Banana Country Marines
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  1. #1

    Banana Country Marines

    When we hear about BANANA WARS, we mostly know about Marines in Nicaragua, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Panama Canal Zone and Honduras. Mostly in the beginning of the 1900's
    The truth is, that U.S. involvement in Central America and the Caribbean lasted on up to at least the end of the Cold War.
    Many Marines and other military branches served in Central America, particularly in the Panama Canal Zone where many bases thrived such as Fort Clayton, Fort Kobbe, Howard AFB, Rodman Naval Station, Marine Barracks, Albrook AFB, Fort Sherman, Fort Guilick, Galeta Island. Out of the Panama Canal Zone, many military forces were sent to Honduras at Sato Cano Air Base in Comayagua in the 1980's in support of Contras that were trying to liberate Nicaragua from the grasp of communist government.
    A little known operation called Operation AHUA TARAS played out in the port city of PUERTO CASTILLA, HONDURAS in April of 1990. After a long war with the Contras, Nicaragua was going in for elections. To keep the elections honest, the Marines send in a military exercise played out on a DOLE PLANTATION of this Honduran banana port. It was basically a show of force. Amphibian operations and MID STREAM operations performed by the Maritime Prepositioning Force vessels. These mid stream ops was taking several non-powered causeways, attaching them together to make a large parking lot in the water that floats. Equipment gets offloaded on these causeways and they get towed to the beach and offloaded. It was a huge operation involving Navy and Marine Corps. I was on the MV Lt. John P. Bobo. Named after a Marine medal of Honor winner.

    Though I had been out of the Marine Corps by 1990, I was connected to a military operation as a Marine Corps Maintenance Contractor working for the Marine Corps on board this vessel of the Maritime Prepositioning Ships Program. Kind of a last bastion of the "Banana War Marines". An era that ran from probably late 1800's to just around before the start of the Persian Gulf War. Though Marines probably continue to train in Central American countries and Caribbean, 1990 in Central America was the end of an era. The Panama Canal would be gone by 1999, civil war would continue in El Salvador, but our policies in Central America have seemed to fade along with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nobody cares about Communism anymore, doesn't seem to be much of a threat after 1990. Doesn't seem to be much of a threat with Panama Canal gone.

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  2. #2
    Panama Canal was a hotbed of military intelligence. Not only was there bucu military intelligence in the Panama Canal Zone, that is where the jungle warfare training school was in Fort Sherman, and the infamous "School of the Americas" where many dictators were trained by the U.S. U.S. policy was to keep communism at bay no matter how many people were killed by our dictators. Example, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama for instance. Probably many more and even around the world. Anastacio Samoza was our dictator until his own people kicked him out of power eventually killing him in exile in Uruguay. Problem was, when the Sandanistas took over Nicaragua, they turned and announced themselves to be "Communist". Wrong answer, hence Contra war in Nicaragua. Backed by whom? Your's truly, Uncle Sam, whom placed Samoza in power in the first place. But to know the history of Samoza you would have to know about the Marines in Nicaragua and their brainstorm child of the GUARDIA NACIONAL. Created by your's truly, the United States Marine Corps. The Guardia Nacional seemed to have ruled with an iron fist for many decades keeping communism away, until Samoza over abused his own people. And eventually was thrown out because of it.

  3. #3
    But the biggest least known of all the Central American tragedies in terms of people killed and abuse in a bloody 30 years plus civil war was in GUATEMALA. More killed there than El Salvador and Nicaragua wars put together. Again classic example. U.S. trained dictator. To keep communism at bay whom we fear so much of spreading. Uprising by the local indigenous people, mostly of Mayan descendants. Mostly over land ownership. People in the military connected to corruption, power, U.S. backing go in, wipe out villages of men, women and children thought to harbor "Communism" when in reality, it is a dispute over land ownership. Mixed Guatemalan races (White, with Indian mostly) whom are the elite of the country against the pure indigenous Mayans whom are the poor coffee growers and farmers. Where do the Mayan rebels get their weapons to fight against U.S. backed elite members of the military and power in Guatemala? They look towards CUBA of course........hence, the U.S. in turn looks the other way and they don't care who gets hurt and whom is right in the fight as long as COMMUNISM is out. True indeed.

  4. #4
    The afternoon Honduran rain falls hard. Giant raindrops that land on the palm trees along the coast and huge leafs. The convoy of Marines drive their trucks from the port of Puerto Castilla to Trujillo, via a dirt road, aligned with mud huts with thatched roofs on the side of the road. The Marine driver has his handy MRE's ready to throw to the locals on the side of the road. They go running after it. MERRY CHRISTMAS. I ride with this Marine and join in on the action. We come up upon a peasant with his son and mule cart towing things, when we stop along side of him and hand him off some MRE's. The town of Trujillo is hot muggy and intense tropical sun. I walk about the streets of Trujillo checking out the area. I see a large population of black people called GARIFANU'S. Evidently brought over to the Central American coast by the British from the island of Saint Vincente. The British at the end of 1700's abolished slavery and moved many plantation slaves to the Central American coast for better chances of their survival where they could fish. Many of them live on the coast till this day all over Central America. I stumble upon a grave that reads WILLIAM WALKER. So whom was William Walker. You will have to check it out on the internet yourself. Just check or look under, WILLIAM WALKER the filibuster.

  5. #5
    Town of Trujillo revealed an interesting history. I kept getting one surprise after another. I stumbled onto a FORTRESS called Fortaleza de Santa Barbara. An old Spanish fort from the days of the Spanish Main. I have taken personal interest to visit Spanish fortresses, such as San Marcos in Saint Augustine Florida, Porto Bello in Panama, the Spanish missions of San Antonio, Fortaleza San Diego in Acapulco and the Intramuros of the Philippines. I have visited old earthquake crumbled ruins of Franciscan churches in Antigua, Guatemala.
    The town of Trujillo had that Spanish Fort overlooking Trujillo Bay. Cannons still pointed towards the sea. I understand that the fort was really not very strategically a very good location because the islands of Roatan just to the north was infested with pirates, that would raid the town. Once it was sacked and burned.
    Going up a hill, I ran into another surprise. I had seen a marker for crew members of a c-141 Hercules that crashed in Trujillo killing all on board. The marker was right by a museum that was nothing like a museum of any luxury but they had lots of Spanish artifacts like muskets that were dug up and Spanish cannon balls things like that. Very interesting place to end up on a military training operation, a show of force in 1990 in Honduras.

  6. #6
    While in Honduras, there was a bus attack, around March 1990 of a U.S. Air Force bus by the Morzanist Liberation Front, a terrorist group operating out of Honduras then that ambushed the bus around the Soto Cano Air Base. I was in country when that attack happened. I was out of town on a local bus enroute back to our ship anchored on the Caribbean coast as we were conducting operations there with the Maritime Prepositioning ships. AHUA TARAS 1990. I was boarded on by Honduras forces loaded up with M-16's checking ID cards of the bus passangers and when the soldier walked on by and saw me, he didn't say or do anything, just went by me and didn't ask me for anything. He must have known I was with the ships. I later learned of the attack around the airfield south of where we were. Something like 11 guys got shot up and two very seriously wounded.

  7. #7
    I saw this marker in TRUJILLO HONDURAS as I was walking up a hill to the local museum there. The museum held artifacts from Spanish colonial days such as habiscus bullets, and rifles, swords ect.....and right there was a marker to memorialize the lost crew that crashed.

    Date: January 22, 1985
    Time: 09:35
    Location: Off Puerto Castilla, Honduras
    Operator: Military - U.S. Air Force
    Flight #: ?
    Route: Howard AFB - Trujillo AP
    AC Type: Lockheed C-130A
    Registration: 56-0501
    cn / ln: 3109
    Aboard: 21 (passengers:16 crew:5)
    Fatalities: 21 (passengers:16 crew:5)
    Ground: 0
    Summary: Crashed into the Caribbean sea, 8 miles northwest of the airport where it was scheduled to land

  8. #8
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    GUATEMALA CITY–A team of 200 U.S. Marines began patrolling Guatemala's western coast this week in an unprecedented operation to beat drug traffickers in the Central America region, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.

    "I'd say it's extremely unique. This is the first Marine deployment that directly supports countering transnational crime in this area, and it's certainly the largest footprint we've had in that area in quite some time," said Marine Staff Sgt. Earnest Barnes at the U.S. Southern Command in Doral, Fla .

    It was 50 years ago when the U.S. military last sent any significant aid and equipment into Guatemala, establishing a base to support counter-insurgency efforts during a guerrilla uprising. That movement led to 36 years of war that left 200,000 dead, mostly indigent Maya farmers. The U.S. pulled out in 1978.
    Guatemalan authorities say they signed a treaty allowing the U.S. military to conduct the operations on July 16. Less than a month later an Air Force C-5 transport plane flew into Guatemala City from North Carolina loaded with the Marines and four UH-1 "Huey" helicopters.

    After two weeks of setting up camp, establishing computer connections and training at the Guatemalan air base at Retalhuleu, the Marines ran through rehearsal exercises, Barnes said. Last week, their commander "gave us the thumbs up" to begin active operations, he said.

    This week the Marines have been patrolling waterways and the coastline, looking for fast power boats and self-propelled "narco-submarines" used to smuggle drugs along Central America's Pacific Coast. U.S. officials say the "drug subs" can carry up to 11 tons of illegal cargo up to 5,000 miles.

    Col. Erick Escobedo, spokesman for Guatemalan Military Forces and Defense Ministry, said that so far the Marines have brought about the seizure of one small-engine aircraft and a car, but made no arrests. He said he expected the Marines to in Guatemala for about two months.

    If the Marines find suspected boats, Barnes said, they will contact their Guatemalan counterparts in a special operations unit from the Guatemalan navy that will move in for the bust. Barnes said the Marines will not accompany arrest mission, but they do have the right to defend themselves if fired on.

    The Marines are deployed as part of Operation Martillo, a broader effort started last Jan. 15 to stop drug trafficking along the Central American coast. Focused exclusively on drug dealers in airplanes or boats, the U.S.-led operation involves troops or law enforcement agents from Belize, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama and Spain.

    Eighty percent of cocaine smoked, snorted and swallowed in the U.S. passes through Central America, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Eight out of every 10 tons of that cocaine are loaded on vessels known as "go fasts," which are open hulled boats 20 to 50 feet long with as many as four engines, according to the Defense Department.

    In a recent congressional briefing in Washington, Rear Adm. Charles Michel said the boats, carrying anywhere from 300 kilograms to 3.5 metric tons of cocaine, typically leave Colombia and follow the western Caribbean coastline of Central America to make landfall, principally in Honduras. In the Pacific, the same type of vessels will leave Colombia or Ecuador and travel to Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica or Mexico, Michel said.

    "We fight a highly mobile, disciplined and well-funded adversary that threatens democratic governments, terrorizes populations, impedes economic development and creates regional instability," he said, noting that authorities are able to stop only one out of every four suspected traffickers they spot.

    This month's Guatemala operation by the Marines comes soon after raids under an aggressive enforcement strategy that has sharply increased the interception of illegal drug flights in Honduras resulted in the death of one person in June and four in May.

    U.S. officials said an agent fatally shot a suspected drug trafficker in late June as he reached for his gun in a holster during a raid in a remote northern part of Honduras. That operation resulted in the seizure of 792 pounds (360 kilograms) of cocaine, the officials said.

    A raid on May 11 killed four people, whom locals claimed were innocent civilians traveling a river in Honduras at night. Honduran police said the victims were in a boat that fired on authorities. The DEA said none of its agents fired their guns in that incident.

    Both Honduras and Guatemala are struggling with widespread corruption that weakens their rule of law, according to recent State Department reports.
    "We're concerned about the impact on Guatemalan civilians, many indigent, who are stuck in the middle of this conflict between drug traffickers and a Guatemalan military known to associate with criminals," said Kelsey Alford-Jones, director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA in Washington.

    Guatemala has widespread institutional corruption, "including unlawful killings, drug trafficking, and extortion; and widespread societal violence, including violence against women and numerous killings, many related to drug trafficking," according to a recent State Department report.

    The Marine operation is the largest in Guatemala since U.S. military aid was first eliminated in 1978, halfway through the civil war. Over the years, the U.S. Congress has approved limited funding for training Guatemala's military response team for natural disasters.

    U.S. law says Guatemala can regain aid once Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certifies Guatemala's military is "respecting internationally recognized human rights" and cooperating with judicial investigations of former military personnel and with the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.

  9. #9
    First night we get to Honduras, we go to shore with a couple of us contractors, we go by a Marine checkpoint. We tell them we are civilians and have the right to go to town. Marines were restricted. Confined to their own beachhead area. The Marine sentry has a sniper rifle with scope, he tells us to approach slowly when we come back and to wave so he knows whom we are.
    We hit paydirt in town. We find the quiet little town of Trujillo and wonder where the beer joints are. A bunch of school kids make their way out of the school, and I can't figure why they are in school at whee hours of the night. Must have been way passed 8 PM and it was dark. I ask them in Spanish if they know where the night life is. Imagine me asking school kids (Probably junior high or high school.) where the night life is happening. One kid points towards the beach and says you have to go down a long flight of stairs. Sure enough, we go and we can hear music coming aloud the closer we got to the drop off. BINGO. Plenty of "SALVA VIDA" beers later, we make it back through the Marine checkpoint, give the guys a six pack of beer. Thanks, for not shooting us. See ya later.

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