Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández announced that he is requesting congressional approval for a new military cooperation agreement with Israel, raising human rights concerns given past experiences of Latin American countries receiving security assistance from the Mediterranean nation.
Hernández announced the proposed agreement with Israel on August 20 during an event commemorating the 52nd anniversary of the formation of the Second Airborne Infantry Battalion, La Tribuna reported.
“I am sending to Congress a very important agreement, crucial for the growth of the Honduran nation,” the president said, promising that the accord “will give rise to the strengthening of our armed forces, which we probably would never have had” without it.
Hernández did not give specifics of the proposed agreement, but he indicated that it would likely include the purchase of advanced military equipment from Israel, one of the world’s foremost exporters of such goods.
The president also acknowledged that the proposed agreement is likely to encounter opposition from some members of congress, particularly those who question the increasing involvement of the military in public security functions in Honduras.
However, Hernández dismissed concerns about the militarization of public safety, and implied that those who had reservations about involving the military in fighting crime bore responsibility for the high levels of violence that Honduras has seen in recent years.
Hernández has previously expressed his strong support for Israel, a country that has often come under criticism from Latin American nations due to its actions in the ongoing conflict with the Palestinian people.
“As long as I am president, Honduras will stand behind Israel,” Hernández said in a speech during an October 2015 visit to Israel.
Hernández studied in Israel in 1992 as part of an international development program known as MASHAV. He is the first MASHAV graduate to become a head of state.
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The proposed military cooperation agreement between Honduras and Israel raises a number of concerns, especially given Israel’s well-documented history of providing security assistance to Latin American countries with little regard for the possible consequences in terms of human rights.
Hernández’s administration has previously purchased advanced military equipment from Israel. In 2014 the Honduran air force acquired three Israeli-made radars, despite worries that they could be used to target and destroy airplanes suspected of carrying drugs — a practice that human rights advocates have equated with extra-judicial execution.
Israel also has a long history of providing equipment and training to other countries in Latin America, most recently Argentina. At times, this cooperation has generated controversy, as was the case when Israel sold surveillance equipment to the government of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who allegedly used it to spy on his political opponents.
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Additionally, a two–part report published last year by the human rights group Privacy International raised concerns that Israeli technology firms, along with counterparts in the United States and Europe, had helped Colombia construct a “shadow mass surveillance system in the absence of clear lawful authority, safeguards against abuse and opportunities for public scrutiny.”
Israel also provided helicopters during the 1980s to the government of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Ríos Montt which were reportedly used during operations that resulted in massacres of civilians. And a 1991 US Senate investigation found that Israeli mercenaries provided equipment and training to Colombian drug traffickers in 1988 and 1989.
This history raises concerns that military equipment obtained by Honduras from Israel could facilitate human rights abuses by the armed forces that could weaken, rather than strengthen, rule of law in the Central American nation.