Who Is the US Helping in Honduras?

By McCarton Ackerman 02/12/13

Some claim that costly US operations merely support a regime that has ties to the drug trade.

US involvement in Honduras is contentious.
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The Obama administration has expanded its anti-drug trafficking partnership with Honduras in recent years—but some claim that the US is inadvertently helping a corrupt government that actually has ties to the drug trade. The Associated Press has called the growing US military presence throughout the region "the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War." Since 2002, the buildup has reportedly cost US taxpayers over $20 billion for troops, ships, clandestine bases, radar, military and police training and more, and 2012 Defense Department contracts for Honduras stood at $67.4 million—triple those of 10 years ago. But despite the intentions behind these expensive efforts, the government and the elites controlling Honduras are widely accused of being implicated in trafficking. LA Times contributor Dana Frank writes that the increased financial support is an indirect sign of approval for Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who has been blamed for thousands of human rights violations and murders since a 2009 coup. Many Honduran teachers haven't been paid for almost six months and the country is almost bankrupt.

The drug war in Honduras has been fraught with controversy. In May 2012, DEA agents participated in an operation in the Mosquitia region of the country in which four civilian villagers were killed and several others injured. The DEA also acknowledged that it killed two alleged drug traffickers in separate incidents last June and July. The US then suspended radar cooperation last July, after the Honduran military shot down two supposed drug planes in violation of international protocol. When cooperation was resumed last month, the Honduran coast guard killed an alleged trafficker using intelligence provided by DEA agents. Two weeks ago, 58 members of the house sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., demanding that the May 2012 incident involving the DEA be investigated. Senator Patrick Leahy is also withholding $30 million in aid to US and Honduran security forces until questions regarding civilian abuse and corruption are addressed.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.