Honduras has belatedly appeared on the radar of the U.S. media over the past couple of weeks. A joint U.S.-Honduras drug raid on Friday, May 11, reportedly killed civilians—including two pregnant women—near Ahuas, a town in the Mosquitia region of Honduras. According to press coverage based on accounts by U.S. officials, four State Department helicopters—piloted by Guatemalan military officers and outside contractors—carried a strike force of Honduran security officers from a U.S.-built base to the Patuca River. They were accompanied by what The New York Times called a “commando-style squad” of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, and acted on Colombian and U.S. intelligence. U.S. and Honduran officials toldThe Times the forces seized 1,000 pounds of cocaine from a boat before being attacked by another boat of drug traffickers; Honduran personnel, then on the ground, and with support from “the door gunner of at least one of the helicopters,” engaged in a late-night firefight with the traffickers, killing two of them. The State Department and the DEA insist that only Hondurans participated in the shootout.
Both the local mayor and congressional representative disputed this account, asserting in the Honduran newspaper El Tiempothree days after the raid that four people were killed—Emerson Martínez, Chalo Brock Wood, Candelaria Tratt Nelson, and Juana Banegas—and that they were ordinary citizens. In a later interview with TIME, the local leaders said the civilian boat was “ferrying passengers,” and “was passing from the opposite direction and got caught in the nighttime crossfire.” Close to a week after initial reports incorrectly described the mission as having been carried out solely by Honduran forces, and days after the local authorities accused the DEA of involvement, official U.S. spokespersons finally admitted to the DEA’s “advisory role” in the brutal raid.
This piece was published at NACLA. See also Belén Fernández’s short profile of Noriega here.
On May 2, CNN executive producer Arthur Brice published what was purported to be a news article on Venezuela. Instead, Brice’s 4,300-word screed, titled “Chavez Health Problems Plunge Venezuela’s Future Into Doubt,” is little more than a platform for the bizarre theories of Roger Noriega, an ultra-rightwing lobbyist and one-time diplomat under George W. Bush, who Brice references over two dozen times throughout his article.
As a political commentator, Noriega pontificates with total brazenness. He appeared as the chief pundit in Brice’s CNN piece six months after announcing—based on what he said was the belief of Chávez’s own medical team—that the Venezuelan president was “not likely to survive more than six months.” Noriega is not fazed by facts. He promotes his fantastical claims in many major news outlets, often based on anonymous sources. Take, for example, his 2010 Foreign Policy article, “Chávez’s Secret Nuclear Program,” whose subtitle reads: “It’s not clear what Venezuela’s hiding, but it’s definitely hiding something—and the fact that Iran is involved suggests that it’s up to no good.” (State Department officials dismissed this suspicion with “scorn.”)
CNN’s interviews with Noriega and the other mostly rightwing analysts likely led to this demonstrably false claim at the beginning of Brice’s May 2 article: “Diosdado Cabello, a longtime Chavez cohort . . . amassed tremendous power in January when Chavez named him president of the National Assembly.” In fact, even El Universal, a daily Venezuelan newspaper long-aligned with the opposition, conceded in a January 5 report that Cabello was elected as the new president of the National Assembly, even if “only with the votes” of the majority United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). Ewan Robertson of Venezuelanalysis.com found that 98 deputies of the pro-government bloc supported Cabello, while the 67-member opposition bloc opposed him. Such mundane electoral processes have guided much of Venezuela’s political dynamics over the past decade.
On August 23 about 300 campesinos from the Nueva Esperanza community, near the Laguna del Tigre Natural Park in northern Guatemala, were evicted from the lands to which they held title and forced across the border into Mexico. Interior Minister Carlos Menocal justified the action, claiming the families assisted drug traffickers, though he presented no evidence.1
While drug trafficking corridors have proliferated through Central America’s natural reserves over the last decade, Nueva Esperanza’s real crime appears to have been that it was located in the way of the Cuatro Balam mega-tourism project. Cuatro Balam is a planned 14,000-square-mile tourism complex amid the Mayan Biosphere cluster of natural reserves and an array of Mayan archaeological sites, all to be united by a proposed electric train and linked to Chiapas, Mexico, via a new highway.
Three years before the eviction, Guatemalan president Álvaro Colom (2008–12) announced plans to clear the area of “invaders and drug traffickers” to make room for Cuatro Balam. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) began funding the project in 2009. On June 30, 2010, Colom inaugurated Cuatro Balam, announcing that six military posts would be installed in Laguna del Tigre.
Over the past few weeks U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and latter-day media “experts” have hailed Manuel Zelaya’s return to Honduras and the pending reintegration of the country into the OAS as a restoration of democracy. Here in Honduras, it is clear that such claims could not be further from the truth. Despite the triumphal language of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, Honduran president Porfirio Lobo, and even Zelaya himself following their signing of the Cartagena Accords, Honduras today is no closer to reconciliation than it was in the months following the June 28, 2009 military coup.
As Dana Frank points out in The Progressive on May 27, the Cartagena Accords ensure the reinstatement of Honduras into the OAS in return for only one “concession” that is not already ostensibly guaranteed: that the trumped-up charges, leveled against Zelaya by the same court that legitimated his unconstitutional expulsion from the country, be dropped. That this should be sufficient for Honduras’s return is perplexing, given that the country was expelled under Article 21 of the OAS Democratic Charter, which reads in part:
When the special session of the General Assembly determines that there has been an unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member state, and that diplomatic initiatives have failed, the special session shall take the decision to suspend said member state from the exercise of its right to participate in the OAS by an affirmative vote of two thirds of the member states in accordance with the Charter of the OAS.