Guatemala and Honduras: Hammer and Anvil
Staff Sgt. Robert J. Traxel, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, was killed in Guatemala last July, struck in the head by a tree branch felled by helicopter draft. The Missouri National Guard soldier was serving as a public affairs specialist for SOUTHCOM, filming for a video about the U.S. joint military and humanitarian program known as “Beyond the Horizon.” According to the Miami Herald, the final Defense Department video based on Traxel’s work showed families in the community of Pocola, Alta Verapaz, receiving free health care from U.S., Canadian, and Guatemalan military personnel.
Now at least 170 more U.S. Marines and civilian military employees are in Guatemala as part of “Operation Hammer” (Operación Martillo), an anti-narcotics operating targeting traffickers on the Pacific Coast, in collaboration with Guatemalan military and police task forces. According to Plaza Pública, which recently analyzed several aspects of U.S. military and police aid to Guatemala, the operation violates a Guatemalan law signed in 2005, which does not permit more than 99 U.S. troops in the country at a given time. Though this may be the single largest U.S. military deployment in the country since the suspension of most forms of direct aid in 1978, training operations (U.S. forces both train U.N. Peacekeepers and train with the infamous Kaibil commandos) and DEA security forces in the country also contribute to overall U.S. military presence in Guatemala.
Guatemala currently receives a relatively small amount of aid, $122 million during fourteen years from 1996 through 2010, including training for U.N. Peacekeeper and drug intervention forces as well as arms and equipment transfer. This is a tiny slice of overall U.S. military and police aid in the region, which peaked in 2010 at $1.6 billion and hovered just below $1 billion this year. However, aid to Guatemala could rise greatly in the future, as the U.S. Congress is slated to reexamine its current restrictions on direct military aid and arms sales. (See Plaza Pública and Just the Facts for further breakdowns of U.S. military aid.)
U.S. Military sources on the Beyond the Horizon, which has also been called “New Horizons” (Mas Allá del Horizonte/Nuevos Horizontes), describe the program as a source of engineering and health training for U.S. soldiers, as well as a form to strengthen relationships with the Guatemalan population and military. The program is also present in Honduras and Peru. Just the Facts cites $110 million in Defense Department Humanitarian Assistance in the Latin American and Caribbean region from 2008-2012, with nearly a third destined for Haiti in 2010 alone. This projection of soft power is backed up by military and police force, with deadly impacts for Central American communities. DEA agents were recently implicated in the shooting of villagers on a river in Ahuas, Mosquitia, Honduras. Four people were killed, including two women who were reported by witnesses to have been pregnant. Similar joint operations are carried out involving DEA agents in Guatemala, and are likely to increase in the region, with “Operation Hammer” in Guatemala as counterpart to “Operation Anvil” (Operación Yunque) in Honduras, aptly describing the U.S. Military and DEA’s expanding strategy to monitor key drug trafficking air and sea corridors across the Central American isthmus.
OPM goes to NYC: Neoliberal militarism at home and abroad
In his speech tomorrow in front of the United Nations General Assembly, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina will likely reiterate his call for discussion of drug legalization, while also affirming the need for increased U.S. aid for militarization in Guatemala. This comes on the heels of what the AP describes as “the biggest military buildup in the Central American country since its long and bloody civil war,” with the Patriot Party administration having already opened two new military bases in San Juan Sacatepequez and the Petén, regions of social conflict as much due to community opposition to development mega-projects as well as organized crime. Meanwhile, non-military solutions to the problem of organized crime have been neglected, with the Guatemalan Congress and Perez Molina’s Patriot Party blocking the approval of an anti-corruption law.
At Memorial de Guatemala, political analyst Andrés Cabanas draws on multi-sectoral social movement discussions of the Patriot Party’s project of “neoliberal militarism,” characterized by re-militarization, the deepening transnationalization of the economy based on extractive industries, and a conservative ideology tied to elite right wing and military power that “makes use of democracy” while “emptying it of its content” through authoritarian decision-making and the institutionalization of violence. Cabanas discusses social movement resistance to this model, taking the case of Barillas, Huehuetenango as an exemplary case of social conflict provoked by the imposition of neoliberal economic development, as well as of the repressive response of the state to civil unrest and resistance.
The Guatemalan military has been accused of repeating abuses characteristic of the internal armed conflict during the May state of siege in the municipality of Barillas, Huehuetenango, during which the homes of opponents of a local hydroelectric project were ransacked and families forced to flee into the mountains. In a recent publication by the social science institution FLACSO, Guatemala Indymedia Center members Quimy de León and Cecilia González analyze how current militarization recapitulates the violations of the past: the use of blacklists and civilian informers; violence against women; physical and psychological control through terror; forced displacement; and the detention of community leaders, characterized as political prisoners. Community leaders and organizations defending indigenous territory and natural resources have been accused of involvement in organized crime by high-ranking government officials.
In recent weeks military presence as part of a combined police-military task force was increased in peripheral neighborhoods of Guatemala City, such as the impoverished and violence-ridden Zona 18; and military and police force was used to forcibly evict families occupying land owned by the Guatemalan military. Otto Perez Molina argues that simultaneously advocating for drug legalization and militarization poses no contradiction. Indeed, legalization suggests a solution to prohibition’s distortion of neoliberal ideology, while militarization simultaneously defends the state’s territorial control and dominant economic interests. Militarization and criminalization at home is the Janus face of Otto Perez Molina’s plea for discussion of the legalization and regulation of drugs abroad, a libertarian-progressive sheen to iron-fisted “Mano Dura.”