Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Honduran Media Emphasize Role of DEA in Miskitu Killings

A story credited to the Spanish news agency EFE, published in Honduras by the news website Proceso Digital late on August 14, raises again the question of the degree of involvement of US Drug Enforcement Agents in the deaths of Honduran indigenous civilians in early May near Ahuas, a community in the Honduran Mosquitia.

Headlined "The DEA had a 'central role' [in the] anti-drug operation in Honduras that left 4 dead", the news story cites a 60 page report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Rights Action, dated August 15.

Proceso Digital summarizes the report as
underlining that the DEA agents took a "significant role" and not simply a support role as the US State Department argued; that the US has not sufficiently assisted in the investigation".

What is at issue, Proceso Digital makes clear, is that a full investigation of the events in May cannot take place without more active US participation, for example, making available surveillance video and providing access to the guns in the US helicopter for ballistics.

The CEPR report painstakingly pieces together news reports and official statements, reviews what has been described of the content of the as-yet restricted surveillance video that has been reported on by the New York Times, and-- most important-- assembles the testimony of the surviving passengers in the boat that was attacked under the claim it was engaged in drug trafficking.

The CEPR notes that "most witnesses report never having been interviewed by investigators."

The CEPR describes the journey of Hilda Lezama's boat, loaded with passengers and cargo. It provides the names of the passengers traveling that day, where they were coming from, and when they joined the trip.

It draws a clear picture of a commercial boat caught up in a military operation.

Approaching the final landing around 2:30 AM, the pilot passed a drifting, unmanned boat. Shortly after, the commercial boat was fired on by helicopters that had already been heard by some passengers:
Candelaria Trapp called her sister Geraldina Trapp shortly after 2:00 a.m. stating that she was almost at Paptalaya because she saw the town’s cell phone towers, but she expressed anxiety about four helicopters flying low over the boat. Geraldina reported hearing the noise of the helicopters over the phone.

While matter-of-fact, the report includes poignant detail on the experiences of the families traveling together, many of whom were shot or had family members killed-- including two pregnant women:
Bera, who remained on the boat longer than most of the others, says that the helicopter shined a light on the boat only after having opened fire and that she believed that they may have stopped shooting because only after they had projected their search light could they then clearly see that she was a woman with two young children. The helicopter flew away but circled around, and at this point Bera’s 11 year-old child jumped into the water. Bera grabbed her 2 year-old child and followed. She felt that she was on the verge of drowning, but managed to grab onto brush along the edge of the river and pull herself and her child onto the shore. She stayed hidden among the brush until after dawn when the helicopters had left and she heard people searching the river.

The CEPR report emphasizes what the US and Honduras should do now, including calling for a cut off in US funding for similar operations under the Leahy act.

This isn't what the Honduran media source found most worthy of highlighting. Instead, it emphasizes the "central role" of the DEA in the incident.

For many Hondurans, the attempt to disclaim the deep level of involvement of US forces in the country, and especially in drug operations, is the most significant aspect of reaction to the Ahuas killings.

US diplomats may focus on establishing that no DEA agent fired a gun-- a claim disputed in this report-- but in Honduras, the key issue is that this operation would not have taken place without the funding, equipment, training, and leadership of the DEA.

[edited 1:09 PDT 8/15/12 to reflect co-sponsorship and clarify who has seen the surveillance videotape]

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