The Truth is Get­ting Uglier in Hon­duras

Traveling Minds - - Table Of Contents -

In June 2009, the then-pres­i­dent Hon­dura Manuel Ze­laya was de­posed by the mil­i­tary un­der sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances linked to Hon­duran Narco-oli­garchs, Hil­lary Clin­ton and the CIA. Now it ap­pears that one of the big­gest threats to those that took over af­ter Ze­laya, en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Berta Cáceres, was mur­dered by Us-trained spe­cial forces in the coun­try.

The back­ground for all this starts – if there ever can be such a thing as start in op­er­a­tions as con­vo­luted as the U.S.’S in­volve­ment in regime ma­nip­u­la­tion – started with the elec­tion of José Manuel Ze­laya Rosales as Pres­i­dent of Hon­duras. That hap­pened in 2006, with Ze­laya elected based on a pri­mar­ily con­ser­va­tive plat­form.

While Pres­i­dent, Ze­laya moved his coun­try rapidly to a far more lib­eral pol­icy agenda, a sur­prise switch in a coun­try which had never seen such a move be­fore.

That agenda in­cluded be­com­ing a mem­ber of ALBA, for­mally known as Alianza Bo­li­var­i­ana para los Pue­b­los de Nues­tra América (the Bo­li­var­ian Al­liance for the Peo­ples of Amer­ica). That as­so­ci­a­tion was grounded in ide­ol­ogy orig­i­nally es­poused by Simón Bolí­var, the 19th cen­tury rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader born in Cara­cas, Venezuela. Just as Bolí­var had called for His­panic Amer­ica to unite as a sin­gle “Great Na­tion”, ALBA, founded orig­i­nally in 2004 by Cuba and Venezuela, drew so­cial­ist and so­cial demo­cratic gov­ern­ments look­ing to com­bine forces in a re­gional eco­nomic al­liance based on a vi­sion of so­cial wel­fare, bar­ter­ing and mu­tual eco­nomic aid. The con­nec­tion with ALBA brought Ze­laya in a far closer re­la­tion­ship with Venezue­lan leader Hugo Chávez and Raúl Cas­tro of Cuba.

Ze­laya also in­tro­duced a num­ber of so­cial­ist agenda items in his coun­try, in­clud­ing free ed­u­ca­tion for all chil­dren, free school meals for 1.6 mil­lion chil­dren from the poor­est parts of his coun­try, sub­si­dies for small farm­ers, re­duced bank in­ter­est rates, the in­cor­po­ra­tion of do­mes­tic em­ploy­ees into the so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem, state help pro­vided for 200,000 fam­i­lies de­ter­mined to be in ex­treme poverty, free elec­tric­ity for those also in need, and an in­crease in the min­i­mum wage of 80% from be­fore he was in power. Un­der his di­rec­tion poverty fig­ures re­duced by more than 10% dur­ing Ze­laya’s even­tu­ally short­ened term of of­fice.

Un­for­tu­nately, Ze­laya’s al­liances with Venezuela and Cuba an­gered both the right-wing mil­i­tary in his coun­try and the Obama-clin­ton State De­part­ment in the United States. And al­though ab­so­lute proof was never pro­vided, it ap­pears that that mil­i­tary coup which ousted Ze­laya from power on June 28, 2009, was also backed by the U.S.

Dur­ing that over­throw, the mil­i­tary re­moved Ze­laya from his home at gun­point and he was taken away by air­craft to a U.S. mil­i­tary base. Within Hon­duras and prior to the mil­i­tary hav­ing con­sol­i­dated full con­trol of the coun­try, the Hon­duran em­bassy re­leased a cable say­ing that, “The Em­bassy per­spec­tive is that there is no doubt that the mil­i­tary, Supreme Court and na­tional congress con­spired on June 28 in what con­sti­tuted an il­le­gal and un­con­sti­tu­tional coup.”

Un­der any other cir­cum­stances such an up­ris­ing might have been cause for a for­mal con­dem­na­tion of the takeover, a for­mal cut­off of sup­port for Ze­laya’s mil­i­tary-placed suc­ces­sor Roberto Micheletti, and a de­mand to re­store demo­crat­i­cally-elected Ze­laya to power.

Since Ze­laya was not ex­actly sup­port­ing the U.S. “party line” and with some com­plic­ity on be­half of the U.S. clearly ev­i­dent al­ready with the ouster plane land­ing on a U.S. mil­i­tary base, the U.S. moved quickly to take ad­van­tage of the power change hap­pen­ing in Hon­duras. As Hil­lary said about that pe­riod in her own mem­oir, "Hard Choices", she made the de­ci­sion then to cre­ate a plan with other re­gional lead­ers “to re­store or­der in Hon­duras and en­sure that free and fair elec­tions could be held quickly and le­git­i­mately, which would ren­der the ques­tion of Ze­laya moot.” The U.S. ended up help­ing the new mil­i­tary-led group that had kicked Ze­laya out to hold new elec­tions in Novem­ber 2009. In spite of boy­cotts by op­po­si­tion lead­ers and in­ter­na­tional ob­servers, the elec­tions pro­ceeded ahead, directed by the same peo­ple and groups who ousted Ze­laya in the first place.

Since that time, Hon­duras has be­come one of the most vi­o­lent and as­sas­si­na­tion-laced coun­tries in the world. The lead­er­ship of the coun­try has taken on for­mally-or­ga­nized per­se­cu­tion of jour­nal­ists and so­cial jus­tice ac­tivists, with block­age of re­port­ing and ar­rests be­ing just the tip of the ice­berg here. It is also on record that, ac­cord­ing to Global Wit­ness, some 101 Hon­duran en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists were killed be­tween 2010 and 2014. That to­tal has gone up since then to a to­tal of 124 land and en­vi­ron­men­tal cam­paign­ers.

The Truth About the Mur­der of Berta Cáceres

One of those en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, Berta Cáceres, was shot and killed while in the­ory be­ing pro­tected by Hon­duras’ state forces, af­ter she had re­ceived death threats con­nected with her op­po­si­tion to a hy­dro­elec­tric dam.

Cáceres, a 2015 win­ner of the Goldman en­vi­ron­men­tal prize in 2015, had made an in­ter­na­tional name for her protests with calls for the U.S. to re­voke mil­i­tary aid to Hon­duras. The U.S. was an­gered by those protests, since it saw Hon­duras as a ma­jor ally in its so-called drug war as well as a block to the left-lean­ing align­ments of the coun­try un­der the Ze­laya ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Since the mil­i­tary coup, the U.S. has as­sisted the new gov­ern­ment with con­tin­ued tar­geted train­ing of Hon­dura’s spe­cial forces groups. Al­though the pur­ported pur­pose of those teams is a fight against gangs, or­ga­nized crime and ter­ror­ism, lo­cals in the coun­try say the Hon­duran spe­cial forces are be­ing used to go af­ter com­mu­nity lead­ers and lo­cal ac­tivists iden­ti­fied as a prob­lem by the Hon­duran in­tel­li­gence ap­pa­ra­tus. In­ter­na­tional ac­tivist and watch­dog group Global Wit­ness re­ports also that, as many ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tally-de­struc­tive projects have been launched in the coun­try, ex­ten­sive link­ages be­tween the po­lit­i­cal, busi­ness and mil­i­tary elites to com­bat en­vi­ron­men­tal protesters have been un­cov­ered.

As the in­ves­ti­ga­tion has pro­ceeded into Berta Cáceres’ killing, eight men have been ar­rested. One of those was a cur­rent mem­ber of Hon­duras’ mil­i­tary at the time of the shoot­ing. Two were re­tired mil­i­tary of­fi­cers.

The Hon­duran gov­ern­ment has, not sur­pris­ingly, de­nied any in­volve­ment with her mur­der. But re­cently-leaked court doc­u­ments con­nected to the pros­e­cu­tion of those charged in the mur­der say a very dif­fer­ent story. They sug­gest this was a pre­cisely-de­signed ex­tra­ju­di­cial killing directed by in­ter­nal mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers and Hon­duras’ and the Hon­duran spe­cial forces trained by the United States’ own in­tel­li­gence teams.

Th­ese doc­u­ments, leaked to The Guardian in the U.K., show that Maj Mar­i­ano Díaz, the one of­fi­cer charged in the case who was cur­rently serv­ing in the Hon­duran mil­i­tary, and a sec­ond sus­pect, Lt Dou­glas Gio­vanny Bustillo, were “un­usual” in many ways.

Both joined the mil­i­tary on ex­actly the same day and had served to­gether all the time un­til Bustillo’s re­tire­ment in 2008.

Both re­ceived U.S. mil­i­tary train­ing dur­ing their ser­vice for Hon­duras.

In­ter­nal Hon­duran mil­i­tary records also show Díaz had spe­cial train­ing in coun­terin­sur­gency in sev­eral places. This in­cluded at spe­cial forces bases in Tegu­ci­galpa and in the Bajo Aguán, as well as at the In­ter Amer­i­can Air Force Academy in 2005.

Díaz, with a distin­guished ser­vice record as a dec­o­rated vet­eran of the spe­cial forces, has the rank of chief of army in­tel­li­gence. He was re­port­edly on a fast track to a near-term pro­mo­tion of lieu­tenant colonel at the time of the mur­der. It is there­fore pos­si­ble that this killing was some­thing Díaz took on as an as­sign­ment, to ex­pe­dite his pro­mo­tion.

Since the leaked doc­u­ments from the court also show that when Díaz was ar­rested, he was also be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for drug traf­fick­ing and kid­nap­ping. So the killing of Cáceres could also have been part of an in­ter­nal deal to get those in­ves­ti­ga­tions dropped.

Bustillo also took lo­gis­tics and ar­tillery cour­ses in 1997 at Fort Ben­ning, Ge­or­gia. This was he same base which had also trained many other Latin Amer­i­can of­fi­cers – run­ning into the hun­dreds – who were later found to have com­mit­ted hu­man rights abuses.

Be­yond th­ese two in­di­vid­u­als, Sgt. Henry Javier Hernán­dez, another sus­pect, was an expert sniper who had served in Díaz’s com­mand be­fore. The case pros­e­cu­tors be­lieve Hernán­dez may have acted as a mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence in­for­mant even af­ter he left the mil­i­tary in 2013.

Now add to that that among the five civil­ians also ar­rested in Cáceres’ death in­clude the manger for the Agua Zarca hy­dro­elec­tric dam that Cáceres had protested against. Fur­ther, this project is man­aged by De­sar­rol­los En­ergéti­cos SA, (Desa). Roberto David Castillo Me­jía, that com­pany’s pres­i­dent, was also for­merly a Hon­duran mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, and Roberto Pacheco Reyes, its sec­re­tary, is a for­mer Hon- du­ran jus­tice min­is­ter.

And Desa, in one of those co­in­ci­dences that few be­lieve could truly be a co­in­ci­dence, had from 2013 to 2015 em­ployed sus­pect Lt Bustillo as its head of se­cu­rity.

Be­yond this, there was also ev­i­dence un­cov­ered last year by The Guardian about a for­mer Hon­duran solider who said he had seen Cáceres’ name on a “hitlist” which was sup­pos­edly passed on to U.S. trained units in the coun­try.

The case is pro­ceed­ing at this point but with the power of the Hon­duran gov­ern­ment to squelch pro­ceed­ings there, it is un­clear to what de­gree any true jus­tice will emerge for Cáceres and the oth­ers killed in the past by U.S. backed death squads.

In the mean­time, the U.S. last year granted the Hon­duran gov­ern­ment $18 mil­lion of aid in re­ward of their ef­forts to sup­port U.S. causes. The U.S. is also the main provider of mil­i­tary and police sup­port to the coun­try.

Narco-oli­garchs Sup­ported by the World Bank

It is not just the U.S. and the narco-oli­garchs in Hon­duras that are be­hind the vi­o­lence. In a law suit filed March 9, the World Bank's In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion is ac­cused of fi­nanc­ing Cor­po­ra­cion Di­nant when owned by the late Miguel Fa­cussé Bar­jum, a bru­tal Hon­duran narco-oli­garch whose death squads tar­geted his work­ers and peo­ple whose land he wanted to steal.

In Em­bassy ca­bles leaked by Wik­ileaks, it was ap­par­ent that the U.S. State De­part­ment knew that Fa­cussé was a drug traf­ficker since at least 2004 and worked closely with U.S. trained and funded Hon­duran troops to not just en­gage in drug traf­fick­ing but wage war on work­ers, ac­tivists, jour­nal­ist and any­one else who stood in his way.

The World Bank gave money to Fa­cussé know­ing that he was a crim­i­nal and the so-called bio-fuel projects the money was sup­posed to fund would be used to pay for death squads, gross vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights, land grabs and en­vi­ron­men­tal de­struc­tion.

In 2014, an in­ter­nal World Bank in­ves­ti­ga­tion said that the In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion vi­o­lated its own so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal rules in ap­prov­ing a $30m loan to Fa­cussé.

Mas­sive protests against cor­rup­tion in Hon­duras. Photo by rbreve

Demon­stra­tion for jus­tice for Berta Cáceres. Photo by Comisión In­ter­amer­i­cana de Dere­chos Hu­manos,

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