Adrienne Pine: 40 Honduran scholars, supported by 300 academics from 29 countries, sent a letter to
President Obama demanding the end of U.S. support for Honduran military and police trainingâ€”and that
the war on drugs is not a rationale for supporting a regime that is violently suppressing its own people.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
On June 7, 40 Honduran scholars, supported by 300 academics from 29 countries, sent a letter to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanding the following: cease all U.S. support for Honduran military and police trainingâ€”and sent the message that the war on drugs is not a rationale for supporting a regime that is violently suppressing its own people.
Now joining us to talk about this is one of the organizers of this petition, Adrienne Pine. Adrienne is an assistant anthropology professor at American University. She’s the author of the book Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras. Thanks for joining us, Adrienne.
ADRIENNE PINE, ASST. PROF. ANTHROPOLOGY, AMERICAN UNIV.: Thank you for having me, Paul.
JAY: So we understand, if we listen to what President Obama and the administration and State Department say, that Honduran has had a democratic election, that democratization is taking place. So why do you find the need for this letter?
PINE: Well, what we’ve seen over the past years since the coup, the past two and a half years since the coup, almost three years, is that the police and military, which carried out the coup, has continued to brutalize the population in very specific ways, in particular focusing on people who oppose the regime and who stand up against police abuse. Certain regions have seen a greater amount of militarized violence. That includes the Bajo AgÃºan region. And, of course, most recently we’ve been hearing in the news about the DEA, the joint DEA-Honduran police massacre of four indigenous Miskito people a month ago.
So these police and military forces in Honduras are trained by the U.S., both [incompr.] like the School of the Americas and directly in trainings from U.S. forces. The U.S. also maintains a military presence in Honduras, a number of bases which is ever increasing, and we never get a full count of that. But there have been several bases that have been installed since the coup. And the U.S., of course, finances the military and police in Honduras.
JAY: Now, we know a lot of the Mexican drug operations have moved to Central America, and a lot of them apparently are moving to Honduras. So if that’s true, doesn’t the administration have to cooperate and support this regime in order to deal with the drug invasion of Honduras?
PINE: Well, the problem with that logic is that this regime is deeply complicit in the drug trade, and so cooperating and supporting this regime is in effect cooperating with and supporting the drug traffickers themselves. Some of the known drug traffickersâ€”and this has come out in WikiLeaks reports. For example, Miguel FacussÃ©, who is a land holder in the Bajo AgÃºan region, who himself is responsible (and he’s admitted this on national TV) for the killings of numerous peasants in the region with whom he has land conflicts, in a WikiLeaks cable it’s admitted by the State Department that they know he is a drug trafficker as far back asâ€”I think that was in 2004 or 2005. So, you know, people who finance the coup, people who are currently U.S. allies are the people in power, and they’re also the drug traffickers. The brother of the president is also a known drug trafficker. And the military isâ€”many figures within the military are suspected to be involved in drug trafficking as well.
The problem is that there’s a culture of total impunity. And this itself is also a product of the coup. There’s never been any reckoning, there’s never really been any democratic process to move on from the coup, so that all of the people who carried out the human rights abuses, all of the police and the military who were responsible for the over 4,000 human rights abuses in the first months following the coup, as well as the other more than 4,000 human rights abuses since the Lobo regime was installed, nothing has happened for there to be justice. And so cooperating with the regime is in effect saying it’s okay for a coup regime to continue, and it’s also okay for drug traffickers to hold power [crosstalk]
JAY: Right. Well, the U.S. authorities have to be aware of this. If you’re aware of it, then the people that signed this letter are aware of it. And in the letter it states pretty clearly that everybody knows in Honduras who the big drug traffickers are. Then the U.S. authorities must know. Then what’s their interest here in working with these people?
PINE: Well, I think, you know, that’s the real question. And the U.S. in fact does now know. I mean, the DEA has openly admitted to reporters in the past that, you know, they know who the gangs, the drug trafficking gangs are, they know who the main figures are involvedâ€”not so openly admitted in the case of the WikiLeaks cable.
But we see much larger interests at stake here, where we see the greatest militarization also happen to be areas of the biggest land conflict and potential resource extraction, whether we’re talking about petroleum in the Bajo AgÃºan or carbon credit industries like hydroelectric projects, for example, or in the Bajo AgÃºan the African palm trade, which is one of the bigger sort ofâ€”carbon credit trading. And that has caused the greatest amount of murders, because the large landholders are killing off peasants that have claims to this land. So it’s curious that where there’s the greatest amount of conflict that is not due to drugs, that’s also where we see the greatest amount of militarization, justified by a drug war, which by and large is controlled by the same people who supported a military coup by a military that is trained and financed by the United States and that continues to be supported and trained and financed by the United States.
JAY: Now, in your letter that I think you signed as well, but many Honduran academics signed, one of the calls is for a referendum in Honduras on whether or not there should be U.S. bases there. I mean, what is the size or level of U.S. presence in terms of bases? And is there any sense where public opinion is on this?
PINE: Well, the call for a referendum is, I thinkâ€”and the letter, I should clarify, is written by the Honduran academics. And so the rest of us are signing in solidarity with it.
There’s a large U.S. presence in Honduras. And part of why the U.S. supported the coup was because the U.S. presence in Honduras has strategically been so important through the years. In the 1980s, Honduras was referred to in military circles as the U.S. [incompr.] Honduras, because it had such a heavy U.S. military presence. The base Soto Cano, which is the main U.S. Air Force base in Honduras, also happened to be where Zelaya’sâ€”the plane carrying Zelaya stopped on its way out during the coup, on its way out of the country, supposedly for refueling, although that doesn’t make any sense.
So if there were to be a referendum, there’s no doubt that Hondurans would not want to have a continuing presence of U.S. troops on their soil, because what have they brought? The same things that U.S. troops bring wherever they have foreign bases around the world: death, destruction, disease, a huge AIDS epidemic, you know, directly emanating out from where the bases are located, and not a lot of what they claim to be there for, which is, of course, humanitarian assistance. We see very little of any good coming out of these bases and instead just a lot of violence, the kind that’s killing people, like last month in the Meskitia.
JAY: Now, have you had any answer from the administration? This letter was addressed to President Obama and Secretary Clinton. Any response whatsoever?
PINE: No, we haven’t had a response. And there’s been very little media attention here in the United States, although quite a bit of attention in Spanish-language press.
JAY: About the letter.
JAY: Right. But the official position in the United States continues to be this is a democratic government.
PINE: Yeah, that it’s a Democratic government, because it was elected in, quote-unquote, democratic elections. And it was actually a Real News report by Jesse Freeston in November 2009 that exposed the fact that the elections were rife with fraud and violence. It was under militarized control. And there was great violence carried out by the military against protesters on the streets of San Pedro and other cities. And the polling stations were virtually empty throughout the country. And this was recorded by journalists throughout the country, but in particular by The Real News. So there was no democratic transition in Honduras.
And the State Department has consistently evaded calls by a variety of different parties, including academics, but perhaps even more surprisingly the 94 congressmembers that signed the letter by Representative Schakowsky earlier this year also calling for an end to military and police aid, including training to Honduras, for the same reasons that the Honduran scholars are calling for that.
JAY: But it was ignored by the administration.
PINE: Well, the administration tried to claim that instead of specifically calling for an end to police and military aid, that the congresspeople were calling for an end to all aid to Honduras, and, as such, said that it was not a legitimate request, when that is in fact false. What they wereâ€”they were very specifically asking for an end to military and police aid on the basis of the very well documented human rights abuses that have been carried out consistently by those institutions against people who are expressing their dissent against the administration.
JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Adrienne.
JAY: Thank you.
PINE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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