Pubdate: Tue, 22 May 2012
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Times


As the war on drugs has spread from Mexico to Central America, so has 
the U.S. role in Honduras. Pentagon contracts are helping to fund new 
military bases in remote regions of that country, and U.S. troops and 
special Drug Enforcement Administration agents have been deployed to 
train local security forces and assist in counter-narcotics operations.

It's a delicate partnership, and one that is already causing 
controversy. Last week the Obama administration confirmed that DEA 
agents were with Honduran security forces aboard a U.S. helicopter 
during a botched May 11 operation. Four civilians, including two 
pregnant women, were allegedly killed after the helicopter fired on a 
canoe during a predawn raid, local authorities said. U.S. officials 
insist that the DEA agents were participating only in an advisory 
capacity and were not involved in the shooting, but several Honduran 
officials have described the raid as a DEA mission.

The incident raises more questions than it answers. In their role as 
advisors, did the DEA agents participate in the decision to open fire 
before the targets were positively identified? Are those agents 
authorized to intercede to prevent the killing of civilians? Does the 
U.s.-financed anti-drug effort in Honduras run the risk of putting 
American forces on the side of an unpopular and possibly 
trigger-happy Central American military - a position the United 
States has been in all too often during the last century?

One thing is clear: The U.S. military role should be extremely 
limited and carefully monitored. There is little dispute that 
Honduras, ravaged by drug-related violence, needs help. It has the 
hemisphere's highest homicide rate. Crime and corruption are rampant, 
and likely to worsen, thanks to a cascade of drug money. Legal and 
political institutions are weak, and human rights are too often only 
an abstraction.

But as Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-valley Village) recently noted, 
simply sending more boots and guns to Honduras may have the effect of 
exacerbating problems rather than helping solve them, given concerns 
that the country's security forces are involved in serious human 
rights violations. The police in particular are known for corruption 
and should not be empowered.

Military assistance alone is not enough. Surely it is just as 
important to buttress democracy by strengthening civilian 
institutions in Honduras, while clamping down on gunrunners in the 
U.S. who help supply weapons to the cartels. Attempts to track gun 
sales will be met with fierce opposition by the gun lobby, which has 
denounced past efforts as a threat to the 2nd Amendment. But 
ultimately fighting a war abroad while ignoring it at home makes little sense.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom