According to the Honduran newspaper, Tiempo, as well as the Honduran human rights group, COFADEH, the agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), dressed in military uniforms, killed at least four and possibly six civilians in a raid which took place on Friday, May 11. The victims included two pregnant women and two children. The newspaper Tiempo did not pull any punches, writing that those killed "were humble and honest citizens." Apparently, the DEA agents fired from helicopter gunships upon a boat carrying civilians on the Patuca back to their community of Ahuas which itself is located in the Mosquito coast of Honduras. According to Tiempo, the DEA mistakenly fired upon the civilian boat because it was well-lit while the intended target -- a boat carrying drug traffickers -- was floating down the river without its lights on.
According to Tiempo, the mayor of Ahuas decried the killings, saying that "[t]hese operations were performed irresponsibly" and that the people in his community live in fear "because they now have the threat of operations because they kill poor people... "
COFADEH, the Committee of the Families of the Disappeared of Honduras, has been very pointed in its condemnation of the role the U.S. played in these killings. COFADEH was founded in 1982 in response to the disappearance of 69 persons that year. As COFADEH explains on its website , it believes that the disappearances which took place in the 1980's (a total of 184 between 1980 and 1989), was the direct result of the National Security Doctrine which the U.S. imposed on Honduras. This doctrine, according to COFADEH, "included a systematic and selective form of human rights violations. The most emblematic violations were torture, murders and enforced disappearances" of the type which the U.S. had sponsored in the Southern Cone of South America in the 1970s.
COFADEH has taken on renewed importance in Honduras after the 2009 military coup against President Manual Zelaya which was at least tacitly supported by the United States. Since that time, the types of killings and disappearances which led to COFADEH's creation have started again, and are entirely the responsibility of the U.S.-supported coup government. Thus, according to a wonderful February, 2012 piece in the New York Times by Dana Frank, who relies heavily on COFADEH's figures, "at least 34 members of the opposition have disappeared or been killed, and more than 300 people have been killed by state security forces since the coup," including at least 13 journalists. Sadly, in researching this article, I discovered that a kind and brave woman, Vanessa Zepeda, who I had the honor of meeting on a School of Americas Watch delegation to Honduras shortly after the coup, has since been killed as a direct consequence of this coup. See, list of victims of the coup.
In response to the DEA killings, COFADEH put out a statement entitled, "Effects of the Military Occupation," which blames the U.S.'s decades-long policies in Latin America for the continued violence in countries like Honduras. As COFADEH stated:
... a foreign army [i.e., the U.S. army] protected under the new hegemonic concept of the "war on drugs," legalized with reforms to the 1953 Military Treaty, violates our territorial sovereignty and kills civilians as if it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Syria.
Two pregnant women, two children and two adult males were killed by shots fired from helicopter gunships piloted by U.S. soldiers on a boat on River Patuca returning to their community. They were workers in the local lobster and shellfish diving industry.
... [T]he "failed state" of Honduras gave way to the foreign military occupation under the script of the "war against the drug cartels," similar to what has happened in the past eight years in Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala.
And this reality, from the perspective of a human rights organization, is unacceptable and reprehensible.
Yet, due to the media blackout on such issues, the vast majority of Americans do not even know that the U.S. is at war just south of our borders and do not understand why our Southern neighbors are crying out for a change in this senseless policy. The media's failure in this regard is inexcusable.
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