On June 14, our Bord Chair, Lynn Holland, published a Letter to the Editor in Denver University paper Clarion.
As many are aware, Hondurans continue to arrive at the U.S. border to seek shelter much as they did during the Trump administration. Their desperate stories are much the same—prolonged drought has left them unable to grow crops, threats from gangs and drug traffickers have driven them out of their own homes, a devastating hurricane has left many homeless and hospitals and schools lack supplies.
Much as Trump did before him, President Biden is quickly expelling these refugees. At the same time, he has reached agreements with Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, otherwise known as the “Northern Triangle” governments, to deploy soldiers to their borders to forcibly prevent migrants from crossing. To facilitate this deployment, Biden proposes to send another $4 billion in aid to these countries. If Hondurans insist on migrating, they will be forced to remain in their own country at the point of a gun.
The idea of fortifying the military in Honduras with new weapons, training and technologies is hardly new. In fact, it is a continuation of the longstanding practice of U.S. military intervention in Central America. In the early 1950s, the CIA established camps in Honduras for training and supplying guerrilla soldiers in preparation for the overthrow of the Guatemalan government. In 1983, Honduras became the site of the U.S. Soto Cano military base from which Nicaragua’s former national guardsmen—known for their brutality—were trained to lead a counterrevolutionary war against the neighboring Sandinista government. Known as the “Contra War,” it continued for over a decade and cost the lives of more than 30,000 Nicaraguans.
More recently, military personnel at Soto Cano have supplied dozens of Honduran patrol bases with tanks, weapons, helicopters and other material under the guise of fighting the Drug War. While military aid has been used against some drug traffickers, government officials have benefited from partnering with other traffickers.
Drug trafficking has infiltrated all branches of the Honduran government as a result, from the military to the police, from the Congress and judiciary to the executive branch. In fact, the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández is now serving a life sentence in a New York prison for drug trafficking and the president himself stands accused of taking a $1 million bribe from “El Chapo,” the head of Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa cartel.
Knowing the history of U.S. military presence in Honduras, former president Manuel Zelaya had planned to convert Soto Cano into a commercial air cargo terminal. This plan ended abruptly when he was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup in 2009. Since then, anyone who dares to speak out against corruption, promote democracy or defend the environment is at risk of being attacked. Among those who have been targeted:
- Julieta Castellanos, president of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, has called for a purging of corrupt police and an end to foreign aid to the police and military. In retaliation, the national police kidnapped and killed her 22-year-old son.
- A young police officer who recently arrived in the U.S. having been pursued by the police agents he had been investigating. While he was able to attain asylum, his girlfriend was killed for refusing to reveal his whereabouts.
- Indigenous leader, Berta Cáceres, well known for her courageous efforts to protect the Gualcarque River from the construction of a hydroelectric dam, was killed in 2016. The dam would have destroyed the river on which her people depend for their survival. Of the seven men convicted of the homicide, three had been members of the Honduran military.
It is urgent that we stop the flow of military weapons and technology to Honduras as these can only bring more suffering to the people there. Two bills now pending in the U.S. Congress, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act in the House, and the Honduras Human Rights and Anti-corruption Act in the Senate, will cut U.S. aid to Honduran security forces until human rights violations in that country have been sufficiently addressed.
We cannot hope to address the root causes of Central American migration to the U.S. without also addressing the long history of U.S. intervention in the region. Through this legislation, we have a chance to turn that history around. It is long past time to end U.S. support for the Honduran military and to give hope and relief to the Honduran people for a better future.