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US suspends aid to Honduras over human rights concerns

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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, centralamericanpolitics.blogspot.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

On Sunday, I wrote about the temporary halt of some US aid to Honduras. The suspension of aid was brought on by alleged connections between the current national police chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla, and death squads that operated about a decade ago. The US is going to step back and sort things out.

RAJ at Honduras Politics and Culture asks really important questions about where exactly the US is going to be holding back aid. The US said that it is suspending aid to those personnel and units who are not directly supervised by Bonilla.

Direct supervision" is the operative phrase here, since Bonilla, as national police chief, is the commander of all the Honduran police. Does it really matter if there is an interposed subordinate officer between him and the units the US is still funding? Or is the significant difference here that the US will still fund US trained, guided, and advised units which, while technically part of the Honduran police forces, would be expected not to follow orders from the national police chief?

Only those elements of the national police that the chief of the national police does not oversee? That's not very comforting. Given the evidence available, Tigre looks like it might be the unit cut from US assistance.
 
Greg Weeks at Two Weeks Notice has more on the role of a human rights agenda in US foreign policy. Given what the US cares about in Honduras, concerns about drug trafficking should trump human rights concerns. However, in this case, aid is being suspended because the chief of police might have been involved in extrajudicial killings years ago. Aid is not being suspended because Bonilla was involved in drug trafficking, was corrupt, or incompetent in carrying out his duties. Those might all be there case, but for now, they are not.
 
A few more things about the story. I don't think that the letter from US and Honduran academics and members of the US Congress caused the State Department to do something that it didn't want to do. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's just a coincidence, but there's got to be more to the story, obviously, than what we already know. For example, what the State Department did isn't exactly what the letter writers asked them to do. (Here's the letter.)

We call upon you to cut off your support (logistical, financial, and training) to the forces of disorder that are also the most violent institutions in our society, and to put an end to your occupation of our territory for military purposes without consulting the people of Honduras. Any subsequent reestablishment of your aid should depend on the verification of progress made by the recently established National Commission for the cleaning up [of the police], and the re-establishment of US bases should have the support of the citizenry, determined through the ballot box. But US appeasement and support of the violent agents of a rogue state have destroyed our fledgling democracy, brought us greater insecurity and a human rights catastrophe. Investment in the depressed economy will do much more for our mutual goals than these counterproductive expenditures. We call upon you to allow us as Hondurans to seek our own solutions to our problems in order to progress toward building a peaceful coexistence. Only with sovereignty can we work toward the refounding of Honduras as democratic nation that respects rights. And US policy should not continue to be an obstacle to that goal. History will see the emperor without his clothes on.

Remind you, this is after blaming the US for just about everything that has gone wrong in Honduras since the 2009 coup. The letter talks about US responsibility "in part" but that's not really the tone of the letter. The US is directly and indirectly to blame for just about everything that is wrong in Honduras today. The US is asked to suspend all aid. It is asked to stop occupying Honduras (Occupying? Seriously?). And then, the US should only be allowed to re-establish bases once Hondurans allow them to do so "through the ballot box" which I take to mean not through their elected representatives (I know, today's leaders weren't really elected in free and fair elections nor do they really represent the people of Honduras) but through a separate referendum.
 
 Here's the other quote from the letter that I found interesting.

Combating drug trafficking is not a legitimate justification for the US to fund and train security forces that usurp democratic governments and violently repress our people. Everyone here in Honduras, including the staffers of your DEA offices in Tegucigalpa, know exactly who the drug traffickers are and where to find them.

I've seen the first sentence quoted in a few places but it's the second one that interests me. I'm sure that everyone thinks that they know who the drug traffickers are and where to find them. However, that's not the same as knows. And even if the US knows who the traffickers are (even that's not very convincing to me), they are going to need some evidence on which to act. And even if they do have evidence on which to act, it's not really clear that the US has many reliable partners in Honduras with whom it can act.
 
--- Mike Allison is an associate professor in the Political Science Department and a member of the Latin American and Women's Studies Department at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.  You can follow his Central American Politics blog here.


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