US and Honduran security forces have a superb relationship, US Southern Command has said, even as Congress holds up millions in aid to due to serious human rights concerns about the military and police in the Central American nation.
Honduras is "key" in the fight against international drug trafficking, SouthCom's director of public affairs told La Prensa, both for its location and its cooperation with US forces.
"The collaboration with the Honduran authorities has been fantastic," said Greg Julian. "Honduras has a super important role (…) because the majority of [drug] traffic passes through Central America, and the more we work together, the better it will be."
Drug planes that use to stop in the Dominican Republic are now using the Honduran coast instead, said Julian, but with three anti-narcotics bases being constructed the United States aims to create a net to trap such planes, alongside smugglers traveling by boat.
Operation Martillo, a US operation targeting Central American drug trafficking carried out in conjunction with regional authorities, has led to the seizure of more than 300,000 pounds (136 tons) of cocaine and more than 25,000 pounds (11 tons) of marijuana since it began in January 2012, said Julian -- drugs he said had an estimated value of $40 billion. The operation would continue "indefinitely," he added.
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Greg Julian's glowing praise of Honduran security forces might raise some eyebrows given the ongoing concerns over serious human rights abuses allegedly carried out by said forces, including extra-judicial killings -- concerns heightened by the creation of a new military police unit last month. More than $10 million of US aid to Honduras is being held up because of human rights conditions attached to it, but a loophole means these conditions do not apply to funding for counternarcotics and drug-related violence.
From a wider regional perspective, the fact Julian gave such an extensive interview on drug trafficking is significant, as SouthCom rarely speaks so expansively on the issue. Alongside the construction of the new naval bases, it's suggestive of a strategy to significantly ramp up counternarcotics operations in the region, though Julian told La Prensa that budget constraints were preventing the unit from doing all it would like to.
The US is in a bind when it comes to Honduras, unable to see any easy way to help the country aside from putting boots on the ground to slow the flow of drugs moving north, and the turn to Southern Command may be a reflection of that desperation.