Collateral Damage of a Drug War

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

There is a new paper from the Center for Economic and Policy Research titled “Collateral Damage of a Drug War: The May 11 Killings in Ahuas and the Impact of the U.S. War on Drugs in La Moskitia, Honduras” by Annie Bird and Alexander Main. From the introduction:

 In the early morning hours of May 11, 2012, residents of the peaceful indigenous community of Ahuas in northeastern Honduras awoke to the sound of low flying helicopters circling above the nearby Patuca River.  Shortly afterwards, bursts of automatic gunfire were heard.  Later that morning the Honduran National Police announced that they had killed two drug traffickers in the course of a counternarcotics operation that had recovered hundreds of kilos of cocaine.  However, it soon emerged that local residents of Ahuas had a very different story to tell.  Four innocent boat passengers, they said, had been killed by security agents: two women, one 14-year-old boy and one 21-year-old man.  Four other passengers had been injured by gunfire, three of them critically.  Men speaking English and identified as U.S. nationals were among the security agents who descended from the helicopters and attacked and threatened members of the community.  Three months have now passed since the May 11 incident.  Investigations by human rights defenders confirmed many of the claims made by Ahuas residents.

In their preliminary reports they clearly identified the four Miskitu people who had died and were able to confirm that those individuals, along with the other passengers present on the same boat, had legitimate reasons for being where they were, when they were.  Local officials from the region and media reports  – including in-depth articles published by the Associated Press and the  New York Times – offered similar accounts to those described by the human rights defenders.

However, senior Honduran government officials have continued to maintain that the security agents fired in self-defense and have suggested that the boat and its occupants were part of a drug trafficking mission.  U.S. government spokespersons have acknowledged the presence of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents during the operation but have stated that they played “a supportive role only.”  Meanwhile, a Honduran government investigation of the incident appears to be seriously delayed and flawed, while the victims of the incident and their families languish without assistance or justice.

In late July of 2012, analysts from Rights Action and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) visited the Honduran capital and the region where the incident took place – the Department of Gracias a Dios  – in order to collect detailed information connected to this incident from surviving victims and other eyewitnesses, Honduran state and local officials and U.S. officials.

This report summarizes and analyzes the extensive testimony and other information obtained during the visit.  It presents detailed narratives of the sequence of events on May 11 and provides detailed background profiles on the boat passengers who were fired upon as well as on key witnesses.  It also describes the region and context in which the shooting incident occurred, in order to better understand its impact on the local community.  Finally, it offers a series of key findings and formulates recommendations of next steps to be taken in order to ensure that justice is achieved in this case and that measures are taken  – both by Honduran and U.S. policymakers  – to avoid the recurrence of future tragic incidents of this nature.

Eapen Thampy

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3 Responses to “Collateral Damage of a Drug War”

  1. #1 |  jb | 

    I was the driver. I didn’t rob the bank and I didn’t kill the guard. It was a supportive role. WHAT! You’re charging me with armed robbery and murder? No! No! No! I played “a supportive role only.”

  2. #2 |  fedup | 

    Hey guess what, I don’t have to prove that I have a freaking legitimate reason to be somewhere.

  3. #3 |  Windy | 

    jb #1 Excellent point.

    fedup #2 Apparently you do when the DEA is involved even in only a “supportive role”.