Mitt Romney’s “Pinochet Moment”
But other news this week points up the fact that—while inept politicians representing the parasitic rich come and go—the one constant in our national civic life remains America's endless drug war.
Like the 'dude' in The Big Lebowski, the drug war abides.
An under-publicized statement by Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney last week underlines how important this drug war-drug trade combine really is to the political elite of both major parties.
Speaking about US policy towards Honduras, Romney accused President Obama of backing a "pro-Marxist" leader in Honduras, faulting him for not more quickly and enthusiastically supporting the military coup in 2009 that deposed the elected President of a fledgling democracy.
That Romney chose to say anything at all about a small nation in Central America was somewhat surprising, especially since he hasn't been specific about much else.
But, as he must know, Honduras is important to US foreign policy for only one reason: Controlling Hondurus is important to controlling the drug trade.
Romney was signaling that in a Republican Administration, a return to the good old days when death squads could just "disappear" inconvenient people would be A-OK with him.
Top military officials in Honduras—home of the original tin-horn Generals in mirrored shades—must have been delighted.
It was Mitt Romney's “Pinochet moment.”
Why nobody likes us
Honduras is where the bodies are buried…in shallow graves. Case in point:
Reports last month that a DEA agent was killed when his plane, filled with cocaine, was shot down by a Honduran jet fighter, are untrue, announced the US Embassy in Honduras.
Reports in all three daily newspapers in the capital of Tegucigalpa had explained that the unprecedented step the United States took last month— turning off the radar used by Honduras to track suspected drug planes—was necause a Honduran fighter opened fire on a drug plane being used by the DEA.
Nonsense, said Stephen J. Posivak, director of Public Affairs of the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. He denied any DEA agents were on the flight shot down by a fighter jet on June 13th over the eastern part of Honduras.
“There was no DEA agent on that plane,” Posivak asserted, speaking on Ambassador Lisa Kubiske’s behalf.
The statement was decisive but something of a non sequitur, as if the lawyer for “Tot Mom” Casey Anthony announced his client had nothing to do with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
The reason was that Honduran newspapers, citing military sources, had reported the DEA drug flight shoot down happened—not on June 13—but in early August. Moreover the location of the incident, they reported, was over an island ten miles offshore in the Caribbean called Guanaja, not "over the eastern part of the country."
The papers reported one of the two men killed when the plane was shot down was a drug dealer, the other a DEA agent infiltrating drug cartels. The specificity of their reporting lent it a credence sorely lacking in the vague statement by the US Embassy.
The US Embassy spokesman in Honduras had even contradicted the Home Office, the State Department in Washington. William Ostick, spokesman for the State Department's Western Hemispheric Affairs Office, had explained the radar cut-off was because civilian aircraft had been shot down off the coast of Honduras.
Posivak may have figured the point was already moot. Days earlier, Lisa Kubiske, the U.S. Ambassador in Honduras, had announced that she was optimistic that Honduras’ radar would soon be restored.
The president of Honduras admitted his Air Force shot down several suspected drug planes during the DEA’s recently-concluded Operation Anvil. The incident cost the job of the head of the Honduran Air Force. And the downing of civilian aircraft is a violation of international treaties, even if the plane enters a country without authorization.
But that did nothing to explain the towering displeasure displayed by the US Government, which sent the head of the US Southern Command to Honduras on August 24 to demand changes.
Nor did it explain the rationale for cutting off radar to a country the DEA has just called the largest center for smuggling in Central America. Ninety percent of the drugs produced in South America and destined for the U.S. market, the DEA asserted, were passing through Honduras.
Always Open… to drug trafficking
But cutting off the radar had certainly gotten the Hondurans attention, and they had apparently decided to get with the program.
Honduras, located mid-way between coca fields in South America and noses in the United States, has served as a bed and breakfast for drug traffickers since at least the early 1980’s.
Yet now newspaper reports were raising the alarm, making the drug trade, a staple of life for decades, sound more frightening than an army of zombies massing at the border.
“The invasion has been massive,” reported El Herald. “By air and by sea, drug trafficking in Honduras is huge, according to reports of U.S. drug agencies.”
“According to the U.S. Southern Command,” the report continued, “last year 275 narccolanchas (vessels) entered the country (mostly speedboats), as well as 104 drug planes."
The ghosts of Tegucigalpa
It was through Honduras, and specifically the good offices of the Honduran Army, that the cocaine blizzard that transformed millions of American lives would travel.
When CIA pilot Barry Seal was caught in 1979 on the island of Roatan, just a few miles from where the DEA drug plane was supposedly shot down, he was carrying what in those more innocent times was a huge load of cocaine: 40 kilos.
Seal landed his twin-engine plane in the immediate aftermath of the overthrow of then-Honduran President Juan Alberto Melgar.
"Barry paid off the wrong people,” a long-time Seal associate told us. "He went to Ecuador, and when he came back to Honduras there was a whole new set of Generals running the show."
By the time Seal was arraigned on trafficking charges in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, newspapers there were reporting his arrest on the front page, with headlines reading he’d been caught red-handed carrying 17 kilos of cocaine.
The original banana republic
Honduras is the place the term "banana republic" was invented to describe. American interventions in Honduras—by the DEA, the CIA, the FBI and the Southern Command—are notorious.
One reminder of this history sits across from a runway at Soto Cano Air Base, where Honduras new Air Force chief was based. Behind a high fence is a compound once used by Oliver North's clandestine drugs and weapons bazaar from the Iran-contra operation.
Tropical undergrowth is slowly erasing traces of the site. But its still visible. And no one there has forgotten.
Since the military coup on June 28, 2009, the US has built three new military bases in the country. Military bases are expensive.
Its safe to assume that they're not down there protecting banana plantations.