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Column 052112 Brewer

Monday, May 21, 2012

Narcotraffickers Strive for a Reign of Terror in Honduras

By Jerry Brewer

Once again, Honduras is experiencing attempts to destabilize its government and status quo.

Back in June of 2009, then President Manuel Zelaya was forcibly removed from office "with the backing of Congress and the Supreme Court."  This action, by the Republic of Honduras government that had censured Zelaya per a viable Constitution, forcing him to stop acts that were "considered illegal under the Constitution.

Zelaya was accused of trying to eliminate term barriers to reelection as other leftist Latin American leaders had recently done.  While Honduran law allowed for a constitutional rewrite, the power to enact this did not lie with the president, but only through a national referendum approved by Congress. But Zelaya declared the vote on his own and "had Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ship him the necessary ballots from Venezuela."

Former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Charles Ford announced in a May 15, 2008 memo that Zelaya had been surrounded by people involved in organized crime. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency would  "neither confirm or deny a DEA investigation" related to former Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Ortez's claim that the DEA was aware of Zelaya's ties to organized crime."  Further allegations were made that Zelaya was facilitating the transfer of U.S.-bound cocaine "from Venezuela through Honduras."

Later, then interim government head Roberto Micheletti sent a message of protest to the United Nations and the Organization of American States regarding the frequent landings of Venezuela-flagged aircraft carrying illicit drugs.

Getting back to present time, last week ex-President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe said in Miami, "The dictatorship of the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, converted Venezuela into a narcotrafficking paradise."

And Honduran government and police officials have reported "more aircraft carrying drugs from South America landing in Honduras."  Further, Honduran security forces claim they are unable to stop the planes "without the help of U.S. helicopters and radar technology."

This help comes, in part, from the U.S. Southern Command, through its central mission in disrupting transnational trafficking in drugs, weapons, cash and people in Central and South America -- a strategy targeting transnational organized crime. Southcom works with other U.S. government agencies, international military, and law enforcement agencies to track, capture and prosecute people who have made several countries in the northern cone of Central America the most violent in the world.

The violence and corruption stemming from the global drug trade in countries south of the U.S. borders has, in many cases, destroyed law enforcement and judicial processes. Many countries have been forced to use their militaries to compensate as local police are not staffed, equipped, or trained to intervene against superior trained paramilitary-style transnational insurgents.  Much of the greatest impact in Central America has been felt in Honduras. In 2011, Honduras led the world in per capita murders.

Southcom supports, spots and monitors air and sea-based drug movements from northern South America through the Caribbean to various destinations in Central America. This air and maritime surveillance is critical in interdicting drugs along the main smuggling routes, as well as other transnational organized criminals destined for the U.S.

Policing operations recently seized 460 kilos [1,014 pounds] of cocaine after a shootout with drug traffickers in the Caribbean region of Honduras. The drug traffickers were preparing to load the drugs onto three speedboats.  The seizure occurred in Brus Laguna, a district in Gracias a Dios province. The drug traffickers fled after exchanging fire with security forces. Police were searching for a small plane that brought the drugs to Brus Laguna from South America. The operation was conducted with the support of the U.S. DEA.

As well, the DEA recently assisted Honduran authorities dismantle three camps with landing strips that had been used by traffickers to receive drugs in Gracias a Dios. At the camps, which were located in remote spots near the border with Nicaragua, "authorities seized electrical generators, wire and hundreds of lights, machinery, an automobile, and rounds of ammunition." Another 50 clandestine landing airstrips have been identified.

DEA agents, in many other operational acts, are part of a "DEA commando squad called FAST (Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team), which operates out of "forward operating bases inside Honduras."

The recent murder of Honduran journalist Alfredo Villatoro is said to be a "backlash by drug traffickers against the country for allowing extradition to the U.S."  Villatoro was found dead in Tegucigalpa after being kidnapped, reportedly on orders by drug traffickers. The groups are said to be trying to "terrorize" Honduran society in response. Nearly thirty journalists have been killed in Honduras over the last decade.

The reign of terror in Honduras included a group of 30 gunmen ambushing a Honduran military convoy last week, wounding five soldiers, in the northern province of Colon. Colon is the site of some of Honduras' key drug trafficking routes. The ambush was reminiscent of the kind of frontal attacks on police and military forces launched by Mexican trafficking organizations. Honduran officials acknowledged that they have been expanding into areas like Colon.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at http://www.cjiausa.org/.


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