Thursday, September 13, 2012

Corrales: Blame the Civilian Aircraft

According to Arturo Corrales, Foreign Minister of Honduras, the civil aviation planes that were shot down by Honduran Air Force pilots in August were to blame for their own deaths. 

At least that's the conclusion to be drawn from his statements that no one in Honduras is responsible.

Corrales makes some extraordinary claims in an article in El Heraldo, claims that should give the United States pause in negotiating a new four year agreement with Honduras about cooperation in drug interdiction.

The article is primarily about the obligation of Honduras' Public Prosecutor to investigate who gave the order to shoot down at least two civilian aircraft, in contravention of a 1942 treaty on civil aviation.

But it also includes a statement by Corrales, whose position in the Honduran government is equivalent to that of Hilary Clinton in the US administration.

Corrales said no civilian or military official ordered the shooting down of the civilian aircraft:
"I understand that there was no order; I understand that no one gave the order."

At first, this seems like throwing the pilots to the wolves, since they would then presumably be responsible for their own actions.  

But Corrales absolves them:
The responsibility for the downing cannot be attributed to the pilots of the military planes who shot at the illegal planes, since they risk their lives to go in search of irregular flights and an accident can happen in a fraction of a second.

This is, at best, a non sequitur: because they risk their lives and an accident can happen in a matter of moments, they are not responsible for shooting down two civil aircraft in one month?

The last time Honduras shot down a civilian aircraft was in 2004. Corrales' conclusion strains credibility.

There is a simpler explanation: the Honduran Armed Forces has been advocating for exactly this policy, while presumably knowing it violated Honduran treaty obligations, ever since the spring of this year. These pilots were enacting that desired approach, whether there was an official policy or not.

Paraphrasing an anonymous person identifying himself as a former Honduran Air Force pilot, who wrote a comment on the article in El Heraldo: that's how we've been trained at least since General Osorio Canales was a cadet.

The comment is no longer available; but it is consistent with statements in April of this year by Osorio Canales, still the commander of the Honduran Armed Forces, saying
"The National Congress should reform the law [implementing the 1942 treaty] and consider leaving the treaty because we cannot take down civilian planes that illegally enter our airspace".

At the time he said that there was discussion in the Honduran Congress about the proposal.

We might want to remember why the international presumption is against shooting down civilian aircraft that wander into national airspace without responding to requests for identity. It is simply this: you may think they are engaged in illegal activity: but you cannot know that.

Both Peru and Columbia, at US urging, have adopted a policy of shooting down civilian aircraft suspected of drug trafficking. In both countries that policy has resulted in the shooting down of civilian flights carrying missionaries, not drugs.

Corrales made it clear how poorly justified these incidents actually are, in his comments implying the pilots of these planes were to blame:
The downing was the product of a extreme situations:  such as the flight of the planes was in the early morning hours and the planes were flying at low speed; therefore they were shot at.

A neutral party reading these comments would presumably continue to be troubled that the Honduran government is neither taking responsibility, nor (apparently) is clear on what constitutes a suspicious way of acting (early morning flights at low speed are surely not automatically drug traffickers, even if some drug traffickers fly at those times).

So it is more than troubling that an article early this morning in La Prensa quotes US Ambassador Lisa Kubiske suggesting US radar assistance will be returned to Honduras "soon", specifically because
President Porfirio Lobo and minister Arturo Corrales spoken clearly about the topic of the civilian aircraft and the treaties that Honduras has signed with the international community.

We agree that Corrales has spoken clearly. But we wonder what Ambassador Kubiske finds reassuring in what he has said.

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