"Our homeland is bleeding painfully," is how Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez put it recently at a religious event whose audience included Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
Indeed, Honduras is spiraling into an ungovernable and unstable situation due to the increased operations of international drug syndicates and their local gang proxies within its territory.
Last October, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime reported that Honduras, a nation of 7.6 million, now has the highest homicide rate in the world.
Honduras is a victim of what counter-narcotics experts refer to as the "balloon effect," where heavy pressures on traffickers in Colombia and Mexico have forced them to relocate to less dangerous environments such as Honduras, where they are flooding the country with hundreds of millions of dollars in drug profits, bribing legislators, judges and police officials, and further debilitating already weak institutions.
What can the U.S. do about this situation? Well, the first thing that’s important is emphasizing what we should not do — and that is cut off all police and military aid, as a recent tendentious op-ed in the New York Times argued. The piece went on to make the preposterous claim that the Obama administration is responsible for the drug carnage in Honduras because it supported elections to end the 2009 presidential crisis that saw the ouster of proto-authoritarian Manuel Zelaya.
While it is true that the Honduras crisis does have its origins in the U.S., it’s not quite the way the op-ed’s author imagines. It is the U.S. insatiable demand for illicit narcotics that fuels the crisis there and throughout Central America. (U.S. officials estimate that fully 95 percent of the illegal drugs that go from South America to the United States pass through Central America.)
As such, we have an obligation to the Honduran people to help mitigate the violent fallout. But we also have to recognize the U.S.’s present fiscal situation and that major new assistance initiatives are unlikely to be contemplated. But there are important things we can do now within present budgets.
Because the narcos have so thoroughly penetrated the police forces, the military has had to be called in to try and stabilize the situation. We need to work with the Honduran government to allow the DEA to train and vet special law enforcement units as they have done in other countries. Without wholesale reform of front-line units, no progress in the drug war will be possible. Similarly, increased support for witness, judge and prosecutor protection programs to eradicate impunity is essential.
Second, the U.S. needs to implement an extradition treaty with Honduras as quickly as possible. Extradition to the U.S. is what kingpins fear the most, because they know they cannot buy their way out. It has proved extremely valuable in Colombia’s war against the cartels and needs to be replicated here.
Yet, these immediate steps and any subsequent measures cannot succeed absent local leadership, which is something the U.S. cannot provide. Regrettably, President Lobo’s tenure has not been marked by strong leadership on this front. In short, he is no President Uribe of Colombia.
Honduras needs a leader who is willing to take on the drug cartels and those corrupted by them and move his country — principally the political and economic elites — to make the necessary sacrifices to reclaim their country’s sovereignty from the drug lords and gangs. President Uribe challenged the wealthy to radically increase Colombia’s security resources and they responded, because they saw him as a leader who could be trusted.
Of course, reducing U.S. demand for illegal drugs would begin to solve the problem, but that is not going to happen in the short-term, and the house is on fire today. Decriminalization is a pipe dream. Neither is walking away from the problem a serious option. Honduras’s war on drugs is ours too, and it’s time that both sides begin treating it as such.
[Full disclosure: In July 2009, I helped to advise a Honduran business delegation that came to Washington during their presidential crisis to defend Manuel Zelaya’s removal from power.]
Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent. He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone. He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy. Among his scoops, Lamothe reported exclusively in 2010 that the Marine Corps had recommended that Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer receive the Medal of Honor. This year, he was part of a team of journalists that exposed senior Marine Corps leaders' questionable involvement in legal cases, and then covering it up. A Pentagon investigation is underway in those cases.| The Complex |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |