Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

June 25, 2016

Berta Caceres was on hit list of brutal forces trained by United States

Berta Caceres was on the hit list of forces trained by the United States. The U.S. training of soldiers and assassins includes training by the US Border Patrol 

Censored News
Dutch translation by Alice Holemans at NAIS

Berta Caceres, the murdered environmental campaigner, appeared on a hitlist distributed to US-trained special forces units of the Honduran military months before her death, a former soldier has claimed, reports Nina Lakhani in The Guardian in Mexico City.

"Lists featuring the names and photographs of dozens of social and environmental activists were given to two elite units, with orders to eliminate each target, according to First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz, 20.
Cruz’s unit commander, a 24-year-old lieutenant, deserted rather than comply with the order. Cruz – who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for fear of reprisal – followed suit, and fled to a neighbouring country. Several other members of the unit have disappeared and are feared dead. 'If I went home, they’d kill me. Ten of my former colleagues are missing. I’m 100% certain that Berta Cáceres was killed by the army,' Cruz told the Guardian. 
Read the article in The Guardian:

The US Congress authorized over US$100 million in 2016 Central America's for military, counternarcotics, and border enforcement assistance -- over $30 million more requested, reports WOLA, advocating for human rights in the Americas.

Among the special operations in Honduras trained and funded by the United States is this one, which claims to be reducing the flowing of migrant children to the US.

According to the national police, the team is primarily funded by the U.S. State Department and was trained by a U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit, known as BORTAC. The team's aim in this operation is to stop the flow not just of unaccompanied minors, but of children who head north illegally with only one parent, reports LA Times.

The horror of US trained forces in Central America is revealed in this report of the Kaibiles in Guatemala

  • Kaibiles: The United States has built a cozy relationship with the Kaibiles, Guatemala’s special operations force, and their training academy. According to a2013 U.S. Special Operations Command South news release, “The Kaibil School is considered one of the most prestigious, vigorous, arduous military courses in Central America... Their motto: ‘If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me.’” In 2013, an American soldier graduated from the Kaibil School for the first time in 25 years. As WOLA Senior Associate Adam Isacson has explained, the Kaibiles have a historic reputation for brutal, violent training tactics, which in the past included “killing animals and then eating them raw and drinking their blood in order to demonstrate courage,” according to Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification report. The Kaibiles were one of the most notorious units for carrying out atrocities against the population during the country’s civil war.

WOLA reports on US funding and training in Honduras:

  • Naval Special Forces (Fuerzas Especiales Navales, FEN): This force is primarily concerned with counternarcotics operations. Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo), a unit of about 500 U.S. military personnel based at the Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras, participates in operations with, and trains, the FEN. As it is the largest presence of U.S. troops in the region, JTF-Bravo supports operations throughout Central America. MARFORSOUTH is also currentlytraining members of the Honduran Naval Force (Fuerza Naval de Honduras, FNH) on “combating drug trafficking and urban operations.”
  • Special Response Team and Intelligence Troop (Tropa de Inteligencia y Grupos de Respuesta Especial de Seguridad, TIGRES): This SWAT-style militarized police unit, known as the “Tigers,” was created in 2014 as part of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández’s crackdown to address the country’s high levels of violence. President Hernández has since made good on his pledge to deploy soldiers and militarized police units throughout the country’s most violent areas.
As a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report noted, “Over the past two years, U.S. Special Forces have built the elite SWAT unit, called the Tigres, from scratch.” Colombian counterparts have also helped to stand up and train this unit. As explained in the article, during operations Honduran agents are the ones who “kick in doors” and carry out arrests, while U.S. Special Forces monitor operations from apartments or similar nearby locations. The forces “marked assault routes on a satellite view of the slum and scanned photos from a circling police helicopter. They read WhatsApp text messages between the SWAT commander and his men.” Green Berets train the Tigres at an isolated base in the mountains, but the United States does not provide the force with weapons: only uniforms, boots, radios, navigational tools, and training ammunition. All of this information came from the WSJ investigation.
  • National Interagency Security Force (Fuerza Nacional de Seguridad Interinstitutional, FUSINA): Created by President Juan Orlando Hernández in February 2014, FUSINA is an inter-agency task force made up of members of the police, the military, the Attorney General’s Office, and intelligence agencies. It is led by the Honduran military and is tasked with fighting organized crime. According to a February 2016 Southern Command article, “The security force maintains a strong and constant presence in 115 communities with high levels of delinquency provoked by gangs. It carries out motorized and foot patrols to identify and capture members of such groups. Additionally, it has launched an education program in schools around the country with the purpose of training children and teens to resist getting involved with gangs.” The force also conducts operations along the Honduran-Guatemalan border.

In an August 2015 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, 21 members of Congress expressed concern over the Honduran military’s involvement in public security and increasing U.S. military assistance to the country, specifically mentioning FUSINA. They wrote: “We are concerned about Honduran media reports that in mid-May of this year, a team of 300 U.S. military and civilian personnel, including Marines and the FBI, conducted ‘rapid response’ training with 500 FUSINA agents, using U.S. helicopters and planes, despite allegations regarding the agency’s repeated involvement in human-rights violations.” There is little other publicly available information about U.S. support for FUSINA.
  • Border security: Although some members of the Tigres are stationed along Honduras’ borders, they are not the main presence there. Rather, in these zones are members of an elite unit of Honduras’ National Police, which has been funded by the U.S. State Department and trained by U.S. Border Patrol, members of the Military Police of Public Order (Policía Militar del Orden Público,PMOP), a new military branch that the United States has said it does not support, and other units of the Honduran military that have been trained by U.S. units, including the Texas National Guard.
Nearly all other public information about U.S. support for El Salvador’s and Honduras’s border security discusses initiatives funded through the State Department and overseen by State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), as well as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Department of Homeland Security. Nearly all CBP and ICE assistance is funded by INL.
Some examples include:
  • CBP is working with INL “to place nine CBP Advisors throughout Central America to provide capacity building and technical assistance for border control officials to more effectively address migration issues in-country,” according to testimony from Ronald Vitiello, Acting Chief of U.S. Border Patrol.
  • “To promote investigative capacity-building and anti-smuggling efforts, DHS, with DOS funding, will increase the presence of the Transnational Criminal Investigative Units (TCIUs), which are sponsored by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama,” according a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. TCIUs are specialized, vetted units that work with national police forces, customs officers, immigration officers, and prosecutors. They were created to “to enhance transnational efforts against all forms of illicit trafficking with a particular focus on human smuggling.” There are currently nine TCIU units with more than 250 foreign law enforcement officers, according to a March 2016 testimony from Lev J. Kubiak, Assistant Director of International Operations for Homeland Security Investigations, an investigative arm within ICE in the DHS.
The Defense Department and CBP also support some TCIU investigations. Between 2012 and 2014, DHS spent $2.4 million of its own funding supporting units in the Northern Triangle. In 2014, TCIUs, which until then had only been present in Guatemala, were expanded to El Salvador and Honduras. Because Congress provided additional funding for TCIUs in 2015, ICE expanded units in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia, and reestablished an additional TCIU in Mexico.
  • “DHS also plans to expand a model of border-focused vetted units, such as the Special Tactics Operations Group or Grupo de Operaciones Especiales Tacticas (GOET) in Honduras, to El Salvador and Guatemala in partnership with CBP. Through those vetted units, DHS provides training and capacity building to foreign counterparts, empowering them to investigate, identify, disrupt, and dismantle transnational criminal organizations that are engaging in illicit activities in the host country,”according to the same GAO report.

Read more: List of US Forces -- including US Border Patrol -- conducting training of soldiers and assassins in Honduras and elsewhere in Central America:

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