On August 6, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández visited Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the branch of the U.S. military that oversees most of Latin America and the Caribbean. While U.S.-Central America relations are currently focused on immigration issues, security affairs remain critically important.
During his visit to SOUTHCOM headquarters in Miami, the Honduran president met with SOUTHCOM commander General John Kelly (Marine Corps) as well as with representatives from the State Department and from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The Honduran leader also met with representatives from the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATFS), a branch of SOUTHCOM. The leaders did not make any major agreements concerning arms sales or new joint security operations. A brief SOUTHCOM press release simply stated that the parties discussed “how U.S. security assistance can help Central American nations strengthen their security capacity, disrupt transnational organized crime and improve citizen security.”
Since President Hernández came to power in January, his main security-related objective has been to crack down on violence, as Honduras is known to be the “murder capital of the world.” Drug trafficking is the cornerstone of Honduras’ internal security woes, because the country marks a transit point for cocaine flows from South America to Mexico and the United States. Naturally, it is in the U.S. national interest to stop the flow of drugs by increasing the defense capabilities of its Latin American partners.
However, President Hernández also argues that there is a “double morality” regarding drug trafficking. He explains that, while the consumption of drugs in the United States “is a health problem, [in Honduras] it is about lives.” He has also stated that “approximately seven out of ten murders [in Honduras] are drug-related. If Honduras did not have a drug problem, [it] would not be amongst the most violent countries in the world.”
The president’s visit to SOUTHCOM’s headquarters was an important step to help the countries maintain positive security relations. Certainly, the U.S. wants to see the Honduran security forces stop the drug trafficking that passes through its territory. In fact, the U.S. armed forces have a military base in Honduras known as the Joint Task Force Bravo at the Soto Cano Air Base. Moreover, Honduras is participating in an ongoing multinational operation led by JIATFS called “Operation Martillo.” The goal of this operation is to target “illicit trafficking routes in coastal waters along the Central American isthmus.”
Though Washington and Tegucigalpa work towards similar objectives, they have not always agreed upon specific strategies for military cooperation. For example, in an April 2014 commentary for Blouin News I explained how Washington recently suspended data sharing with Tegucigalpa “due to a controversial decision passed by the Honduran government to shoot down aircraft that are suspected of transporting drugs over Honduran airspace.”
I have not been able to confirm whether President Hernández discussed the possibility of reestablishing the transfer of radar information with General Kelly or President Obama. However, the topic probably came up during their conversations about drug trafficking issues.
Apparently, President Hernández’ recent trip to Miami to visit SOUTHCOM headquarters did not end in any major defense-related agreements between Washington and Tegucigalpa. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the U.S. government and military are not willing to cooperate with Central America. While U.S. immigration reform may not occur any time soon, the countries may still be able to increase binational cooperation to combat common security threats.