Botched DEA Raid Exposes How Militarization Terrorizes Communities Around the World
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“So yes, they were in Afghanistan, but this doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s not an issue where they were. They aren’t military.”
But the US military also has a longstanding presence in the country. In central Honduras, near the city of Comayagua, the US Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Bravo is based out of the Soto Cano joint US-Honduran military base, more commonly referred to as Palmerola. In the 1980s, the country was a strategic staging point for US counterinsurgency activities in the region, particularly in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The Moskitia and other areas in eastern Honduras were strategic launching points for US-sponsored efforts to prevent broad support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and for the subsequent destabilization efforts and armed counterinsurgency incursions – the Contra war – after the victory of the Sandinista revolution in 1979. Today, northeastern Honduras is once again a US staging ground, with three US military forward-operating locations used ostensibly for the US-sponsored drug war in the region.
Sometimes called “the Amazon of Central America,” the Moskitia is a geographically isolated area covered largely by tropical rainforest and connected by networks of rivers and lagoons. It spans northeastern Honduras and northeastern Nicaragua. Home to indigenous Miskitu, Tawakha, Pech and Garifuna communities as well as non-indigenous residents, most of the Honduran Moskitia can only be accessed by air and boat.
The Patuca River that connects the communities where both recent DEA-related killings occurred is one of the main “highways” in the Moskitia. For decades, indigenous and non-indigenous communities both upriver and downstream and environmental organizations have struggled against plans to build large hydroelectric dams on the river. A series of transnational corporations have obtained concessions over the years for the Patuca I, II and III dams, but construction only began to move forward in recent years.
The only road-based highway in the region connects the community of Mocorón – home to historical and current US military presence in the region – to Puerto Lempira, the largest city in the Moskitia. Mocorón is reportedly the host of one of three US forward-operating locations in Honduras that directly support US operations in the country and beyond, together with Puerto Castillo on the Caribbean coast and former Contra War base El Aguacate in Olancho. These and other US military sites in the area are equipped to support actions like the FAST-assisted DEA anti-narcotics operation in Ahuas.
From the beginning, the survivors of the May 11 raid and local community residents who were bystanders when the boats and helicopters arrived have told a different story than US authorities including the DEA, the State Department and the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa. Their testimonies have remained largely unheard.
Timoteo Cruz Ulloa* and his sister were called to the boat landing on the bank of the Patuca River in the wee hours of the morning, receiving word that their mother had been wounded and was in the river. When they arrived at a neighbor’s house at the landing, a helicopter was flying overhead. After it landed, Cruz Ulloa addressed the uniform personnel that disembarked.
“We asked them if we could speak with them and they said yes. Some of them could speak a little Spanish, not much,” he said. “They told me to sit on the stairs of the house. They were pointing a gun at us. From there, shortly afterwards one of them called me over to them. When I went, one of them put a gun to my chest and asked me if there was gasoline for a boat.”
According to Cruz Ulloa, the armed uniformed men violently broke into a storage shed, held the owner at gun point, and took two 18-gallon barrels of gasoline to fuel a boat that was tied up along the river. Several community residents described the men as tall and white, with very limited Spanish proficiency. Amongst themselves, they spoke English. The men turned to Cruz Ulloa and told him, at gunpoint, to take them in the boat, navigating down the river a few hundred yards around a bend.