U.S. Troops Deployed to Honduras to Battle Sandinistas

U.S. Troops Deployed to Honduras to Battle Sandinistas

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On March 16, 1988, State Department spokesman Charles Redman describes the Sandinistas' primary objective in destroying resistance supplies in Honduras. President Ronald Reagan deployed combat troops to Honduras in an effort to support the Honduran government in its battle against the Sandinistas.

The Hidden Script of U.S. Militarization in Honduras

Para leer este artículo en español, pulse aquí.

On June 2, the United States announced that 180 Marines would be deployed to Honduras as a preventative measure primarily concerning the upcoming hurricane season. Both the U.S. Marines and the White House affirmed that the military mobilization will be temporary and that its functions will only be used to protect the local populace in the case of a natural disaster. [1]

Regional specialists, however, fear that the presence of sophisticated U.S. military and surveillance equipment, as well as the sheer number of Marines that the United States brought to the Soto Cano Base Area in Palmerola, signal that this mobilization is the beginning of a new round of expansion of the United States’ presence in Central America reminiscent of Washington’s practices during the 1980s. These assumptions are based on how the United States has favorably supported the new Honduran government, despite it being established by the illegitimate removal of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from office by military troops on June 28, 2009.

Countries in the Americas have been skeptical about the authenticity of the 2009 coup d’état and the statements made by President Barack Obama regarding this issue. In fact, according to the journalist Michael Parenti, certain indicators suggest that the 2009 Honduran coup was sponsored by the United States. [2] In her book Hard Choices, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted “that she used the power of her office to make sure that Zelaya would not return to office.” [3] It was later revealed that the cadre of influential lobbyists hired to galvanize support in Washington for the coup have strong ties to both Hillary and Bill Clinton.[4] Additionally, many Latin Americans have made definitive links between the United States and the movement that overthrew President Zelaya in 2009, and President Obama shied away from promptly denouncing the military coup in Honduras.

On the other hand, according to a 2009 column written by Noel Brinkerhoff for AllGov, many of the accusations of past U.S. complicity with the military moves in Honduras are based on the fact that, at that moment, and still today, a large segment of the Honduran military receives U.S. training and supplies. [5] This suggests that the military coup that overthrew President Zelaya would not have succeeded if Washington had not conferred the adequate training. However, what is most disquieting about this situation is that, despite knowing how extensively U.S. military training affects the behavior of Honduran troops, the United States agreed to continue providing strategic help to the Honduran armed forces. Washington thus continues to be targeted with accusations regarding the 2009 coup that overthrew President Zelaya. Most notably, the plane carrying Zelaya out of the country stopped and was refueled at the U.S. military base at Palmerola. U.S. authorities, however, insist that they had no knowledge of Zelaya being on the plane.[6]

The allegations of U.S. involvement in the coup are not the only reason for the regional skepticism regarding the recent military deployment in Honduras. According to a LatinNews article on Honduras, the fact that the United States is considering a military expansion to attack regional drug cartels could not only worsen the U.S. reputation in Latin America but also at the international level, because the failure of this mission would be disconcerting for its regional efforts. [7]

According to Heather Gies, it is not the recent military expansion that is most concerning to Hondurans, but rather the fact that neither the United States nor Honduran police have been particularly effective in combating the high index of criminality in the region. [8] In fact, some analysts find that the reason why the Honduran public views the recent U.S. military expansion as ominous is because they do not understand how the deployment of 180 Marines for six months will improve what thousands of police and military have failed to bring about in six years of fighting impunity and crime in the Central American country. [9]

Others take issue with the justification behind the military expansion, arguing that the geographic distance between Honduras and the United States is short enough that the deployment is not necessary, and that, if a natural disaster does occur, immediate collaboration and rapid deployment can be provided. Gies asserts, however, that hurricane protection is simply an excuse used by the United States to justify deploying its troops and thus expanding its military penetration through Latin America. [10]

What is central in this debate is not whether or not the United States should collaborate with Honduras, but rather why the United States is willing to collaborate with Honduras today, despite the fact that the Honduran government’s policy fundamentally contradicts the United States’ stance, specifically in regards to human rights. This controversy, according to Gies, will only result in growing scrutiny and criticism of the hypocrisy of U.S. policy toward Honduras and elsewhere in Latin America. [11]

In fact, according to Gies, what is most surprising about this situation is seeing how the United States applies its international policy selectively, isolating some nations like Venezuela, while supporting other countries such as Honduras, where levels of crime are exorbitant and there is very limited freedom of expression. What is most unnerving about the situation, according to recent declarations of former Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, is that there is no exact science determining what the United States is looking for in Honduras, nor is there a way to tell whether it is supporting the rule of law or rather the dictatorship. [12] The U.S. State Department’s annual Human Rights Report published this week condemns the cycle of impunity, human trafficking, and domestic violence that pervade Honduras, concluding that, “The [Honduran] government took some steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but corruption, intimidation, and the poor functioning of the justice system were serious impediments to the protection of human rights.” [13] Contrary to this stance, it is the government’s ardent militarization of Honduras that has proved to be a most detrimental impediment to promoting human rights.

Although it is stipulated that the U.S military expansion in Honduras will solely be allowed during the strict period corresponding to the hurricane season, there is growing uneasiness among the Honduran population. Recent political and social events in the region give credence to the idea that the U.S. troops will prolong their stay in Honduras. In fact, logic indicates that if the troops are meant to battle drug cartels in addition to possibly providing hurricane relief, then they will need much longer than six months.

Under these circumstances, it would also be important for the U.S. government to issue statements that explain its military support for the Honduran government, given the passage of the “Leahy Law” in 1997, which prohibits U.S. military support to countries with records of human rights violations and with continued impunity. It is therefore unclear as to why the United States is providing military support to Honduras. It is also not clear what characteristics a regime must have to receive such acquiescent treatment from the U.S. government.

It is also of crucial relevance to define the time frame that the U.S. troops will be deployed in order to determine their success in countering the drug cartels and other factors contributing to elevated levels of crime and violence in Honduras. Finally, it would also be interesting to know what the repercussions of the next U.S. presidential elections will have in this process due to the fact that many of the top contenders are running on interventionist ideals, and, if elected, they could cause the military expansion in Honduras to be prolonged or even intensified.

By: Laura V. Natera, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Was there hostile contact between deployed US forces and Sandinista forces during Operation Golden Pheasant?

Operation Golden Pheasant was a deployment of US paratroopers to Honduras in 1988 following an incursion of the Nicaraguan military to pursue Nicaraguan Contra forces seeking sanctuary in Honduras.

According to the wikipedia article, both US and Honduran forces did incur casualties, but the article does not give us a clear idea if these were non-battle casualties or the result of skirmishes between Nicaraguan and US-Honduran forces.

I guess part of the reason why there is a unclear picture of the type of casualties involved stems from the fact that the operation is still classified. If it is still classified, I guess this operation was more than just a "send in the paratroopers and watch the Nicaraguans quickly leave" scenario.

Essay on the Central America War

Please help us advocate for recognition as Veterans of this Low-Intensity Conflict by sending a letter to your U.S. Congress or Senate representative in support of our mission by asking Congress to issue an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal to all U.S. troops who served in Honduras from 1981 to 1992. This will help the families of the killed and wounded and those veterans attempting to receive proper combat honors and recognition for their sacrifices during the decade that ended Soviet communism.

HONDURAS – AFEM, NDSM & CACM (1981 – 1992)

UPDATE – We now know at least 70 U.S. troops were killed in Honduras during the Central America War from 1981 to 1992, which is more than all U.S. troops killed during the Panama Invasion, the Grenada Rescue and the El Salvadoran civil war combined and all these operations are recognized as combat, except Honduras. More than 300 were killed during the C.A. War total. Of the twenty-two listed in the Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) as killed in El Salvador during the C.A. War period, at least seven were in fact based in Honduras conducting combat missions into El Salvador proving the combat nature of these deployments to Honduras.

The Honduran deployments during the C.A. War collectively remain the only U.S. operations during the conflicts of the ‘Decade That Ended Soviet Communism’ where U.S. troops have not received a Campaign or Expeditionary Medal, or other combat honors and recognition.

The first U.S. casualties in Honduras occurred on September 23, 1981 in Tegucigalpa when two U.S. military advisers were wounded by terrorists’ with automatic weapons and the Central America War officially ended in January, 1992 when hostilities ended in El Salvador. Analyzing all conflicts which occurred in Central America from 1979 to 1992 as one overall related campaign is important to establishing the magnitude of the conflict to help counteract the ‘piecemeal’ approach of disseminating information to the public related to the C.A. War.

President Reagan declared a National State of Emergency against Nicaragua beginning in May 1985 that lasted until March 1990 and remains today the only such declaration against a foreign nation not covered by a Campaign or Expeditionary Medal for the U.S. troops sent into harms way to quell that emergency where those forces went into action and were killed and wounded. Honduras, with thousands of U.S. troops stationed in country as a ‘protective shield’ is directly north of Nicaragua and acted as a buffer between the threat and homeland USA.

The Executive Branch and Pentagon maintain the Honduran deployments of American forces were safe for training and war games and that Honduras was a noncombat area.

U.S. TROOPS FIGHT IN CENTRAL AMERICA WAR should have been the headline of every media outlet in the U.S. in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. President Reagan maybe the most popular American President ever, in fact, many would argue that he was one of the greatest world leaders ever-but its also important to give some credit to those who helped him end Soviet communism. Reagan sent thousands of U.S. combat troops to Honduras into imminent danger and many engaged in gun battles and were targeted by Nicaraguan government troops, El Salvadoran leftists guerrillas and numerous terrorist groups-this was a low-intensity conflict! Yet, where are the War Powers Resolution and Arms Export Control Act notifications to Congress authorizing this? Where are the conflict medals and honors for these troops, which directly translate into benefits and care for the veterans and their families? Of course the Executive Branch and the Pentagon knew the extent of Nicaraguan Government troop, El Salvadoran leftist guerrilla and leftists terrorist attacks inside Honduras while American troops were armed for combat protecting U.S. assets and interests. One important question that must be answered is: did U.S. military forces engage in combat inside Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador during the Central America War?

The purpose of this essay is to ensure those U.S. troops who were killed or wounded and served during the Central American War receive the combat recognition they deserve.

Honduras, a country roughly the size of Virginia or Louisiana, was home base for the United States’ orchestration of two and a half civil wars in Central America during the 1980’s and early 1990’s. In Honduras, more than 300,000 U.S. troops participated in massive military building projects protected, constructed and expanded military bases and roads, patrolled the air ways and waters, operated and guarded radar facilities and built at least ten military purposed airfields. Other U.S. Service Members (SM) conducted necessary security missions for all U.S. interests in the region, while other troops where sent to Honduras for large-scale “use-of-force” Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises (EDRE)-which most Americans remember as the reason the Executive Branch and the Pentagon sent U.S. troops to Honduras. It was not public knowledge in the 1980’s that combat equipped U.S. troops with ammunition were deployed to Honduras to protect U.S. assets, interests and conduct other operations. Many were subjected to hostile fire, explosions, returned fire and were killed or wounded. All were in an Imminent Danger area.

Within the borders of Honduras, Special Operation Groups conducted training of Honduran and anti-Nicaraguan government (Contra) forces to fight the Cuban/Soviet Bloc supported Sandinista Government of Nicaragua. El Salvadoran forces were trained by CIA and the U.S. military inside Honduras to aid against leftist guerrillas attempting to overthrow that country’s unstable government and they even participated in U.S. and Honduran exercises inside Honduras. Congress must approve any training done by U.S. forces to foreign military forces overseas. U.S. Military Police (MP) units, primarily from bases in Panama, provided the security needed to help accomplish President Reagan’s overall ‘Doctrine’ of ending Soviet communist aggression and expansionism into Central America. U.S. security forces guarded radar stations, airfields, and large military installations while conducting convoy escorts of supplies, VIP’s and were occasionally dispatched on rescue missions around Honduras while equipped for combat. Navy ships patrolled the water ways around Central America. Congress authorized very little, if any of this. U.S. military ‘security’ members were authorized to carry live ammunition during patrols and contingency operations under a U.S. Southern Command directive.

Since Infantry units were not publicly allowed in any significant numbers (other than during highly public Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises) to be seen in Central America (which did not include Panama), armed MP units were utilized in a combat manner. Infantry units such as Ranger Battalions, Special Forces and Navy SEAL’s were, for the most part, secretly deployed. The media had knowledge of Special Forces units training Honduran and El Salvadoran units at the Regional Military Training Center in northern Honduras and operating during counterterrorism ‘exercises’ throughout Honduras, however, it was not widely known, especially during the early years of the conflict, that combat infantry units were present throughout Honduras. For example, the ultra secret SEASPRAY units operating inside Nicaragua or Delta Forces patrolling inside Honduras on hit-and-run operations. The not-as-secret Task Force 160 conducted covert operations while playing the dual role as the ‘deflection’ unit for SEASPRAY clandestine operations throughout C.A..

In addition to the secret combat infantry special operations units conducting covert and clandestine operations, helicopter battalions, signal and human intelligence units, Marine Expeditionary Forces, Military Police and Security platoons, Psychological Operations units, and many others, all fulfilled combat roles from Honduras throughout C.A., since large infantry units were not permitted. This was the creation of the new military ideology to become know as the Low-Intensity Conflict.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and American Civilian Military Assistance (CMA) groups operating in unison, coordinated intelligence gathering and other vital functions needed to help win both civil wars from bases in Honduras. CIA, CMA and other groups trained, coordinated, acted in defensive postures and participated in offensive operations against Nicaraguan Sandinista government military units, El Salvadoran guerrilla forces and terrorist organizations throughout Central America.

Honduras also played host to numerous Contra (anti-Nicaragua Sandinista government) bases along the southern border in Honduras where most attacks against the Nicaraguan Sandinista government originated. Conversely, Nicaraguan Sandinista government troops from Nicaragua and leftist guerrillas from El Salvador launched attacks into Honduras against Contra, Honduran and U.S. forces and strategic interests. Because Honduras played host to both the U.S. buildup and allowed the expatriate Nicaraguan Contra bases to operate along the Nicaraguan border inside Honduras, it became a fighting participant, as did American troops, in the Contra War against Nicaragua. This also has never been publicly acknowledged by the USG.

The majority of U.S. troops deployed to Honduras for protective and security purposes were equipped for combat with pistols, automatic machine guns, ammunition, body armor, battle dress uniforms, communication equipment and the necessary supportive vehicles and machinery to perform their missions. These combat MP units and others maintained full combat loads of ammunition at all times while in country. Attacks by Nicaraguan Sandinista Government and El Salvadoran Leftist Guerrilla military units into Honduras were a common occurrence as were attacks by other terrorist organizations that frequently targeted important Honduran military, Contra and U.S. strategic assets and personnel in Honduras.

During the 1980’s, Central America (C.A.) was a hotbed of military coups, civil wars, terrorism, hostility and conflict. There was an intense civil war ravaging El Salvador, the U.S. backed Contras were at war against the Soviet/Cuban backed Nicaraguan Sandinistas government over control of Nicaragua and border conflicts erupted between other C.A. countries. The U.S. invaded the Island of Grenada during a rescue mission a move to thwart a Soviet/Cuba buildup on that strategically located island. Late in the decade, in December 1989, the US began the ouster of Republic of Panama’s leader General Noriega under Operation Just Cause.

Terrorist attacks against U.S. citizens and other deaths involving Americans began as early as 1979. Examples include the kidnapping and eventual execution of U.S. citizen and Goodyear executive Clifford Bevens in December 1980 in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Also in December 1980, terrorists in the streets of San Salvador, El Salvador murdered U.S. citizen and businessman Thomas Bracken.

Attacks in nearby Honduras began as early as May 29, 1979 when the Mexican Embassy in Honduras was attacked by members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in what is described as an unarmed melee. On April 15, 1980, communist agitators with firearms and other small weapons attacked a caravan of vehicles carrying members of the National Party of Honduras. Similar terrorist attacks against the U.S. military, U.S. citizens and property were common throughout CA beginning in the early 1980’s. On October 30, 1980 and again on April 5, 1982 assailants attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with automatic weapons. In Tegucigalpa, Honduras on December 18, 1980, armed assailants with automatic weapons kidnapped U.S. citizen Paul Vinelli, President of Atlantic Bank, a subsidiary of Chase Manhattan.

On September 23, 1981, two American troops were wounded during a ‘terrorist’ attack in Tegucigalpa, Honduras while riding in a U.S. Embassy vehicle carrying a group of U.S. Military Advisors. This marked the first U.S. military casualties of the Contra War period in Honduras.

In 1981, the U.S. began sending Military Training Teams (MTT) to El Salvador to aid in quelling that countries civil war. Up to fifty-five members were authorized by Congress. The Salvadoran civil war occurred from 1981 to 1992 for which President Clinton, in 1996, issued an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (AFEM) to U.S. troops who participated in that conflict.

In Honduras, CIA and U.S. Military units began advising Central Americans and operating in country as early as 1981. On November 16, 1981 President Reagan was advised by his National Security Council to increase military aid and training to both El Salvador and Honduras and to support democratic forces (the Contras) in Nicaragua (National Security Decision Directive [NSDD] 17, January 04, 1982). On January 29, 1982, President Reagan ordered the improvement of bases and construction of runways in Honduras and other C.A. strategic locations (NSDD 21). On April 10, 1982, President Reagan created a national security plan to deal with managing terrorism and responding to terrorist threats and attacks (NSDD 30). Terrorism becomes a national concern and is more prominent in C.A. in the 1980’s than anywhere else in the world (Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Threat Analysis Division, LETHAL TERRORIST ACTIONS AGAINST AMERICANS 1973-1985 & Department of State, Bureau of Diplomatic Security, SIGNIFICANT INCIDENTS OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE AGAINST AMERICANS 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989).

On May 28, 1982 President Reagan ordered additional funding for DOD and CIA to make further improvements to interdiction programs and increase intelligence gathering and operations throughout all democratic states in C.A. (NSDD # 37A). Furthermore, on September 24, 1982, during a National Security Planning Group meeting, President Reagan was advised to continue current C.A. policies and later reaffirms NSDD’s # 17, 21 and 37 as sound U.S. foreign policy and calls attention to the “possibilities of escalation of the conflict in the region” adding his own label to the regional crisis and lays out a plan for repelling a possible invasion of Honduras by Cuban/Soviet backed Nicaraguan forces (NSDD # 59, October 05, 1982).

The New York Times published an OP/ED article titled “NOT-SO-SECRET WAR in HONDURAS” on November 5, 1982 further referencing a New Republic article on the covert operations in Honduras titled “Bay of Pigs II” and “America’s Secret War” was the headline on the cover of Newsweek. The Times article acknowledged the USG policy of supplying arms to Contra insurgents in Honduras in 1982.

To better understand the climate of the time and region, NSDD 82 needs special attention. President Reagan specifically directs his administration and DOD to ensure “The U.S. military presence in El Salvador will be sufficiently augmented to permit the U.S. to better influence the prosecution of the war.” By February of 1983, President Reagan was receiving daily Situation Reports from his full-time Central America Working Group located at the State Department (NSDD 82, February 24, 1983).

On July 28, 1983 President Reagan orders the strengthening of diplomatic and security efforts in CA to deal with the threat to U.S. national interests in the region. Reagan orders a plan to prevent the furtherance of aggression by detailing the following:

“The consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist regime in Nicaragua, committed to the export of violence and totalitarianism, poses a significant risk to the stability of Central America. Our ability to support democratic states in the region, and those on the path to democracy, must be visibly demonstrated by our military forces. We must likewise enhance current efforts to provide a democratic alternative to the peoples of the region who are subjected to repression and totalitarianism. Adequate U.S. support must also be provided to the democratic resistance forces within Nicaragua in an effort to ensure that Nicaragua ceases to be a Soviet/Cuban base and that the government adheres to the principles that it agreed to in July 1979.

The democratic states of Central America must be assisted to the maximum degree possible in defending themselves against externally supported subversive or hostile neighbors. U.S. military activities in the region must be significantly increased to demonstrate our willingness to defend our allies and to deter further Cuban and Soviet Bloc intervention.”

During three weeks in late January and early February 1983, Reagan ordered DOD to create an exercise, or show of force, called Ahuas Tara (Big Pine) that involved a small U.S. contingency of about 1,600 troops and roughly 4,000 Honduran troops. In NSDD #100, Reagan orders DOD to commence with exercise Ahuas Tara II on or about August 1, 1983. Ahuas Tara II, which actually began on August 3, was a much larger and longer lasting ‘show of force’ involving a total of 12,000 U.S. troops and ended on February 8, 1984 (Comptroller General of the United States, Decision B-213137 dated June 22, 1984, Appendix I, BACKGROUND Heading, Page 1 and Footnote 1). Coincidentally, the Comptroller General and the General Accountability Office (GAO) determined that President Reagan “improperly” charged funds used for Ahuas Tara II to Operation & Maintenance appropriations and that he authorized the training of Honduran armed forces by U.S. forces, which Congress, by law, must authorized. Naval activities in the waters off the coast of C.A. were included in these operations on a major scale (Comptroller B-213137 June 22, 1984).

On October 25, 1983, the rescue of American citizens and reinstallation of a pro-democratic government on the Island of Grenada commenced under Operation Urgent Fury. The October 13th coup, deaths of the Prime Minister and several Cabinet members and, possibly more important, halting the subsequent Soviet/Cuban involvement on the island and in the vicinity was a top motivation for President Reagan (NSDD # 110, October 21, 1983). Documents seized on Grenada detailing the creation of a Soviet/Cuban third world proxy in Central America was of particular interest to Reagan. He directed controlled analysis, precise disclosure and dissemination of intelligence collected during the operation to further his justification against Soviet/Cuban influence and activities in C.A. (NSDD # 112, November 15, 1983).

Both the National Bipartisan Commission on C.A. (NBCCA) and the National Security Planning Group agreed, in early 1984 that “vital U.S. interests are jeopardized by the continuing crisis in Central America.” As a result, Reagan determines that with continued Soviet/Cuban Bloc support of the Sandinistas, for ongoing and increasing exporting of subversion and insurgency throughout the region, four goals must be achieved 1) support for democracy, 2) support for economic growth throughout the region, 3) the end to regional disputes and conflicts through negotiation, and 4) “Provision for sufficient security assistance to ensure that democratic institutions, social reforms, and economic improvements are not threatened by communist subversion and guerrilla warfare” (NSDD # 124, February 7, 1984).

The report titled, Where Next in Central America details the NBCCA’s policy related to implementing the above stated goals by each C.A. country. President Reagan directs the development of what he called Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercises (E.D.R.E.) describing operations such as Ahuas Tara I, II and III, Grenadero, Bigger Focus and others. Other directives spelled out include new exercises in Honduras and naval activities off the coast of C.A.. Maintaining high levels of regional security assistance teams and the Special Operations group’s Regional Military Training Center (CREM) in northern Honduras to ensure the continued training and improvement of U.S. alias in C.A.. President Reagan specifically details two separate U.S. military uses in the area, 1) Exercises and 2) U.S. military activities (NSDD # 124, February 7, 1984).

In conclusion, more than 200 ‘documented’ terrorist attacks occurred against Honduran and U.S. personnel and assets in Honduras from 1979 to 1992 during the Central America War while U.S. troops were building, expanding, protecting, directing, rescuing and patrolling the entire country-many armed for combat with ammunition. Many more attacks went unreported.


EL SALVADOR 22 (at least 7 based in Honduras)


Source: The National Archives, Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS)

*Thousands of U.S. troops were stationed permanently in Panama to guard the Canal. Of the 148 killed during the war, 22 were killed in action during Operation Just Cause in December, 1989.

**Of the 18 killed on Grenada, four Navy members were killed in action on October 23, 1983 in an apparent drowning two days before the operation officially commenced. Grenada’s Operation Urgent Fury’s data is included because of the direct correlation between the island and Cuba/Soviet ties, and the documentation acquired on the island with there impact on President Reagan’s foreign policy towards Central America. President Reagan believed the Grenada Operation was directly linked to Central America and the Marxist-Leninist expansion onto the mainland of the Western Hemisphere.

The Central America War in Honduras from 1981 to 1992, with the second most U.S. casualties in Central America, is the only conflict with no Campaign or Expeditionary Medal awarded. There were more U.S. Troops killed in Honduras during the Central America War then the Panama Invasion, the Grenada rescue and the El Salvadoran conflicts combined-all of which have Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals awarded to troops who served in those conflicts.

The War Powers Resolution –
50 U.S.C. 1541 (c)
Presidential executive power as Commander-in-Chief limitation. The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to
(1) a declaration of war,
(2) specific statutory authorization, or
(3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

50 U.S.C. 1542
The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, and after every such introduction shall consult regularly with the Congress until United States Armed Forces are no longer engaged in hostilities or have been removed from such situations.

50 U.S.C. 1543
(a) Written report time of submission circumstances necessitating submission information reported.
In the absence of a declaration of war, in any case in which United States Armed Forces are introduced—
(1) into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances
(2) into the territory, airspace or waters of a foreign nation, while equipped for combat, except for deployments which relate solely to supply, replacement, repair, or training of such forces or
(3) in numbers which substantially enlarge United States Armed Forces equipped for combat already located in a foreign nation
the President shall submit within 48 hours to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and to the President pro tempore of the Senate a report, in writing, setting forth—
(A) the circumstances necessitating the introduction of United States Armed Forces
(B) the constitutional and legislative authority under which such introduction took place and
(C) the estimated scope and duration of the hostilities or involvement.

In consideration here, the following question must be answered with respect, reason and objectivity: Why was El Salvador designated a Hostile Fire pay area by the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Military Personnel & Policy in 1982 and Service Members who were assigned to El Salvador awarded a Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal in 1996 by President Clinton while U.S. troops who served in Honduras have not? After detailed comparisons of the data contained within the Defense Casualty Analysis System for each C.A. country involved in the Central American Wars of the 1980’s, the following conclusions should be made. During the C.A. War, 22 SM’s were killed in El Salvador and 63 in Honduras. Of the 22 killed in El Salvador, six were by terrorist acts while of the 63 killed in Honduras, one is currently listed as killed by a terrorist act. However, two SM’s in El Salvador were killed by homicide, whereas, in Honduras, three were killed by homicide and two died due to illnesses. One of the SM’s killed by homicide in Honduras was an MP shot while patrolling the perimeter fence at Palmerola Air Base in Honduras. Another, was a Special Forces soldier stabbed to death while on duty by a Honduran Army soldier. The third known American soldier killed by homicide in Honduras was shot in the head by a Honduran. The two killed in El Salvador by homicide were LTC David Pickett and SP4 Earnest Dawson who were executed POW’s permanently stationed in Honduras on a short day trip to El Salvador operating in a direct combat support role from Honduras.

In contrast, U.S. troops serving in Panama before 2000, for example, operated under the authority of the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903, establishing the Panama Canal Zone and the 1970’s treaties that allowed for U.S. control and protection of our enormous investment in Panama. U.S. troops in Panama were not subjected to hostile fire and when Operation Just Cause commenced in 1989, earned Hostile Fire status and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals. The same goes for Germany, Korea and many other locations around the globe. Troops in these countries were not subjected to hostile fire, imminent danger, awarded Purple Hearts and POW Medals nor were they involved in two civil wars and stationed in a country under frequent attacks by government forces of a neighboring country and another country’s leftist guerrilla’s. U.S. troops who served in Honduras were subjected to hostile fire on countless occasions, killed by terrorist acts and murdered while involved in two Civil Wars. Honduras was the base of operations utilized by the U.S. where two Civil Wars were orchestrated and was being attacked by the Nicaraguan government, terrorists and El Salvadoran leftist guerrillas during the war. U.S. troops were stationed and patrolled throughout Honduras during the Central American Wars of the 1980’s. All of this occurred in a country roughly the size of Virginia.

In the words of the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

“Americans have lost their lives in some 85 wars and assorted military actions in the past 234 years. Most of the casualties occurred in a dozen or so major wars. But that does not lessen the sacrifice of those killed in the numerous and mostly forgotten minor expeditions in the far-flung corners of the globe. Whenever any American in uniform is killed by hostile enemy action it is meaningful, and that loss must be remembered and forever recognized.” (VFW Magazine, June 2009 p.21)

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Q: You just took over but what are you learning about the task force’s capabilities and mission?

A: We’re here to do multiple things, disaster relief, hurricane, earthquake, security. We use our helicopters to provide relief and mission coordination. A lot of partner nations like that assistance and don’t have those assets. We don’t have the authorities to do lethal or kinetic. We’re more left of that, helping with information sharing with our partners. We have information to help security inside the countries, if authorities are granted by Congress.

An example is last year Panama wanted help with problems with some of the narcotraffickers coming up from Colombia. The task force moved a couple million tons of supplies to establish a bunch of patrol bases, so their patrols could operate and stop narcotrafficking. We have to wait until they ask, hey can you help us do this? If authorities granted by Congress then able to do it. But we are not doing direct counter narcotic.

Q: How did a career armor, cavalry officer get this job?

A: A lot of the task force work is about building relationships, I did a lot of that working on the joint staff. The task force was one of my top choices during the past selection board because it is an operational command. When you look at the past commanders, they were picked for their leadership experience and ability to solve problems. And the Army picks combat arms officers who are used to leading soldiers in operational environments. I have experience on tanks, Bradleys, Strykers and working with helicopters and other aviation. As you sort of leave the tactical realm to the battalion and above level you are a strategic leader.

Q: How does the task force fit in the larger SOUTHCOM mission and responsibilities?

A: We’re the only assigned forces that SOUTHCOM has in the entire area of operations, except at Guantanamo Bay, which is obviously very static and mission based. Due to our location we do offer an ability to cooperate. We’re eyes on the scene for the combatant commander.

We also have relationships with Guatemala. Maintain those relationships. Also, embassies that are down here, how to assist the countries. We meet with those countries face to face and show them what we have to offer. It’s really about what stuff can we provide whether it’s medical or what we can offer in relationships to leverage what we can provide. If we weren’t here it’s hard to see how SOUTHCOM can have relations with partner nations outside of the embassies.

An example that just happened, the [USNS] Comfort had a 14-country engagement plan. Really [U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command] is running the show under the direction of SOUTHCOM. But we were asked to participate with helicopters, moving people and supplies on and off the ships.

Q: What are some of the other components specific to the task force?

A: The Situational Assessment Team is an eight-member crisis response team. They have the communications capabilities that allow the SOUTHCOM commander to put us anywhere from the southern tip of South America to Guatemala or Belize. Having this staff makes us able to go anywhere and gives the team the ability to plug assets in anywhere. They’re the SOUTHCOM commander’s eyes and ears.

Also, the task force includes the Air Force’s 612th Air Base Squadron Fire Department. Twice a year the team brings in partner firefighter teams from across Central America and trains them on our techniques. So, while those airmen are assigned here, they’re getting a chance to practice and train their craft.


U.S. troops a part of life in Honduras Morning Call Washington Bureau reporter Scott Higham traveled through Honduras to cover the U.S. military presence and the participation of area Pennsylvania National Guard units in that Central American nation.

Each morning dozens of children leave this isolated hamlet and walk along a lonely dirt road built by the U.S. National Guard and Army Reserve. The children, many of them barefoot, turn down a smaller road leading to Camp Powder Horn, where they stand outside the modestly fortified American outpost and beg for lempira, the local currency.

Inside the camp, hundreds of American servicemen, including 111 guardsmen from Hazleton, Luzerne County, prepare to leave. They have been on a road- building exercise deep inside this impoverished country. On Tuesday, after completing their 17-day tour, the guardsmen headed back to Pennsylvania, only to be replaced by another contingent of U.S. soldiers, part of an unbroken chain of American troop rotations that began here four years ago.

The Americans keep arriving at camps like Powder Horn and the Palmerola Air Base, a much larger complex closer to the Nicaraguan border, and the children keep reaching out their dirty hands and casting radiant smiles toward the gringos who have come to their country.

The scene is repeated throughout Honduras, the second poorest country in the hemisphere. At the Hotel Maya in Tegucigalpa, the nation's capital, children tug on a passing pair of pants and say, "Americano, lempira por favor." In Comayagua, a village bordering Palmerola, prostitutes still curse the commander's decision to keep American servicemen from visiting their brothels, which line a narrow, dusty street.

Few things have changed in Honduras since the turn of the century, when several American fruit companies transformed it into the archetypical banana republic. Oxen-pulled carts still carry crops to the marketplace in rural areas. The exchange rate has remained the same since 1918 - two lempira for every dollar - and the economy is dominated by U.S. companies, like Dole Fruit Co., Domino's Pizza and the Holiday Inn, which account for nearly 90 percent of the nation's foreign investment.

The banana republic image clings tightly to Honduras, bolstered by the constant U.S. military presence. Opposition members of the elected Honduran government say their country of 4 1/2 million people, most of them Roman Catholics, has become a base of operations for U.S. foreign policy. Critics of the policy - which is designed, in part, to intimidate Nicaragua's Sandinistas and El Salvador's leftist guerrillas - refer to the nation as the "U.S.S. Honduras."

"It's our territory that's being used for military, strategic considerations," said an angry Honduran congressmen, Efrain A. Diaz Arrivillaga, a member of the opposition Christian Democratic Party.

Rodimiro Paderre stands in a dusty road in Yoro, a rural farming village 25 miles from Camp Powder Horn. A postal worker active in Honduras' mainstream governing party, Paderre said he supports the increased American military presence in Honduras. He also supports the road-building project that will eventually connect the region's fertile valleys with ports along the Caribbean coast. The roads also will connect the rugged interior with the recently fortified Honduran Goloson Air Base at La Ceiba, where American-made F-5 fighter jets are stationed.

"The Sandinistas would have invaded already if the Americans weren't here," Paderre said. "We do this because allies protect each other."

Earlier this month a Nicaraguan military official defected to the United States and revealed that the Sandinistas are planning to place 600,000 Nicaraguans under arms by 1995. The government is also trying to obtain MiG fighter jets from the Soviet Union. Last week the United States delivered two F-5 fighters to the Honduran air force in La Ceiba and plans to deliver 10 more by 1989. The F-5s are the most sophisticated jets in Central America. They raise the possibility of an arms race for air superiority in a region least able to afford it.

Paderre, like most rural villagers interviewed, said the thousands of American soldiers who come here each year to build roads and conduct military exercises are helping the Hondurans. This year the United States handed Honduras $131 million in economic aid and $61 million in military assistance. Paderre and other villagers say the economy can only improve with the economic assistance and road-building projects. More importantly, he said, the Sandinistas and the Salvadoran guerrillas have been placed on notice by the sweeping show of U.S. military force.

That show of force began five years ago at Palmerola. Once an obsolete Honduran flight academy, the base is now a highly secretive center for U.S. military exercises and counterintelligence operations in the region. In 1982 Congress set aside $13 million for a military construction project at the 1,800-acre base, about 80 miles from the Nicaraguan border. The Pentagon ordered an 8,000-foot runway to accommodate the Air Force's largest aircraft - C-5s and C-130s. Prefabricated buildings to house troops and operation centers began to rise from the valley's parched soil and thick weeds.

The base is now jokingly referred to as the "Honduran Hilton." Amid the tarantulas, scorpions and poisonous snakes are four racquetball courts, a hospital, a swimming pool and a television station that pulls in popular sitcoms and game shows from the United States via several satellite dishes that dot the base. There are makeshift nightclubs called the Palmerola Beach Club and the Hangar Club, and most of the base's 727 buildings are air- conditioned. Some are even equipped with videocassette recorders, color television sets and elaborate rackstereo systems. Servicemen can buy hot dogs flown in from the States and watch videos like "Top Gun" rented from a base store.

Just west of the hot dog stand and the video store, behind a 6-foot-high fence, is "Black Jack," a flight operations area that is off limits to visitors. Huey and Chinook helicopters sit on landing pads inside the compound, and C-130 troop transport planes are parked in the shadows of a modernized control tower and sophisticated radar equipment. Sandbags and corrugated steel bunkers occupy strategic points throughout the base, and many of the servicemen stationed here carry sidearms. "The threat level is very low," said Army Maj. Gary Hovatter, a Special Forces' Ranger serving as Palmerola's chief spokesman.

Joint Task Force Bravo, the U.S. headquarters in Honduras, maintains between 800 and 1,600 servicemen at the Palmerola Air Base at all times, according to Hovatter and U.S. Embassy officials.

Theoretically, Palmerola is a Honduran air force training academy. In practice, the base serves as the logistical nerve center for U.S. military operations in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Congressional testimony, court documents and news reports show that U.S. planes and drones fly from Palmerola and other American-fortified airstrips to gather intelligence from Nicaragua and El Salvador. The information is then dispatched directly to Washington, the U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom) in Panama, El Salvador's American-supported army, and, in limited instances, to the Contra forces fighting the Sandinistas.

"By means of these interception activities, and breaking the Nicaraguan government codes, the CIA was able to determine and to advise us of the present locations of all Nicaraguan government military units," said former Contra leader Edgar Chamorro in an affidavit submitted two years ago to the International Court of Justice.

Chamorro, who broke ranks with the CIA-backed rebel forces, also said in the affidavit that the infrastructure left behind after U.S. military maneuvers in Honduras - roads, airstrips and SEA (South East Asia) huts - were used by the Contras to launch attacks on Nicaragua when the U.S. servicemen left the area.

Tens of thousands of American soldiers have rotated into Honduras during the past four years, most of them arriving at Palmerola before heading off to remote areas of the mountainous countryside. Administration officials insist that the frequent road-building and military deployment exercises here will not lead to U.S. intervention in Central America. A direct combat role, they say, would be a costly mistake.

But those opposed to the administration's policy here call it "gunboat diplomacy" and say the sheer number of exercises and servicemen in the country heightens the risk of combat. "Each year more and more American troops are drawn into the country," said a Pennsylvania lawmaker, state Rep. Babette Josephs, D-Phila., who called on Gov. Robert P. Casey Dec. 9 to stop the deployment of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's 876th Engineers Battalion from Hazleton. Casey refused.

The Hazleton engineers sent to Honduras two weeks ago worked on a project called Fuertes Caminos 88 Honduras - Spanish for Strong Roads. The exercise relies on National Guard units, U.S. Army reservists and active-duty soldiers from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Maryland, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C.

Fifteen rotations of roughly 850 soldiers will work at Camp Powder Horn on 17-day tours of duty for the next six months, said Lt. Sandra Kozden, an Army reservist and 1983 graduate of Southern Lehigh High School who is Powder Horn's public affairs officer. Scheduled to improve and construct 14 kilometers of road in north central Honduras, the exercise will involve 7,600 guardsmen and Army reservists and 1,125 active-duty soldiers by the time it is completed in June.

Most of the Pennsylvania engineers from the Hazleton unit choose to disregard the politics behind their deployment here, saying they welcome the opportunity to work in a Third World country. "Not only are we getting training, but we're helping the Honduran people," said Capt. Thomas Kereck, commander of the 876th engineers. On Dec. 19 the unit gave Christmas presents to the children of Puenta Grande, and the road being built will end generations of carting crops by oxen along difficult mountain paths.

American soldiers stationed in Honduras frequently visit remote villages bringing presents, medicine and an occasional marching band - part of a humanitarian assistance program not unlike the "Hearts and Minds" campaign launched during the Vietnam War. Hondurans who live in the thatched huts and rickety shacks that dominate the countryside are growing accustomed to the faces of U.S. servicemen.

At Powder Horn, soldiers are building a small jungle hospital capable of holding between 12 and 14 patients. Staffed by rotations of 48 doctors, nurses, technicians and pharmacists, the hospital will serve the outpost as well as the largely inaccessible villages that surround the secluded camp. Made up of Army regulars, reservists and guardsmen, the medical unit has two Huey 1-H helicopters that it flies into isolated hamlets to immunize children, fill cavities and diagnose sick villagers.

At Palmerola, an 88-person staff based in a 10-building medical complex treats thousands of American servicemen and Honduran villagerseach year, many of them living in places where doctors and medicine are rare. Between April 1986 and last March, the Palmerola medical unit immunized 29,736 children, wrote 24,870 prescriptions and performed 16,108 dental procedures, base records show.

Last year, as part of the sustained American presence here, the New Mexico Army National Guard took its tubas, trombones and bass drums into secluded areas and held "musical clinics" for the Honduran villagers. Around Thanksgiving, Palmerola's servicemen raised roughly $1,500 for "humanitarian assistance programs benefitting the Honduran people," according to a military newspaper called the Southern Command News. Nearly 230 children from La Paz, Comayagua, Villa San Antonio and Tegucigalpa came to Palmerola that day, and servicemen distributed boxes of chicken with trimmings to families unable to attend the Thanksgiving Day party.

While the villagers are steadily drawn into the American sphere of influence, the soldiers say the humanitarian programs leave them with a sense of accomplishment. "You can see it in their faces," said Nick Tier, a platoon sergeant assigned to Hazleton's 876th engineering unit. "They really appreciate it."

The engineers' road-building project in north central Honduras, about 140 miles from the Nicaraguan border, expands upon the exercises conducted by other servicemen during the past three years. This year about 4,600 soldiers took part in Blazing Trails 87, carving about five kilometers of road into the sides of the remote area's steeply pitched mountains. Between 1985 and 1986, 80 kilometers of road were built in the area between Puentecita and San Jose.

The road-building projects have prompted critics of U.S. policy to charge that the roads are paving the way for the Pentagon's contingencyplans if Nicaragua attempts to invade Honduras. Basic military strategy dictates that pilots and demolition teams destroy roads and bridges to cut off enemy supply lines. The critics say military strategy is directing the course of the roads, which will end in San Jose and San Lorenzo. The Honduran government plans to punch the road through to La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast.

La Ceiba is the site of the Honduran Goloson Air Base. In 1984 and 1985 the Pentagon spent $8 million upgrading the base, Defense Department reports show. The recently delivered F-5s are stationed there, along with an aging Honduran fleet of French-made Super Mystere fighter jets, according to Hovatter, the Palmerola spokesman, and U.S. Embassy officials in Tegucigalpa.

"We're just here to build a road. That's all," said Army Col. Eldridge Casto, commander of Camp Powder Horn, who repeatedly denied the road has any military strategic importance. The commander said he was unaware of any future U.S. road-building exercises in the area, and the Pentagon has not announced any new projects.

This year the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reviewed the 1986 road-building project. "We consider road construction projects, such as the General Terencio Sierra exercise, to be military construction," which should not be paid out of the Defense Department's operations and maintenance budget, the GAO report said.

Last year, in a letter requesting that the GAO investigate the Blazing Trails 87 exercise, five Democratic congressmen said they feared the roads might be "extended in the future as far as the Palmerola Air Base." The GAO's investigators found no evidence that the Pentagon was planning to connect the interior of Honduras with Palmerola.

A U.S. Army audit of another 1986 road-building project in thesame part of Honduras and in Panama said those countries were never billed for $652,000 worth of construction supplies, fuel and medical care. The highly critical report also found that the Army shipped equipment that was not needed and failed to keep track of equipment on a day-to-day basis.

"Controls over ammunition and weapons in Panama and Honduras were not adequate," the audit found. A review of the inventory showed that 1,085 rounds of ammunition were missing.

The audit led several Democratic members of Congress to charge that the ammunition was purposely left behind for the Contras as a convenient way to avoid congressionally set ceilings on military assistance to the rebel forces. A subsequent Army audit attributed the missing ammunition to poor recordkeeping. "We're not repeating the same mistakes they made in the past," said Eldridge, the Powder Horn commander. Each road-building exercise is supervised by a new team of officers.

The U.S. military exercises in Honduras were first conceived six years ago behind closed doors in Langley, Va., when President Reagan started to see the Sandinistas as a group of revolutionaries running their country "out of the barrel of a gun." In 1981 then-CIA Director William Casey organized what became known as simply the "core group," which was responsible for training the Contras, coordinating their resupply network and directing their attacks on Nicaraguan targets from bases inside Honduras, according to documents at the National Security Archives, a private, Washington-based research foundation.

Made up of several top-level administration officials, including Lt. Col. Oliver North and Gen. Paul Gorman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the core group decided to organize a succession of temporary training exercises in Honduras that would broaden American military and intelligence in the region at a time when Congress was opposed to an increased military presence, the documents show. The following year Congress approved funding for the Palmerola Air Base, and early in 1983 the Pentagon conducted its first military exercises in Honduras, called Big Pine I.

Big Pine II followed in August 1983 and lasted until February 1984, with nearly 12,000 American troops taking part. GAO and Defense Department reports show that American units constructed one dirt airstrip and expanded two airstrips. The troops also built roughly 300 wooden shelters, set up two radar systems, gave medical assistance to 50,000 Honduran citizens and provided veterinary services to 40,000 animals.

During the six-month exercise, troops established a base camp at Trujillo, a seaport on the Caribbean coast, about 10 miles west of a heavily guarded camp where Honduran and Salvadoran security forces are trained. GAO and Defense Department reports show that Navy Seabees constructed a camp called Sea Eagle near Trujillo, a complex of barracks, offices and mess halls consisting of 40 South East Asia huts. The Seabees also extended an airstrip to carry American C-130 transport planes and built a helicopter landing pad and more than five miles of roads.

Also in 1983, U.S. servicemen built a long-range, early-warning surveillance radar station at Cerro La Mole, just south of Tegucigalpa, that was staffed by about 65 U.S. Air Force personnel, a GAO report shows. Servicemen also built a shorter-range surveillance radar station on Tiger Island in the Gulf of Fonseca that was staffed by roughly 100 U.S. Marines. While the Tiger Island facility was removed after the exercise, the Cerro La Mole station was later sold to the Honduran government, according to U.S. Embassy officials in Tegucigalpa.

Soldiers participating in Big Pine II established a base camp at Aquacate, about 90 miles east of the Camp Powder Horn road-building project. An airstrip was expanded to receive C-130 transports, 94 huts were constructed and roads were built around the camp. Aquacate now reportedly serves as a Contra base. Another camp was established at San Lorenzo, where an airstrip and huts were built. The huts were later sold to the Honduran government, according to a GAO review of the exercise. A heavily censored version of the report was made public in June 1984.

The GAO report criticized the Pentagon for paying for the exercise with Defense Department operations and maintenance funds because the maneuvers left permanent or semi-permanent installations in Honduras. "We conclude that military construction activities . . . may not be financed from general appropriation categories such as O&M," the report said.

In February 1985 the Pentagon launched Big Pine III. Soldiers during that exercise added soil and cement and a parking apron to the San Lorenzo airstrip and reactivated and expanded tank traps near Choluteca that were constructed during Big Pine II. The tank traps, ditches 8 feet wide, 10 feet deep and 11 miles long, were built 20 miles from the Nicaraguan border. U.S. soldiers also built a 4,000-foot-long runway in San Lorenzo, dug 14 water wells, constructed 70 wooden, tin-roofed SEA huts and improved roads.

"Although the construction at San Lorenzo is purported to be temporary, the quality and extent of the work is virtually permanent," said a GAO study. A 1984 report by the House Armed Services Committee found the construction of airfields, radars, ocean piers, roads and tank traps represented "significant additional U.S. presence in Honduras for an indefinite period." Between 1981 and 1986, the Pentagon spent between $200 million and $300 million on military exercises in Honduras, according to congressional aides.

When American servicemen first arrive in Honduras they are handed a booklet called "A Guide for U.S. Participants in Combined Military Exercises in Honduras." The booklet says, "There is evidence of a terrorist/insurgent network operating in Honduras," and a string of mysterious bombings in recent years has placed U.S. soldiers and their commanders on the defensive.

In 1982, for instance, Salvadoran guerrillas carried out a series of bombings against Honduran office buildings and power stations here in retaliation for the capture of rebel leaders. The following year, terrorists shot and wounded two unarmed U.S. servicemen who were driving in Tegucigalpa. A group called Lorenzo Zelaya claimed responsibility.

Although activity has slowed considerably during the past year, embassy officials said, thousands of U.S. citizens still live and work in Tegucigalpa - State Department officials, missionaries, CIA agents, reporters, defense contractors, government consultants, Defense Department officials and executives representing nearly 130 American companies that have operations in Honduras.

The capital is often compared to Saigon during the Vietnam War, a city filled with intrigue and shadowy figures.

Last January, a bomb tore through the home of a labor activist, blowing out the door frames in 10 neighboring homes. No one was injured. The day after Christmas last year a bomb exploded at La Prensa, a pro-government newspaper. The newspaper's advertising director suffered a head wound when he was thrown from his chair. In August a Honduran radio journalist escaped injury when a bomb blew apart his Toyota Land Cruiser minutes before he planned to drive home.

Also in August, terrorists bombed a Chinese restaurant in Comayagua that was frequented by U.S. servicemen stationed at Palmerola. Six American soldiers were slightly injured, and the commander at Palmerola placed the city of 46,000 people and 350 prostitutes off limits to American servicemen.

Four months after the attack, business is suffering, and the people in Comayagua, a dusty, crowded village close to Palmerola, want the Americans back. A dozen brothel owners appealed directly to the U.S. Southern Command in Panama, writing to U.S. officials that they were "going broke." The servicemen "have behaved like gentlemen, setting an example of order and respect, and visiting us with complete discretion, thereby indirectly helping many families," the letter said.

But the commander of Joint Task Force Bravo at Palmerola has refused to reverse the order, leading U.S. servicemen to the brothels of San Pedro Sula, tucked into the mountains near the Caribbean coast. The soldiers frequent places like the Green House, according to a taxi driver who said he routinely drives American soldiers to the city's brothels.

The terrorist attacks and the Contra war in Nicaragua have prompted several governors of U.S. states to say their National Guard units should not be training in Honduras. Last week more than 1,000 Contras attacked military installations and gold processing centers in Nicaragua, and cease-fire talks in the Dominican Republic between rebel leaders and Sandinista officials broke down.

Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich filed suit against the federal government, challenging an amendment passed by Congress last year that takes control of the National Guard from state governors. The challenge,turned down last summer in federal court, was joined by Arkansas, Colorado, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. Minnesota officials say they are appealing the ruling.

Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard stationed at Powder Horn during the past two weeks welcomed the court ruling, and some said they would leave their units if Casey ever tried to stop them from traveling to Honduras. "If my state said I couldn't come down here, I'd turn in my uniform," said Edward Stashinsky, a full-time technician for the Hazleton unit.

Casey has not publicly stated whether he supports the deployment of guardsmen to Honduras or his Democratic counterparts around the country. "The bottom line is the governor is following the progress of the suit," said John Taylor, a spokesmen for Casey.

Eight of the goofiest code names for U.S. military operations in history

In the past, code names for military operations were strictly kept secret. But with the development of 24-hour news cycles the U.S. Armed Forces have seen a public relations opportunity in strategic titling. Just Cause (Nicaragua, 1989), Desert Storm (Iraq, 1991), Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan, 2001)—propagandist pronouncements conjured as heroic allusions to noble aims. Some operations remain purposefully arcane (Operation Centaur Rodeo) or adopt an intimidating tone (Operation Eagle Claw), others use humor in a clever subversion of the actions they entail (Operation Paul Bunyan).

Below is a look at some of the more bizarre and confusing code names used over the years. Not all involved raiding or killing—some were humanitarian missions, in fact—but most display a keen, if cavalier sense of irony and jaded humor.

Hurricane Mitch Devastated Nicaragua, But Helped Improve Relations With the U.S.

Slow-moving, coast-hugging Hurricane Mitch devastated Nicaragua in October 1998. The United States organized a massive disaster response, and President Clinton and a host of other dignitaries visited to see the results. Our aid improved military-to-military ties and helped Ambassador Lino Gutierrez pursue better relations twenty years after Nicaragua’s bitter civil war. A Category 5 hurricane, Mitch was reputedly the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since 1780.

Lino Gutierrez, American Ambassador to Nicaragua when Hurricane Mitch struck, recalls that the storm claimed the lives of 4,000 Nicaraguans, washed away villages, and destroyed infrastructure. Gutierrez helped organize initial disaster assistance efforts, from distribution of food, water and other basic human needs to helicopter rescue missions. The disaster assistance also produced the first military-to-military cooperation with Nicaragua since the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979. The U.S. response helped Amb. Gutierrez improve relations with Nicaragua, despite Sandinista claims that the assistance was setting the stage for future U.S. military intervention.

Lino Gutierrez’s interview was conducted by David Greenlee on July 26, 2007.

Read Lino Gutierrez’s full oral history HERE.

Drafted by Mary Claire Simone.

“Things were moving reasonably well until the fall of ’98, when Hurricane Mitch struck.”

Hurricane Mitch: Hurricane Mitch took place in 1998, two years into my tenure. . . . [Before then, Nicaragua was continuing] to make progress. The economy was recovering. Nicaragua signed an agreement with the IMF (International Monetary Fund). With our help, they were approved for the HIPC (heavily indebted poor countries) initiative, under which much of their massive external debt accumulated during the Sandinista years was forgiven. Things were moving reasonably well until the fall of ’98, when Hurricane Mitch struck. . . . At first it seemed like just another hurricane. We were in Managua, many miles away from the Atlantic coast, so we had no idea of the devastation caused by the incessant rain.

“Hurricane Mitch was not a typical hurricane… Mitch was a hurricane that lingered for four or five days.”

Not a Typical Hurricane: Hurricane Mitch was not a typical hurricane, which usually blows through a country in a day or two, wreaks devastation, and departs quickly. Mitch was a hurricane that lingered for four or five days, stationary off the Atlantic coast of Honduras and Nicaragua, and poured historic amounts of rain into Honduras and Nicaragua. Given the fragile infrastructure that exists in these countries, thousands of houses were swept away and many people were killed. There was a Nicaraguan village called Posoltega where over a thousand people were buried in a mudslide…. There were nearly 4,000 dead in Nicaragua.

Why Are We in Honduras?

Back in the Vietnam era, the National Guard was a nice quiet place to wait for the war to end. According to one military historian, President Lyndon Johnson stopped sending the Guard to Vietnam in 1969, for fear of alarming the public. Though it had seen combat previously, the Guard's reputation was for fighting fires, floods, and freaks at home. Even the chief publicist of the Guard admits there was a time when "people would chuckle" if they heard the Guard was going to invade a country.

Now, because of a policy implemented in the 70s, the Guard has become a place to wait for the war to begin. Guardsmen and women now account for 43 and 86 percent, respectively, of Army and Air Force conventional (i.e., nonnuclear) combat troops in case of war, they could be called out on 72 hours' notice. They go to boot camp and in increasing numbers spend their annual two-week training periods overseas. In June, 125 part-time soldiers from the medical support unit of the Broadview Armory on the north side will practice their skills in Panama. Last year, about 900 Illinois Guards, including 364 from the Northwest Armory on North Kedzie, helped build a road in north-central Honduras.

Chicagoans can vote on this turn of events on Tuesday in a nonbinding referendum that asks, "Considering the current state of civil unrest occurring in Central America, should Illinois National Guard troop training in Central America be halted?"

Legally, the referendum is meaningless, but its supporters are predicting passage, which they say will send a message--to legislators, the Pentagon, and to Governor Jim Thompson, who supports the deployment.

A number of other governors don't. Their opposition to Central American deployment of their state Guards led to the creation and passage of the Reagan-backed Montgomery Amendment in 1986, which limited governors' power over the Guard. Now governors can object to deployment only if their Guards are needed at the same time at home. Ever since this amendment passed, the Pentagon has been applying pressure to recalcitrant governors. When the National Guard Bureau, the Defense Department office that directs the Guard, told Ohio governor Richard Celeste that he could keep his Guard from going to Honduras as long as he was willing to sacrifice its $223.6 million in federal funding, he gave his permission, reluctantly, for his Guard to train there in 1989. (Some officials say Ohio was scheduled to go down in 1987, and that Illinois substituted.) Two governors, Rudy Perpich of Minnesota and Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, have filed suits challenging the constitutionality of the Montgomery Amendment. Perpich has lost and appealed a decision is expected in late April. Dukakis hopes for a judgment before May, when 13 Massachusetts Guardsmen and women are scheduled to leave for Panama and then Honduras. (Nine states endorsed a Massachusetts-authored amicus brief in the Minnesota case three later dropped off. On the other side, Thompson and 17 other governors signed on to an amicus brief filed by the National Guard Association of the United States, which is a nonprofit lobbying and support group.)

The National Guard has been active in Central America for at least ten years. According to Dan Donohue, chief of public affairs for the National Guard Bureau, the Air National Guard has been carrying mail and supplies between embassies there since 1977. The Guard's first major engineering project in Honduras was in 1985 by June of this year, about 40,000 of the nation's Guardsmen and women (there are more than 500,000 overall) will have trained in Central America. Between May 1984 and May 1987, more than 2,650 of Illinois' 14,500 Guardsmen and women trained overseas in 79 missions to 21 countries. In 1984, the 182nd Tactical Air Support Group from Peoria trained with the Honduran Air Force and helped rehabilitate Howard Air Force Base in Panama. In 1985, 112 members of the 123rd Field Artillery Unit from Monmouth trained with their Honduran counterparts.

The Guard's presence in Central America has been debated on many levels. State legislatures have considered it and activists have protested at armories, airports, and government offices. It's become an issue in the presidential debates Democratic candidates Paul Simon, Jesse Jackson, Richard Gephardt, and ex-candidate Bruce Babbitt have endorsed the Chicago referendum. Opponents of the Honduras deployment say it's a dangerous, underhanded way to bolster U.S. presence in Central America and threaten the Sandinista government of neighboring Nicaragua, and they point to complaints within Honduras about the U.S. military. The General Accounting Office has criticized the Guard's use of funds in Honduras, and the GAO's military counterpart, the Army Auditing Agency, has criticized U.S. regular troops and Guard units for sloppiness in training and record keeping in Honduras and Panama. There have been rumors and secondhand reports--but no proof--of Guardsmen fighting with the U.S.-backed contras against the Sandinistas, and leaving equipment for the contras.

"The real strategy is to circumvent Congress," to get around the War Powers Act, charges State Representative Ellis Levin, who proposed a statewide referendum last year. He let the bill die when it became clear it would fail, due to lobbying by the National Guard Association of Illinois.

The Guard says Central American deployment is a way of getting realistic training. "We were down there doing a real job instead of putting on a show for some evaluator from Georgia," said Staff Sergeant Karen Hon of the Northwest Armory. Hon and her fellow Guards were in Oso Grande, a temporary base in north-central Honduras, some 100 miles northwest of the Nicaraguan border. She was there for five months, much longer than most. She told me she didn't feel contra presence: "The only thing I was looking out for were scorpions."

The Guard's activities in Honduras are part of a formidable U.S. military presence that is coordinated by "Joint Task Force Bravo" at Palmerola Air Base near Comayagua, less than 75 miles northwest of Nicaragua. (Technically, there are no U.S. bases in Honduras the bases belong to Honduras.) At any one time, there are some 9,000 to 11,000 troops there from various branches of the armed forces, plus about 1,000 visitors, according to Major Gary R. Hovatter, joint public affairs officer of Joint Task Force Bravo. Since 1983 the Department of Defense reports spending $13 million at Palmerola and $8 million at another air base in La Ceiba, a north-central Caribbean port. In addition, it has added to or repaired nine airstrips (two of which were used, according to some reports, for CIA transport of arms to the contras).

The project that Illinois Guards have been working on is a "farm-to-market" road in the remote mountainous province of Yoro, roughly 50 miles south of the air base in La Ceiba and 100 miles north of Palmerola. Designed by the Honduran ministry of transportation, it is to connect La Ceiba with small villages to the south eventually, according to Dan Donohue of the National Guard Bureau, it will run south to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. Critics point out that it will be capable of more than helping peasants bring their crops to market: because the road will eventually connect with existing roads near military bases and airstrips, it will make it easier, at least indirectly, to move troops throughout Honduras and to reach the small leftist guerrilla movement in the mountainous north.

Since 1986, each winter and spring, as part of their training, one state's Guard units have provided the bulk of engineering and backup services for Army reservists, who do most of the actual road building. From late 1986 to the spring of 1987, the Illinois Guard supplied the main support units, providing laundry, cooking, and explosives services for reservists building a 5.5-kilometer stretch of road. In 1985 these services were provided by U.S. Army Engineers, in 1986 by Missouri Guards, and this year by West Virginia Guards. All exercises are temporary, the Guard avers the Guards live in tents, leaving an open field when they depart. The Department of Defense is allowed to use a petty cash fund to finance temporary projects under $200,000 (or in the case of reserve units, under $100,000), without congressional approval. A GAO report on 1984 activities said the Defense Department broke projects into smaller pieces in order to stay beneath the ceiling, and also wrongly claimed that anything constructed during training was "temporary." In a report on 1986 activities, the GAO found a similar problem but on a much smaller scale.

The U.S. military presence in Honduras is "temporary but indefinite," says Assistant Secretary of Defense for Internal Affairs Richard Armitage. He told a Senate subcommittee last April, "When the Sandinistas in Nicaragua cease being a threat to the true democracies of the region, then I am sure that we and the Hondurans will seek a phaseout of the temporary United States military presence in their country."

No one can prove that any Guardsman has ever fired a shot at a Sandinista. The only reports that even come close are newspaper stories from 1986 claiming that Texas Guardsmen were five miles from the border during a Sandinista-contra confrontation, and that Iowa Guardsmen were giving medical care six miles from the border. In December 1986, volunteers from the group Witness for Peace said a Florida Guardsman told them his unit had "kicked ass on those Sandinistas." The National Guard Bureau discounts this as "braggadocio." No Guards have died in combat--though two Air Guards, from Aberdeen, New Jersey, and New Hope, Pennsylvania, died in a plane crash off the northern coast of Honduras in April 1985, and a Guardsman from Florence, Alabama, drowned the same month in Panama while off-duty.

Given these facts, accusations that the National Guard's temporary presence in Honduras is part of an undeclared war may seem absurd--unless you think about it in terms of "low-intensity conflict," or LIC.

LIC is a new doctrine making the rounds in military and government circles, the subject of Pentagon-sponsored seminars and projects and numerous articles in military journals. Some say it is Kennedy-era counterinsurgency in contemporary dress. Its first premise is that the greatest threat to the U.S. is not from Soviet troops in Europe--as presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter presumed--but from Third World revolutionaries. Therefore, the reasoning goes, the way to defend the national security is not by building up nuclear weapons or conventional forces across the Atlantic, but by aiding friendly governments against leftist guerrillas and undermining pro-Soviet revolutionary regimes. Another premise, noted by Sara Miles in a 1986 issue of the liberal NACLA Report on the Americas (North American Congress on Latin America), is that Americans are still suffering from the "Vietnam syndrome"--they're resistant to involvement in another war. Therefore LIC theorists aim to keep regular U.S. soldiers away from combat, relying instead on locals, U.S. special forces, and National Guard and reserve units. There is also emphasis on "hearts and minds"--winning over a population, rather than merely territory.

(A 1986 report from the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress speculated that using regular troops instead of Guards "may be more politically sensitive" because regular troops would seem to be permanent.)

In 1985, the Joint Chiefs of Staff defined LIC as "limited politico-military struggle to achieve political, social, economic or psychological objectives." They said it is often protracted and ranges from diplomatic pressure to terrorism.

Some say this LIC has already begun in Central America--using both Guard and regular troops.

Critics of the Guard deployment love to quote Colonel William Comee, an Army task-force commander once stationed at Palmerola, who is said to have told Oregon legislators in January 1986 that the Guard's purpose was to "harass and intimidate the Nicaraguan government with the intent of bringing them down." (Reports are unclear about whether he was talking about the Guard or U.S. troops in general.) Comee was out of line, says Donohue of the National Guard Bureau, and his remarks have not been corroborated.

In July 1986, Comee told a Senate delegation that his men's mission was "to test and integrate Low Intensity Conflict doctrine in the region." He left the post that month.

An administration official told the New York Times in 1985, "One of the central purposes [of joint U.S.-Honduran maneuvers] is to create fear of an invasion, to push very close to the border, to set off all the alarms."

It seems to have worked. Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega alleged that invasion was imminent in 1983, after maneuvers called Big Pine II, in which U.S. and Honduran troops trained in counterinsurgency techniques and practiced airlifts. At that time, the militia in Managua dug trenches around the city and families built bomb shelters. Last year, before war games involving at least 40,000 U.S. troops were held in Honduras, the Caribbean, and North Carolina, Ortega again accused the U.S. of preparing for an invasion. (He's crying wolf, accuses Ron Aures, a career Guardsman who is president of the National Guard Association of Illinois.)

Writer Sara Miles sides with Ortega. "In retrospect," she writes, "the U.S. [Big Pine II] maneuvers should indeed have been cause for alarm--but not because they heralded a direct military invasion. The maneuvers were not a preparation or cover for war: they were the embodiment of war."

Supporters of the Guard's involvement in Honduras point out that its focus is on building roads and providing health care, and participants seem proud of their efforts. Paul Muniz, now a realtor in Bolingbrook, was a staff sergeant in charge of medics on a 17-day stint in Honduras last April. "We did everything," he told me--"pull teeth, administer stitches, assist in operations. I taught people there hygienic methods as far as boiling the water" and other precautions, he says. "It was free. The people came back with fruit and small gifts."

But all that is part of LIC, too, says retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel John Buchanan, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information. The humanitarian work is designed to comfort the folks at home: "Americans see a steady stream of photographs--they look innocuous, they're building roads. They think, we're down there doing good things in Central America."

No one disputes that Honduras needs some good things. It's the second-poorest country in the hemisphere (after Haiti), with unemployment estimated at 40 percent and an average life expectancy of 62 years. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, only 15 percent of the population has access to piped water. The U.S. has more Peace Corps workers in Honduras than in any other country. U.S. aid has jumped--from $15 million in total aid in fiscal 1977 to $188 million in 1987. Military aid has increased from $3 million in 1977 to $61 million in 1986.

Because it shares borders with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, all countries with internal wars, Honduras has become both a refuge and a staging ground, says Aryeh Neier, of Americas Watch, in a recent article in the New York Review of Books. The State Department puts the number of contras operating out of Honduras at 1,500 Neier says that estimates on the number of peasants and coffee producers displaced by the contras range from 6,000 to 16,000.

The Honduran government is civilian, though "operating at the pleasure of the military," says John Buchanan. From 1980 to 1984, a U.S.-backed military strong man, General Gustavo Alvarez, virtually ran the country until ousted by other military officers. Amnesty International's 1987 report cited human rights abuses in refugee camps and attacks on the president of the Honduran human rights committee CEDOH. This January, the vice president of CEDOH was murdered, four months after testifying before an Organization of American States court on killings by Alvarez's death squad.

The Honduran Congress has called for a debate on U.S. military presence, but the legislative body is "basically ineffectual," says Buchanan.

The Honduran press has charged that U.S. troops have encouraged prostitution in Honduras and introduced AIDS and "the flower of Vietnam," a virulent form of venereal disease--charges the Defense Department calls "propaganda." AIDS cases were confirmed in places where no U.S. troops were located, says Marine Captain Nancy Laluntas, a Defense Department spokesperson. There were also reports that U.S. soldiers had sexually abused local children. "We cannot rule out isolated incidents of improper behavior," says Laluntas.

Visiting doctors have also complained about the medical treatment provided by U.S. troops, saying they have used ineffective antibiotics in treating childhood diarrhea, but Guard sources say this is inaccurate. Denise Stanley, a missionary from the United Church of Christ who returned from northern Honduras in December, says the medical care is detrimental in the long run. She says it encourages peasants to look for handouts instead of forming local health cooperatives. "When the military leaves, they'll have the same lousy health care as before," she says.

Critics and supporters disagree about Honduran reaction to the U.S. presence. The National Guard Bureau likes to quote a poll commissioned by the United States Information Agency and conducted by a Gallup-affiliated polling organization in Costa Rica. The poll, revealed to reporters by President Reagan during a White House photo session in 1986, supposedly shows that 62 percent of Hondurans supported U.S. aid for the contras. The way the poll was conducted is unclear and will remain so, since USIA polls aren't supposed to be made public in the U.S., says William Bollinger, director of the Interamerican Research center in Los Angeles. His center and the School of Journalism of the National University of Honduras asked a random sampling of 953 people in Tegucigalpa last year whether the U.S. should continue its military presence. Just over 51 percent said yes, and nearly 38 percent said no the rest were undecided.

Clearly, at least some Hondurans are disgruntled. Last March, more than 30,000 rallied to call for an end to U.S. involvement, according to Food First, a food policy organization in San Francisco. The Sun-Times reported that on May 1, some 20,000 gathered in Tegucigalpa to protest U.S. and contra presence. The U.S. Embassy disputes these figures.

The idea of amateur defense forces goes back at least as far as the medieval fyrd, a force of citizens who provided their own pikes, swords, and axes and were home by nightfall. Sir William Blackstone, the 18th-century British legal scholar, articulated this philosophy of the part-time soldier: "It is because he is a citizen, and would wish to continue so, that he makes himself for a while a soldier." Early Americans, fearing that a large standing army would be a threat to democracy, compromised at the Constitutional Convention by establishing both a standing army and a militia, the latter to be organized by Congress, governed by the states, and prepared to serve the federal government. The president would be commander in chief when it was in federal service. The Militia Act of 1792 specified three purposes for which the militia could be federalized: "to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions."

The militias fought in every war, even distinguishing themselves in combat, though the states showed their independence early on in 1812, Massachusetts and Connecticut refused to fight the British.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Guard earned its reputation for domestic service. Guardsmen were called out to stop lynchings and to keep the peace during railroad and coal strikes they came to the rescue in the Johnstown flood and San Francisco earthquake. During the Civil Rights years, the Guard was federalized to act against governors who opposed integration. Guardsmen flanked James Meredith at a cost of $5 million during his two years at the University of Mississippi. Locally, at the behest of Governor Adlai Stevenson, 500 Illinois Guards protected a black family in Cicero against a racist mob. Guards also served during the 1966 Chicago riots and 1968 Democratic convention.

In May of 1970 came perhaps the Guard's most well-known and tragic tangle--the four students killed at Kent State during a protest of Nixon's bombing of Cambodia. That month the Guard was called out 24 times on 21 campuses.

A majority of those Vietnam-era Guardsmen, 75 percent, told pollsters they were in the Guard to avoid serving overseas--and for the most part they were successful. That same year, a presidentially appointed commission studied the volunteer armed forces. It recommended that Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird consider a "total force" concept, in which the Guard would become an integral part of the fighting forces. Total force became policy in 1973, when the draft ended, but wasn't seriously implemented until 1979, when the last of the Vietnam enlistees completed their terms in the Guard, according to Dan Donohue.

The Guard has trained overseas for the last two decades, some units taking part in real-life missions. In 1986, eight Washington State Air Guardsmen refueled aircraft on their way to bomb Libya an Arkansas crew refueled planes on their way to Grenada in 1983. In 1985, five other Arkansas Guardsmen trained with the Chilean military, without their governor's knowledge. (Despite the ban on military aid to Chile, this was legal, according to a congressional source.)

Nonetheless the Guard has been more readily associated in the public mind with its old duties--helping out locally, such as in the blizzard of '79 and the floods of '86. The nature of its mission is still the source of much confusion, and word of overseas training still comes as a surprise.

The local efforts to curtail training in Central America began in the summer of 1986, when two of Ellis Levin's volunteers mentioned to him at a picnic that the Guard was in Central America. "It just seemed to me absolutely incredible that the Illinois Guard, which belonged in Illinois and fighting floods, was being used to fight an undeclared war."

Levin led a fact-finding trip to Honduras and Nicaragua early last year, and then proposed legislation for a statewide referendum. In the Senate, Miguel del Valle proposed a similar bill, and they held two hearings in Chicago on the matter, partly organized by the Mayor's Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs. The director of the commission, Maria Torres, contacted Alderman Jesus Garcia, who organized a resolution supporting the state legislation. When that failed in Springfield, aldermen drafted their own resolution for a referendum, and hearings were held before Alderman Roman Pucinski's Committee on Intergovernmental Relations. The resolution passed the City Council 37-9. It was supported by the late Mayor Harold Washington, who had publicly criticized U.S. aid to the contras and involvement in Central America. One of the aldermen voting for it was Acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer.

The resolution calls for a referendum, saying that "a disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics" from Chicago trained in Honduras, that a war in Central America "could break out imminently" and endanger Guard members, that the traditional role of the Guard is to assist inside the state, and that Chicago recruits are promised educational benefits and opportunities to serve locally.

Pucinski's Intergovernmental Relations Committee held two hearings on the resolution--one in June, hearing testimony from the resolution's supporters, and one in July, devoted to testimony from the National Guard. The second hearing turned into a debate on minorities in the Guard, with Alderman Robert Shaw leading the attack against a conspicuous absence of black faces among the Guard officials present. Retired Lieutenant Colonel Elton L. Denney, administrative assistant to the Illinois adjutant general, politely apologized, apologizing too for not having statistics of officers and minority recruitment. He did have approximate figures on the Guardsmen sent to Honduras in 1987--out of the Northwest Armory, 58 percent black, 28 percent white, and 14 percent other, including Hispanic and Asian. (The city's population, according to a 1985 planning department estimate, is 41 percent black, nearly 43 percent white, and 16 percent other.)

But Denney said the figures balance out when you consider that the other units, which were from downstate, were between 96 and 98 percent white, making for a total of about 70 percent white. (Based on Guard estimates, of the Guardsmen and women in Honduras in 1987, 23 percent were black, and 6 percent were "other" than white or black. The 1980 census shows a state population of almost 15 percent black and almost 6 percent Hispanic.)

Since passage of the referendum resolution, the National Guard Out of Central America Coalition, a local group, has been picking up endorsements for the referendum from liberal organizations, such as the Gray Panthers and the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organization, and trying to stimulate media coverage. On the other side, the National Guard Association of Illinois is working against the referendum's passage, sending out fliers that say the Guard could be deactivated here and reactivated in states more friendly to the notion of Central American training. "If this referendum should pass on the March 15 ballot," Eileen M. Courtney of the group wrote in the flier, "within all probability, the Federal Government will cut off all federal funding to the Illinois National Guard, remove all of our equipment and weapons, revert these items to the Army Reserve, and leave the Illinois National Guard standing in the cold . . . helpless to Illinois if there ever were an emergency in the state or the City of Chicago."

The head of the National Guard Bureau did hold up the specter of transferring certain rebellious units from California to other states, but nothing like that could result from a nonbinding referendum.

What's most likely to happen, says the Bureau's Dan Donohue, is nothing.

Backers of the referendum are more sanguine. Greg Greiff of the National Guard Out of Central America Coalition hopes passage would show the Pentagon that the natives are restless, and encourage the Defense Department to pass over Chicago Guard units in planning Central America deployments. The group also hopes that passage would give impetus to Levin's and del Valle's new legislation for a statewide referendum.

Aldermen are eager to offer alternatives for the Guard's service in Central America. If they want to do humanitarian work, let them build roads in Ethiopia, says Shaw. Says Davis, "I think the National Guard should be in South Africa helping the freedom fighters, if we want to send them someplace."

Some Guardsmen and women just want to be left alone to train where they are sent. Says Karen Hon: "I don't think the general populace should have a say-so where we do summer camp."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Kurt Mitchell.

U.S. Secret Drug War in Honduras: Botched DEA Raid Leaves 2 Pregnant Women, 2 Men Dead

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has confirmed its agents were on board a U.S.-owned helicopter with Honduran police officers when four people were shot and killed on a boat earlier this week. Two of the victims were said to be pregnant women. The deadly incident has highlighted the centrality of Honduras in the U.S.-backed drug war. Honduras is the hub for the U.S. military operations in Latin America, hosting at least three U.S. bases. We speak to Dana Frank, a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. [includes rush transcript]

Related Story

Story Nov 28, 2018 Brother of Honduran President Is Arrested for Cocaine Trafficking as Migrants Flee Violent Drug War

JUAN GONZALEZ : We turn now to Honduras. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has confirmed its agents were on board a U.S.-owned helicopter with Honduran police officers when four people were shot and killed on a boat earlier this week. Two of the victims were said to be pregnant women. Officials from both countries say Honduran officials carried out the shooting after the helicopter was shot at first. This is State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland at a press briefing Thursday.

VICTORIA NULAND : In this particular operation on May 11th, the U.S. DEA was involved only in a supporting role. We did not use force. No U.S. personnel fired any weapons. We were involved purely supporting and advising. The units that we support are comprised primarily of host country—in this case, Honduran—law enforcement officers. They were trained, they were vetted, as part of this program we work on together.

REPORTER : Well, does that mean that they advised them to open fire on a canoe carrying civilians with a pregnant woman and—

VICTORIA NULAND : Well, I highly—

REPORTER : Well, I don’t understand. You said they were in an advice and support role. So what did they advise and support? Did they tell—

VICTORIA NULAND : Well, again, our—

REPORTER : Did they say, “Hey, this looks like a good target. Shoot it”?

VICTORIA NULAND : Well, first of all, as I understand it, the Honduran authorities are taking—are doing a broad investigation of this incident to evaluate what exactly happened and how it happened. So I think we need to let that go forward. With regard to the precise actions in an advisory role that the U.S. folks played, I can’t speak to that.

JUAN GONZALEZ : That was State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland questioned by reporters Thursday.

The victims were reportedly suspected of carrying drugs, but local officials say they were innocent fishermen. On Wednesday, Honduran protesters in the Indian Mosquito Coast area responded to the killings by burning government offices and demanding a departure of U.S. agents.

AMY GOODMAN : The deadly incident has highlighted the centrality of Honduras in U.S.-backed efforts to militarize Latin America in the drug war. Honduras is the hub for the U.S. military operations in Latin American, hosting at least three military bases. One of the bases formerly housed U.S. officials in the 󈨔s when they ran their operation to overthrow the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua. Overall, the U.S. military has deployed at least 600 troops across Latin America.

To discuss what’s happening in Honduras, we’re joined from Washington, D.C., by Dana Frank. She’s professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz, author of many books, including Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America, which examines the banana workers’ unions of Honduras.

Talk about what has happened, and particularly let’s start with this killing of four Hondurans, Dana Frank.

DANA FRANK : Thanks so much for having me, Amy, and thanks so much for caring about the ongoing horror that is U.S. support for the ongoing coup regime in Honduras.

Well, this is one of these situations when “who are you going to believe?” And as a historian, I would have to start by underscoring that we have to be very careful about believing what the State Department is saying at this point. They have admitted that there were—there were four helicopters and that two of them were—two of them were State Department helicopters and that there were Guatemalan military on board, as well. So it’s obviously getting even more complicated.

According to the Mosquito people on the ground and the local mayor and the Congress person, that the U.S. forces—they descended from the helicopters after they had allegedly been shot upon by alleged drug traffickers in a different boat. They mistook—according to people on the ground, they mistook that boat for the boat with the civilians and started shooting at the civilians, killing at least four people—by some accounts, five—including at least one pregnant woman and, by some accounts, children. Another woman was also shot at and lost limbs as a result, and a boy was shot in the arm from behind. So these are U.S.—U.S. troops were clearly on the helicopters, but local people say the U.S. troops were doing part of the shooting.

And so—and meanwhile, the Honduran government—I do want to underscore, the week before, the day after it happened, they reported that it was drug traffickers that had been killed. And only after the civilians came forward very bravely and said, “Wait a minute, we’re not drug traffickers, we’re local people—in fact, terrified of the drug traffickers,” and only thanks to AP, do we even have it crossing over into the U.S. press that there was U.S. DEA agent involvement in the helicopters and on the ground.

JUAN GONZALEZ : Well, Dana Frank, Honduras is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. How do you—now suddenly we’re being told that it has become the major transshipment point for drugs into Mexico and the United States. This is a recent phenomenon. Could you talk about this, what’s happening with the drug war in Honduras, in the context of the political troubles and the coup that occurred in Honduras a few years back?

DANA FRANK : Well, you know, there’s been drug trafficking in Honduras for a long, long time, but it was the 2009 coup—we’re coming up on the third anniversary on June 28th—it was the 2009 coup that opened the door for this kind of massive drug trafficking. You know, and it’s really important to know that the drug trafficking is interlaced with the post-coup government of Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo, from top to bottom. Even the Minister of Defense has talked about the so-called narco Congress people, the narco judges. It’s a totally corrupt regime from top to bottom. The police regularly kill people, and they have admitted that themselves. At least 300 people have been killed by state security forces since the Lobo came into office a little over two years ago. And none of these people have been prosecuted. There are at least 10,000 denunciations of human rights abuses by state security forces, and that even the government itself admits that no one has been prosecuted for that.

So this incident is happening in the context of U.S. ongoing support and even celebration of that regime, and welcoming Lobo to the White House as recently as two weeks ago. In October, he was certainly in D.C. talking to U.S. government two weeks ago. So, what’s going on is we have this tremendously corrupt government that’s killing its own people, and the U.S. is pouring more and more money into it. As we speak, the U.S. has just recently tried to double a piece, key piece, of the funding for the U.S.-Honduran military and police. And Biden was recently down there promising $107 million more. We’re increasing the funding for the U.S. Air Force base at Soto Cano and making the barracks there permanent for the first time.


DANA FRANK : The—excuse me.

AMY GOODMAN : Professor Frank, before we get to the end, because we have less than a minute, I wanted to ask you about the slaying of Alfredo Villatoro, just the latest journalist to have been murdered in Tegucigalpa, his body found nearly a week after he had been kidnapped.


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