[News] US continues to train Honduran soldiers
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. Armys 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
The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the
Movement to Close the School of the Americas.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
More information about the News