Manuel Zeyala’s election as president of Honduras in 2006 was cut short by a coup d’état three years later. Zeyala’s alliance with other Latin American leftist leaders, and his moves to provide free education to children and to lessen income inequality, angered the conservative elite. In 2009, Zeyala was awoken at gunpoint by the military, whisked onto a waiting plane and flown to Costa Rica.
Initially, the United States condemned the coup. But the Obama administration’s tune quickly changed. As Dana Frank, professor of history and an expert on Honduras, writes in the Nation, “After almost all the opposition candidates (as well as international observers) boycotted the post-coup election that brought Lobo to power, heads of state throughout the region refused to recognize his presidency; but the United States hailed him for ‘restoring democracy’ and promoting ‘national reconciliation.’” The US now firmly backs the presidency of Porfirio Lobo. The regime has systematically violated the human rights of many Hondurans. “The coup has unleashed a wave of violence against political opposition, journalists, small farmers and others, with impunity for the security forces that have been implicated in these killings,” as Mark Weisbrot noted in the Guardian.
But instead of threatening the regime with aid cutoffs, the Obama administration has instead asked for more money to help Honduras fight the “war on drugs.”
The drug war remains the primary prism for how the US views Latin America, and in Honduras it has led to disastrous consequences. DEA agents have set up shop in the country, and the US government has helped train Honduran police in an effort to militarize aspects of the police. (It’s important to note, though, that the US government recently announced it was cutting off aid to units supervised by the new national police chief, who is suspected of human rights violations dating back to 1998.)
DEA agents were involved in a May 2012, operation that went awry. In an indigenous area of Honduras, the police, working alongside DEA agents, opened fire on a boat thought to be trafficking drugs. But local residents claim that the four villagers who were killed were civilians and had nothing to do with drugs; two of the dead were pregnant women.
The DEA operation drew widespread attention to how the US government is helping to militarize the Ahuas region in Honduras. As Sandra Cuffe and Karen Spring reported for AlterNet, “the presence of Honduran and US security forces has dramatically increased over the past several years and even more so since the June 2009 coup, particularly in communities along the Patuca River where recent DEA-led operations have occurred.”
The operations have greatly angered indigenous villagers. “We resolve to declare members of the Honduran and US armed forces persona non grata in the territory of the Moskitia due to their invasion and effect on security, creating situations of intimidation and fear,” one group of indigenous Hondurans wrote in a declaration made at an emergency assembly to address the killings.