Thursday, April 28, 2011

FFAA Replies to Wikileaks

In the interest of fairness, we want to point to a series of articles that appeared after our post about the Wikileaks cable alleging the Armed Forces of Honduras were selling weapons to the drug cartels. The gist of their response is, "we found it and told the US" and "its been distorted in the press."

Perhaps the first hint of a response came in an El Heraldo story from mid day yesterday which adopted the story line that it was the Honduran military who notified the US of the missing weapons after an inventory in 2007. It was current Defense Minister Marlon Pascua who spoke to the press. Pascua called the Defense Intelligence Agency report entitled "Honduras: Military Weapons Fuel Black Arms Market," a distorted tale of what actually happened.

Strangely, that story notes that there was a hearing in 2008 in which the evidence against the person or persons responsible was presented, but they're still waiting for a judicial decision in the case. Either justice moves slower than a glacier in the Honduran military courts, or more likely they locked this person in jail and threw away the key. Except in this case, the only weapons the person had access to were the light anti-tank weapons (law) and AR-16 and AK-47 rifles used by the Honduran armed forces. No access here to the M433 grenades reportedly recovered as well.

Shortly thereafter EFE covered the story, substantially the same as the El Heraldo story, noting that Pascua claimed that Honduras "was the victim, not the promoter of drug and arms trafficking." A follow up El Heraldo story notes that when asked what guarantee there was that this sort of thing would not happen again, both Pascua and General Osorio Canales, Head of the Honduran Joint Chiefs, replied "well, that's the danger of having these kinds of arms." El Heraldo noted that those responsible for the robbery of an aircraft from the Air Force base in San Pedro Sula have yet to be punished. The also noted that weapons captured from a drug traffickers bunker at the end of last year have disappeared as well.

La Tribuna's coverage notes that Pascua said the International coverage was meant to embarrass Honduras. Pascua said the information came from a leaked cable from an organization (Wikileaks) with a dubious reputation and anyhow the whole thing was covered in the Honduran press four years ago. Its from La Tribuna that we find out that the arrested naval officer is Lieutenant Selvin Castro Zelaya, and that he was one of 10 students at the TESON school at the time, and the only one charged with the crime. At the time he was the instructor of the course and in charge of logistics, which meant he had a key to the arms locker.

La Tribuna also reminds us that the military stored arms for private arms dealers after the Contras disbanded in the 1980s and that between 2000 and 2004 about 500 rifles disappeared from military custody, according to General Osorio Canales.

So rather than being a one time thing, as Pascua tried to imply, arms in the custody of the Armed Forces of Honduras have disappeared with some frequency since at least 2000. Ironically, the Armed Forces directly own the only licensed arms dealer in Honduras, "La Armeria", the only company that can sell and license guns in Honduras.

While its clear that the light anti-tank weapons stolen in 2007 ended up in the hands of drug traffickers, its not so much that there's a systematic effort by the Honduran military to sell weapons to the drug traffickers and organized crime in general; but rather a continuing culture of corruption which enables individuals to decide to steal weapons for person gain.

If the Honduran military is OK with that as the story, so are we.


Mike Allison said...

We've heard stories about weapons going "missing" from the Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan militaries for the last thirty years. They were found on the black market, in the hands of guerrillas, and in neighboring countries. Same with regards to US weapons crossing the border from Texas into Mexico and Central America.

I don't get the impression that it's any worse than it used to be. For the most part, it just sounds like journalists are trying to find "new" angles to organized crime and drug trafficking stories in CA.

RNS said...

The above post largely agrees with you...its the continuing corruption in the military that makes the arms available.

What has happened is that the market has changed. Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s the market was various revolutionary movements (contras, FMLN, etc) the market is now organized crime and drug traffickers.

There is, however, a difference between this and the arms coming from the US. Those are purchased openly from US gun dealers and are not military grade weapons; civilian weapons are crippled in some ways when compared to their military equivalents.

Corruption is the linkage between corrupt military officials selling weapons, and the drug traffickers and organized crime.

After all, Jamal Yousef, a Syrian ex-military officer, was captured in Honduras in 2009 trying to sell military arms, rifles, anti-tank weapons, rpgs and surface to air missiles, to a US DEA agent who he thought was a representative of FARC in exchange for 998 kilos of cocaine. Why come to Honduras to sell the weapons if there wasn't a good black market there at that point?

As General Osorio said "well, that's the danger of having these kinds of arms."