The United States' Anti-Democratic Pattern in Honduras

by Elizabeth DiNovella, July 2009


The general at the center of the military coup in Honduras has a connection to the U.S. military-General Romeo Vasquez attended the School of the Americas (SOA).

The School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. General Vasquez attended trainings at least twice-in 1976 and 1984, according to the watchdog group School of Americas Watch.

Graduates of the School of the Americas/WHINSEC have a long history of repression and anti-democratic actions. The School has produced at least 11 Latin American dictators, including SOA grad General Juan Megler Castro who became military dictator of Honduras in 1975.

"From 1980-82, the dictatorial Honduran regime was headed by yet another SOA graduate, Policarpo Paz Garcia, who intensified repression and murder by Battalion 3-16, one of the most feared death squads in all of Latin America (founded by Honduran SOA graduates with the help of Argentine SOA graduates)," says SOA Watch.

It's worth noting that John Negroponte, former ambassador to Iraq under Geoge W. Bush, was ambassador to Honduras 1981-1985. As filmmaker Paul Laverty wrote in the July 2005 issue of The Progressive, "a prizewinning series in the Baltimore Sun in 1995 demonstrated that Negroponte knew about the torture and murders that Honduras's Battalion 3-16, trained by the CIA, was carrying out. He then covered them up by whitewashing reports back to Congress about Honduras's human rights record."

The United States used Honduras for years as a staging ground for its proxy war against the Sandinistas. The United States still stations troops at Cano Soto Air Base, near Tegucigalpa, which was used as a base of operations for the U.S.-backed Contras.

And while U.S. assistance to Honduras does not quite match the incredible sums spent during the 1980s, between 2005-2010, military and police aid to Honduras will reach more than $40 million.

FY 2010 Congressional Budget Justification for Foreign Operations report, which was released May 2009, states that "U.S. foreign assistance to Honduras focuses on partnering with the Government of Honduras to enhance security, strengthen democracy and rule of law . . ."

Given the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America, Obama faces a skeptical audience when he talks about upholding the rule of law. His State Department's budget request says "Honduras has the lowest level of public support for democracy of the 22 countries surveyed in the Americas."

Let's hope that when the story behind the coup emerges, taxpayer dollars, through groups such as USAID, are not found to be supporting the coup plotters, like it did in Venezuela.

President Obama has said he was "deeply concerned" and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Zelaya's arrest should be condemned.

At least Obama did not endorse this ill-fated coup, unlike the Bush Administration's immediate diplomatic recognition of coup plotters in Venezuela in 2002. But Obama could do more.

My friend and colleague Roberto Lovato writes, "Beyond immediate calls to continue demanding that Zelaya and democratic order be reinstated, protesters in Honduras, Latin America and across the United States will also pressure the Obama Administration to take a number of tougher measures including: cutting off of U.S. military aid, demanding that Hondurans and others kidnapped, jailed and detained be released and accounted for immediately, bringing Vasquez and coup leaders to justice, investigating what U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, Hugo Llorens, did or didn't know about the coup."

In the early 1990s, I spent a few months in Honduras. Most of my time was spent in a Chiquita banana plantation town in the north near San Pedro Sula. Honduras's utter poverty was overwhelming, even compared to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chiapas, Mexico. Social movement groups, such a human rights organizations, seemed beaten down.

Now, though, times have changed. The poverty remains but "civil society" seems pretty upset about this coup. Kristin Bricker, a writer for NarcoNews, reports, "It is clear that Hondurans are resisting. People are taking the streets in Honduras despite incredibly hostile conditions created by the military. Radio Es Lo De Menos reports that their colleagues on the ground have been fired at by snipers who are positioned in rooftops around the city. They stress that the gunfire at this point has only been in the form of 'warning shots' and no one has been reported injured from gunfire."

The Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) wrote in a communique, "We tell everyone that the Honduran people are carrying out large demonstrations, actions in their communities, in the municipalities; there are occupations of bridges, and a protest in front of the presidential residence, among others. From the lands of Lempira, Morazán and Visitación Padilla, we call on the Honduran people in general to demonstrate in defense of their rights and of real and direct democracy for the people, to the fascists we say that they will NOT silence us, that this cowardly act will turn back on them, with great force."

Meanwhile, the "kidnapped" Honduran President Zelaya, in an interview with Al Jazeera, is calling for peaceful resistance.

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