More than 70 religious leaders, organizations, and academics yesterday urged companies not to bid on a $25 million contract to upgrade a U.S. military base in Honduras, saying the base “violates Honduran sovereignty and the principles of democracy.” The Army Corps of Engineers contract is for barracks for enlisted soldiers at Soto Cano Air Base in Honduras.
Honduras has seen extensive human rights violations since a June 2009 coup overturned the presidency of Manuel Zelaya, who is returning to Honduras on Saturday. Soto Cano was used for refueling when Zelaya was illegally and forcibly removed from the country, the U.S. State Department has acknowledged.
“The U.S. military is supporting anti-democratic, violent and wealthy sectors in Honduran society, and companies shouldn’t lend themselves to that,” said historian Greg Grandin of New York University, one of the signers of the letter.
Leaders of Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Jewish, and other faiths, over two dozen organizations, and 30 university professors and academics, including Noam Chomsky, told the companies that the contract “is not worth the costs.”
In their letter, the leaders cited the Honduran constitution’s prohibition on a permanent foreign military presence, and said the “use of ‘hooches’ [huts] instead of permanent barracks on Soto Cano attempted to paper over this prohibition by making the U.S. base ‘temporary,’ which would be definitively changed by the upcoming contract.”
More than 40 companies (see list) indicated their interest in the Army Corps contract, and some of them conducted a site visit to Soto Cano on Wednesday.
U.S. forces on Soto Cano conduct training and other assistance to the Honduran military. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and other human rights organizations say the Honduran armed forces have carried out killings and arbitrary detentions, and denounce increased attacks on journalists, human rights defenders, gay and lesbian people, and opponents of the current government.
“Repression of the opposition by state security forces is now worse than it was immediately following the coup, and continues since President Porfirio Lobo signed promises to address the situation,” said Honduras scholar Dana Frank, another signer of the letter.
Honduras has among the highest murder rates in the world, as violence and drug trafficking have spiraled upward since the coup. Defense Department contracts in Honduras have more than doubled since 2007. “Whether or not the U.S. military presence is contributing to the violence, it certainly is not reducing it,” the letter said.
SOURCE: Fellowship of Reconciliation