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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.

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Before their identities were verified, those killed in the May 11 raid were immediately branded as criminal drug traffickers by Honduran authorities and Honduran and US media outlets and the operation was deemed a success. But indigenous witnesses and survivors shared testimonies of indiscriminate violence, terror and the loss of community members who were in no way linked to drug trafficking. They highlighted the fact that two of the dead were pregnant women.

US authorities claim that at approximately 2:30am on May 11, people on a boat on the Patuca River fired upon anti-narcotic operation agents who were also on the river at the time. The agents, in the process of pursuing and seizing a boat loaded with cocaine, returned fire. Helicopters monitoring the situation from the air fired as well. But local residents claim that a passenger boat carrying 16 people -- men, women and children -- had almost ended its 6-7 hour journey from a community downriver when helicopters suddenly appeared above them and opened fire on the boat. The surviving occupants of the passenger boat say they had no interaction with anyone, drug traffickers or security forces, prior to hearing and seeing the helicopters that opened fire on them.

In response to questions at a press briefing, the US State Department said that Honduran police, the DEA, the Guatemalan military and private contractors were all involved in the May 11 operation and that the helicopters involved were titled to the State Department itself. But the US government was quick to declare that Honduran forces were the only ones to fire weapons and that the DEA was only present in an advisory role.

On Friday, June 22, during another anti-narcotics operation, a US DEA agent shot and killed a man and arrested at least four suspects in Brus Laguna, another community in the Honduran Moskitia approximately three hours down the Patuca River from Ahuas. According to the DEA, the suspect reached for a holstered weapon before the DEA agent shot and killed him. Although there have been deaths in other DEA activities in Honduras, such as May 11, according to the US government, the June 22 incident is the first time that a DEA agent has been the one to shoot and kill someone during an operation.

Still less than two months since the massacre in Ahuas, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden confirmed that two US DEA agents were involved in another fatal shooting. Honduran officials initially reported that one of the two pilots of a suspected drug flight from Colombia died and the other was injured after the twin-engine plane crashed on July 3 in Olancho, in eastern Honduras, after its pursuit by government aircraft. However, in a July 8 interview with the AP, Dearden said that when an operation involving Honduran police and DEA advisers arrived at the scene of the crash, one of the pilots refused to surrender and made an unspecified "threatening gesture." Two DEA agents shot and killed the man.

More than a month before the second operation made headlines in the US, indigenous people in the Moskitia had already demanded the departure of US security and military personnel, in response to the May 11 killing. Representatives from the Territorial Councils of MASTA held an emergency assembly in Brus Laguna on May 14.

“We resolve to declare members of the Honduran and US armed forces persona non grata in the territory of the Moskitia due to their invasion and effect on security, creating situations of intimidation and fear in the humble residents who survive through their own efforts, and without fulfilling their commitment to defend our sovereignty,” reads the declaration written at the emergency assembly. It was addressed to Honduran authorities, as well as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples James Anaya.

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