January 26, 1989 | Assassination of Honduran general Gustavo Álvarez Martínez

On this day in 1989, the former head Honduras armed forces, Gustavo Álvarez Martínez was killed by armed men northeast of the capital city of Tegucigalpa.

Latin America has seen its fair share of revolutionary movements, some of which engage in acts of terrorism.

I think I took my first course in Latin American history when I was in third year of a Spanish undergraduate programme at the University of Western Ontario (I think it is now called just ‘Western University’). My professor was clearly a Spanish Marxist – remember them? – and he thus saw events through that particular lens. I am not a raging conservative by any means but I do recall not agreeing with his world view, even back then.

Whatever I thought of his perspective there is no doubt that the region has seen its own extreme episodes over the centuries. The indigenous Aztec civilisation for one was particularly violent with its blood sacrifices. Once the Spanish arrived the locals were slaughtered or enslaved en masse. In addition, the subsequent US interest has not always been to the benefit of those who live there (1954 CIA-led coup in Guatemala, anyone?).

I had my own personal link to the unrest in Latin America. In 1986 I traveled to Nicaragua at the height of the campaign of violence by the US-backed Contras against the Sandinista government, a regime that arose from a revolution to overthrow a US-backed dictatorship and which was led by Daniel Ortega. Not that his new government, now a not-so-new bunch of politicians, is doing so well these days: it has been accused of its own dictatorial ways.

A listing of all the extremist and terrorist groups that arose in Latin America over the decades would indeed be a long one, and one in particular, the FARC of Colombia, features highly in any discussion of violence in the region. But today’s terrorist act took place in a land rarely associated with the phenomenon discussed in this blog series: Honduras.

Assassination of Honduran general Gustavo Álvarez Martínez

On this day in 1989 the former head of that country’s armed forces, Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, and his driver were killed by armed men northeast of the capital city of Tegucigalpa. A group known as the Movimiento Popular de Liberación Nacional, Chinchoneros (Popular Movement for National Liberation), claimed the attack, calling for a ‘revolutionary war by the people’. This band, which was active in the 1980s, took its name from 19th century Honduran peasant leader Serapio Romero, who was nicknamed Cinchonero and executed by decapitation in 1868 for leading a rebellion.

Today Honduras is plagued by another social ill: murder. The homicide rate there is 43.6 per 100,000: Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, following El Salvador (60 per 100,000) and Venezuela (89 per 100,000).

Some would say his is akin to terrorism: it is not, however, as these killings are not tied to ideological causes. That of course does not mean they are not terrifying. Not all things that go bump in the night are attributed to terrorists.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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