SOA Grads Prominent among New Military Leadership in Honduras as New President Prepares to Take Office

Source: School of the Americas Watch

As Juan Orlando Hernandez – Honduras’ next president and the current head of Honduras’ National Congress who is regarded by many as having stolen the November elections through numerous forms of fraud and control over the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Justice Department, and the Supreme Court — prepares to take office on January 27, his government is already starting to take shape. In late December, the new Police and Military leadership were sworn in, those who will be charged with carrying out what is widely feared to be the intensification of an already violent campaign against social movements under Hernandez’s rule.


Given the US Embassy’s support for Hernandez, with the US Ambassador publicly lauding the elections as ‘transparent’ just hours after the polls closed – in direct contradiction to reports of vote buying, armed gunman, and fraudulent vote tally sheets — it is no surprise that the new Police Chief is Ramón Antonio Sabillón. Sabillón is reported by Honduras’ El Heraldo newspaper to be “a person of confidence of the US Embassy.”  The same article also reported that Sabillón was the “first commander of the Bortac border course that the US Embassy imparts.” With Sabillon, the US has someone who will presumably do its bidding and further enforce the imposition of the extreme neoliberal and privatization agenda in the face of popular opposition. In that vein, Elder Madrid Guerra, was named the new Director of Strategy for the Secretary of Security. Madrid Guerra was accused of torture, abuse of authority and illegal detention of 24 people during protests against the coup d’etat on August 12, 2009. According to testimony of one of the victims, when they had been illegally detained, Police Commissioner Elder Madrid appeared and taunted them saying “how much does Chavez give you, communists, we’re going to gas you.” Among the victims that day, there were bone fractures, those who were seriously tortured, a tube pressed into a hand until bleeding, and more.


Two-time SOA graduate General Fredy Santiago Díaz Zelaya was named the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces. Díaz Zelaya previously was the Commander of the Army, which is deployed in many parts of the country and has been implicated in numerous human rights violations, violent repression of protest, violent evictions of small farmers, numerous murders, and more. Despite all this or perhaps because of it, at the ceremony where he received the baton to become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Díaz Zelaya declared to the Honduran people, “Not I nor the soldiers will violate your human rights and if someone does they will be subject to a legal process.” This lip service to human rights – regardless of the reality that the Army has embraced impunity for human rights abuses under Díaz Zelaya — is exactly what the US Embassy is looking for and fits right into the US Embassy’s message. Given General Diaz Zelaya’s year-long, high-level training on Military Command and Chiefs of Staff at the School of the Americas, one can imagine he is well schooled in exactly what the US wants and that he will be a willing partner in using the military to advance US corporate interests in Honduras.

The new second in command of the Honduran Armed Forces is another SOA grad, Vice Admiral Rigoberto Espinoza Posadas, previously Commander of the Honduran Navy, which has also had its share of trouble. His post is filled by his classmate at the SOA, Héctor Orlando Caballero Espinoza, who was named Commander of the Navy. To round it out, Colonel Francisco Isaías Álvarez Urbina, a 1983 SOA grad, replaces Díaz Zelaya as Commander of the Army.

Finally, it is notable is that two-time SOA-graduate General Julián Pacheco was ratified to continue in his position as the head of the Bureau of Investigation and State Intelligence. This agency was created in 2012 as independent from other agencies and institutions to be the “advisory arm of the President of the Republic in making decisions about preventing and repressing crime” and noted to have the responsibility of providing confidential investigation and intelligence to the government.

Publicly, this Bureau is said to be fighting organized crime, extortion, kidnapping and coordinating security and defense but as an IPS article about its creation noted it is “a key agency in the security structure that does not appear to be accountable to any other body, and does not appear to be under democratic civilian control.” “We are back again with old national security concepts dating from the Cold War era in Central America, and the danger is that the former anti-communist rhetoric may be used against the ‘new threats’, such as allegedly criminal youth, dissidents against the regime, social protests or for the imposition of absolute powers,” Mirna Flores told IPS. Notably, General Pacheco is well-prepared for this position by a “Psychological Operations” course at the US Army School of the Americas.

These new appointments and the ratification of General Pacheco are just part of the preparation for Juan Orlando Hernandez’s presidency. As head of the Congress, he has pushed through legislation in the past few weeks, including a law called “Measures to make the public administration more efficient, Improve services to citizens, and strengthen transparency in government.” This name obscures the reality that this law consolidates power for the President, including giving Hernandez the power to restructure the whole state administrative apparatus or enable private enterprises to carry out government functions. The law also gives new powers, such as cutting public services, to the President’s Council of Ministers, which will now hold meetings in secret.

As the Hernandez administration prepares to impose its agenda on Honduras despite widespread popular resistance, it will be more important than ever to hold the US to account for validating the Hernandez regime and training and funding the military and police repression of Honduran social movements.