Civil society groups in Honduras applauded the
government's decision to withdraw the country's 370 troops from Iraq, while
voices in El Salvador called for a pullout of the Salvadoran forces as well.
"We were taken by surprise, because it looked like the troops would stay there,"
Juan Barahona, coordinator of the Popular Bloc, which links 21 Honduran social
and labor organizations, told IPS by telephone Tuesday.
"The decision to pull them out was the right one and comes in response to
the clamor and pressure from the people," he added.
Honduran President Ricardo Maduro announced late Monday that he had ordered
the withdrawal of the Central American country's troops in Iraq "in the shortest
The news came after Spain's new Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero said on his
second day in office Sunday that the 1,300 Spanish troops stationed in Iraq
would be pulled out several months earlier than expected.
Spain's defense minister confirmed late Monday that Spanish troops had already
begun to return home.
Maduro said the Honduran soldiers "have lived up to the objectives of the
mission to which they were assigned in the terms of the legislative decree that
authorized their departure."
The Honduran soldiers, along with 380 from El Salvador and 300 from the Dominican
Republic, formed the Plus Ultra Battalion in the base located in the Iraqi city
of Diwaniya, which was commanded by Spain.
The battalion also included 113 Nicaraguan soldiers who left Iraq at the end
of March and will not return due to a lack of funds, according to official sources.
The Popular Bloc said Monday that it did not believe the Honduran government
and lawmakers had any intention of bringing the troops home, and Barahona had
commented to IPS that "We have not obtained any benefit from the presence of
our troops in Iraq."
But on Tuesday he underlined that "We are very satisfied and surprised, and
applaud the government's decision, which we all support."
President Francisco Flores in El Salvador said the Salvadoran troops would
remain in Iraq, and Dominican President Hipólito Mejía said that
Central American country would also keep its soldiers there until their term
expires, in July. The two contingents will now be under Polish command.
The Central American troops are the only forces from Latin America and the
Caribbean taking part in the occupation of Iraq. They represent a tiny deployment
compared to the 130,000 U.S. forces.
In much of Latin America and the Caribbean, the war on Iraq was overwhelmingly
opposed by society as well as the governments, and contributing troops to the
coalition force was never even an option.
"The Central American presence in Iraq gave us an image of invaders who only
follow U.S. orders," lamented Barahona.
President Maduro had argued that the Honduran troops were exclusively engaged
in "humanitarian" efforts in Iraq.
After Spain announced that it was bringing home its troops, Honduran Foreign
Minister Leonidas Rosa said Monday that the government was urgently discussing
the intensification of the violence waged by rebel groups in Iraq, and that
a decision on the troops would be announced "shortly."
The voices calling for the return of the Central American soldiers in Iraq
became even more numerous after Apr. 4, when it was reported that a Salvadoran
soldier, 19-year-old Natividad Méndez, was killed in an attack by the
Auxiliary Bishop of San Salvador Gregorio Rosas said a majority of Salvadorans
"do not want our adventure...in a delegitimized war that has become a quagmire"
in Iraq to continue.
The bishop said he hoped Salvadoran president-elect Elías Antonio Saca,
who takes office on Jun. 1, will "listen to public opinion" and pull out the
"The battle to get our troops to return has received new ammunition from Spain,
which we applaud and admire," Carlos Castaneda, a lawmaker with El Salvador's
leftist Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN), told IPS.
"We are going to do everything we can to bring home our troops, whose mission
in Iraq has not even lived up to the terms that were announced," he said.
The mission approved by the Salvadoran parliament basically involved humanitarian
work and the reconstruction of physical infrastructure.
"We will make our weight felt in Congress to demand that our troops be brought
home as soon as possible, because we don't want any more to be killed or wounded,"
said Castaneda, whose party holds 31 of the 84 seats in the Salvadoran parliament.
"We demand the immediate withdrawal of (all) Central American troops, because
they have been left without a commander" due to the pullout of the Spanish
forces, "and have no more reason to continue with this dangerous and absurd
adventure," added the legislator, who sits on the parliamentary Foreign Relations
(Inter Press Service)