Apparently if you’re a DEA operator, the rule of law is optional. Forgetting that the basic mission of law enforcement is to apprehend criminals and bring them to justice, these DEA cowboys were out on a search and destroy mission that cost the lives of several innocent women and children.
San Diego Union Tribune / AP (17 May 2012): Hondurans demand DEA leave after shooting
Honduras National Police Chief Ricardo Ramirez del Cid says supporting DEA agents stayed in the airborne helicopters throughout during the May 11 raid and he claims that he doesn’t know if anyone died.
Numerous local officials said four people diving for lobster and shellfish were killed and that they were not involved with drug trafficking.
“These innocent residents were not involved in the drug problem, were in their boat going about their daily fishing activities … when they gunned them down from the air,” Lucio Vaquedano, mayor of the coastal town of Ahuas, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Eurasia Review (22 May 2012): Joint Honduran Police-DEA Operation: Another Blot On Lasting Legacy Of 2009 Golpe – OpEd
Based on a May 14th report from Tiempo.hn, a joint anti-narcotics Honduran national police-US DEA operation targeting a small boat on the Patuca River, near Paplaya, resulted in four deaths and four persons wounded; the dead reportedly included two pregnant women and two children. According to the parliamentary representative of Gracias a Dios, Wood Grawell Maylo, and the Mayor of Ahuas, Lucio Baquedano, the victims were not drug traffickers, but “ciudadanos humildes y honestos”; in other words, innocent civilians caught in the crossfire.
According to the Tiempo.hn report, the incident occurred last Friday, when Honduran National Police and DEA agents opened fire on the boat from a helicopter. The dead include the youths (ages not confirmed) Emerson Martínez and Chalo Brock Wood; the two pregnant women, Candelaria Tratt Nelson and Juana Banegas; and the wounded, Hilda Lezama de Eulopio, Wilmer López, Lucio Adán, and Melanio Eulopio.
The agents apparently mistook the boat, which was lighted, for another boat in the area which was allegedly engaged in the trafficking of drugs, and did not have its lights on.
In other words, they’ve abandoned their mission of law enforcement and have become rogue killers — judges, jury and executioners.
Council on Hemispheric Affairs (22 May 2012): “War on Drugs” Comes to Miskito Territory; Claims Innocent Lives
On May 11th, a joint DEA-Honduran anti-narcotics unit based at Forward Operating Base Mocoron launched an early morning operation against alleged drug smugglers in the Miskito Coast region. In the pre-dawn darkness, helicopter gunners and soldiers on the ground reportedly fired upon a boat on the banks of the Patuca River, killing four of the passengers aboard. It was later discovered that the boat was simply a passenger vessel, and there is mounting credible evidence and a Honduran military investigation that indicates the passengers were not involved in drug smuggling. The rush to judgment, however, and the manner in which early press reports used anonymous, “official” sources that characterized the Miskito people in general terms as criminals, points to another casualty of the 30-year-old War on Drugs: the truth.
The dubious operation showcased a new model of drug interdiction based on counter-insurgency tactics developed and perfected by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The methods utilized in the operation should not come as a surprise, as there were signs that a significant shift in methodology, designed to bring the war to the smugglers in Honduras, was in the making. In a May 5th, 2012 New York Times article, “Lessons of Iraq Help U.S. Fight a Drug War in Honduras,” Thom Shanker reported that the U.S. DEA recently set up three forward operating bases—Mocoron, Puerto Castilla, and El Aguacate—in remote areas of Honduras in order to implement “small-footprint missions with limited numbers of troops, partnerships with foreign military and police forces that take the lead in security operations, and narrowly defined goals, whether aimed at insurgents, terrorists or criminal groups that threaten American interests.”
So, the dominant “official” U.S. narrative during the aftermath of the attack combined the anonymous line, that the dead were guilty of drug smuggling, and the attributable line, that the DEA did not fire its weapons and that the operation was under investigation by Honduran and U.S. authorities. The counter-narrative, informed by credible reports of survivors and witnesses on the ground, the statements by the Ahuas mayor, and a local legislator, in tandem with the investigation by the Honduran military and a more informed understanding of life along the Patuca River, makes the case that the dead and wounded were innocent victims of an anti-narcotics operation gone bad.
It was the May 19th New York Times reporting by Damien Cave that was among the first to expose the hollowness of the official (but anonymous) U.S. narrative by using reports from the ground in Ahuas … Cave writes, “But residents and officials in this poor town tell a different story, and an official report, scheduled to be issued on Saturday by the Honduran Army, has also concluded that four innocent people were killed.” Cave also quotes Colonel Servio Arita, the Honduran military officer who led the investigation: “It’s terribly sad,” he said. “It was an error.”
At this writing (May 22nd), Fox News Latino reports that “An investigation by the Honduran military based in nearby Puerto Lempira concluded that the agents fired on the civilians by accident, killing four and wounding four, said Col. Ronald Rivera Amador, commander of the Honduran Joint Military Task Force-Paz García.” The report also points to allegations by residents that North Americans participated in a subsequent raid on village homes.
Bring the cowboys home, and bring them to justice.