More than 600 U.S. troops are stationed across Honduras, engaged in an aggressive campaign in the so-called drug war. This piece from the New York Times yesterday explains that the strategy Washington is employing there draws from the “hard lessons learned from a decade of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq.” In those conflicts, massive amounts of U.S. troops were dispersed out of “giant bases” and “scattered across remote, hostile areas” to “face off against insurgents.” But now the U.S. military knows better: instead, they’ll be a light footprint based out of scattered forward operating bases.
Clearly, this is the wrong “lesson learned.”
Colonel Ross A. Brown, commander of troops in Honduras, explains the mission thusly: “By countering transnational organized crime, we promote stability, which is necessary for external investment, economic growth and minimizing violence. We also are disrupting and deterring the potential nexus between transnational organized criminals and terrorists who would do harm to our country.”
For every bullet-point goal in that statement, the opposite is occurring as a result of U.S. intervention. Let’s take them one at a time. First of all, “promoting stability” is a catch-all phrase with a literal military translation of “U.S. intervention.” Whatever America does, it promotes stability. When we overthrew democratically elected governments and installed brutal dictatorships all throughout Central America at the beginning of the Cold War, we were promoting stability. When Reagan circumvented U.S. law to fuel a proxy war and supported war crimes in Nicaragua, we were promoting stability. When we helped fuel one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern memory in Guatemala, we were promoting stability. And now that the pretext is fighting drug cartels, we are again promoting stability.
The drug war accomplishes precisely the opposite of “stability.” By trying to eliminate the drug trade through force, the U.S. has emboldened the cartels and militarized the whole game. In Mexico, it has led to up to 50,000 deaths in just 5 or 6 years. Honduras isn’t making out any better. U.S. drug war efforts there have led the country to attain the prestigious title of the highest homicide rate in the world, rivaling the war zone in Afghanistan. And when the Obama administration chose to support the illegal military coup in Honduras in 2009, which ousted democratically elected Zelaya and began a descent into what Dana Frank, professor of history at the University of California, called “a human rights and security abyss,” that was for stability’s sake, eh?
Moving on, there is very little evidence that the Defense Department and the State Department are concerned with “external investment” into Honduras. For starters, their efforts there are making it a virtual war zone led by a military regime, which Washington supports. That’s not good for business. But more than that, it seems the only external investment Washington cares about is wasting taxpayer dollars on wasteful military infrastructure and equipment for defense corporations. New bases are being built, Honduran forces are being trained and equipped, etc.
Lastly, the U.S. needs a military presence in Honduras and throughout Central America because we’re interested in “deterring the potential nexus between transnational organized criminals and terrorists.” Ah, the magic word. In the post-9/11 era, you slap on the word terrorist to any foreign policy adventure and suddenly that justifies it. Except that this supposed nexus doesn’t exist and has been repeatedly debunked. Those involved in the drug trade are business people in it for the money in a sector that has been driven into the black market. This has nothing to do with any group that could conceivably fall into that oft-used and abused phrase “al-Qaeda and its affiliates.”
This is was the most revealing quote from the Times piece: “There are ‘insidious’ parallels between regional criminal organizations and terror networks, Admiral Kernan said. ‘They operate without regard to borders,’ he said, in order to smuggle drugs, people, weapons and money.” Yeah, there’s another entity operating without regard to borders in order to smuggle drugs, people, weapons, and money. It’s called the United States Government.
See here for more on what U.S. intervention in Honduras looks like.