Just as the US military winds down war in Afghanistan, a small country on a little stretch of land a lot closer to home has welcomed American troops to help fight a different kind of battle.
Honduras is the stage for counternarcotics operations carried out jointly between its military and US Special Forces, the New York Times reported. The US forces set up bases in areas including “the wilderness of Miskito Indian country,” the report says, from which troops carry out “small-footprint missions.”
In January, GlobalPost reported that the US government was pulling Peace Corps volunteers out of Honduras for safety reasons.
Now, the US military has sent some experienced chiefs from its war corps — including commander Col. Ross A. Brown, a former Iraq war commander. Colonel Brown now leads a quieter mission in Central American jungles ahead of Joint Task Force-Bravo, the Times reported.
“[Colonel Brown] and just 600 troops are responsible for the [US] military’s efforts across all of Central America. He is under orders to maintain a discreet footprint, supporting local authorities and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which leads the American counternarcotics mission,” the Times story reports.
On that discreet footprint: The troops cannot fire unless in self-defense.
Honduras has had to endure a predicament similar to that of its neighbors in Central America. The isthmus of countries is squeezed between South American nations that churn out the world’s cocaine and Mexico, a prime pathway to the traffickers’ end goal, USA. That's one aspect of the dizzying mess of vicious cycles born out of the illegal drug trade.
And some Central American countries possess violent youth gangs that have hardened under the employment of international drug cartels.
Only, Honduras is wracked by levels of violence like none other. Honduras is thought to be the homicide capital of the world. Impunity and gangland violence have plagued the country, one of the poorest in the Americas. A recent article in La Prensa newspaper called the rampant youth killings a “holocaust.”
Associated Press photographer Esteban Felix has captured that reality with unsettling detail in this graphic photo essay.
Journalists have fallen prey to the violence. The latest victim was Erick Martinez, 32, whose death has sent ripples through the gay and lesbian community because he was an activist in Honduras’ LGBT pro-diversity movement, reports San Diego Gay & Lesbian News.
Some were struck by the way The New York Times featured the forward bases story, with front-page play.
Bloggings by boz, a respected blog on Latin America, suggests that the Times stretched it a bit by stuffing a slew of demons — Iraq war, Central American civil war, past US intervention — into what on the surface was a basic story. For Boz, it would have sufficed to report that the US assistance has helped cut down the hunt for drug runners from three hours to 30 minutes.
“I guess the headline, ‘US assistance reduces Honduran military response time’ was too boring, but that's really the key point of the article,” Boz wrote.
The Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think-tank, chided the Honduran mission in a recent blog post.
“The ease with which US military personnel can be deployed practically anywhere is disturbing … some simply presume a need for having the U.S. military deploy to the jungles of Honduras is equally troubling,” Cato said.
Although Honduras media ran a Spanish-language version of the article, there's been little response to the Times report.
One would think new missions of US Special Forces in Latin America would raise questions about sovereignty or spark reactions among locals to having a gringo force so present, so reminiscent of a history of military interventions in the region.
But many in Honduras have lost faith in their own security forces to protect them.
Read more: When the police are part of the problem
Perhaps that’s how fed up Central America has become to being stuck between a narco rock and a hard place. US troops are more than welcome.