War on the Poor in Honduras: Social Control, Gangs and the US’s Role in Remilitarizing Central America
Here’s a piece I reported from Honduras for my friends at Toward Freedom.
TEGUCIGALPA—Election day in Tegucigalpa kicked off on November 24th last year with the feel of a carnival, a rare sensation in a city where the vast majority of residents are faced with grinding poverty, regular gang extortion and a murder rate that is among the world’s highest. In front of each voting station, tents from the various political parties provided shade, blaring music at each other from huge speakers as groups of youth and volunteers hung around. Police, army and masked military police oversaw the crowds. Cars honked and people waved Honduran and political party flags as their vehicles crawled through the fray.
But for Marta de Jesus Raudales Varela, who lives in a small house on a steep unpaved street, it was a heart-wrenching day. In January, her son Ángel Francisco Durón Raudales, an activist with the leftwing LIBRE Party was murdered along with five others around the corner from the family home in the Las Ayestas neighborhood.
“[The killers] told them to lie face down, so they lay face down, and they emptied their pockets so that they could pretend it was a robbery. [The killers] had their faces covered, but everyone could see what happened,” said Raudales. The killers shot all six in the back and in the head as they lay with their faces to the sidewalk.
Two days after the massacre, street gangs posted signs and handed out pamphlets warning residents they were imposing a 7pm curfew. Almost a year after the massacre, no one dares to mention gang involvement in the killings for fear of reprisals. A tough-as-nails grandmother, Raudales Varela was robbed at gunpoint four times in a single year while she walked home from selling lottery tickets a few blocks from her house. She cried quietly during our interview, wiping her eyes with her apron.
Durón Raudales was a construction worker who organized a local base committee and made flags in support of the LIBRE Party. His mother thinks he may have been targeted because of his political activity. “I’m going to go vote this evening, but I really didn’t feel like going,” she said. “I feel bad today.”
Violence in Honduras is sometimes presented as random and wanton, or as somehow involving drugs. During his inauguration speech on January 27th, Honduras’ new President Juan Orlando Hernandez said that approximately 70 per cent of homicides in the country are linked to drug trafficking. Dead bodies are routinely publicly attributed to gang members, regardless of the evidence and circumstances; and residents of the country’s biggest cities are under the firm grip of social control enforced by terror and threats meted out by street gangs. But according to a recent report put out by human rights organizations, only one per cent of crimes in Honduras are followed up by a police investigation. What Juan Orlando doesn’t want to admit is that an important number of killings in Honduras are politically motivated attacks on peasants, poor people, political activists, journalists, and queer and trans people. (more…)
Here’s a piece I reported from Honduras for The Nation.
December 10, 2013
On November 25, the afternoon after Election Day in Honduras, several hundred red-flag-waving protesters marched through the streets of Tegucigalpa in support of Xiomara Castro, the woman they claimed is the rightful president of the country. The next day, hundreds of students took up the cause, staving off police and teargas. And the following morning, even more students poured into the streets, adding their voices to the crescendo of outrage that has roiled the country amid allegations of vote-buying by the winning party, election fraud and ongoing murders of opposition supporters.
Honduras’s November 24 election was supposed to have been a signal moment, the first time since the United States–backed military coup that citizens had a meaningful opportunity to express their political will. But with the defeat of Castro, who ran as the candidate of the left-leaning LIBRE party, and the victory of the National Party’s Juan Orlando Hernández, there are real questions over whether the people’s will has been heard. Castro has called for a recount and vowed to challenge the results, but even so, the likely outcome for Honduras is four more years of hardline neoliberal leadership—from the presidential palace if not from congress.
Honduras was in crisis well before the coup, but the removal of the democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009 pushed the country into free fall. Violent deaths climbed to nearly twenty a day. The country’s second city, San Pedro Sula, surpassed Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez as the murder capital of the world in 2011. Inequality surged. And as social spending dropped, debt rose steadily. “From 2010-2012, the poverty rate increased by 13.2 percent while the extreme poverty rate increased by 26.3 percent,” reads a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The report continues, “Honduras now has the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America.” (more…)
I had the chance to participate in an Observation Mission looking at the situation for Central American migrants traveling through southeast Mexico during the last week in May. I’ve written two pieces from the trip, the first, titled “Mexico: Risking Everything to Migrate North” is a look at an attack on migrants that took place in Veracruz on May 1st of this year. The second is below. More soon…
Report Dubs Mexico “A Graveyard for Migrants”
CIP Americas Program, May 4, 2013
One of the women lay face up, her torso cutting a diagonal line across the railway track. The other lay face down, her right leg splayed over the same track at the thigh. Both wore reddish tank tops and pants that went down just below the knee. A police officer with an automatic weapon watched over the bodies.
It was far too late to do anything to help. Little yellow numbers, from one to six, were placed on each piece of ballistic evidence, grim reminders of how Mexico is refashioning its police after the US model.
According to local media, the women were murdered by stab and bullet wounds in the late afternoon on May 30. A preliminary report suggests they refused to pay the quota charged by a criminal group after climbing up on the train. Their bodies were found later that same day just north of the Mexican tourist town of Palenque, in Chiapas.
Both women were from Honduras–Mexicans don’t risk traveling on cargo trains when they migrate through their country toward the United States. Most Central Americans traveling through Mexico do so as undocumented migrants. This means they are not afforded the right to free movement.
If they board a bus, undocumented migrants in Mexico can be pulled off and deported by soldiers at numerous checkpoints dotting northern-bound highways. Without paperwork, they can’t make it past the airport service counter. Thus, the train remains the most accessible means of transport for Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and others who hope against hope they’ll make to the US and find employment.
The double murder on the train tracks in Chiapas took place on the heels of an Observation Mission into the conditions of migrants in southern Mexico, coordinated by the Mesoamerican Migration Movement. The Mission, led by activists and members of the Catholic Church as well as journalists based in Veracruz and Mexico, made its way from Orizaba, in Veracruz state, to Tenosique, a municipality in Tabasco state, which borders Guatemala. (more…)
Gracias a los editores y voluntarios asociados al proyecto Upside Down World, mi articulo “Drug War Capitalism” ya esta disponible en castellano. Aquí esta la version publicada en Upside Down World en Español, aquí la version publicada por Agencia SubVersiones en México DF, y aquí la version publicada por ALAI desde Quito, Ecuador.
El Capitalismo Narco
Dawn Paley sondea por debajo de la superficie de la guerra contra las drogas en Colombia y México. Explora los mecanismos empleados, cuantifica la devastación humana y económica, analiza las posibles razones por las que la guerra continúa además de sugerir otras áreas de investigación.
Tanto en los Estados Unidos como en Canadá ha habido esfuerzos sostenidos de grupos de base para destacar las injustas encarcelaciones en masa y la criminalización de la gente pobre, sobretodo la gente pobre de color, en cuanto a detenciones relacionadas con drogas. Pero se ha encontrado muy poco análisis sobre las razones detrás de los mecanismos de esta guerra y el impacto económico que tiene sobre México y más allá.
Incluso antes de que la retirada de Irak o Afganistán se hubiera alcanzado, los Estados Unidos ya estaban involucrados en una serie de conflictos desde la frontera norte de México hasta Perú. Tanto los gobiernos como los medios de comunicación la han catalogada como la “Guerra contra las drogas.” Es importante examinar como la creciente “Guerra contra las drogas” se conecta con la expansión de empresas transnacionales que toman control de mercados, obreros y recursos naturales.
En Honduras cuatro indígenas fueron asesinados a balazos en mayo, cuando la policía hondureña abrió fuego desde un helicóptero del Departamento de Estado estadounidense, todo bajo la supervisión de agentes uniformados de Estados Unidos. En México con la orientación de Estados Unidos, Canadá, Israel y Colombia, la policía y el ejército han sido transformados.
En Colombia la guerra ha durado ya cuatro décadas y se han gastado billones de dólares estadounidenses, pero ahora se está calificando como lucha contra el crimen. Durante la década de los 1980s el Estado colombiano se convirtió en un estado paramilitarizado, en un proceso que según el historiador German Alfonso Palacio Castañeda”se manifiesta con amenazas, atentados y asesinatos selectivos y masacres colectivas de funcionarios gubernamentales (principalmente pero no exclusivamente de la izquierda), y de líderes políticos populares, obreros, campesinos, profesores, activistas de derechos humanos y miembros de organizaciones no gubernamentales.”
En la forma de financiación para programas antinarcóticos, la asistencia de EE.UU. en Colombia resultó en el fortalecimiento de grupos paramilitares y de policías no oficiales, los cuales según informes patrullaban junto al ejército de Colombia y se vieron involucrados en la gran mayoría de masacres y desplazamientos forzados en el país.
“Decir que la guerra contra las drogas ha fracasado es no entender algo,” comentó Noam Chomsky, en un discurso en el mes de mayo. “Uno tiene que preguntarse qué está en la mente de los planeadores ante tanta evidencia de que no funciona lo que dicen que están intentando lograr. ¿Cuáles son las intenciones probables?”(1)
Los comentarios de Chomsky apuntan hacia un área urgente de investigación para los y las activistas y periodistas que desean entender las guerras actuales contra las drogas. Cada vez es más claro que hay mucho trabajo por hacer para reconstruir juntos los motivos de la militarización liderada por Estados Unidos en las Américas.
Una reconsideración de la llamada guerra contra las drogas requiere entre otras cosas una evaluación de la forma en que ha favorecido la expansión de la inversión extranjera directa y de las industrias extractivas en Colombia, México y Centroamérica.
La guerra, cuando los golpes no bastan
“Así es como se sentía el inicio del neoliberalismo,” dijo Raquel Gutiérrez, reflexionando sobre lo que es tratar de entender la guerra en curso en México. Ahora catedrática de la Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Raquel era militante clandestina en Bolivia a mediados los años 80, cuando las primeras políticas neoliberales tuvieron efecto en aquel país, creando una pauperización de la clase obrera. Han pasado 10 años desde que regresó a México.
Raquel se detiene y da una pitada a su cigarrillo, como si tratara de recordar un idioma que ha olvidado. No viene. Luego me pregunta si he leído el libro de Naomi Klein La doctrina del shock. Asiento con la cabeza. Silencio. “La cosa es que en México, los choques no funcionaron,” dice ella. (more…)
Dawn Paley probes beneath the surface of the drug war in Colombia and Mexico. She explores the mechanisms employed, reports on the economic and human devastation, analyzes the possible reasons for continuing the war and suggests further areas of inquiry. PDF of an extended edition for the web.
In both the United States and Canada there have been sustained grassroots efforts to spotlight the unjust mass incarceration and criminalization of poor people, and especially poor people of color, for drug-related arrests. But there has been too little analysis about the reasons behind and mechanisms of this war, and its economic impact on Mexico and beyond.
Even before a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan has been achieved, the United States has become involved in a series of intensifying conflicts taking place from Mexico’s north border through Peru. Governments and mainstream media label it a “war on drugs.” It is important to examine how the expanding “war on drugs” connects to the expansion of transnational corporate control over markets, labor and natural resources.
In Honduras, four Indigenous people were shot and killed in May, when Honduran forces opened fire from a U.S. State Department helicopter, all under the supervision of uniformed U.S. agents. In Mexico — under the guidance of the United States, Canada, Israel and Colombia — the police and army are being transformed.
In Colombia, the war has gone on for decades and involved billions of U.S. dollars, but is being rebranded as a fight against crime. Through the 1980s, the Colombian state became increasingly paramilitarized, a process which “manifested itself as threats, bombings, and selective assassinations or collective massacres of government officials (principally but not exclusively from the left), and of popular political leaders, workers, peasants, professors, human rights activists, and members of nongovernmental organziations.”
U.S. assistance to Colombia in the form of anti-narcotics program funding resulted in the strengthening of paramilitary and unofficial police groups, reported to have patrolled alongside the Colombian Army and involved in the vast majority of massacres and forced displacements in the country.
“Saying that the drug war has failed is to not understand something,” remarked Noam Chomsky in a speech this May. “One must ask oneself what is it that the planners have in mind given the amount of evidence that what they are trying to achieve doesn’t work. What are the probable intentions?”(1)
Chomsky’s comments point to an urgent area of research for activists and journalists wishing to understand today’s drug wars. It is increasingly clear that there is more work to be done in order to properly piece together the reasons for U.S.-led militarization in the Americas. (more…)
Here’s a piece I did today for Upside Down World on what I consider to be a crucial event in Central America.
Published on Upside Down World, June 23, 2011.
This past week was a busy one for the masters of war in Central America.
Presidents and bankers gathered at a high profile meeting on the drug war in Antigua Guatemala from June 21-23, producing a familiar sounding series of commitments to fight organized crime in Central America. The event was rounded out with pledges of almost two billion dollars in foreign aid and loans, much of which will go towards intelligence gathering and training of police forces.
The International Conference in Support of the Central America Security Strategy brought together Central American heads of state, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, Mexico’s Felipe Calderon, and representatives from more than fifty countries, including Israel, Spain, Canada, and South Korea. Also present was Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), as well as representatives from the World Bank, the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the European Union.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, Clinton clarified the kind of strategy that will be pursued in Central America. “We know from the work that the United States has supported in Colombia and now in Mexico that good leadership, proactive investments, and committed partnerships can turn the tide,” she said.1 (more…)
Long time no updates… Been a whirlwind of activity over the past month or so. Anyways, to make up for it, I thought I would post a PDF of my thesis, which I completed as a requirement as part of the Master of Journalism program at UBC. I’ve been getting multiple requests for it, and I thought I might as well put it out there before too much water goes under the bridge. So, here it is.
Comments and feedback would be much appreciated, find my email in the “about” section of this website.
I write from San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, where I’m finishing up a few loose ends and preparing a new project. A couple of days before I left Vancouver, I got an unexpected call from a producer at CBC Radio’s Dispatches. In what he said was possibly “record time” for the CBC, we organized an in-studio interview between myself and Rick MacInnes -Rae for the next morning. Last week Thursday, this story went on air.
At this link, you can listen to an extended web version of my interview with Rick, who I’ve got to say may be the best interviewer I’ve ever had the chance to speak with.
I’ll be updating a whole lot more from down here once I get settled in!
This is the last piece (other than my thesis, which I have yet to publish) from my trip to Honduras in December 2009. I’m really happy with it… Enjoy! Quick update, this story got picked up by CBC radio’s Dispatches program, more information here.
I’m sitting with the cab driver who has brought me to the end of a long gravel road, near the edge of Trujillo, a small town on the north coast of Honduras. He’s flipping through a newspaper, telling me in halting English that he’s saving up to buy an excavator. Anyone with an excavator has work, he says. I hear the sound of four-wheeled all-terrain-vehicles in the distance, humming as they near. In a cloud of dust, Cathy Bernier appears at the top of the hill, followed on another ATV by her two daughters. All of them are here for a vacation from a freezing Alberta December. Bernier, who works as a client-relations manager with the development, has agreed to take me on a tour of Campa Vista, a housing project for retired Canadians perched above the Caribbean Sea.
With a wave from a security guard tuning his radio in a tiny booth, we pass under the front gate, a cement arch built over a dusty gravel road. From the back of Bernier’s speeding ATV, her blonde hair blowing in my face, I can see that the route we’re on is cut through what was quite recently a thick jungle. Along one side, a high wall of earth shades the road, and on the other, a steep ditch drops away toward the ocean. Peeling around a corner, the road forks. We hang right, and Bernier slows to a stop in front of an imposing house with a pool set in the front patio. Within a few months, this house will be occupied by a 70-year-old rugby player from Edmonton—one of this gated village’s first residents. Below us, dense jungle sprawls down the mountain toward the water, interrupted only by the newly built roads, faint outlines of staked-out lots, and high power lines.
Once completed, as promised in the promotional materials, Campa Vista (“Country View” in English) will afford a sunny, secure perch for Canadian snowbirds. The development’s website boasts of a “Euro-Mediterranean-style private gated community, with each property possessing its own unique and outstanding view.” (more…)
Here’s my latest, for the North American Congress on Latin America.
September 30, 2010
A new round of democracy promotion projects funded by the United States in Honduras could prove to be a crucial reinforcement of the political project proposed by Honduran coup backers and the country’s business elite.
USAID, based its latest $2 million disbursement to Honduras, announced in July 2010, on the policy goals set out in a document called the Country Plan (Plan de País), a set of policies adopted in January, 2010 during the de facto presidency of Roberto Micheletti Bain.
“The Plan was developed by the Ministry of Planning, being closely supervised by the bankers, the National Association of Industrialists (ANDI), federations and chambers of commerce and NGOs, excluding labor and peasant organizations,” wrote Honduran researcher David Antonio Vivar Reyes in an email to NACLA. The Country Plan makes policy proposals that stretch over the next seven periods of government in Honduras, or until 2038. (more…)