Honduras’ Violent “Hot Spots” Help Propel Homicides to a New Record High

October 19, 2012

Several new op-eds and articles highlight problems with the U.S. government’s support for the post-coup government of Pepe Lobo in Honduras. New U.N. data reveals that the homicide rate in Honduras – already infamous as the “murder capital of the world” — has gone up even further, to 92 murders per 100,000 people, over 82 a year ago. This makes Honduras far and away the most murderous country in Latin America (despite what some journalists have contended), and well above that of violent neighbors such as El Salvador (69 per 100,000) and Guatemala (38.5 per 100,000).

As scholars such as Dana Frank, in numerous articles in The Nation, The New York Times, and now Foreign Affairs, have pointed out, the increase in killings has resulted from the climate of instability in the wake of the 2009 coup, which was supported by the Obama administration. While coup opponents, journalists, the LGBT community, and women have been targets of post-coup violence across the country, Honduras is also now home to more than one “hot spot” of bloodshed since the coup.

The 2009 coup against democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya cut short a land reform process that sought to resolve conflict in the Aguán Valley region where a few rich landholders have been able to acquire huge swaths of land at the expense of impoverished peasants. “Armed commandos pass[ed] menacingly through defenceless villages during the days after the coup,” as “The government has converted the area of these agrarian conflicts in Bajo Aguán into a war zone” with “low-flying military helicopters and planes” and “the peasants of the region’s organized movement suffer from kidnappings, torture and murders,” a September 2011 report [PDF] by the International Federation for Human Rights noted. The most notorious of these land owners is Miguel Facussé, uncle of former president Carlos Flores Facussé. Miguel Facussé is considered by the U.S. government to be involved in drug trafficking, and is frequently described as the “most powerful man in Honduras.” Facussé also has tourism interests in the Gulf of Fonseca area, on the other side of the country on the Pacific Coast, where forced evictions are also occurring and community radio stations and journalists covering them have been targeted with death threats, shut downs, and arrests.

Another hot spot, of course, has been the Moskitia region, where human rights attorney Lauren Carasik notes “the United States has shifted funding—and personnel—freed up by the reduction of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to the drug war in Central America and Africa with little public notice or debate.”

Carasik’s new op-ed in Boston Review highlights the serious problems with the U.S. government’s counternarcotics operations in Honduras and beyond, recommending that “Given the deadly toll the drug war has exacted in places like Honduras, Bolivia, Mexico, and Colombia, the United States should be exceedingly careful about the consequences of militarizing counter-narcotics efforts.”

Dartmouth College professor Sharlene Mollett also explores what went wrong with the DEA’s operations in the Moskitia in a piece for AlterNet. Mollett notes that “While much of the debate about this incident questions the culpability of the DEA agents, little has been said about the failure of the U.S. anti-drug policy to understand the local cultural practices in the Mosquitia.” She goes on to describe how “Miskito culture is under attack.”

Government-led enclosure of the Miskito inside the Reserve has meant restrictions on natural resource access; it also legally impedes the Miskito from gaining formalized ownership to lands inside the Reserve. As well, the cultural zone has experienced a number of land invasions by non-indigenous colonists, commercial farmers and narcotraffickers.

Miskito livelihood security is indeed in peril. While the Miskito have been demanding rights and protections from the state to thwart against encroachment for more than twenty years, they are left to their own devices and remain resilient in the face of state neglect in the areas of health care and education, and without state protection from encroaching colonists and narcotraffickers who in some cases invade Miskito lands by brandishing AK-47s.

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