U.S. Commandos and the War on Drugs in Central America

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

The United States has moved the War on Drugs from its Mexican front to Central America. This past spring, the U.S. bolstered its total number of troops to 600 in Honduras under the name Joint Task Force Bravo. The U.S. military and DEA forces are applying counter-insurgency techniques, used in Afghanistan and Iraq, to the drug trafficking problem now prevalent in Central America. Along with promoting stability, Colonel Ross Brown, the military officer in charge, describes their mission as, “disrupting and deterring the potential nexus between transnational organized criminals and terrorists who would do harm to our country.”

The DEA has also deployed its militarized “Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Teams,” or FAST commandos to Central America. Although not categorized as soldiers, this group is the most dangerous force present. By being classified as law enforcement agents, South American countries are more willing to accept them over foreign soldiers, but the limitations to the powers of these DEA agents are unclear. Adding to the ambiguity, these agents “wear military uniforms, carry high-powered assault weapons, and use military attack helicopters” making them nearly indistinguishable from soldiers. The FAST commandos facing are now scrutiny when a raid in La Mosquitia went sour, ending in the deaths of four innocent people.

This type of military involvement and funding comes out of the Mérida Initiative. Since its implementation in June 2008, Congress has appropriated $1.6 billion towards the initiative hoping to enact, “comprehensive justice sector reforms… increased knowledge of, and respect for, human rights,” high tech equipment for detecting illicit materials at key checkpoints and increased air mobility for the Mexican armed forces and Federal Police.  Most of the money has been applied directly to funding the Mexican government, but a portion has been devoted to Central America.

The U.S. armed forces are working in tandem with the Honduran government to curtail the power and drug transportation of the cartels. However, the resources given to the Honduran governmental agencies are not always used for their intended purposes.  As the InterAmerican Security Watch states, the propped up military power of Central American governments have, “consistently led to human rights violations” with the military being used to “quell social unrest on behalf of the ruling class as a matter of routine.” This is especially disturbing since in Honduras, “an estimated 10% of congressional members are drug traffickers” where U.S. money and aid is being used by the Honduran government to support the cartels. Overall, the increased U.S. military and DEA presence in Central America are forces that continue support of right wing military governments and the suppression of liberalization in Latin American countries.


“U.S. Commandos in Central America” Andrew Hochhalter, March 2012


“Describing Conflict in Central America: Criminal Insurgency” David C. Eckley, InterAmerican Security Watch, August 2012


Student Researcher: Alex Alfonso

Faculty Instructor: Kevin Howley Ph.D.

Evaluator: Glen Kuecker Ph.D. Latin American Historian

DePauw University