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Senate Democrats push Obama on human rights abuses in Honduras

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Senate Democrats are calling on Secretary of State John F. Kerry to take a more careful approach toward Honduras to ensure that police and military in the Central American nation are not committing human rights abuses with U.S. aid.

A letter to Mr. Kerry on Tuesday called on the State Department to "investigate extrajudicial killings and abuses allegedly involving policy and military personnel" in Honduras and to "ensure that no U.S. assistance is provided to police or military personnel or units credibly implicated in human rights violations."

Signed by 20 Democrats, including several on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the letter also urged Foggy Bottom to "make every reasonable effort to help ensure that Honduras' upcoming November 2013 elections are free, fair and peaceful."

The U.S. has a history of coordinating with the Honduran military, which succeeded in 2009 in running a coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya — a leftist who had close ties to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

While some foreign policy analysts suggested U.S. leaders were privately satisfied to see Mr. Zelaya go, the Obama administration publicly condemned the coup and the flow of aid from Washington to Honduras was briefly stemmed.

However, following the subsequent rise of conservative Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo Sosa to the Honduran presidency, the flow of aid from Washington was fully restored and has been punctuated during recent years by Pentagon financing for new military base construction.

A February Congressional Research Service report said assistance to Honduras — which has a population of roughly 8 million people — amounted to an estimated $163 million in the past three fiscal years. The White House has asked for another $58.2 million for the current fiscal year.

It is unclear whether that money includes funds from the Pentagon's little-known Counternarcotics Central Transfer Account, which has for the past two decades financed base improvements and construction for the militaries of Colombia, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua and others.

The Senate Democrats noted a 2012 spending bill requires the State Department to keep close tabs on democratic freedoms in Honduras, and, specifically "prosecuting military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights."

A May 2012 incident made international headlines after agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration were accused of involvement in the killing of four innocent Honduran villagers. Congressional Democrats have demanded a "credible" investigation of the incident, which occurred while DEA agents were assisting Honduran counternarcotics police in the pursuit of drug traffickers in northern part of the country.

An internal State Department inspector general memo leaked last week suggested that William Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, "reportedly was not forthcoming" with department officials seeking answers about the incident. Mr. Brownfield called the charges "false" in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine last week. The DEA has for months said that previous probes into the incident showed that no rounds were fired by DEA agents.

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