Al Jazeera America, June 28, 2014
In the years just before the June 28, 2009 coup d’etat, Honduras was rarely in the U.S. news. In the five years since, Honduras has received much more coverage, but it’s all bad press. Most recently has been the story of the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America at U.S. borders. Of the 47,000 children apprehended by U.S. border patrol since October, more have come from Honduras – 28 percent, or over 13,000 – than from any of the other countries. This is a whopping 1,272 percent more than in 2009, the year of the coup.
This last figure says a lot about what’s happened over the past five years. The military coup, which was supported in various ways by the Obama administration, broke Honduras’ already weak institutions. With rampant corruption and impunity in the police, the military and at all levels of government, crime has spiraled out of control while state security forces have engaged in a bloody campaign of political and social persecution. Consider these other, shocking numbers:
Consider the following grim statistics, which has contributed to Honduras’ status as “the murder capital of the world”:
- Last year, the Observatory of Violence at the National University of Honduras estimated that at least one woman was murdered every 13 hours -- 629 total femicides in 2013. According to a report [PDF] by the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders, femicides increased 62 percent in 2009, the year of the coup.
- According to a report by the U.S.-based LGBT rights group, the Honduran Equality Delegation, more than 116 members of the LGBT community have been murdered since 2008 (compared to some 25 murders of LGBT individuals between 1990 and 2005).
- More than 30 journalists have been killed since the coup. And as the journalism watchdog Reporters Without Borders noted about the murders in its annual Press Freedom Index, "almost all of them have gone unpunished."
- At least 74 lawyers were murdered from 2009 to 2012, according to the Honduran Bar Association.
- At least 18 members of the opposition LIBRE political party, including candidates and leaders, were killed in the run-up to last November's presidential elections. Last month, military police tear-gassed, beat and expelled former President Manuel Zelaya and other LIBRE members of congress from the legislative chamber building in Tegucigalpa where they camped out protesting government repression.
- Since 2010, more than 100 activists have been killed in the Aguan Valley in a land dispute between campesinos and wealthy landowners who seek land for palm oil development. (Recently controversy has surrounded the World Bank’s role in financing the Dinant Corporation, which is implicated in human rights abuses here.)
But in the wake of the child migration “crisis,” the Obama administration plans to reward the Honduran government's failure by giving it more money: $18.5 million just to Honduras under the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), in addition to the unknown share that Honduras gets from $161.5 million in other CARSI funds designated for the region, and another portion of the "almost $130 million" that Honduras gets "in ongoing bilateral assistance" for military cooperation and other purposes.
It is clear that CARSI isn't working, as the U.S. has spent over $800 million on it since 2008, and the drugs and gangs problems in Central America have worsened since. This is no surprise to those familiar with the initiatives that CARSI is modeled on: Plan Colombia, and the Merida Initiative in Mexico (where over 47,000 people were killed in just five years in drug war-related violence).
A militarized policing approach is the cornerstone of the new administration of Juan Orlando Hernández in Honduras, even as efforts to clean up the police have failed and evidence emerged last year of police death squads. But the U.S. has supported this militarized response – over the objections of Congress – and is now prepared to lavish even more funds on Hernández’s brutal and repressive regime.
There are alternatives to giving more money to corrupt security forces that are themselves responsible for many murders and extrajudicial killings, and some of whom are in league with the drug traffickers they’re supposed to fight. Very few children have fled Nicaragua, where there isn't the kind of drug violence seen in the CARSI countries. Community policing practices have been adopted in Nicaragua that contrast with the military policing seen in Honduras, and the Nicaraguan model has been praised by national security consultants and Central American gangs experts.
The answer to these problems is not more money for human rights-abusing security forces, as 108 members of the U.S. Congress pointed out in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry [PDF] last month. The solution is accountability, an end to impunity in Honduras and a true restoration of democratic institutions. This means protection for freedom of speech and the press and an end to political persecution and the targeting of minorities. If the U.S. were to make assistance conditional on these demands, it would no doubt help hasten change in Honduras.