Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement

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Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1980

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Honduras

OVERVIEW

The Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement (in Spanish, Movimiento Popular de Liberación Cinchoneros, MPLC) was a leftist revolutionary group seeking to overthrow the Honduran government in the 1980s and early 1990s.

HISTORY

The Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement (Cinchoneros) served as the armed wing of the People's Revolutionary Union, a group that splintered from the Honduran Communist Party in 1980. The Cinchoneros were a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary group whose objective was to overthrow the Honduran government. The Cinchoneros were particularly known for hostage taking. The group demanded political and monetary demands in exchange for the release of its hostages.

An Honduran plane headed to New Orleans was hijacked by five Cinchoneros members in 1981. The plane, with eighty-seven passengers, was flown to Nicaragua. The group threatened to kill the passengers and destroy the plane if sixteen leftists from El Salvador, who were in Honduran prisons, were not released. They also demanded that the government of Honduras take a neutral role in El Salvador's civil war and provide protection for thirty-five leaders of Honduran leftist groups. The Ambassador of Panama in Nicaragua negotiated with the Cinchoneros to have the plane flown to Panama. The Honduran government released the prisoners to Panama, where they applied for political asylum in Cuba. The passengers of the plane were released without harm.

In September 1982, ten Cinchoneros members took 105 people hostage from the Honduras Chamber of Commerce building. Among the hostages were two Cabinet ministers and eighty well-known business leaders. The Cinchoneros demanded the release of sixty leftist activists from Honduras, El Salvador, and other Latin American countries who were held in Honduran jails, or who had disappeared after being held by government forces. They also wanted U.S. military advisors who were based in Honduras to be removed from the country. The Honduran government did not meet the hostage-taker demands, but did provide the Cinchoneros involved in the incident with safe passage to Cuba, when all of the hostages were released ten days later.

The Cinchoneros were also known to carry out bombings. Between 1983 and 1985, the group bombed the offices of Honduran, Costa Rican, and U.S. airlines and other businesses in the city of San Pedro Sula, 125 miles north of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.

U.S. military personnel were wounded by a Cinchoneros attack in San Pedro Sula in 1988. The group also killed the former head of the army in Honduras, General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez in 1989.

Cinchoneros-related activities declined in the early 1990s, coinciding with end of civil wars in neighboring El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. However, a possible resurgence of activity was suspected in December 2004, when armed militants killed twenty-eight of seventy passengers on a bus in San Pedro Sula. The attackers left a note saying they were Cinchoneros members, and made threats against the President of Honduras, Ricardo Maduro, who vowed to be tough on crime. The message also warned against reinstating the death penalty, which had been pushed for by some governmental candidates.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

The Cinchoneros claimed to be the protectors and representatives of the poor people of Honduras. The group's name was taken from Serapio Romero, a Honduran peasant leader who was said to be executed in the nineteenth century. Romero's nickname was Cinchonero.

Although the Cinchoneros did carry out visible operations in the country, Honduras never experienced the same level of violence from leftwing revolutionary groups as did the nearby countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. The Cinchoneros were considered the largest leftist group operating in Honduras, with only 300 members. However, the Cinchoneros organization was involved with the leftist revolutionary efforts throughout Latin America.

KEY EVENTS

1980:
Cinchoneros acted as the armed wing of the People's Revolutionary Union, which split from the Honduran Communist Party.
1981:
Leftist members jailed in Honduras were released per the demands of Cinchoneros members, who threatened to kill the passengers aboard a plane they hijacked.
1982:
Honduran Cabinet members and leading businessmen were held hostage for ten days by Cinchoneros members demanding the release of leftist prisoners and the removal of U.S. military advisors.
1988:
U.S. military personnel were wounded in a Cinhoneros attack.
1989:
Honduran General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez was killed by Cinchoneros forces.
1990s:
Cinchoneros activities declined, coinciding with the end to civil wars in neighboring Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.

Many Cinchoneros activities were aimed at assisting the leftist groups in the countries surrounding Honduras. They made demands for the release of leftist leaders and members from prison, and were opposed to the interests of the United States in Latin America. Cinchoneros believed U.S. interests were against the left-wing forces.

The Cinchoneros financed many of its operations with bank robberies and kidnappings in which ransoms were demanded. The group also relied on support from the leftist organizations outside of Honduras. A guerrilla organization from El Salvador, the Farabundon Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), trained Cinchoneros members and participated in joint kidnapping operations with the group. The Sandinista government of Nicaragua gave Cinchoneros fighters safe haven in Nicaragua. The Sandinista government used Cinchoneros forces to assist in fighting against the contras in Nicaragua. Cinchoneros drastically declined upon the end of the civil wars of these neighboring countries.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

The United States accused Cuba of providing the Cinchoneros with finances, training, weapons, and logistical support during its times of operations. This claim is likely, as Cuba had an interest in the leftist struggles throughout Latin America. The Cinchoneros aided other leftist revolutionary groups throughout the region.

There has been controversy in Honduras over who is to blame for the bus attack that killed 28 people in December 2004. The perpetrators called themselves Cinchoneros rebels. According to media reports, many Hondurans believe this claim. The public believes the attack is part of a recently emerging rebel movement to change the government. The Honduran government claims the Cinchoneros are being used as a scapegoat by the criminal gangsters they say carried out the bus attack. The Cinchoneros had been blamed for at least one previous attack in 1994, when a politician was kidnapped and later released. The government insists the armed criminal gangs who carried out the attack are upset about the crackdown on crime by the government. Political experts have also analyzed the situation. Social science professor Isbela Orellana, from the National Autonomous University of Honduras, has said the conditions for a guerrilla group to launch an attack in Honduras do not exist. Another professor, Anibal Delgado Fiallos, believes the attack was the work of individuals, not gangs or the Cinchoneros.

SUMMARY

The Cinchoneros were an active leftist group in Honduras during the 1980s and early 1990s. Their objective was to overthrow the Honduran government. Although the group was active, with nearly 300 members, the leftist revolutionary movement was not as strong in Honduras as it was in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. The Cinchoneros did play a role in the armed leftist struggles and civil wars of these neighboring countries. Their trademark was hostage taking, which they used as a means to make political demands, such as the release of leftist prisoners being held in Honduras. The Cinchoneros also spoke out against and targeted American interests in the region, in retaliation for what the group called American support for antirevolutionary forces. The group's activities declined in the early 1990s, as the various civil wars in the region ended. Recent attacks in Honduras have been blamed on the Cinchoneros group, but there is skepticism as to whether the group has become active again.

SOURCES

Books

Anderson, Sean K., Sean Anderson, and Sloan Stephenson. Historical Dictionary of Terrorism, Second Edition. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002.

Periodicals

Ottey, Michael A.W. "Many Hondurans Say Guerillas, Not Gangs, Were Behind Massacre." The Miami Herald. December 29, 2004.

Thompson, Ginger. "Gunmen Kills 28 on Streets of Honduras; Street Gangs Blamed." New York Times International. December 25, 2004.

Web sites

National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism—Terrorism Knowledge Base. "Cinchoneros Popular Liberation Movement." 〈http://www.tkb.org/Group.jsp?groupID=3987〉 (accessedSeptember28,2005).

Resource Center of the Americas.org. "28 Killed in Bus Attack—Weekly News Update on the Americas #778." 〈http://www.americas.org/item_17213〉 (accessed September 28, 2005).

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