Honduran Military personnel combat drug trafficking along the borders, destroy clandestine airstrips, offer protection to the citizenry, and answer the call when nature shows her destructive side. In an interview granted to Diálogo in April 2012, during the Central American Security Conference in El Salvador, which was sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command, Lieutenant General René A. Osorio Canales spoke about the multifaceted role of the Honduran Armed Forces and revealed details about how they work to confront the most worrying threats.
DIÁLOGO: What are the primary challenges for the Honduran Armed Forces?
Lieutenant General René A. Osorio Canales: The primary challenge we face as the Armed Forces is to combat organized crime in all its facets. We’ve conducted bilateral operations with the U.S. Government and Armed Forces. Last year, we launched Operation Blue Shield, which lasted almost four months. It was very positive. This year, we’re executing Operation Martillo and Operation Yunque with them.
Our responsibility in Operation Martillo consists of patrolling the entire coastal area in our territorial waters, while the cooperating countries, together with the Americans, patrol in international waters. This has been very successful, because from January until now, few vessels have been proceeding illegally. The countries that are in international waters together with the Americans have intercepted submersibles.
Recently, we initiated Operation Yunque with the Air Force, the National Police, and agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). A fleet of helicopters is working in an entire sector of the department of Gracias a Dios to create a blockade intercepting flights from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. We hope that this operation is permanent. We’re going to take advantage of this fleet of helicopters and propose some objectives, in accordance with the information we’re dealing with on the intelligence side.
We’re also carrying out Operation Armadillo with our resources. This operation consists of the destruction of clandestine airstrips found in the departments of Gracias a Dios, Olancho, and Colón. This has cut drug trafficking in that sector, and it’s gotten positive reactions from the cooperating countries and the U.S. Southern Command. We always maintain good communication with them, in order to counteract drug trafficking in the Caribbean Sea with the Navy, guard the airspace with the Honduran Air Force, and logically, on the ground with the Army.
DIÁLOGO: The Honduran Armed Forces also carry out some activities that are not typical or traditional for military personnel. Could you please discuss those, for example, Operation Xatruch II?
Lt. Gen. Osorio Canales: Correct. Operation Xatruch II consists of providing security to the population, such as protecting an area that has an agrarian problem. We have a Military presence in the area in order to ensure that rural workers can carry out their agricultural tasks and make everyone in that region feel protected. It’s important for the population, both domestically and internationally, to know that we’ve had two ambushes in past years in which Soldiers died and there were injuries. This year, five of our Soldiers were ambushed. Thank God, there weren’t any deaths, but there are people from organized gangs that want to maintain chaos in that sector. Well-organized rural workers have the president’s full support, and we’re there providing security with the Military presence.
DIÁLOGO: You’re also working in the field of civil-military relations. What can you tell us about that?
Lt. Gen. Osorio Canales: We have a program called Guardians of the Country, which consists of bringing together children and young people between the ages of 5 and 23 with social and family problems. We invite them to both air and naval bases in order to give them a comprehensive formation. On Saturdays, we transport them to the base and give them infantry instruction. Some pastors and parents cover the spiritual side. We talk to them about what love for one’s country means, the principles of respect for the country’s symbols; we teach them physical education and some technical skills through schools that we have in the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy. These institutions are working as a single block, and we’re already in the second year of this project.
We bring medical brigades to the most remote locations on Saturdays, in order to avoid them from interrupting our day-to-day responsibilities. It’s volunteer work by the Soldiers, the technicians, doctors, and nurses who are in the final year of their degree program. We get medicine through the Office of the First Lady, the Health Ministry, the Knights of Malta, and other organizations that help us in that way. We’re now in our third year of providing these medical brigades at a national level. The first year, an average of 300,000 people received care; the second year, 400,000; and we hope to reach the goal of half a million people this year.
DIÁLOGO: Those unconventional military tasks also include supporting the population when natural disasters occur. How does your country’s Military prepare to confront emergencies of this kind?
Lt. Gen. Osorio Canales: The Armed Forces have a great deal of prestige in Honduras, since we’re the first ones there during disasters, whether man or nature made. We do this in coordination with the Permanent Contingency Commission (COPECO), as well as with the firefighters, the Red Cross, and other organizations that provide support. Last year, we mounted a massive response in the south, where it rained almost constantly for a month. The Armed Forces provided support by evacuating personnel and bringing medicine to those isolated locations. We have a lot of experience along those lines. The U.S. Military Group collaborated with some supplies, and we received aid from cooperating countries.
DIÁLOGO: Do you collaborate frequently with Central American and South American countries?
Lt. Gen. Osorio Canales: We’ve done some bilateral operations with Colombia, where we’ve gone there and they’ve come to Honduras with their aircraft to conduct exercises. This year, another visit is planned during the month of August. They give us pointers on the Navy side, more than anything. Also, through an agreement, we bought six dogs in Colombia that are trained to detect drugs and explosives, and they’re already working at the airports and at the checkpoints that we set up along major roads. We’ve also trained personnel in Colombia. Three specialists in money laundering provided training there for four months.
We also have a good relationship with the countries of the Conference of Central American Armed Forces (CFAC), which includes Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador, conducting patrols along the border. There’s good coordination with the commanders in each region in order to get information about crime along the borders. There are meetings each month where the brigade commanders get together to coordinate the patrols. In addition, there’s the Dominican Republic, with which we exchange instruction and training.
DIÁLOGO: Do you have a specific message that you would like to send to our readers?
Lt. Gen. Osorio Canales: Well, the important thing is for all our allies to realize that we’re making an effort as responsible Soldiers. It’s important that all of us citizens of the Americas be people of principles and values, because the problem that this society has is corruption, the lack of values, and the buying of consciences. If we don’t all make an effort on the regional level, we’re going to continue to have that problem, because we know that drug trafficking is a very profitable business for the criminals.