Yesterday came word that the Department of Copan, along the border with Guatemala, is the latest place to become fully militarized.
Without warning on Wednesday, Operation Fuerza Cabañas, an indefinite deployment of 8 combined military and police units, a total of 350 troops, to the northern part of the Department of Copan, took control of the towns of La Entrada, Florida, San Antonio, El Paraíso, Cabañas, Santa Rita y Copán Ruinas. Police and military began combined patrols, stopping and identifying people walking and driving, and set up 24 hour checkpoints at various points along roadways.
The official policy of joint policing involves placing roadblocks and checkpoints where military and police review the identity papers of everyone who passes that point, by car, bus, truck, or on foot. They inspect everything in and on any vehicles. They pat people down, looking for weapons.
The policy also involves combined patrols walking through neighborhoods, entering houses rounding up people they suspect of being criminals, without warrants.
Most troubling are getting reports from correspondents throughout the country of more disturbing checkpoints set up at night, where the people stopping vehicles are masked, do not wear uniforms, and are heavily armed.
This is precisely what daily life was like in the early 1980s under the last military dictatorship. Travel through the country meant being stopped by army and police units, having everything in your car inspected and potentially queried, up to and including books based on their covers. It meant having buses stopped, young men removed, some taken to military bases for further investigation-- something that happened not just to Honduras we now, but to RNS as well.
First to be militarized in the current campaigns were parts of Colón and Olancho, allegedly to take over security. The military immediately established checkpoints, took over and still control the INA regional headquarters, and began rousting the campesinos of the Movimiento Unido de Campesinos del Aguan (MUCA) who have occupied African palm lands they argue were improperly taken from them by large landowners such as Miguel Facussé. The occupation of this region is indefinite.
In the case of the Copan campaign, the publicly stated purpose is to bring security to the residents of the area. The department of Copan is one of the places where Mexican drug cartels are reported to have established safe houses.
Press accounts of the rationale of this latest deployment is mixed. SDP reported it was strictly an anti-drug campaign. Honduran domestic sources called it a response to the assassination of a congressman from Copan by supposed gang members from Guatemala.
If there were any doubt that militarization is meant to intimidate local populations, Oscar Alvarez, the Security Minister for the current government, has dispelled that with numerous threatening statements.
He said of the campaign in the Bajo Aguan,
"we have the names of a few of the leaders who incite the humble campesinos to take the roads; they will be captured and placed at the order of the prosecutors....We cannot permit that they muddy the name of Honduras and bring water to their mill, which is not the water of honest campesinos, but of persons that wish to discredit the rule of law and the actions of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa."Is the fascism of the 1980s the future of Honduras?