter LaFeber explains:
“It’s a very neat twist on the Monroe Doctrine, and, of course, it becomes very, very important because over the next 15 to 20 years, the United States will move into Latin America about a dozen times with military force, to the point where the United States Marines become known in the area as ‘State Department troops’ because they are always moving in to protect State Department interests and State Department policy.”
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Honduras—as with most of Central America, but Honduras especially—has existed under a puppet government monitored and manipulated by the United States government. In 1903, U.S. Marines were sent to Honduras to intervene in a coup that placed the reins of government in the hands of Manuel Bonilla, a hardline conservative who granted greater power to the banana companies already dominating the Honduran economy and virtually outlawed any liberal opposition to his administration. When Honduras was invaded by its neighbor Nicaragua in 1907, Marines were again sent to Honduras to protect the banana trade. In fact, the Marines would be sent five more times between 1911 and 2000 to protect American interests.
Although the Honduran Constitution bans a permanent foreign presence in the country, U.S. troops are stationed at bases throughout Honduras. One such base, Soto Cano Air Base just south of Comayagua, houses at least 500 U.S. troops. A minor controversy was sparked this year when it was announced that the United States was looking to build more bases in Honduras in the wake of increasing drug war violence and political instability following the 2009 coup. An open letter endorsed by religious leaders and 30 academics was drafted in May which argued against the construction of such installations based on political and ethical grounds.
It’s been more than a century since Honduras was labeled with the pejorative “banana republic,” a term first coined in 1904 by the American writer O. Henry to describe his time in Honduras. And in light of the leaked cables detailing the connection between the Honduran military, drug smugglers and Washington, and given the fact that the U.S. government secretly, then openly, backed the latest coup, it would appear that American influence over the tiny nation is as strong as ever. But it begs the question: if supporting a coup and funding and training the Honduran military to aid a known cocaine smuggler is America’s way of protecting its interests, then what exactly are its interests?
If it truly intends to do the right thing, the course of action the U.S. should take seems obvious: we must stop funding and training Honduran forces immediately and only begin our support anew when we see evidence that the Honduran government is serious in its fight against drug trafficking. During this deep recession, the American government may not want to help Central American countries with their own inner turmoil, but it shouldn’t be a perpetrator in that turmoil either, especially when such conflicts are spreading to our southern border.
The mission on the Honduran side is equally clear: Hondurans everywhere must accept that what happened in 2009 was a coup (here, here and here), that it was backed by the U.S. and reactionary forces attempting to eliminate a populist president, and that the new leaders have revealed their true taste for usurpation. Hondurans living at home and in the United States must place increasing pressure on their respective governments in order to curb the swelling corruption and violence shaming both nations. The crisis revealed by these cables seems utterly entrenched and immovable, but with ceaseless vigilance and sharp fingers pointed at government, things can and will improve.
In 2007 Hector Luis Alamo, Jr co-founded an online blog, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, and has contributed regularly to the site since then. From December 2010 to May 2011, Hector was Opinions Editor for UIC’s Chicago Flame. In April 2011, he became a regular contributor for Hispanically Speaking News. Hector has a B.A. in history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his departmental concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States.