Honduras: Murder Rate Surges Deflating Hopes for Better 2019

A report by teleSur on 10 May 2019 gives details of the 2019 homicide rate in Honduras. Extracts from the teleSur report are given below.

“We cannot place a policeman or military member on every bus.”

The number of violent deaths in Honduras has gone up in April and May, sometimes by a rate as high as 98 percent over figures from 2018.

According to a report by the General Directorate of Forensic Medicine and the National Observatory of Violence of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OV-UNAH), between Jan. 1 and May 8 of 2019, 1,258 people were murdered – a rate of 10 per day. While the overall number for the year is lower than the 1,340 registered homicides that took place during the same time last, the number of deaths in April and May of 2019 have increased significantly.

April 2019 saw 78 more violent deaths over last April and in the first 8 days of May there were 113 violent deaths, 38 more than those that occurred in the same period of the previous year.  

Wednesday (8th) was an especially violent day with 25 murders taking place all over the country according to a report by Criterio. The deaths were registered in cities such as La Ceiba, Choluteca, Danlí, Lepaterique, Teupasenti, El Paraíso, San Pedro Sula and Santa Cruz de Yojoa.  

Just the day before on Tuesday at the Central American Security Conference 2019 run by the United States Southern Command, and including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico as observers, the head of the Armed Forces of Honduras René Orlando Fonseca had said that Honduras “lives in a climate of peace and security” and that “violence is sporadic.”

This year, 274 homicides were reported in January, 258 violent deaths in February, and in March there were 251 homicides, figures below those registered in 2018 during the same period.

Those three encouraging months of reduced homicides in the country were overshadowed, however, by the high incidence of deaths in April and the start of May.

Spokesman for the Secretariat of Security Jair Meza, a high ranking police official, attributed the increase in violent deaths to “gangs and gangs linking up to acquire territories for the sale of drugs in different neighbourhoods.” Meza argued that another factor causing the high incidence of homicides is extortion, mainly in the transportation sector.

According to Sepol (the Police Statistical System), last Wednesday the driver of a local bus was executed on the Boulevard del Norte, apparently because of extortion.

“We cannot place a policeman or military member on every bus,” says Meza.

Israeli and US Troops to Honduras

By Martin Mowforth

Key words: Honduras; foreign troops; Southcom; migration prevention; counter-terrorism; Olivia Zúñiga Cáceres; civil unrest.

1,000 Israeli troops to Honduras

In May this year a multilateral treaty between Honduras, Israel and the United States saw the deployment of 1,000 Israeli soldiers to Honduras to train the Armed Forces of Honduras and the National Police. The treaty was forged between Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during the inauguration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

The main mission of the troops is to train for border protection to prevent migrants fleeing Honduras to the USA, but they will also offer training in the fight against drug trafficking, investigation and counter-terrorism. (It may be a forlorn hope that they will unearth and expose the terrorism practised by the US forces in Honduras against so many Latin American nations.) The 1,000 troops will be stationed with the Joint Task Force of the US at the Soto Cano air base in Palmerola, the largest US military base in Latin America. 

The presence of Israeli soldiers is part of a bilateral cooperation agreed between the two countries and signed before Honduras transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Another agreement between the two countries (signed in 2016 and for a period of ten years) commits Honduras to purchasing a million dollars’ worth of arms and military equipment and the repowering of ships and planes.

Olivia Zúñiga Cáceres, a deputy from the Partido Libertad y Refundación (Liberty and Refoundation Party), explained that the 2009 post-coup government “began to make military agreements where the Honduran army would receive more training, and it is all paid for with the taxes of the Honduran people, so that all of the general budget that was destined for health, education and public services is reduced.”

Zúñiga Cáceres (who also happens to be one of the daughters of the assassinated leader of COPINH, Berta Cáceres) went on to describe the Israeli armed forces as: “specialists in genocide, specialists in torture, which they do against the Palestinian people.”

300 US troops to Honduras

Another Southern Command (Southcom) brigade of US Navy and Marine soldiers arrived in Honduras at the beginning of June to “improve disaster response and other crisis situations”.

As Popular Resistance.org writes, “Southcom has been a controversial actor in Latin American politics for many years since its founding as a force to defend US interests at the Panama Canal. The commander of Southcom, US Admiral Craig Faller, has intimated that the force could be re-oriented for intervention in Venezuela …”

It is interesting to note that this new deployment of forces coincides with widespread civil unrest in Honduras. The protests of health and education workers have grown into broader demonstrations against government corruption and neoliberal economic development policies such as privatisation and deregulation. It also coincides with US efforts to persuade northern triangle countries’ governments (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) to prevent the waves of migrants that have chosen over the last nine months to leave the failed state that is Honduras.


  • Telesur, 6 May 2019, ‘1,000 Israeli Soldiers To Arrive in Honduras to Train Troops, Police on Border Protection’
  • Popular Resistance.org, 22 May 2019, ‘”This Is A War Against The Honduran People”’
  • Criterio, 3 June 2019, ‘Masiva protesta de médicos y docentes pese a división orquestada por el gobierno’
  • Rights Action, 3 June 2019, ‘Honduran Presidents linked to drug-trafficking & money laundering since US & Canadian-backed coup ousted Honduras’ last democratic government’
  • Public Sector Finance, 7 June 2019, ‘Protests in Honduras continue over public sector reforms’
  • Telesurenglish.net, 8 June 2019, ‘300 US Southcom Troops Arrive in Honduras to Teach ‘Humanitarian Assistance’’
  • School of The Americas watch (SOAW), 12 June 2019, SOAW News

Honduras: Protests Intensify Against President Hernandez

Hondurans demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Oct. 19, 2019. | Photo: EFE

The following report comes from TeleSur:

Published 19 October 2019  Telesur

Hondurans called for the resignation of Juan Orlando Hernandez after a U.S. federal court convicted his brother of drug trafficking.

Hondurans on Friday took to the streets to demand the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez (JOH) after the New York Federal Court found his brother, Tony Hernandez, guilty on charges of drug trafficking, use of weapons and lying to authorities.

“We call on all our militancy to total, organized and permanent nationwide mobilization by performing peaceful but firm and forceful protests,” said former president Manuel Zelaya, who is the Freedom and Refoundation Party (Libre) coordinator.

Besides asking the United States to suspend all aid to the Hernandez administration, Zelaya asked to give the Honduran people a “democratic government” and fair laws.

During the trial of Tony Hernandez, the U.S. jury heard testimony from drug traffickers who claimed that politician JOH used their money to finance his campaigns on at least two occasions.

This alleged fact, which Hondurans had long been denouncing, triggered protests against a president who began his second presidential term on January 27, 2018 amid accusations of electoral fraud.

Honduras: having the background with shout ‘Out with JOH’, the night was spent with the Hondurans protesting against the narco-government and the tyrant JOH repressing the people. In Honduras, politics and drugs are the same thing.

After Zelaya’s call, protests began to spread throughout the country. On Friday afternoon, Hondurans blocked roads that led to cities such as Yarumela, La Ceiba, San Pedro Sula and Cortes.

The protests would gradually acquire more forceful expressions. On Friday night, access roads to the headquarters of the Honduran government were closed. Meanwhile, the number of burning barricades increased in the streets and highways.​​​​​​​

Former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla called for the installation of a transitional government, which would be chaired by him until the winner of the 2021 elections takes office.

The rejection of President JOH happened even in the least expected places and moments. During a sports program broadcasted on television, the host railed against Hernandez whom he described as a “drug trafficker”, emphasizing that the ruling National Party lawmakers are “cockroaches.”​​​​​​​

The Hernández Brothers – the narco-state of Honduras

The Violence of Development website has included numerous articles condemning the state of Honduras for the violence of its armed forces, its gangsterism and links with drug trafficking. Here on his ‘Two Worlds’ blog site, John Perry outlines the results of a recent court case in New York which confirms the Honduran government as a fully-fledged narco-state that uses gangster tactics to enforce its ‘policies’.

The article was originally posted inLondon Review of Books , plus comments.

The Two Worlds blog can be found at: https://twoworlds.me/  We are grateful to John Perry for permission to reproduce the article here.

Key words: Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH); Donald Trump; drug trafficking; drug cartels; electoral fraud

By John Perry

October 23, 2019

Court sketch of witnesses in the trial of Tony Hernández (The Limited Times)

Donald Trump said last year that migrant caravans, mainly of Hondurans, were coming to the US from ‘shithole countries’. But now he says that the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, is doing a ‘fantastic job’.

Trump and JOH recently reached an agreement declaring Honduras to be a ‘safe place’ for asylum seekers trying to reach the US. JOH also promised to help the US tackle transnational criminal organisations. He’s well placed to do this. Last November, his brother Tony was arrested in Miami and accused of drug trafficking and possessing illegal weapons. At his trial in New York, which concluded last week, the jury found Tony Hernández guilty. He faces at least 30 years in prison for bringing 200,000 kilos of cocaine into the US between 2004 and 2018, in packets often stamped with his own initials.

In an imprudent tweet two days before the verdict, the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa praised the Honduran government for joining the US in ‘the fight against drugs’. In August, however, JOH was accused of accepting $1.5 million in drug money for his 2013 re-election campaign.

One of the witnesses in the trial of Tony Hernández was Alexander Ardón, identified as a drug trafficker five years ago. He has confessed to involvement in 56 murders. He told the court in New York that the Mexican cartel boss ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, sent to prison for life by a US court in July, visited Honduras twice and paid JOH $1 million in protection money. Ardón said that he had himself paid $4 million in bribes to JOH and his predecessor, Porfirio Lobo. Lobo’s son was convicted of trafficking in the US last year and his wife has just been imprisoned for fraud.

In a separate case, JOH’s cousin was indicted for trafficking in the US in September. JOH responded on Twitter that those testifying against him are liars and ‘confessed murderers’.

The prosecution concluded that drug traffickers ‘infiltrated’ and ‘controlled’ the Honduran government.

A trafficker who gave evidence, Chang Monroy, was asked why he had previously lied about knowing Tony Hernández. ‘I was scared,’ he said, ‘because I’m like other drug traffickers that are violent, but no other drug trafficker has a brother that’s the president of a country that controls the police and the military.’

Witnesses alleged that Tony Hernández had arranged the murder of two of his rivals, in one case by a former death squad member who was later promoted to head of the Honduran police. A cartel that Hernández was linked to, Los Cachiros, has carried out at least 78 assassinations. The victims include three journalists.

The emergence of the narco-state of Honduras began with the military coup of June 2009. In elections contrived to validate the coup (and approved by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state), Lobo became president in 2010. JOH succeeded him in 2014. The constitution was changed in 2015 to allow a president to serve more than one term, and JOH stood again in 2017. The election was riddled with fraud, but Trump still congratulated him on ‘a close election result’.

Following Tony Hernández’s conviction in a US court, any previous US president would have distanced himself from JOH. Trump, however, is untroubled by criminal behaviour and his judgments are based on electoral calculation: is his base more worried about drugs coming into the US, or Central American migrants? With more than 240,000 Hondurans apprehended at the US border so far this year, Trump backs a foreign president who acts tough. He’ll ignore the poverty and violence that drive the migrants to leave their homes: instead, he’ll continue to support the policies that produce them.

Edwin Espinal, Political Prisoners, State-sponsored Drug Traffickers and Persecution in Honduras

By Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network

17 November, 2019

We are grateful to Karen Spring and the Honduras Solidarity Network for permission to include this article in The Violence of Development website. Karen is the partner of Edwin Espinal who was held in Honduran jails as a political prisoner. The article gives the reader an idea of how difficult life can be for human rights defenders in current-day Honduras.

Key words: Honduras; political prisoners; human rights defenders; criminalization of protest; state-sponsored drug trafficking; President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH).

It has been three months since Edwin Espinal was released from La Tolva prison. I haven’t written anything publicly due to being exhausted for, while Edwin was in prison, I felt like I ran a 1.5-year marathon with little time to sit down, reflect, and absorb what was going on around me.
Thank you to the people who have supported Edwin’s case, my human rights work in Honduras and this belated update from Honduras.

In the three months since his release, Edwin has been recovering, speaking to media, attending the legal hearings and meetings related to the cases of the other political prisoners, spending a lot of time with family, and planning our future.
Edwin continues to have a permanent, loud, ringing sound in his ear. We are told it is tinnitus but still feel we need to see another specialist that can run further tests. Edwin developed the problem in prison after complaining of an ear infection that was never treated. The ringing sound not only interrupts his sleep or other moments of rest or quiet, but also generates a lot of frustration and anger.
It reminds him of the whole experience in La Tolva, being denied medical treatment, the unjust way he was detained, and as he often says, “the way the government wanted to make me suffer.”
The mental health impact could possibly be worse than the actual physical problem. He frequently gets headaches that he says are linked to the noise in his ears and asks me sometimes to put my head up against his to see if I can hear the loud ringing in his ears. But it is internal and I hear nothing.
Every week, Edwin goes to the courthouse to sign a ledger that is supposed to show to the Honduran judiciary that he has not left the country and that he is still present to face the charges against him. His court date is set for May 14 and 15, 2020.
As for myself, I continue my work supporting the other political prisoner cases. Within the first 6 months following the 2017 electoral crisis, all were released except five including Edwin. Now, only one political prisoner remains in jail; over 170 people still face charges and are forced to sign regularly at courthouses around the country. I am also doing human rights work related to the criminalization of people awaiting trial. Some are being harassed continuously by Honduran military and police.

One young man who was arrested for participating in protests during the 2017 electoral crisis, and who spent four months in the maximum-security El Pozo prison, has been forced into hiding. Military soldiers and police – with their faces covered, carrying heavy weapons including illegal weapons like AK-47s – have shown up four times at his small house to either raid it, when he is not home, or just stand outside to intimidate him. He reports that a red Toyota pick-up truck with tinted windows and no license plate is frequently seen parked on his street. Out of fear, the young man has since fled his home.
Many people face this type of intimidation and are forced to hide, or move frequently. They fear they will be killed.
The Honduras Solidarity Network is assisting this gentleman and others to raise their profiles to deter the government from harassing them further and to make all the details of the harassment known publicly.

On November 11, Edwin, Raúl, members of the National Committee for the Freedom of Political Prisoners and myself, travelled to the city of El Progreso for political prisoner Gustavo Cáceres’ trial. It was suspended last week after two witnesses, called by the Honduran government, did not appear. As a defence strategy, Gustavo’s lawyers asked him to testify before the judges.
When Gustavo took the stand, the judges asked him to state his ID number, address, and birthdate. He shrugged and could not answer completely, due to his disability. Many people in the courtroom teared up as Gustavo attempted to give his version of the events related to his detention. He was arrested while crossing a bridge where a protest was taking place.
When stopped by the police, they put a black bag over his head (a method of torture used by the police to generate fear and attempt to elicit confessions) and took him to the police station. Gustavo told the court in an honest and sincere way, but in broken sentences, that he was close to the protest; he was trying to cross the blocked bridge to go to work. Meanwhile, the police officers that arrested him, contradicted each other, including testifying that Gustavo was arrested in two different places and based on different reasons.

Defamation campaign

In early October, I attended half of the trial of Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández (brother of President Hernández) in New York. I posted summaries of the trial on my blog aquiabajo.com so people could follow the case.

As a result of my attendance at the trial and being closely monitored by the Honduran government, another defamation campaign circulated against me on October 18, 2019, claiming that I was paying people $200 each to protest outside the New York trial and that I received funding from a convicted drug trafficker who is also in jail in the US.
These campaigns are dangerous and have become a common tactic of the Honduran government to try to discredit human rights defenders and create security problems for them. This is another reason that I have not written much as both Edwin and I are aware of the exceptionally difficult security situation that we are in in Honduras, particularly given the current political context.

State-sponsored drug trafficking

Since Tony Hernández was found guilty on 4 counts of drug and weapons smuggling and lying to federal authorities, the environment in Honduras has been eerie and dangerous.
As the Canadian and US government insist that the governments in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and now to a degree, Bolivia, are drug traffickers and dictators, it is outrageous to hear absolutely nothing from Canadian and US authorities regarding the drug conviction of Tony Hernández in New York and the role that President Juan Orlando Hernández continues to play in enabling and participating in drug trafficking.
Now, weeks after this conviction, military, police, and other government institutions are terrorizing the Honduran population so they do not protest.
One Honduran journalist has reported that since the conviction, 11 people linked to the President and the President’s brother’s drug cartel have been murdered, likely to stop them from testifying against them. Human rights and social movement leaders have been kidnapped and tortured, and in some cases, brutally killed. Their bodies are dumped off at the side of a road, which is a strategy to terrorize the population.
There have also been 51 massacres in different parts of the country so far this year and often involve individuals dressed in police or military uniforms getting out of unmarked vehicles, open firing at groups of young people in public areas, and then fleeing the scene. The massacres and lack of investigations into why and who committed them, send a cold chill through communities and the entire population in Honduras. However, smaller groups of people still take to the streets to protest this corruption when demonstrations are organised.
Hondurans are well aware that Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) is scared and feeling insecure about his control over the Presidential Palace because he has been exposed as a co-conspirator in the drug case against his brother. They believe that while JOH remains in power, it is less likely that the US will ask for his extradition. Hondurans also understand that JOH is not only protecting his political power as President but also his and his brother’s drug cartel interests. Evidence brought forward in the NY trial reveals that their involvement in drug trafficking has converted them into one of the major suppliers of cocaine to the US through the infamous and now-imprisoned Mexican drug trafficker, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman and the large, Mexican-based Sinaloa cartel. As one cooperating witness said in the New York trial when asked why he was scared to testify against Tony Hernández, “All drug traffickers are dangerous and violent, but none [as much as] the brother of the President of a country that can control the military and the police.”

Edwin and I await an end to this fearful time. We are deeply grateful for the support we continue to receive from our community of Simcoe County that advocates for his freedom, the freedom of all political prisoners, and for human rights in Honduras. Thank you!

Karen Spring
Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Honduras Solidarity Network


Former head of Honduran police charged in US with drug trafficking crimes

The spectacularly corrupt and violent situation in Honduras is US and Canadian policy at work, and the situation just got worse

The close links between the Government of Honduras and organised crime continue to feature significantly in The Violence of Development website. One remarkable fact about these links is that as the evidence mounts of their existence, the US and Canadian governments continue to support the Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández as “an ally in the war on drugs”. Despite his strong denials of links with drug trafficking and organised crime, the evidence piles up against Hernández.  

We are grateful to Rights Action and Karen Spring of Honduras Solidarity Network for permission to reproduce the following articles on this website.

Rights Action
May 4, 2020


US Justice Department Indicts Honduran Former National Police Chief (Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares) on Cocaine Trafficking Charges

US indictment of Juan Carlos ‘el tigre’ Bonilla Valladres is tip of impunity iceberg
by Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network, April 30, 2020

Today, the US Justice Department, Southern District of New York indicted Juan Carlos ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla Valladares on four counts of drug trafficking and related weapons charges. Bonilla Valladares is a former head of the Honduran National Police and a former Regional Police Chief of the western Department of Copán in Honduras.

According to the press statement announcing the indictment, “Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares allegedly abused his official position to protect cocaine shipments and murder a rival drug trafficker as part of a conspiracy involving high-ranking Honduran politicians and members of the Honduran National Police.”

The indictment makes direct reference to President Juan Orlando Hernández’s involvement in drug trafficking. It outlines how Bonilla Valladares worked in coordination and on behalf of Tony Hernández, the brother of current President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), and President JOH himself: “BONILLA VALLADARES corruptly exploited these official positions to facilitate cocaine trafficking, and used violence, including murder, to protect the particular cell of politically connected drug traffickers he aligned with, including [Juan Antonio “Tony”] Hernández Alvarado and at least one of Hernández Alvarado’s brothers, who is a former Honduran congressman and the current president of Honduras referred to in the Complaint charging BONILLA VALLADARES as “CC-4.”

Tip of Impunity Iceberg
For years, Bonilla has been the subject of controversy and faced public accusations of extrajudicial killings, torture, ties to drug cartels and organised criminal groups operating inside the National police, and corruption. His indictment for drug trafficking in the US is only the tip of the iceberg.

Previous accusations against Bonilla show how he and the Honduran police are deeply involved in organised crime; how mechanisms to stop violations of the Honduran police do not function as they should; how impunity has reigned for years; and how investigations against those intertwined with the powerful and large-scale drug traffickers in Honduras, never ever advance.

Death-Squad Killings of Young People
In 2013, the Centre for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) published an overview of news articles from the Associated Press, Insight Crime, US Government documents published by Wikileaks that describe Bonilla’s shady past.

All sources describe a 2002 investigation conducted by the former Chief of the Internal Affairs of the Honduran Police, María Luisa Borjas against Bonilla and other police officers, involved in “at least three killings or forced disappearances between 1998 and 2002.” Bonilla was accused of killing Honduran youth. In 2002, Bonilla was charged with murder but was either found not guilty two years later or prosecutor’s dropped the case before it went to trial.

Murdering Rival Drug Traffickers
One of the murders of a drug rival that Bonilla is allegedly tied to, was also discussed in Tony Hernández’s trial in New York in October 2019. The rival mentioned is Franklin Arita Mata, who was killed in July 2011 in an ambush of his bulletproof vehicle transporting the principal victim and three of his bodyguards.

The Honduran press reported on the 2011 incident writing that Mata’s car was attacked by unknown individuals travelling in two vehicles. Furthermore, in response to the murder, Bonilla, as the Regional Police Chief responsible for the jurisdiction where the incident took place, told the press that various police teams would be sent to investigate.

Involvement In a Police-led Organised Criminal Death Squad
In 2014, Honduran journalist David Romero read a testimony on Radio Globo of an unidentified police agent that had worked alongside Bonilla. The police agent turned whistleblower outlined several crimes including torture, rape, and death squad killings involving Bonilla and several members of the Honduran police. The testimonies gave a lot of detail about specific murders committed by police-led organised criminal death squads that Bonilla was involved in.

In one of the many cases that the testimony outlined, was the rape of a young woman in the northern city of Choloma. In order to force the young woman’s mother to help the police death squad locate ‘Amilcar El Renco’, the woman was kidnapped, taken to an unmarked ‘security’ house, and raped.

The agent’s testimony identifies the police agents involved in the incident, including  ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla, Egberto Arias Aguilar (former Police Commissioner, current location and position unknown), Eduardo Antonio Turcios Andrade (named in 2019 as head of the newly created Transportation Security Force (FUSET)), and Victor López Flores (former Police Commissioner who pleaded guilty in US courts for drug trafficking in 2017). The agent also stated that the police-led organised criminal death squad had support from the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation (DNIC) and an Analysis section of the National Police.

Honduran media would later report that Cristian Amilcar Sierra, also known as ‘El Renco’, who the police death squads were looking for in 2014, would be murdered in his home in Choloma in 2015 for allegedly being involved in the criminal activities of the gang ‘El banda de el Negro’. ‘El Negro’ is likely Carlos Arnoldo ‘El Negro’ Lobo who was extradited to the US, worked with the Los Cachiros and the Sinaloa drug cartel, and was later convicted in the US for large-scale drug trafficking.


Former police chief of Honduras accused of trafficking drugs to US on behalf of Honduran president
By Jeff Ernst, 30 April 2020

US federal prosecutors have accused the former national police chief of Honduras of trafficking tonnes of cocaine to the US on behalf of the country’s president, Juan Orlando Hernández, and his brother, who was convicted of similar charges in October.

Hernández was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of his brother Juan Antonio ‘Tony’ Hernández, but the US has continued to call him an ally in its ‘war on drugs’.

According to the complaint filed on Thursday by the Southern District of New York, the former police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla “participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy.”

Prosecutors also allege that Bonilla was entrusted with “special assignments, including murder” by President Hernández – who is identified as a co-conspirator – and his brother, Tony.

Bonilla, an imposing figure known as El Tigre (the Tiger), was appointed as national police chief in May 2012 at a time when Honduras had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In the role, Bonilla collaborated with US counter-narcotics forces operating in Honduras and helped to create a special unit of the police that works with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), leading to the indictment of numerous high-profile drug traffickers including the president’s brother.

Bonilla, who was also identified as an alleged co-conspirator of Tony Hernández last year, has repeatedly cited his relationship with the DEA as evidence of his innocence.

The US pushed for his removal from the police job in 2013 owing to persistent allegations of violence, including that Bonilla had participated in death squads targeting suspected gang members.

Bonilla was previously the regional police chief of the Copán department on the border with Guatemala, one of the most crucial points on the drug trafficking route. During that time, prosecutors allege, he orchestrated the murder of a rival drug trafficker who was threatening a route controlled by Tony Hernández and an associate.

Bonilla has denied all allegations, telling a local news station on Thursday: “I am not a villain. I am a former officer of the national police with the rank of general who served my country and served society.”

It is unclear if the US has formally requested Bonilla’s extradition. If so, the president would be faced with a dilemma of whether to order the capture of a person who could some day testify against him in court. Experts believe Bonilla is likely to follow the example of others who have been indicted on drug trafficking charges and turn himself in to the DEA.

US prosecutors allege that President Hernández received millions in bribes from drug traffickers including Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, the notorious former leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel. The president has vigorously denied all allegations of ties to drug traffickers, referring to them as “fairytales”.
*** / ***

More information: Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Networ:k Spring.kj@gmail.comwww.hondurassolidarity.org


Rights Action:


The challenges facing the new Honduran government

June 28, 2022

June 28th passed this year (2022) as the 13th anniversary of a 2009 coup d’état that drastically changed Honduras into a country run by and for organised crime with the approval and active support of the US and Canadian governments. The Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN) – www.hondurassolidarity.org/ – outlines some of the background below. We are grateful to Karen Spring of the HSN for her work gathering and providing information about happenings and developments in the country.

The US supported and benefitted from the years of aggressive and violent neoliberalism that would increase the extractive economy based on mining and hydroelectric projects, further land grabbing by agribusiness companies and oligarchs, and ensure subservience to US foreign policy and wars. This led to the near-collapse of the privatized and plundered public education and public health systems, murders by death-squad groups and security forces of activists across the country, and a terrible increase in poverty, crime and general violence. The eight years (2014-2022) of the narco-dictator Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) were also marked by the forced displacement of millions of Hondurans internally and hundreds of thousands forced to leave Honduras altogether.

The election in November 2021 and inauguration in January 2022 of President Xiomara Castro of the Liberty and Refoundation (LIBRE) Party in coalition with smaller opposition parties is the victory of 13 years of resistance by the Honduran people.

During the first five months of the new government, many important promises have been kept and progress made, but the obstacles to reforms – let alone deeper changes – are enormous. The narco-dictatorship’s economic and political structures are deeply entrenched, including having representation in Congress and among the government civil service employees. The judges at all levels of the court system are still those appointed by Juan Orlando Hernández. Xiomara Castro inherited a country that is nearly bankrupt and in debt, facing forces that oppose change.

The United States and Canadian governments and international financial institutions are among the forces against ‘too much’ change. The US seems to have realised that the JOH narco-dictatorship had become too exposed and untenable and that the opposition to JOH in Honduras had grown too broad to directly challenge. It recognised that Xiomara Castro won the election and sent Vice President Kamala Harris to the inauguration. From day one, it has also pressured the new government to limit its independence from US international interests and even to limit its plan to dismantle the neoliberal and extractive economic model.

The Honduran social movements: the organisations of the Indigenous and Black peoples, small farmers, workers, women, and students, are supporting their new government while continuing to fight for their proposals and the promise of refoundation in Honduras. As international solidarity and human rights organisations in the US and Canada, we continue to stand with the social movements. We continue to tell our governments and corporations to stop interfering, to stop using money and a military presence to control and limit Honduras’ progress in undoing the damage of the past 13 years.

The HSN is working on a campaign to support debt relief for Honduras that is urgently needed for the project of rebuilding and refounding the country after 13 years of disaster. It also supports the ‘Justice for Berta’ campaign led by COPINH, which is fighting to ensure that all those involved in her assassination are brought to justice. To sign up for the HSN’s  informational list serve, email: honsolnetwork@gmail.com

International Commission Against Impunity to Be Installed in Honduras

The following news item from Telesur may be short but is potentially highly significant for the development of Honduras and for the country’s ability to move out of the culture of corruption and state violence that has been the hallmark of the Honduran government since 2009 when a US-backed government of organised crime took over the running of the country.

Keywords: Honduras; corruption; narco-trafficking; MACCIH; CICIH.

By Telesur, 26 February 2022


The predecessor of the CICIH [known as MACCIH, Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras] was expelled by the Hernández regime when the regime was  exposed and investigated.

The United Nations confirmed President Xiomara Castro’s request to install the International Commission against Impunity (CICIH) in the framework of the fight against corruption.

The process will take a period of time that the UN has not yet stipulated, but they did offer a positive response to the request.

The 12-year management of the national party will be reviewed and exposed by this commission; which seeks to bring the corrupt to justice.

The predecessor of the CICIH was expelled by the Juan Orlando Hernández regime when the corruption was exposed and investigated.

This is the second attempt by the Honduran people to get high profile dishonest people jailed.


End of a Narcostate?

By John Perry

LRB Blog, 26th November 2021

We are grateful to John Perry for permission to reproduce his 26th November blog for the London Review of Books. John lives in Masaya, Nicaragua and several of his writings can be found in The Violence of Development website. The London Review of Books (LRB) is a British literary magazine published twice a month. Its blog feature can be found at: https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/

Joe Biden has a Central America problem. Countries that turned reliably neoliberal after the ‘small wars’ of the 1980s have become unwieldy again. After sixteen years of neoliberalism, Nicaraguans returned Daniel Ortega to power in 2007 and re-elected him this month in a vote which Biden dismissed as a ‘pantomime’. In El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, elected in 2019 with Trump’s blessing, has been described as a ‘narcissistic dictator’ by a senior Democrat because of his growing authoritarianism, secret deals with violent gangs, making bitcoin legal tender and fostering links with China. Riding high in opinion polls, he now calls himself ‘the world’s coolest dictator’.

In Honduras, Biden’s problems stem from the period when he was vice-president and the mildly reforming President Zelaya was ousted in a military coup. Neoliberal government was restored, but the corruption and drug-trafficking created a narcostate, led since 2014 by Trump’s confidant Juan Orlando Hernández. When Hondurans voted to end JOH’s mandate in 2017, the US ensured that a rigged result kept him in power.

JOH is finally standing down as Hondurans go the polls again on Sunday. His security in retirement depends on the National Party retaining control so he can avoid extradition to the United States, where his brother has been condemned to life imprisonment for drug-trafficking. The party’s candidate, Nasry ‘Tito’ Asfura, currently the mayor of Tegucigalpa, is under investigation for the alleged embezzlement of $1 million. He is likely to protect JOH if he wins.

He may well lose, however. Until last month, the National Party’s core vote of about 20 per cent looked sufficient to give Tito victory, but two opposition parties have since united. Salvador Nasralla, who should have won the last election, gave way to Xiomara Castro and the last poll put the new alliance on 38 per cent.

Biden would ideally prefer a result that curbs the narcostate, but he’s unlikely to want that to come from a Castro victory. The co-ordinator of her Libre party is her husband, Mel Zelaya, the victim of the 2009 coup. Castro has carefully avoided any impression of radicalism, but while she appears to have won trust among the electorate she is unlikely to have won Biden’s. In a move suggesting heightened US concern, it nominated a full ambassador to Honduras after five years without one.

The election period has already been marked by violence, with the deaths of around thirty congressional or local candidates, mainly from opposition parties. The perpetrators are unlikely to face the law. In the case of Honduras’s most notorious political murder, the killing of Berta Cáceres in 2016, only one of those who commissioned the crime has been convicted and he has still not been sentenced. Cáceres’s daughter Olivia Zúniga, a Libre congresswoman standing in the election, was almost murdered in October when four men broke into her house and tried to strangle her. Fewer than 3 per cent of Hondurans are said to recognise the country as a ‘full democracy’.

Hundreds of fake Twitter accounts have spread authentic-looking lies about Castro; fake opinion polls appear alongside real ones; 300,000 voters still don’t have the identity cards they will need at polling stations; police seized a ‘Molotov cocktail’ factory run by gangs planning to disrupt the voting; a shoot-out during a Liberal Party rally left at least one person dead; a presidential candidate hostile to JOH was arrested along with his wife and mother-in-law; Asfura received a ‘climate positive’ award at COP26 in Glasgow despite being closely associated with deforestation and attacks on environmentalists.

In the year since Biden was elected president, the number of people apprehended at the Mexican border has reached a record high of 1.7 million. A fifth of them came from Honduras. The narcostate is also a failed state. It failed to deal with the pandemic and has Central America’s highest Covid death rate. It failed to respond to two major hurricanes last year, with many people still left homeless. Seven in ten households live in poverty despite $20 billion supposedly being devoted to tackling the problem since the last election (after publishing the poverty figures, the national statistics institute hurriedly deleted them).

Even conservative media in Honduras are now proclaiming Castro’s likely victory, but many people still expect another rigged election. That could lead to massive demonstrations which, as in 2017 when at least 24 people died, would be violently repressed. Biden would have a compliant partner in Asfura but he would still be running a narcostate. And many more Hondurans would head for the Rio Grande.


27 November 2021 at 12:42pm

Delaide says:

The Cold War is over, why would Biden be so keen to keep Honduras ‘compliant’? Especially so when poor governance by the party in power has created such problems for him at the border, not to mention the narcotics.

27 November 2021 at 1:08pm

John Perry says: @ Delaide

Just because US policy makes no sense, that’s no guarantee they won’t pursue it, unfortunately. They are sanctioning the country in the region most committed to social development (Nicaragua), regardless of the likely consequences for migration northwards.

Note: Although at the time of writing not all the results of the Honduran election are in, it appears that Xiomara Castro of the Libre Party had defeated Nasry Asfura of the National Party by a relatively wide margin. It seems unlikely that the National Party will be able to steal the election fraudulently as it did in 2017.


US Intervention and Capitalism Have Created a Monster in Honduras

By W. T. WHITNEY In CounterPunch, 13 October 2021

We are grateful to CounterPunch for permission to include the following article by W.T Whitney in The Violence of Development website. A link to the original article in CounterPunch is given here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/10/13/us-intervention-and-capitalism-have-created-a-monster-in-honduras/

Photograph Source: Fibonacci Blue – CC BY 2.0

Chilean author and human rights advocate Ariel Dorfman recently memorialized Orlando Letelier, President Allende’s foreign minister. Agents of dictator Augusto Pinochet murdered Letelier in Washington in 1976. Dorfman noted that Chile and the United States were “on excellent, indeed obscenely excellent, terms (like they are today, shamefully, between the United States and the corrupt regime in Honduras).”

The Honduran government headed by president Juan Orlando Hernández does have excellent relations with the United States. The alliance is toxic, however, what with the continued hold of capitalism on an already unjust, dysfunctional society. Hondurans will choose a new president on November 28 [2021].

Honduras, a dependent nation, is subject to U.S. expectations. These centre on free rein for businesses and multi-national corporations, large foreign investment, low-cost export goods, low wages, foreigners’ access to land holdings and sub-soil resources, and a weakened popular resistance.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government casts a blind eye on Hernández’s many failings. These include: fraud and violence marking his second-term electoral victory in 2017, an illegal second term but for an improvised constitutional amendment, testimony in a U.S. court naming him as “a key player in Honduras’ drug-trafficking industry” and, lastly, his designation by U.S.  prosecutors as a “co-conspirator” in the trial convicting his brother Tony on drug-trafficking charges.

Some 200 U.S. companies operate in Honduras. The United States accounted for 53% of Honduras’s $7.8 billion export total in 2019. U.S goods, led by petroleum products, made up 42.2 % of Honduran imports.

Honduras’s Economic Development and Employment Zones (ZEDE) reflect planners’ exuberant imagination. They envision privately owned and operated “autonomous cities and special investment districts” attracting foreign investment and welcoming tourist and real estate ventures, industrial parks, commercial and financial services, and mining and forestry activities.

Banks and corporations active in the ZEDEs will appoint administrative officers, mostly from abroad and many from the United States. They, not Honduras’s government, will devise regulations and arrangements for taxation, courts, policing, education and healthcare for residents.

The first ZEDEs are taking shape now. The idea for them cropped up following the military coup in 2009 that removed president Manuel Zelaya’s progressive government. Hernández, as congressional leader and as president from 2014 on, led in promoting them. Honduras’s Congress in 2013 amended the Constitution to legitimize legislation establishing the ZEDEs. The recent end of litigation before the Supreme Court resulted in their final authorization.

For most Hondurans, who are treated as if they were disposable, capitalism has its downside. Honduras’s poverty rate is 70%, up from 59.3% in 2019. Of formally employed workers, 70% work intermittently; 82.6% of Honduran workers participate in the informal sector. The Covid-19 pandemic led to more than 50,000 businesses closing and almost half a million Hondurans losing their jobs. Some 30,000 small businesses disappeared in 2020 owing to floods caused by hurricanes.

Violence at the hands of criminal gangs, narco-traffickers, and the police is pervasive and usually goes unpunished. Victims are rival gang members, political activists, journalists, members of the LGBT community, and miscellaneous young people.  According to insightcrime.org, Honduras was Latin America’s third most violent country in 2019 and a year later it registered the region’s third highest murder rate. Says Reuters: “Honduras has become a sophisticated state-sponsored narco-empire servicing Colombian cartels.”

Associated with indiscriminate violence, corruption, and narco-trafficking, Honduras’s police are dangerous. President Hernández eight years ago created “The Military Police for Public Order” (PMOP), the Interinstitutional National Security Force, and the “Tigres” (Tigers). These are police units staffed either by former soldiers or by “soldiers … specializing in police duties.” Police in Honduras numbered 13,752 in 2016 and 20,193 in 2020.

Honduras’s military has grown. Defense spending for 2019 grew by 5.3 %; troop numbers almost doubled. For Hernández, according to one commentator, “militarism has been his right arm for continuing at the head of the executive branch.”  The military forces, like the police, are corrupt, traffic illicit drugs, and are “detrimental” to human rights. The looming presence of security forces is intimidating as they interfere, often brutally, with voting, protest demonstrations, and strikes.

According to Amnesty International, “The government of … Hernández has adopted a policy of repression against those who protest in the streets … The use of military forces to control demonstrations across the country has had a deeply concerning toll on human rights.”

The U.S. government has provided training, supplies, and funding for Honduras’s police and military. Soto Cano, a large U.S. air base in eastern Honduras, periodically receives from 500 to 1500 troops who undertake short-term missions throughout the region, supposedly for humanitarian or drug-war purposes.

Not only does serious oppression exist, but, according to Reuters, severe drought over five years has decimated staple crops [and] … Nearly half a million Hondurans, many of them small farmers, are struggling to put food on the table.” The UN humanitarian affairs agency OCHA reports that as of February 2021, “The severity of acute food insecurity in Honduras has reached unprecedented levels.”

For the sake of survival, many Hondurans follow the path of family and friends: they leave. Among Central American countries, Honduras, followed by Guatemala and Mexico, registered the highest rate of emigration to wherever between 1990 and 2020. The rate increases were: 530%, 293%, and 154%, respectively. Between 2012 and 2019, family groups arriving from Honduras and apprehended at the U.S. border skyrocketed from 513 in 2012 to 188,368 in 2019.

The undoing of Honduras by U.S. imperialism follows a grim pattern, but is also a special case.  Rates of migration from Central American countries to the United States correlate directly with levels of oppression and deprivation in those countries. As regards hope, the correlation is reversed.

Differing rates of apprehension of Honduran and Nicaraguan migrants at the U.S. southern border are revealing. Capitalist-imbued Honduras specializes in oppression, while optimism is no stranger in a Nicaragua aspiring to socialism.

Department of Homeland Security figures show that between 2015 and 2018 the yearly average number of Nicaraguans apprehended at the border was 2292. The comparable figure for Hondurans was 63,741. Recently the number of Nicaraguan migrants has increased; 14,248 presented themselves at the border in 2019 – as did 268,992 Honduran refugees.

Recent reflections of Carlos Fonseca Terán, the FSLN international secretary, show why hope has persisted in Nicaragua. He points out that, since 2007, poverty, inequality, illiteracy, infant mortality, and murders have dropped precipitously. Citizens’ safety, electrification, renewable energy sources, women in government, healthcare funding, and the minimum wage have increased, markedly. Fonseca adds that the “percentage of GDP produced … under associative, cooperative, family and community ownership went from less than 40% to more than 50%.”

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

Note: Although at the time of writing not all the results of the Honduran election are in, it appears that Xiomara Castro of the Libre Party had defeated Nasry Asfura of the National Party by a relatively wide margin. It seems unlikely that the National Party will be able to steal the election fraudulently as it did in 2017.

Edwin Espinal and Raúl Álvarez, Honduran political prisoners – all charges dropped

In December 2019 we included in this section of The Violence of Development website a Honduras Solidarity Network article about Honduran political prisoner Edwin Espinal. Here we are pleased to include, almost two years later, the news that the charges against Edwin and co-defendant Raúl Álvarez have been dropped. Rights Action gives a brief account below along with links elsewhere for more details.

Edwin Espinal, left, and co-accused Raul Alvarez, outside a Honduran courthouse, Sept.17, just after all the politically motivated charges (related to their democracy and human rights activism in Honduras) were dropped. Photo: Karen Spring.

More details of the case and the struggle for justice are found in the CBC news report (21 September 2021 – link given here:


Pending formalisation of ruling

Edwin and Raúl have to wait a bit longer for the ruling to be formally published, and the appeal period to expire. It was, however, a clear and fast ruling from the court. It is widely suspected the ruling will be legally ratified, and the decision will not be appealed by the corrupt, military-backed Honduran regime.

THANK-YOU to all Rights Action supporters who helped us support this very difficult struggle that began with Edwin’s illegal detention on January 18, 2018.

The almost 4 years struggle was led by Karen Spring, Edwin’s partner in Honduras, and by Janet Spring, Edwin’s mother-in-law in Elmvale Ontario.

Karen Spring (in Honduras)

Janet Spring (in Canada)




Also refer to the December 2019 article in this section of The Violence of Development website.

The Evolution of US-Backed Death Squads in Honduras: The Pathology of U.S. Foreign Policy

by T.J. Coles, Counterpunch

20 December 2020

theviolenceofdevelopment.com is grateful to Tim Coles for permission to reproduce his Counterpunch article here. It is a slightly longer article than our website usually includes, but is well worth the read. The original article can be found at: https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/20/the-evolution-of-u-s-backed-death-squads-in-honduras/

Photo Source Capt. Thomas Cieslak – CC BY 2.0

U.S. intelligence agencies and corporations have pushed back against the so-called Pink Tide, the coming to power of socialistic governments in Central and South America. Examples include: the slow-burning attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s President, Nicolás Maduro; the initially successful soft coup in Bolivia against President Evo Morales; and the constitutional crises that removed Presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil.

In 2009, the Obama administration (2009-17) backed a coup against President Manuel Zelaya. Since then, Honduras has endured a decline in its living standards and democratic institutions. The return of 1980s-style death squads operating against working people in the interests of US corporations has contributed to the refugee-migrant flow to the United States and to the rise of racist politics.


Honduras (pop. 9.5 million) is surrounded by Guatemala and Belize in the north, El Salvador in the west, and Nicaragua in the south. It has a small western coast on the Pacific Ocean and an extensive coastline on the Caribbean Sea in the Atlantic. Nine out of 10 Hondurans are Indo-European (mestizo). GDP is <$25bn and over 60 percent of the people live in poverty: one in five in extreme poverty.

Honduras gained independence from Spain in 1821, before being annexed to the Mexican Empire. Hondurans have endured some 300 rebellions, civil wars, and/or changes of government; more than half of which occurred in the 20th century. Writing in 1998, the Clinton White House acknowledged that Honduras’s “agriculturally based economy came to be dominated by US companies that established vast banana plantations along the north coast.”

The significant US military presence began in the 1930s, with the establishment of an air force and military assistance programme. The Clinton White House also noted that the founder of the National Party, Tiburcio Carías Andino (1876-1969), had “ties to dictators in neighbouring countries and to US banana companies [which] helped him maintain power until 1948.”

The CIA notes that dictator Carías’s repression of Liberals would make those Liberals “turn to conspiracy and [provoke] attempts to foment revolution, which would render them much more susceptible to Communist infiltration and control.” The Agency said that in so-called emerging democracies: “The opportunities for Communist penetration of a repressed and conspiratorial organisation are much greater than in a freely functioning political party.” So, for certain CIA analysts, ‘liberal democracy’ is a buffer against dictatorships that legitimize genuinely left-wing oppositional groups. The CIA cites the case of Guatemala in which “a strong dictatorship prior to 1944 did not prevent Communist activity which led after the dictator’s fall, to the establishment of a pro-Communist government.”


To understand the thinking behind the US-backed death squads, it is worth looking at some partly-declassified CIA material on early-Cold War planning. The paranoia was such that each plantation labourer was potentially a Soviet asset hiding in the fruit field. These subversives could be ready, at any moment, to strike against US companies and the nascent American Empire.

In line with some strategists’ conditional preferences for ‘liberal democracies’, Honduras has the façade of voter choice, with two main parties controlled by the military. After the Second World War, US policy exploited Honduras as a giant military base from which left-wing or suspected ‘communist’ movements in neighbouring countries could be countered. In 1954, for instance, Honduras was used as a base for the CIA’s operation PBSuccess to overthrow Guatemala’s President, Jacobo Árbenz (1913-71).

Writing in 1954, the CIA said that the Liberal Party of Honduras “has the support of the majority of the Honduran voters. Much of its support comes from the lower classes.” The Agency also believed that the banned Communist Party of Honduras planned to infiltrate the Liberals to nudge them further left. But an Agency document notes that “there may be fewer than 100” militant Communists in Honduras and there were “perhaps another 300 sympathizers.”

The document also notes: “The organisation of a Honduran Communist Party has never been conclusively established,” though the CIA thought that the small Revolutionary Democratic Party of Honduras “might have been a front.” The Agency also believed that Communists were behind the Workers’ Coordinating Committee that led strikes of 40,000 labourers against the US-owned United Fruit and Standard Fruit Companies, which the Agency acknowledges “dominate[d] the economy of the region.” In the same breath, the CIA also says that the Communists “lost control of the workers,” post-strike.


A US military report states that “[c]onducting joint exercises with the Honduran military has a long history dating back to 1965.” By 1975, US military helicopters operating in Honduras at Catacamas, a village in the east, assisted “logistical support of counterinsurgency operations,” according to the CIA. These machines aided the Honduran forces in their skirmishes against pro-Castro elements from Nicaragua operating along the Patuca River in the south of Honduras. By the mid-1990s, there were at least 30 helicopters operating in Honduras.

In 1979, the National Sandinista Liberation Front (Sandinistas) came to power in Nicaragua, deposing and later assassinating the US-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle (1925-80). For the Reagan administration (1981-89), Honduras was a proxy against the defiant Nicaragua.

The US Army War College wrote at the time: “President Reagan has clearly expressed our national commitment to combating low intensity conflict in developing countries.” It says that “The responsibility now falls upon the Department of State and the Department of Defense to develop plans and doctrine for meeting this requirement.” The same document confirms that the US Army Special Operations Forces (SOF), the 18th Airborne Corps, was sent to Honduras. “Mobile Training Teams (MTT) were dispatched to train Honduran soldiers in small unit tactics, helicopter maintenance and air operations, and to establish the Regional Military Training Center near Trujillo and Puerto Castilla,” both on the eastern coast.

A SOUTHCOM document dates significant US military assistance to Honduras to the 1980s. It notes the effect of public pressure on US policy, highlighting: “a general lack of appetite among the American public to see US forces committed in the wake of the Vietnam War [which] resulted in strict parameters that limited the scope of military involvement in Central America.”

According to SOUTHCOM, the Regional Military Training Centre was designed “to train friendly countries in basic counterinsurgency tactics.” President Reagan wanted to smash the Sandinistas, but “the executive branch’s hands were tied by the 1984 passage of the Boland Amendment [to the Defense Appropriations Act], banning the use of US military aid to be given to the Contras,” the anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua. As a result, “the strong and sudden focus instead on training, and arguably by proxy, the establishment of [Joint Task Force-Bravo],” an elite military unit assigned a “counter-communist mission.”

The Green Berets trained the contras from bases in Honduras, “accompanying them on missions into Nicaragua.” The North American Congress on Latin America noted at the time that “Military planes flying out of Honduras are coordinated by a laser navigation system, and contras operating inside Nicaragua are receiving night supply drops from C-130s using the Low Altitude Parachute Extraction System,” first used in Vietnam and operational only to a few personnel. “The CIA, operating out of Air Force bases in the United States, hires pilots for the hazardous sorties at $30,000 per mission.” The report notes that troops from El Salvador “were undergoing US training every day of the year, in Honduras, the United States and the new basic training centre at La Union,” in the north.


The US also launched psychological operations against domestic leftism in Honduras. This involved morphing a special police unit into a military intelligence squad guilty of kidnap, torture, and murder: Battalion 316. Inducing a climate of fear in workers, union leaders, intellectuals, and human rights lawyers is a way of ensuring that progressive ideas like good healthcare, free education, and decent living standards don’t take root.

In 1963, the Fuerza de Seguridad Pública (FUSEP, Public Security Force) was set up as a branch of the military. During the early 1980s, FUSEP commanded the National Directorate of Investigations, regular national police units, and National Special Units, “which provided technical support to the arms interdiction programme,” according to the CIA, in which “material from Nicaragua passed through Honduras to guerrillas in El Salvador.” The National Directorate of Investigations ran the secret Honduran Anti-Communist Liberation Army (ELACH, 1980-84), described by the CIA as “a rightist paramilitary organisation which conducted operations against Honduran leftists.”

The CIA repeats allegations that “ELACH’s operations included surveillance, kidnappings, interrogation under duress, and execution of prisoners who were Honduran revolutionaries.” ELACH worked in cooperation with the Special Unit of FUSEP. “The mission of the Unit was essentially … to combat both domestic and regional subversive movements operating in and through Honduras.” The CIA also notes that “this included penetrating various organisations such as the Honduran Communist Party, the Central American Regional Trotskyite Party, and the Popular Revolutionary Forces-Lorenzo Zelaya (FPR-LZ) Marxist terrorist organisation.”

Gustavo Adolfo Álvarez (1937-89), future head of the Honduran Armed Forces, told US President Jimmy Carter’s Honduras Ambassador, Jack Binns, that their forces would use “extra-legal means” to destroy communists. Binns wrote in a confidential cable: “I am deeply concerned at increasing evidence of officially sponsored/sanctioned assassinations of political and criminal targets, which clearly indicate [Government of Honduras] repression has built up a head of steam much faster than we had anticipated.” But US doctrine shifted under President Reagan. Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, Thomas O. Enders, told Binns not to send such material to the State Department for fear of leakage. Enders himself said of human rights in Honduras: “the Reagan administration had broader interests.”

Under Reagan, John Negroponte replaced Binns at the US Embassy in the capital Tegucigalpa, from where many CIA agents operated. In 1981, secret briefings informed Negroponte that “[Government of Honduras] security forces have begun to resort to extralegal tactics — disappearances and, apparently, physical eliminations to control a perceived subversive threat.” Rick Chidster, a junior political officer at the US Embassy was ordered by superiors in 1982 to remove references to Honduran military abuses from his annual human rights report prepared for Congress.


In March 1981, Reagan authorised the expansion of covert operations to “provide all forms of training, equipment, and related assistance to cooperating governments throughout Central America in order to counter foreign-sponsored subversion and terrorism.” Documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun reveal that from 1981, the US provided funds for Argentine counterinsurgency experts to train anti-Communists in Honduras; many of whom had, themselves, been trained by the US in earlier years. At a camp in Lepaterique, in western Honduras, Argentine killers under US supervision trained their Honduran counterparts.

Oscar Álvarez, a former Honduran Special Forces officer and diplomat trained by the US, said: “The Argentines came in first, and they taught how to disappear people.” With training and equipment, such as hidden cameras and phone bugging technology, US agents “made them more efficient.” The US-trained Chief of Staff, Gen. José Bueso Rosa, says: “We were not specialists in intelligence, in gathering information, so the United States offered to help us organise a special unit.” Between 1982 and 1984, the aforementioned Gen. Álvarez headed the Armed Forces. In 1983, Reagan awarded him the Legion of Merit for “encouraging the success of democratic processes in Honduras.” When CIA Station Chief, Donald Winters adopted a child, he asked Álvarez to be the godfather.

After WWII, the US Army established in the Panama Canal Zone a Latin American Training Centre – Ground Division at Fort Amador, later renamed the US Army School of the Americas and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia. Now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, the CIA’s Phoenix Programme in Vietnam and its MK-ULTRA mind-torture programmes influenced the Honduras curriculum at the School.

In 1983, the US military participated in a Strategic Military Seminar with the Honduran Armed Forces, at which it was decided that FUSEP would be transformed from a police force into a military intelligence unit. “The purpose of this change,” says the CIA, “was to improve coordination and improve control.” It also aimed “To make available greater personnel, resources, and to integrate the intel production.” In 1984, the Special Unit was placed under the command of the Military Intelligence Division and renamed the 316th Battalion, at which point “it continued to provide technical support to the arms interdiction programme” in neighbouring countries.

A CIA officer based in the US Embassy is known to have visited the Military Industries jail: one of Battalion 316’s torture chambers in which victims were bound, beaten, electrocuted, raped, and poisoned. Battalion torturer, José Barrera, says: “They always asked to be killed … Torture is worse than death.” Battalion 316 officer, José Valle, explained surveillance methods: “We would follow a person for four to six days. See their daily routes from the moment they leave the house. What kind of transportation they use. The streets they go on.” Men in black ski masks would bundle the victim into a vehicle with dark-tinted windows and no license plates.

Under Lt. Col. Alonso Villeda, the Battalion was disbanded and replaced in 1987 with a Counterintelligence Division of the Honduran Armed Forces. Led by the Chief of Staff for Intelligence (C-2), it absorbed the Battalion’s personnel, units, analysis centres, and functions.

In 1988, Richard Stolz, then US Deputy Director for Operations, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in secret hearings that CIA officers ran courses and taught psychological torture. “The course consisted of three weeks of classroom instruction followed by two weeks of practical exercises, which included the questioning of actual prisoners by the students.” Former Ambassador Binns says: “I think it is an example of the pathology of foreign policy.” In response to the allegations, which he denied, former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Elliott Abrams, replied: “A human rights policy is not supposed to make you feel good.”

Between 1982 and 1993, the US taxpayer gave half a billion dollars in military “aid” to Honduras. By 1990, 184 people had “disappeared,” according to President Manuel Zelaya, who in 2008 intimated that he would reopen cases of the disappeared.


After centuries of struggle, Hondurans elected a President who raised living standards through wealth redistribution. Winner of the 2005 Presidential elections, Manuel Zelaya of the Liberal Party’s Movimiento Esperanza Liberal faction increased the minimum wage, provided free education to children, subsidised small farmers, and provided free electricity to the country’s poorest. Zelaya countered media monopoly propaganda by imposing minimum airtime for government broadcasts and allied with America’s regional enemies via the proposed ALBA trading bloc.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported at the time that “analysts” reckoned Zelaya’s move “runs the risk of jeopardizing the traditionally close state of relations with the United States.” The CRS also bemoaned Zelaya delaying the accreditation of the US Ambassador, Hugo Llorens, “to show solidarity with Bolivia in its diplomatic spat with the United States in which Bolivia expelled the US Ambassador.”

Because Zeyala did not have enough Congressional representatives to agree to his plan, he attempted to expand democracy by holding a referendum on constitutional changes. Both the lower and Supreme Courts agreed to the opposition parties blocking the referendum. In defiance of the courts, Zelaya ordered the military to help with election logistics, an order refused by the head of the Armed Forces, Gen. Romeo Vásquez, who later claimed that Zelaya had dismissed him, which Zelaya denies. Using pro-Zelaya demonstrations as a pretext for taking to the streets, the military mobilized and, in June 2009, the Supreme Court authorised Zelaya’s capture, after which he was exiled to Costa Rica.

In the book Hard Choices, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ghostwriters, with her approval, refer to Latin America as the US’s “backyard” and to Zelaya as “a throwback to the caricature of a Central American strongman, with his white cowboy hat, dark black mustache, and fondness for Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro” (p. 222). The publishers omitted from the paperback edition Clinton’s role in the coup: “We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras” (plus the usual boilerplate about democracy promotion.)

Decree PCM-M-030-2009 ordered the post-coup election be held during a state of emergency. The peaceful, pro-Zelaya groups, La Resistencia and Frente Hondureña de Resistencia Popular, were targeted under Anti-Terror Laws. The right-wing Porfirio Lobo was elected with over 50 percent of the vote in a fake 60 percent turnout (later revised to 49 percent). US President Obama described this as “a restoration of democratic practices and a commitment to reconciliation that gives us great hope.” Hope and change for Honduras came in the form of economic changes benefitting US corporations.”

The US State Department notes: “Many of the approximately 200 US companies that operate in Honduras take advantage of protections available in the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement.” Note the inadvertent acknowledgement that ‘free trade’ is actually protection for US corporations. The State Department also notes: “The Honduran government is generally open to foreign investment. Low labour costs, proximity to the US market, and the large Caribbean port of Puerto Cortés make Honduras attractive to investors.”

Four years into Zelaya’s overthrow, unemployment jumped from 35.5 percent to 56.4 percent. In 2014, Honduras signed an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $189m loan. The Centre for Economic and Policy Research states: “Honduran authorities agreed to implement fiscal consolidation… including privatizations, pension reforms and public sector layoffs.” The Congressional Research Service states: “President Juan Orlando Hernández of the conservative National Party was inaugurated to a second four-year term in January 2018. He lacks legitimacy among many Hondurans, however, due to allegations that his 2017 reelection was unconstitutional and marred by fraud.”


Since the coup, the US has expanded its military bases in Honduras from 10 to 13. US ‘aid’ funds the Honduran National Police, whose long-time Director, Juan Carlos Bonilla, was trained at the School of the Americas. Atrocities against Hondurans increased under the US favourite, President Hernández, who vowed to “put a soldier on every corner.” SOUTHCOM worked under Obama’s Central America Regional Security Initiative, which supported Operation Morazán: a programme to integrate Honduras’s Armed Forces with its domestic policing units. With SOUTHCOM funding, the 250-person Special Response Security Unit (TIGRES) was established near Lepaterique. The TIGRES are trained by the US Green Berets or 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and described by the US Army War College as a “paramilitary police force.”

The cover for setting up a military police force is countering narco- and human-traffickers, but the record shows that left-wing civilians are targeted for death and intimidation. To crush the pro-Zelaya, pro-democracy movements Operation Morazán, according to the US Army War College, included the creation of the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), whose members must have served at least one year in the Armed Forces. By January 2018, the PMOP consisted of 4,500 personnel in 10 battalions across every region of Honduras, and had murdered at least 21 street protestors.

Berta Cáceres co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras. One of the Organisation’s missions was resisting the Desarrollos Energéticos (DESA) corporation’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Lenca people. DESA hired a gang, later convicted of murdering Cáceres. They included the US-trained Maj. Mariano Díaz Chávez and Lt. Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, himself head of security at DESA. The company’s director, David Castillo, also a US-trained ex-military intelligence officer, is alleged to have colluded with the killers. The TIGRES forces oversaw the dam’s construction site.

Between 2010 and 2016, as US ‘aid’ and training continued to flow, over 120 environmental activists were murdered by hitmen, gangs, police, and the military for opposing illegal logging and mining. Others have been intimidated. In 2014, for instance, a year after the murder of three Matute people by gangs linked to a mining operation, the children of the indigenous Tolupan leader, Santos Córdoba, were threatened at gunpoint by the US-trained, ex-Army General, Filánder Uclés, and his bodyguards.

Home to the Regional Military Training Centre, Bajo Aguán is a low-lying region in the east, whose farmers have battled land privatization since the early-1990s. After Zelaya was deposed, crimes against the peoples of the region increased. Rights groups signed a letter to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who facilitated US ‘aid’ to Honduras, stating: “Forty-five people associated with peasant organisations have been killed” between September 2009 and February 2012. A joint military-police project, Operation Xatruch II in 2012, led to the deaths of “nine peasant organisation members, including two principal leaders.” One 17-year-old son of a peasant organiser was kidnapped, tortured, and threatened with being burned alive. Lawfare is also used, with over 160 small farmers in the area subject to frivolous legal proceedings.


In the 1980s, Tomás Nativí, co-founder of the People’s Revolutionary Union, was “disappeared” by US-backed death squads. Nativí’s wife, Bertha Oliva, founder of the Committee of Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras to fight for justice for those murdered between 1979 and 1989. She told The Intercept that the recent killings and restructuring of the so-called security state is “like going back to the past.”

The iron-fist of Empire in the service of capitalism never loosens its grip. The names and command structures of US-backed military units in Honduras have changed over the last four decades, but their goal remains the same.

  1. J. Coles is director of the Plymouth Institute for Peace Research and the author of several books, including Voices for Peace (with Noam Chomsky and others) and  Fire and Fury: How the US Isolates North Korea, Encircles China and Risks Nuclear War in Asia (both Clairview Books).

Counterpunch is a non-profit, reader-supported journal that publishes articles and books.

Bertha Oliva de Nativi, mentioned at the end of the article above, appears twice in the interview section of this website. Martin Mowforth interviewed her in 2010 (soon after the coup which ousted Mel Zelaya) and again in 2016 during the rule of organised crime and state violence presided over by Juan Orlando Hernández.