September 25, 2007

Anti-Americanism has never been ruling Liberal Party, spoke of a shifting widespread in Honduras, but things are mood in his country: "The kinds of changing. At a press conference in things that are happening," he said, Washington, D.C. on June 12, Jorge "could develop a profound anti-Ameri- Arturo Reina, leader of a dissident so- can sentiment." The new mood is cial democratic faction of Honduras' everywhere. In the recent demonstra- General Walter L6pez seems intent on "recovering the integrity of the military." tions that have brought tens of thou- sands of protesters onto the streets of Tegucigalpa and the second city of San Pedro Sula, there is a single theme. Even the hand-lettered placards carried by street vendors bear the message, "Put the interests of the Honduran peo- ple before those of the United States." Though worsening economic condi- tions and the repression of the last three years may be the immediate trigger of the protests, their common thread is anger that Honduras has prostituted it- self to Washington and received nothing in return. The storm has blown up abruptly. An interview in February with jen. G.ustavo Alvarez Martinez, com- mander of the Honduran armed forces, found him immune, as usual, to sug- gestions that anything was wrong in Honduras. Was there any public senti- ment against the semi-permanent pres- ence of U.S. troops? No, replied the general, "The only expressions of re- sentment against the United States in Honduras come from a handful of com- munists." Less than two months later, on March 31, a group of younger Honduran offi- cers forced Alvarez to resign, and re- sentment against the United States was very much on their minds. In the early hours of the morning, with a subordi- nate holding a pistol to his head, Al- varez was packed ignominiously onto a plane bound for Costa Rica. The inter- nal coup took the civilian Administra- tion and the U.S. Embassy by surprise. In just two years, Alvarez had amassed unprecedented political power and gained an impressive amount of per- sonal control within the armed forces. In the process, he had violated basic military norms and procedures. Alvarez' problems within the mili- tary had begun with his appointment as chief of the armed forces in January 1982. At that time Alvarez lacked the seniority needed to become a general, but with the approval of President Roberto Suazo C6rdova, he modified Army regulations and was twice pro- moted, first to brigadier general and then to general of division. His ascent Leyda Barbieri, an associate with the Washington Office on Latin America, visited Honduras in April. George Black is editor of Report on the Americas. JULY/AUUUST 9brought complaints from the Joint Chiefs of Staff who resented Alvarez' abuse of the constitutional law of the armed forces. They also objected to other innova- tions by Alvarez: changed regulations governing promotions, for example, and a removal of executive authority over the minister of defense, who would now be answerable only to the chief of the armed forces. Alvarez would habit- ually present these changes to the Hon- duran Congress as virtual faits accom- plis. He would then flaunt the rubber stamp approval of Congress as an en- dorsement of his power. Cowards Or Patriots? The Honduran Joint Chiefs, known as the Superior Council of the Armed Forces (COSUFA), are traditionally the military's highest decision-making body. Alvarez, however, bypassed COSUFA and consulted only with those generals and colonels whom he trusted person- ally. This arrangement proved conven- ient for the U.S. Embassy; whatever their qualms about Alvarez' impetuous and arrogant manner, it was easier to work with one man than with a secre- tive 42-man group, whose full mem- bership is unknown even to Honduran politicians. Alvarez' pugnacious attitude was also a key factor in his removal. In his final meeting with COSUFA, Alvarez made a fatal error, threatening the assembled generals, colonels, and lieutenant colo- nels with a restructuring of the armed forces in June. His intention was to replace the traditional leadership with some of the younger officers, but he miscalculated and opened a premature split with the old guard before he had cemented his new alliance with their younger rivals, many of whom believed that Alvarez was corrupt and repressive. Many in the officer corps had long disputed Alvarez' insistence on the need for military intervention in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Now, at the COSUFA meeting, Alvarez further antagonized those who disagreed with his war plans by branding them "cowards." Under Alvarez, the Pentagon had been given carte blanche. For his crit- ics, the virtually unbroken stream of joint military maneuvers and the con- struction of an extensive network of Hondurans are not convinced the CREM is at the service of the fatherland. airstrips, radar stations, military bases and weapons stockpiles was grounds enough for complaint. But many of Alvarez' fellow officers were incensed by his willingness to have Salvadorean troops train at the Regional Military Training Center (CREM) at Puerto Castilla. For most Hondurans, their presence touched a raw nerve of na- tional pride; since Honduras' disastrous defeat at the hands of El Salvador in the brief 1969 war, the neighboring country is still regarded as a mortal enemy. It is now clear that COSUFA will renegotiate the terms of the CREM, where U.S. Green Berets last year trained six Salvadorean batallions and only two Honduran. Plans for the cur- rent year had originally called for the United States to train nine Salvadorean batallions at the CREM. The new Hon- duran military leadership seems likely to demand, at the very least, training for an equal number of Honduran troops. The new commander of the armed forces, Air Force General Walter L6pez, has restored the authority of COSUFA, and communicates its decisions to Presi- dent Suazo and U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte. Recovering the integ- rity of the military seems his paramount concern. In his April 5 inauguration speech, L6pez declared that, "Honduras needs men who are neither sold nor bought, but sincere and honest men . . . men on the side of justice." He presides, however, over a military deeply divided about the future of Honduras. Two main camps are in contention. One sector would like to stay out of civilian politics altogether and busy itself with "professionalizing" the military. Feeling that the coup against Alvarez has done Suazo C6rdova a great favor, this group would like to see the president make some cabinet changes, improve the efficiency of government and carry out an investiga- tion of past corruption and repression. The other main current within the military would favor getting rid of Suazo C6rdova. They see the president as incapable of carrying out the political and socioeconomic reforms which vot- ers demanded in the November 1981 elections. For these officers, the most logical step would be a reformist mili- tary government along the lines of the L6pez Arellano regime, which ruled from 1972-75. Without urgent reforms, they believe, the country is heading straight for violent upheaval. Pandora's Box While Alvarez' overthrow was pri- marily an internal military matter, and not the culmination of a major social crisis, other factors also came into play. The scale of the repression under Alvarez, tacitly endorsed by President Suazo C6rdova, was unprecedented in Honduran history. There was wide- spread distaste in the military for Al- varez' determined application of an Argentine-style doctrine of national REPORT ON THE AMERICAS I 3 j I 10O0 z )I security, involving the destruction of grassroots organizations and the illegal disappearance of dissidents. The officers who engineered the coup may now be aware that they have opened a Pandora's Box. Long-muted unrest has begun to emerge at every level of Honduran society. During the final weeks before the removal of Alvarez, domestic tensions had mounted. On March 18, Rolando Vindel Gonzalez, president of the Elec- trical Workers Enterprise (STENEE) was kidnapped in Tegucigalpa. Vindel was walking on the street when six heavily armed men jumped out of a blue minibus without licence plates and bundled him inside. He had been on his way to negotiate a new contract for the electrical workers' union. The union responded to Vindel's capture by calling for a national strike. In the wake of his disappearance, Hon- duran police arrested over one thousand people, including 600 in the capital of Tegucigalpa alone. While most were released by nightfall, those who re- mained in custody faced charges of "sedition against the State of Hondu- ras." Vindel's whereabouts remain un- known, and the security forces are widely held responsible for his disap- pearance and possible death. Gustavo Adolfo Morales, assistant director of the National Lottery, also disappeared on March 18. Morales, like Vindel, was dragged into an un- marked blue minibus by half a dozen armed men. And like Vindel he has not reappeared. This time, the kidnapping took place outside the gates of the U.S. Embassy. One witness was Supreme Court Judge, Luis Mendoza Fug6n. "I saw what happened," said Mendoza Fug6n later, "but what could I do?" The new military leaders also face growing unrest in the peasant move- ment. The much-vaunted land reform program of the early 1970s has ground to a halt in recent years, and shows no signs of reviving under Suazo C6rdova's Liberal government. Julin Mdndez, leader of the national camhpesino asso- ciation ANACH, estimates that 156,000 peasant families are landless. "If de- mands for land are not met," Mdndez recently warned, "they will take over land by different means." On April 10, Mdndez' ears were At center: families of the disappeared iGAL fAVTAVo Al EZ 7 G-VmLtY 2 1DNf 771 4/r A Pr A E5 NIJE5 C"7 8o ~i~kt ' ['' -5UpLI(A C ANGEL MNKLDO V" LAS 5 PERMITj LfZ9? IDEVOELVA1OSLO, ' S UNA I VOLVER A SEg FELICES EN 1 N 'RO HOGARI borne out. Eighty families from vari- ous villages in the department of Fran- cisco Morazin decided to claim 352 hectares (870 acres) of land that had been abandoned by two landowners, Andrds Noe Valeriano and Enrique Elvir. When the families arrived early in the morning at Valeriano's farm, Las Pifiuelas, they walked into an ambush. Fifteen men, among them the landown- er and members of the security forces, opened fire. Three peasants died; three more were wounded. One of them was hanged; another castrated. Juliin Ose- guera, a survivor of the massacre, lays the blame on the inactive government land reform agency INA, which had ignored the families' claims for land for two years. Scores To Settle On April 5, the day after L6pez' inauguration as chief of the armed forces, more than 20,000 Hondurans took to the streets to show their support for the change in command. They also demanded a prompt investigation of all human rights violations committed under Alvarez and the punishment of all those responsible. The chanting crowd carried JULY/AUGUST banners calling for the immediate re- lease of all political prisoners, the with- drawal of foreign troops, an end to joint U.S.-Honduran military maneuvers and the closure of the regional military train- ing center. Occupying center stage for the mo- ment are the families of the 109 desa- parecidos. The Committee of Families of the Disappeared (COFADEH) lost no time in stressing that it sees the change in the high command in itself as only a partial solution. In an April 6 letter to the press, COFADEH declared that, "Honor will return to the Armed Forces when they free the disappeared." The letter went on: "We warn the officials who rebelled against the corrupt and bloody generals that you (the younger officers) have not yet finished with Al- varez because his fascist project is still alive. The repressive apparatus is still intact, the assassins remain free on the streets and the next victims could be those wearing uniforms." Several of the families of the disap- peared have already brought legal ac- tions against Alvarez and other key of- ficials close to him. They include Col. Daniel Bali Castillo, former head of the security forces (FUSEP), Juan L6pez Grijalba, former head of military intel- ligence (G-2) and Juan Blas Salazar, former head of the secret police (DNI). Under Attack from All Sides The next step for the armed forces and the Suazo C6rdova Administration will be a delicate one. How are they to defuse the tension? For one thing, they can scarcely ignore the breadth of the swelling protest movement. A "patri- otic call" published in the daily La Tribuna on March 22, a week before the fall of Alvarez, and demanding the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Honduras, bore the signatures of 126 prominent citizens, including a former president. By early June, the escalating series of mass rallies was including not only labor and peasant unions, student groups and the families of the disappeared, but also congressional deputies from the small centrist party PINU, the Chris- tian Democrats and even the conserva- tive opposition National Party. Some 75,000 took part in this year's tradi- tional May Day demonstrations. L I I IThe Catholic Church, traditionally one of the most conservative in the region, was also registering its deep disquiet by this time. At a ceremony to welcome the new Bishop of Santa Rosa de Copin, the Catholic clergy left little doubt that their central complaint was the militarization of Honduras by U.S. forces: "Our western region," they declared, 'has been converted by spe- cial means in the past few years into a geo-strategic political-military territory, inspired by the doctrine of national security. . . . The already announced maneuvers, and military constructions that accompany them, without a doubt make the situation serious. The pend- ing and massive presence of foreign troops multiplies our people's worry and suffering, and ours as well." Clean-up Or Cover-up? On May 2, the day after the biggest demonstrations yet, the country's new military leaders received a delegation of families of the disappeared-the first such meeting. But while some within the armed forces may be anxious to clear their names from the smear of past human rights abuses, others-both civilian and military-will be more reluctant. Some will prefer simply to sweep the issue under the rug. On April 6, many Hondurans were outraged by statements made by the president of the ruling Liberal Party, Professor Romualdo Bueso Pefialba, who claimed that all the human rights violations committed in Honduras could be laid at the door of Gen. Gustavo Alvarez and the small number of his associates forced into exile along with him. And the vice- president of the Supreme Court gave a hint of the problems that would face any investigation. "On one occasion," he recalled, "we presented writs of habeas corpus to the police (DNI) and we were told that the ninejudges [of the Supreme Court] could go to jail if we were advocating the release of prisoners." In different forms, the military elite, the private sector and the mass move- ment all recognize that a drastic change of course is needed. Gen. L6pez him- self acknowledged in a nationwide television speech in early June that Honduras was suffering "a dangerous socioeconomic imbalance" made worse by soaring military expenditure. Moderate businessmen have realized that economic recovery has been ne- glected in the face of Washington's obsession with military aid. "We know," admitted one member of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, "that we can't remain a closed-off compartment while the rest of the coun- try burns up." The less socially conscious busi- nessmen are also discontented, though for different reasons: they had expected richer pickings in exchange for the U.S. military presence. Their refusal to risk fresh investment in Honduras is now epidemic; over $1 billion worth of pri- vate capital has left the country in the last two years. The poor, meanwhile, have felt the brunt of an economic package of government cutbacks and austerity measures which U.S. Ambas- sador John D. Negroponte presented to Suazo C6rdova just four days after his inauguration in January 1982. The pro- gram is known locally as "Reaganomics for Honduras." Where the Buck Stops The buck, in fact, may not stop with the ousted Gen. Alvarez. It may go all the way to the top, and in Honduras that means to Ambassador Negroponte's office. Since his appointment in November 1981, Negroponte has overseen a trans- fer of real power from the civilian authorities to the military. In the pro- cess, Washington has squandered its most precious asset in Honduras--a popularly elected civilian government-- and has caused deep rifts within the previously peaceable social fabric. The ambassador's failure to foresee the consequences of U.S. policies is little short of astonishing. According to players in the internal coup d'etat against Alvarez, the U.S. Embassy was caught unawares by the news. And contrary to statements from the embassy after the coup, President Roberto Suazo C6rdova was also pre- sented with a fait accompli. According to informed sources, Suazo was told that if he opposed Alvarez' removal, there was an extra seat on the plane taking the general to Costa Rica. Around 11 o'clock on the morning of Alvarez' departure, the ambassador met with President Suazo and Gen. Lopez. In his statements afterward, Negroponte tried to paint a rosy picture of the unwelcome turn of events by pretending that Suazo had engineered the change. "Here," he said, "every- thing is carried out within the constitu- tional process. We have always sup- ported the democratic process in Hon- duras and we will continue that atti- tude." These days, few Hondurans are willing to take such statements at face value. The replacement of Alvarez by L6pez will surely bring significant changes to the relationship between Washington and Tegucigalpa. At a minimum, Hon- duras will demand a higher rent in exchange for being used as what many are calling "America's newest aircraft carrier." But the consequences may run deeper. Honduras may well stop placing obstacles in the way of the Contadora peace process; it will cer- tainly drop Alvarez' passionate crusade to go to war with the Sandinistas; and it is likely to demand a change in CIA behavior now that 12,000 contras have been cut adrift by the U.S. Congress. On June 7, ABC's World News To- night reported that the CIA station chief in Tegucigalpa had been removed at the insistence of the Honduran govern- ment. Negroponte maintains an unconcerned public face, claiming that he is "un- aware of the Hondurans' desire to change" a 1954 agreement governing military relations between the two coun- tries. But despite official denials, ru- mors at the highest levels of the Hon- duran government and armed forces reveal a movement in favor of Negro- ponte's removal. Many senior officials believe that Negroponte is quite capa- ble of creating another Alvarez, and that his departure would diminish ten- sions between Honduras and Nicara- gua. One commented that, "We would have more space to act [without Negro- ponte]." The ambassador is well known to covet a high State Department post in a second Reagan Administration. Rather than wait for his name to be associated too closely with an unravelling policy in Honduras, he too might welcome a quick onward posting.

Tags: Honduras, US policy, Oscar Alvarez, Military

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