Dutch ships assist Honduras in escalating war on drugs

Honduras is currently building up its naval forces, reportedly to counter international drugs trafficking. A stronger naval force would also help the country in deterring harassment of its fishing crews by naval and police units from neighbouring Nicaragua and El Salvador, according to Honduran officials. Current equipment of the navy is said to be 30 years old on average.

Last October the Latin American country signed a 62 million US$ contract for six patrol ships and six interceptor boats made by Dutch company Damen and co-signed by the Dutch government, which guarantees the loan for the deal.

According to Honduran officials the boats “would help Honduran military in the Gulf of Fonseca to patrol the Pacific waters more effectively and to prevent further expansion of drug trafficking through the country”. The waterway borders El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The $62 million contract with Maritime International Services – set up earlier this year – is one of several recent moves by the administration to boost the armed forces. Critics object that the discussion on the deal was held behind closed doors in the Honduran congress, partly because of the “usual corruption associated with congress awarding contracts to newly formed and ghost companies.”

Similar Damen patrol ships and interceptor boats have been delivered to Bulgaria

In 2008 then president Zelaya called for a robust debate on the war on drugs, including alternative strategies such as the option of a legally regulated market. However, he found little support for his proposals. In 2009 Zelaya was ousted in military coup. With current president Lobo chosen in 2009, the political instability has remained, resulting in a deteriorating security situation, including increased narco-related criminality. Honduras is infamous for having the world’s highest murder rate, which is to a large extent attributed to the drugs trade and counter-drugs law enforcement crackdowns.

Advocacy groups say that Honduras’ human rights outlook remains grim.

Meanwhile a military approach to tackle the drugs trade has become ever more dominant.

Honduras has worked closely with the U.S. government in the war on drugs. Washington for example financed a new naval base on the island of Guanaja to combat narco-trafficking. But after Honduras shot down two suspected drug planes last August – a violation of international law – it froze US$50 million anti-drug military support. Last week the U.S. resumed sharing of radar intelligence with Honduras in an attempt to stop smugglers using the small country to transship drugs destined for the U.S. market. But so far, concerns over Honduran police officials involved in death squads as well as numerous other incidents has kept U.S. Democrats in Congress reluctant to defrost the $50 million assignment.

The new Dutch government apparently has less reservations about the track record of the Honduran authorities, rather preferring co-financing a profitable business for Dutch companies over possible alternative strategies to the war on drugs.

[FS, 4 Dec 2012]