The United States supported a coup in Honduras in 2009. Fast forward a dozen years, and the Latin American country finally escaped the repressive thumb of far-right administrations when a leftist president — and the country’s first female head of state — was elected. She promised reform, including as it pertains to the mining sector, which has devastated portions of the country’s environment and used horrific violence to suppress its opponents. As Jared Olson details, however, hope soon faded:
They blocked the road with boulders and palm fronds. They unraveled a long canvas sign, bringing the vehicles to a stop — a traffic jam that would end up stretching for miles. Drivers stepped out into the oppressive August humidity, annoyed but not unaccustomed to this practice, one of the only ways poor Hondurans can get the outside world’s attention. Several dozen people, their faces wrapped in T-shirts or bandannas, some wielding rusty machetes, had closed off the only highway on the northern coast. It was the first protest against the Pinares mine — and the government’s failure to rein in its operations — since Castro came to power eight months before.
Things weren’t going well. That Castro’s campaign promises might not only go unfulfilled but betrayed was made clear that afternoon last August when, as a light rain fell, a truck of military police forced its way through the jeering crowd of protesters and past their blockade — to deliver drums of gasoline to the mine.
Since their creation in 2013, the military police have racked up a reputation for torture and extrajudicial killings as a part of its brutal Mano Dura, or iron fist, strategy against gangs. Though it earned them a modicum of popularity among those living in gang-controlled slums, they also became notorious for their indiscriminate violence against protesters, as well as the security they provided for extractive projects. They’ve faced accusations of working as gunmen in the drug trade and selling their services as assassins-for-hire. The unit was pushed by Juan Orlando Hernández, now facing trial in the United States for drug trafficking, while he was president of the Honduran congress, in his attempt to give the military power over the police — his “Praetorian Guard,” in the words of one critic.
Castro had been a critic of the unit before her election. But after a series of high-profile massacres last summer, she decided that — promises to demilitarize notwithstanding — the unit would be kept on the streets. And here they were, providing gasoline and armed security to a mining project mired in controversy and blood.