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Botched DEA Raid Exposes How Militarization Terrorizes Communities Around the World

A deadly May raid brought the impact of the drug war on local communities in Honduras into the global spotlight.

A de facto military post in Ahuas. The blue pipante (boat) in the background is the boat that was carrying the passengers and shot at from helicopters during a May 11 DEA-assisted raid.
Photo Credit: Karen Spring


A boat riddled with bullet impact marks sits docked at a landing along the bank of the Patuca River. A few feet from the boat, a small building on stilts has become a de facto temporary military outpost. Armed forces patrol the small community of Paptalaya, in the municipality of Ahuas, the heart of the Honduran Moskitia.

The boat is evidence from an anti-narcotics operation on May 11 involving the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Honduran police and private military contractors. Four indigenous Miskitu residents were killed in the operation. Despite a regional outcry from local indigenous communities and organizations, the region rich in natural resources continues to be heavily militarized. The May 11 raid brought the impacts of the drug war on local communities in Honduras into the global spotlight.

The presence of Honduran and US security forces has dramatically increased over the past several years and even more so since the June 2009 coup, particularly in communities along the Patuca River where recent DEA-led operations have occurred. The militarization of the region is being attributed to fighting drug smuggling, but local residents do not trust the authorities that justify the strong security presence in the name of the “war on drugs.”

“More than anything else, they’re militarizing because of the natural resources that are in the Moskitia, especially the strategic spots where there is oil,” says Norvin Goff Salinas, president of MASTA, an indigenous Miskitu federation.

Regardless of its purpose, indigenous residents have denounced the increasing militarization and its negative impacts on local communities in the department of Gracias a Dios, in the Moskitia.

“The effects are negative,” says Goff Salinas. “It has affected us, like the intimidation of the communities and the effects of the presence of armed forces and the transportation they use, the panic specifically in children and elders.”

Back in the Honduran capital, the embassy’s DEA attaché, James Kenney, told a North American human rights delegation a different story. He spoke with delegation participants on May 27, at a meeting coordinated by the embassy of the United States in Tegucigalpa. US embassy political counselor Silvia Eiriz was also in attendance.

“These people out in Gracias a Dios or other departments, they aren’t doing what they used to do. They aren’t growing corn, and piña or pineapple and other products,” Kenney told the North American human rights delegation. “They are waiting for a narcotics plane or boat to come in.”

“So they are waiting more now for when is the next airplane to come in – ‘When am I going to get another shot at this?’ – and unfortunately it is really destroying these communities out there,” said Kenney, seated in the Marriott hotel coffee shop, where the meeting took place.

MASTA secretary Reymundo Eude points out the conditions of poverty in which the majority of people are living in the Moskitia. Many houses and boats are handmade with local natural resources. People would live differently if they all had money because of drug trafficking, he told the North American delegation.

“If you look at the Landín, ask people there if they asked [the armed forces] to come. Who asked them, the military personnel, to come here?” asked Eude.

“They come by force. They invent, saying there is drug trafficking [in the Miskitu communities],” he said, asking the group to take a look around at the poverty in local communities in the Moskitia. “You can see how people are living. If there were drug trafficking, we would not be in these conditions. Ok. So this is a ploy on the part of the government just to get the funding.”

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