On May 11 in Honduras’ Mosquito region, helicopter gunfire killed two women, two men, and seriously wounded four more, including children. They were targeted as drug traffickers. The helicopters belonged to the U.S. State Department. On board were agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in military uniforms, plus Honduran soldiers. Many Hondurans say agents did the shooting.
Drug war is used to justify U.S. military intervention in Honduras, now a way station for drug transfer from South America to U.S. consumers. The United States has posted 600 soldiers to Honduras and operates an Air Force base and three new so-called forward operating bases there. Meanwhile, political and social deterioration has brought calamity. U.S. military build-up is non-stop.
Intervention is hardly new in Honduras. U.S. troops invaded in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924, and 1925, usually at times of political turmoil. They were “protecting U.S. interests” like banana plantations, banks, and railroads. In the 1980s Honduras was a U.S. staging area for Contra troops fighting Nicaragua’s leftist government.
The United States backed the Honduran government formed by plotters who had arranged the military coup overthrowing President José Manuel Zelaya in June 2009. Now the U.S. government supports a successor regime headed by President Porfirio Lobo, elected under dubious circumstances. Lobo’s visit to Washington in October 2011 got red-carpet treatment.
Zelaya tinkered with land reform and called for a minimum wage, thereby enraging local political bosses. The U.S. government was offended by his having led Honduras into the anti-imperialist ALBA alliance of Latin American countries.
The wealthy elite behind the coup are prospering. The family of Miguel Facussé is emblematic of ten families which “control everything, telecommunications, electrical generation, marketing of petroleum products, the financial market, construction, food, etc.” (Rebelion.org, May 23, 2012). Facussé’s 42,500 acres in Lower Aguán grow African palms, the oil of which Facussé’s Dinant Corporation converts into biodiesel.
Deadly struggle is playing out in Lower Aguán and may soon intensify. Dinant Corporation threatened that, if by June 1 Facussé had not received government payment for land that small farmers are occupying, Dinant would evict them and their families. Dinant then demanded yesterday that the Security Ministry evict them. Already private security forces have murdered 48 land reform activists there since September 2009. The occupations are in fulfillment of land reform measures revived during the Zelaya era.
The United States overlooks landowner repression even though Facussé properties are dotted with traffickers’ landing strips. Social catastrophe — 70 percent in poverty and 40 percent unemployed — and terror likewise seem to be acceptable. Honduras’ is the highest murder rate in the world — 6,723 murders in 2011. Political repression has taken the lives of 25 journalists during the Lobo presidency. The body of popular broadcaster Alfredo Villatoro was found on May 15, that of LGBT activist Erick Martinez, two days earlier.
U.S. interventionists tolerate governmental corruption. California academician Dana Frank maintains, “[D]rug trafficking is interlaced with the post-coup government . . . even the Minister of Defense has talked about the so-called Narco Congress people, the Narco judges. . . . The police regularly kill people. . . . None of these people have been prosecuted.”
Trafficking bolsters wealth and power. A local Chamber of Commerce official reported that drug lords “have bought tremendous tracts, ranches, farms (and) coastlands,” according to McClatchy. The McClatchy story suggests that “[d]rug profits have filtered into sectors such as banking, construction, sports teams, restaurants, auto sales and private security.”
Col. Ross Brown, a U.S. commander in Honduras, told a reporter that the U.S. military mission is expanding because of “the potential nexus between transnational organized criminals and terrorists who would do harm to our country.” But, according to an Argentinean analyst, “The Southern Command of the Pentagon throughout Central America is backing ‘failed states’ in order to justify interventions in the name of national security.”
Popular forces are mobilizing. Formed after the 2009 coup, the National Front for Popular Resistance established the Broad Front of Popular Resistance, which looks toward a constituent assembly and is preparing for presidential elections in 2013. The Front’s “social struggle” entails agrarian reform, popular organizing, defending human rights, and opposition to privatization and foreign control of natural resources.
Given the experience of the Chile’s socialist government with U.S. intervention in 1973, this is perilous business. Yet the promise is real.
Seven years ago social and economic indicators for Bolivia and Honduras were similar. Each GDP was $10 billion, the average per capita annual income for both was $700-$800, international financial reserves were $1.5 billion apiece, their rates of extreme poverty were 40-50 percent, and unemployment rates were 10-14 percent. Honduras’ GDP today is still $10 billion. For Bolivia, inclining toward socialism, the current GDP is $20 billion. Honduras’ average per capita annual income is $700; Bolivia’s was $1,833 in 2010. Honduras’ foreign financial reserves are now less than $1.5 billion; those for Bolivia exceed $12 billion. Today, Honduras’ unemployment rate is 40 percent; Bolivia’s rate for 2011 was 5.9 percent. Finally, extreme poverty in Honduras in 2010 was 50 percent. The rate that year for Bolivia was 25 percent (Rebelion.org, May 25, 2012).
W. T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician living in Maine. He is active in Cuba solidarity work and has contributed for many years to the People’s Weekly World and People’s World, focusing mainly on Latin America. Monthly Review has published a few of his articles on Cuba and health.