[News] US continues to train Honduran soldiers

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 17 10:46:48 EDT 2009

U.S. continues to train Honduran soldiers

Written by James Hodge and Linda Cooper, National Catholic Reporter

Military coup that ousted president, didn't stop U.S. engagement in Honduras

A controversial facility at Ft. Benning, Ga. -- 
formerly known as the U.S. Army’s School of the 
Americas -- is still training Honduran officers 
despite claims by the Obama administration that 
it cut military ties to Honduras after its 
president was overthrown June 28, NCR has learned.

A day after an SOA-trained army general ousted 
Honduran President Manuel Zelaya at gunpoint, 
President Barack Obama stated that "the coup was 
not legal" and that Zelaya remained "the democratically elected president."

The Foreign Operations Appropriations Act 
requires that U.S. military aid and training be 
suspended when a country undergoes a military 
coup, and the Obama administration has indicated those steps have been taken.
However, Lee Rials, public affairs officer for 
the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security 
Cooperation, the successor of SOA, confirmed 
Monday that Honduran officers are still being trained at the school.

"Yes, they're in class now." Rials said

Asked about the Obama administration's suspension 
of aid and training to Honduras, Rials said, 
"Well, all I know is they're here, and they're in class."

The decision to continue training the Hondurans 
is "purely government policy," he said, adding 
that it's possible that other U.S. military 
schools are training them too. "We're not the only place."

Rials did not know exactly how many Hondurans 
were currently enrolled, but he said at least two 
officers are currently in the school's Command 
and General Staff course, its premier year-long program.

"I don't know the exact number because we've had 
some classes just completed and some more 
starting," he said. "There's no more plans for 
anybody to come. Everything that was in place 
already is still in place. Nobody's directed that 
they go home or that anything cease."

The school trained 431 Honduran officers from 
2001 to 2008, and some 88 were projected for this 
year, said Rials, who couldn't provide their names.

Since 2005, the Department of Defense has barred 
the release of their names after it was revealed 
that the school had enrolled well-known human rights abusers.

The general who overthrew Zelaya -- Romeo Orlando 
Vásquez Velásquez -- is a two-time graduate of 
SOA, which critics have nicknamed the "School of 
Coups" because it trained so many coup leaders, 
including two other Honduran graduates, General 
Juan Melgar Castro and General Policarpo Paz Garcia.

Vasquez is not the only SOA graduate linked to 
the current coup or employed by the de facto government. Others are:
    * Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, the head of 
the Honduran air force, who arranged to have 
Zelaya flown into exile in Costa Rica;
    * Gen. Nelson Willy Mejia Mejia, the newly 
appointed director of immigration, who is not 
only an SOA graduate, but a former SOA 
instructor. One year after he was awarded the 
U.S. Meritorious Service Medal, he faced charges 
in connection with the infamous death squad, 
Battalion 3-16, for which he was an intelligence officer.
    * Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza Membreño, 
the Honduran army's top lawyer who admitted that 
flying Zelaya into exile was a crime, telling the 
Miama Herald that ''In the moment that we took 
him out of the country, in the way that he was 
taken out, there is a crime," but it will be justified.
    * Lt. Col. Ramiro Archaga Paz,the army's 
director of public relations, who has denied 
harassment of protesters and maintained that the 
army is not involved in internal security.
    * Col. Jorge Rodas Gamero, a two-time SOA 
graduate, who is the minister of security, a post 
he also held in Zelaya's government.

The ongoing training of Hondurans at Ft. Benning 
is not the only evidence of unbroken 
U.S.-Honduran military ties since the coup.

Another piece was discovered by Maryknoll Father 
Roy Bourgeois, the founder of SOA Watch, while on 
fact-finding mission to Honduras last week.

Bourgeois -- accompanied by two lawyers, Kent 
Spriggs and Dan Kovalik -- visited the Soto 
Cano/Palmerola Air Base northwest of Tegucigalpa, 
where the U.S. Southern Command's Joint Task Force-Bravo is stationed.

"Helicopters were flying all around, and we spoke 
with the U.S. official on duty, a Sgt. Reyes" 
about the U.S.-Honduran relationship, Bourgeois 
said. "We asked him if anything had changed since 
the coup and he said no, nothing."

The group later met with U.S. Ambassador Hugo 
Llorens, who claimed that he had no knowledge of 
ongoing U.S. military activity with the 
Hondurans, Bourgeois said. The ambassador also 
said that he himself has had no contact with the de facto government.

That has apparently changed. Christopher Webster, 
the director of the State Department's Office of 
Central American Affairs, said Monday that 
Llorens has in fact been in touch with the 
current coup government, according to Eric 
LeCompte, the national organizer for SOA Watch.

LeCompte met with Webster Monday along with other 
representatives of human rights groups and three 
Hondurans -- Marvin Ponce Sauceda, a member of 
the Honduran National Congress, Jari Dixon 
Herrera Hernández, a lawyer with the Honduran 
attorney general's office, and Dr. Juan 
Almendares Bonilla, director of the Center for 
the Prevention, Rehabilitation and Treatment of Victims of Torture.

Webster told the group that Llorens and the State 
Department are engaging the coup government to 
the extent necessary to bring about a solution to the crisis.

Webster "told us that military aid had been cut 
off, and that the return of Zelaya as president 
is non-negotiable although the conditions under 
which he returns are negotiable," LeCompte said.

Herrera Hernández, the lawyer with the Honduran 
attorney general's office, told Webster that the 
coup government has disseminated misinformation 
by claiming the coup was legal because the court 
had issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya for 
pushing ahead with a non-binding referendum on 
whether to change the Honduran constitution.

However, the order to arrest Zelaya came a day 
after the coup, he said. And contrary to coup 
propaganda, Zelaya never sought to extend his 
term in office, and even if the survey had been 
held, changing the constitution would have 
required action by the legislature, he said.

Whatever legal argument the coup leaders had 
against Zelaya, it fell apart when they flew him 
into exile rather than prosecuting him, the 
attorney said. The legal system has broken down, 
he added, for if this can happen to the president, who can't it happen to?

Linda Cooper and James Hodge are the authors of 
Disturbing the 
The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the 
Movement to Close the School of the Americas.

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