CEPR has released a new paper, along with the human rights organization Rights Action, examining the Honduran Public Ministry’s official report on the May 11, 2012 shooting incident last year in which four local villagers were killed in Ahuas in Honduras’ Moskitia region during a counternarcotics operation involving U.S. and Honduran agents. This is also the first time that the Public Ministry’s report has been made available to the public, posted to Scribd in English here, and Spanish here.
The Honduran Public Ministry’s report deserves special scrutiny because thus far it represents the official version of events according to the Honduran authorities. And since the U.S. government has declined to conduct its own investigation – despite the wishes of 58 members of Congress – it also represents by default the version of events tacitly endorsed by U.S. authorities as well. The DEA and State Department didn’t allow Honduran investigators to question the U.S. agents and contractors that participated in the May 11 operation. At the same time a U.S. police detective working for the U.S. Embassy reportedly participated in the Public Ministry’s investigation, so the U.S. also bears some responsibility for the report’s flaws.
The CEPR/Rights Action paper found that the Public Ministry’s report:
- Makes “observations” (not conclusions) that are not supported by the evidence cited;
- Omits key testimony, that would implicate the DEA, from police who were involved in the May 11 incident;
- Relies on incomplete forensic examinations of the weapons involved, improper forensic examinations of the victims’ bodies and other improperly gathered evidence;
- Does not attempt to establish who is ultimately responsible for the killings;
- Ignores eyewitness reports claiming that at least one State Department-titled helicopter fired on the passenger boat carrying the shooting victims;
- Does not attempt to establish whether the victims were “in any way involved in drug trafficking” as both Honduran and U.S. officials originally alleged;
- Does not attempt to establish what authority was actually in charge of the operation;
- Appears to be focused on absolving the DEA of all responsibility in the killings.
The CEPR/Rights Action report represents the first such public critique of the Public Ministry’s report. As we have previously noted, there are significant discrepancies between different accounts of the May 11 events, including those of Honduran police officers who participated in (and say the DEA was in charge of) the operation. These discrepancies – cited in a separate report published by the Honduras National Commission of Human Rights (CONADEH) – are not mentioned in the Public Ministry report. Nor does the report include police testimony indicating that a DEA agent ordered one of the State Department helicopters to open fire on the passenger boat in which four people were killed.
The report concludes by calling for the U.S. government to carry out its own investigation of the Ahuas incident to better determine what occurred and to determine what responsibility, if any, DEA agents had in the killings. It also calls on the U.S. government to cease being an obstacle to an already flawed investigation by making the relevant DEA agents, weapons and documents – including an aerial surveillance video of the Ahuas operation in its entirety – available to investigators.
The new CEPR/Rights Action paper follows the “Collateral Damage of a Drug War” report released last year which was based on eyewitness testimony and other evidence the authors obtained in Honduras and concluded that the DEA played a central role in the shooting incident.
- Obama Administration Refuses to Investigate Alleged DEA Killing of Women and Child in Honduras (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Democrats on Capitol Hill want the Obama administration to investigate the deaths of four civilians in Honduras last year during an anti-cocaine raid involving U.S. law enforcement agents. But administration officials have balked at the request.
On May 11, 2012, four villagers in a boat on the River Patuca, two pregnant women, a 21-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy, were killed when local police entered the town of Ahuas in northeastern Honduras to conduct a counternarcotics operation. Another four boat passengers were injured by gunfire. It was later learned that members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) participated in the raid, which raised questions of whether Americans were responsible for the killings.
The Honduran government investigated the incident and concluded the DEA was not at fault for the deaths.
But 58 House Democrats were not satisfied with the probe, which they called “deeply flawed” in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. calling for the U.S. to conduct its own examination.
Government Won’t Probe of DEA Raid in Honduras (by Guy Taylor, Washington Times)
Collateral Damage of a Drug War (Center for Economic and Policy Research) (pdf)
Given the current controversy surrounding the extent of the U.S. drone program and targeted killings, it is important to revisit that in the summer of 2012, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency announced that unmanned drones would begin patrolling Caribbean airspace as an expansion of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). This is only one aspect of how the War on Drugs in the Caribbean is increasingly looking like the War on Terror.
The U.S.–Caribbean border is the often ignored “Third Border,” which the Department of Homeland Security has referred to as an “open door for drug traffickers and terrorists.” A recent study by the National Defence University has stated that “the region’s nexus to the United States uniquely positions it in the proximate U.S. geopolitical and strategic sphere. Thus, there is an incentive, if not an urgency, for the United States to proactively pursue security capacity-building measures in the Caribbean region.”
While the drones are unarmed for the time being, they will be primarily used to locate drug traffickers operating fishing boats, fast boats, and semi-submarines and would relay information to the Coast Guard, Navy or Caribbean authorities to carry out the interception and arrests. It has been revealed that the drones will be operating out of bases in Corpus Christi, Texas, Cocoa Beach, Florida and potentially the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
The shift towards the use of drones in the region is largely based off of an unconvincing pilot program carried out over 18 months in the Bahamas, in which “During more than 1,260 hours in the air off the southeastern coast of Florida, the Guardian (drones) assisted in only a handful of large-scale busts.” That said, the Caribbean governments increased militarization in the region when they implemented the never-ending War on Drugs without any public consultation or debate. This erosion of regional sovereignty may be a slippery slope to a dangerous future in which Caribbean nationals may very well find themselves on kill lists instead of facing a trial.
Such a conclusion is not baseless, as a November 2012 report by the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security recommended that Latin American drug cartels be classified as terrorist organizations “so there is increased ability to counter their threat to national security.” Furthermore, in 2009, the U.S. Military drew criticism for placing 50 suspected Afghani drug traffickers on a “kill list” as part of their ongoing efforts to cut off finance stream of the Taliban. The controversy arose due to the fact that drug traffickers (generally classified as civilians) had now been placed into the same legal category as the Taliban “insurgents” and thus became legitimate targets.
This is especially important in light of how the extradition of Jamaican kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke was handled. In September 2009, the United States requested his extradition to face drug trafficking charges, but Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding blocked the request due to his deep political connections with Coke. It was only after months of intense pressure that Golding caved in May 2010. Jamaican Police and the Jamaican Defense Forces led the bloody operation to arrest Coke, which resulted in the deaths of more than 70 civilians—the vast majority of which were unarmed.
The resulting scandal led to the downfall of Golding as Prime Minister but highlighted the power that drug traffickers and gang leaders have had in Jamaican government and politics. It has since been reinforced that the operation was “assisted by the U.S. government and carried out, to a large degree, at its behest.” Information has emerged which reveals that a U.S. spy plane participated in the raid of Coke’s stronghold of Tivoli Gardens, and a Freedom of Information Act action has recently been levied against the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) by a group of law students to reveal the extent of U.S. involvement.
To prevent such explosive outcomes in the future, there has been a call for closer integration between Caribbean police forces and the U.S. DEA in a clear escalation of the War on Drugs. A September 2012 Senate Report revealed that Jamaica has been floated as a target for a Sensitive Investigative Unit, which consists of a highly trained police that collaborate with the DEA. A similar program exists in Kandahar, where U.S. and British troops have created and participated in a task force made up of Afghan police officers and U.S. DEA agents to disrupt the drug trade and investigate corrupt Afghan officials.
According to a seemingly benign Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release announcing the drone program, the “DHS is partnering with Caribbean nations to enhance border security in the region through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI) . . . . The DHS is conducting border security training in conjunction with CBSI to increase partner nation capacity to secure their borders.” The problem with such statements is that there is always more shady business going on behind the scenes. Given the direction of U.S. policy in the region, it will only be a matter of time until the War on Drugs becomes eerily similar to the War on Terror.
Caracas – The Venezuelan government has branded the Obama administration’s international policy as “abusive” after a drugs report issued by the White House on Friday stated that the Chavez administration had “failed” to adequately tackle the drugs trade.
The report, entitled the “Presidential Determination on Major Illicit Drug Transit or Major Illicit Drug Producing Countries”, places Venezuela on a list of countries, including Bolivia, which have not made sufficient progress in combating the international narcotics industry. The document also accuses Venezuela of having a “weak judicial system, inconsistent international counter-narcotics co-operation and generally permissive and corrupt environment”.
“Venezuela regrets that the United States government insists on undermining the field of bilateral relations with the publication of these kinds of documents,” said the country’s Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro on Saturday, who classified the report as “biased”.
The government also promptly issued a statement rejecting the document, describing it as “riddled with false statements” and confirming its own commitment to implementing a “sovereign and effective policy in the struggle against drugs trafficking”. The statement also places the blame for the continued strength of the drugs industry on the US, which it states has become “the world’s biggest market for drugs”.
“The U.S. government lacks the moral authority to judge the policies of other countries on the issue of the fight against drug trafficking… By tolerating the corruption that turns its borders into sites where illicit substances flow, and allowing money from drug trafficking to be laundered through its financial system, the U.S. government bears the most responsibility for this plague that wracks the whole world,” reads the statement.
The Venezuelan government’s criticism of the report was also echoed by Bolivian President, Evo Morales, who accused the US government of being hypocritical in its stance on the international drugs trade.
“There is no fight against the drugs trade in the United States, what there is is an attempt to take advantage of the fight against the drugs trade in some countries for their own [the US] political ends, so that there is more military funding and more military bases,” said Morales.
The Venezuelan government broke ties with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2005 after DEA officials were accused of spying in the country. The government has continued to work with other international drugs monitoring bodies, such as those from France and Russia, and has stated that it has made more progress in the fight against drugs since DEA representatives were expelled.
In 2011 the government seized over 42 tonnes of drugs as part of its counter-narcotics operations and was ratified for the sixth year running as a territory free of illicit drug cultivation by the United Nations (UN).
Copy of the Venezuelan statement in full – http://venezuela-us.org/2012/09/15/venezuela-defends-its-effective-anti-drug-policies-after-false-accusations-by-u-s/
- Bolivia, Venezuela Reject US Drug Criticism (informationliberation.com)
What’s behind the Jason Puracal campaign?
World champions in arbitrary detention, the United States and the European Union, are now behind a campaign to free a person convicted for drug trafficking in Nicaragua. The US is notorious for its prisons at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and for its global network of secret detention centers. Its overseas accomplice, the EU, is also notorious, for having collaborated in setting up that network as well as for its own detention centers wherein tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants languish. Their support for the Puracal campaign is just one more political ploy, another clear example of the US-EU tandem at work to co-opt and corrupt the entire international human rights system.
“Midnight Express” in Central America
On August 2011, U.S. citizen Jason Puracal Zachary was convicted in a Nicaraguan Court of Justice to 22 years in prison for narcotics trafficking and money laundering along with 10 Nicaraguans, also sentenced to long prison terms.
Nine months earlier, Puracal’s home and office had been raided by Nicaraguan authorities without a warrant, an extraordinary procedure permitted in the country’s criminal code for serious cases in which there is suspicion that the investigation risks having evidence destroyed or concealed. Using the latest technology (provided, incidentally, by the United States) traces of narcotics were found in Puracal’s vehicle along with extensive documentation supporting the investigation, which the Nicaraguan judicial authorities argue justifies the charges against him and the other members of the network in which he participated.
As a U.S. national, Puracal has appealed the sentence and hearings begin this week in the district appeals court in Granada.
Jason Puracal is a former Peace Corps volunteer for the United States in Nicaragua. After having met and married a Nicaraguan, he decided to stay in the country, buying a real estate franchise after his volunteer service tour ended. His arrest has led to an unprecedented international campaign in the form of a petition organized in favour of his release which has gathered more than 90 thousand signatures on the internet.
The sentiment is understandable given the ease with which the situation can be turned into a parallel of the famous film Midnight Express (1978), by Alan Parker, from the screenplay by Oliver Stone. In the film, an American drugs trafficker is sentenced to 30 years in a Turkish prison. Over the decades the film, based on a true story, has become a classic of Islamophobia with all the clichés that portray countries of the non-Western “periphery” as lawless places where whites are exposed to all kinds of torture, including sexual abuse, at the hands of corrupt, ruthless and unpredictable locals. After years of enduring inhumane conditions and abandoning all hope of support from the U.S. government, Billy Hayes, the film’s protagonist, decides to escape from prison on his own.
Puracal’s case has been supported by groups in U.S. such as the Innocence Project and has received support from such influential persons as the former director of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Tom Cash (who helped prosecute Colombian narcotics kingpin Pablo Escobar) and Irwin Cotler, former Canadian justice minister and Attorney General. Cotler wrote an inflammatory letter to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega referring to the Puracal case as one of “arbitrary detention” and “a serious abuse of justice”, according to Nicaragua Dispatch. Even the supposedly prestigious UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions recommends the “immediate release” of Jason Puracal.
According to the version of events put forward by the defenders of Puracal, Puracal’s rights were violated by Nicaraguan authorities in their failure to produce a search warrant when entering his home and business office. They also argue that he was denied the right to a proper defense and that his prison sentence is longer than Nicaraguan law allows. Finally they allege that he has been forced to live with seven other prisoners in the same cell, and that at one point he suffered burns from a water kettle used in the prison.
All of these allegations have been rejected outright by the President of the Court of Appeal, Dr. Norman Miranda Castillo, who in turn accused the U.S. Embassy in Managua of interfering in the course of Nicaraguan justice.
“Responsibility to Protect” the Narcos
This past May 24, the Secretary for the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, Miguel De la Lama, sent a letter in response to a request by Jared Genser, on behalf of the “non-profit organization” Perseus Strategies LLC. In the letter, Lama informs Genser that the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its sixty-third session issued a “text of opinion”, number 10/2012 on Puracal.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was established by Resolution 1991/42 of the now superseded UN Commission on Human Rights, among other things to investigate cases of arbitrary detention inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a task that according to the United Nations should be carried out “with discretion, objectivity and independence.”
The “text of opinion“, sent by the UN Group to the Government of Nicaragua, clarifies that the human rights body cannot comment on the charges against Puracal, nor about the evidence presented against him by the State of Nicaragua. However, given that the Nicaraguan government did not respond to the allegations made by the group within the stipulated period of two months, the Council recommended Puracal’s immediate release, and for a new trial to be conducted if deemed necessary, along with with an indemnity to Puracal for alleged damage to his person. Clearly, this letter from the UN body immediately became a powerful media weapon.
The Working Group’s members are Malick El Hadji Sow from Senegal, Shaheen Sardar Ali from Pakistan, Roberto Garreton of Chile, Mads Andenas from Norway and Vladimir Tochilovsky, from the Ukraine. It is not difficult to discern the influence of the European Union and NATO prevalent in this UN Working Group.
The Working Group chairman Malick Sow, is a Supreme Court judge in Senegal, a strong regional ally of France and a country lauded as a “strong and stable democracy” by the European Union. Senegal ranks 155th of the 169 countries that make up the Human Development Index, and is heavily reliant on EU aid, which exceeds 10% of the national budget. Meanwhile, the Working Group’s Pakistani vice-president is actually a law professor at the University of Warwick in England and at the University of Oslo, in Norway. It is hardly possible to expect actions deviating from the official line by a Chilean representative who, although a recognized human rights defender during the Pinochet era, today represents a state that practices arbitrary detention of indigenous Mapuche of all ages, as if it were a sport. Nor can one expect independent action from a Ukrainian trial lawyer involved in the first stages of organizing the International Criminal Court, widely criticized for its bias against any head of State identified by Washington as an enemy, and for its reluctance to investigate the crimes by allies of the White House.
Lastly, the Norwegian, Andenas is, like the Pakistani Shaheen Ali, a professor at the University of Oslo’s Law Faculty, but he has also been a member of the board of a very exclusive organization, the Association of Human Rights Institutes (AHRI) of the European Union. This group, funded by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology (COST) organization, brings together some 41 universities in Europe to conduct research in the area of human rights. In December 2010, with funding from COST, AHRI conducted the seminar “International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect – Synergies and Tensions.” One of the seminar themes was the suggestive name of “The Way Ahead”, a “discussion of the ways in which the “international community could coordinate their future actions” to implement the doctrine known as R2P.
The Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, is an idea that NATO countries have been promoting for several years within the United Nations. The basic concept of R2P is that when a state fails to protect its population, either deliberately or through being unable to, it is the responsibility of the “entire international community” to intervene, even when this is in contradiction with one of fundamental principles of the United Nations: non-interference in the internal affairs of other States. At the UN World Summit in September 2005, a majority of member states, under pressure from NATO countries accepted the idea of R2P in principle, but recommended a more extensive discussion of the topic. Little more than five years later, that doctrine would be put into practice by NATO forces through a war of aggression against the Libyan people.
Within the stretch of a few days in March 2011, Soliman Bouchuiguir of the Libyan League for Human Rights (LLHR) released a statement to an assembly of more than 70 NGOs for the 15th Special Session of the UN’s Human Rights Council beginning February 25, 2011. The session for the first time in its history decided to expel a member state, Libya, for alleged bombings against its civilian population. A few weeks later would mark the beginning of a NATO slaughter against the North African country.
“To be honest, it’s was not a very difficult undertaking because all these NGOs are known to each other (…) and finally, the session of the UN Human Rights Council made it all come together in Geneva, and so the statement was launched, signed by all members,” said Bouchuiguir interviewed for the documentary film “The Humanitarian War”, directed by Julien Teil.
The figures that Bouchuiguir convinced the other members of the Council of were shocking: March 17, 2011, reported 6,000 dead, 12,000 wounded, 500 missing, 700 rapes and 75,000 refugees. Just two weeks later, Bouchuiguir spoke of 18,000 dead, 46,000 wounded, 28,000 missing, 1600 sexual assaults. It was these figures that were used to justify the “no fly zone” and NATO bombing that resulted in a veritable slaughter. All these figures were invented.
Remember that on March 2, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S., Mike Mullen, testified before Congress: “we could not confirm that Libyan planes had opened fire on their own population.” Around the same time, the Russian Joint Chief of Staff reported that satellite monitoring over Libyan territory since the crisis’ beginning in mid-February, failed to detect any kind of bombing.
“There is no way to do it”, replied Bouchuiguir to Teil’s question about how to check whether the figures he had given the UN were true. “The Libyan government never, ever, gives information on human rights (…) so you have to do an estimate,” he said. “… his information (on the number of civilian casualties in Libya) I did not receive from just anyone. I received it from The Libyan Prime Minister – on the other side,” added Bouchuiguir referring to the National Transitional Council (NTC) sponsored by the so-called “rebels” in turn supported by NATO.
“It was Mr. Mahmoud… of the tribe Warfallah. It was he who gave me these figures. I used them, though with some caution,” he adds. Bouchuiguir was referring to Mahmoud Jibril, the “Prime Minister” of the “Libyan rebels” designated by NATO and the CIA.
Ali Zeidan, introduced in early March as the LLHR spokesman, would also become spokesman for the NTC. Later, when pressed by Teil, Bouchuiguir recognized that several members of the NTC were also members of the above mentioned “human rights” organization. “You know, these people in the government (the NTC), we are all part of the same group! They are members of the Libyan League for Human Rights! The Minister of Information, for example, the Education Minister, the Minister for Oil, the Finance Minister, all are members of our league! … None occupy positions of responsibility, but are members of our league,” he explains.
The true scale of the slaughter committed against the Libyan people may some day be known. For now, though, through some heavily embellished figures from NATO itself, detailing the use of 7,700 missiles and bombs on some more than 10,000 flights, one can get an idea, one that would very probably pale against the horror of the true facts. As long as those in charge of the task of counting the bodies on the ground continue to show the same unethical behaviour as individuals such as Bouchuiguir Soliman and the officials of the 70 “human rights” NGOs – who without even thinking voted so that others would execute their “responsibility to bomb” the Libyan people – the truth may never be known, simply because there are interests to ensure it never does.
All this begs the question: If these kinds of humanitarian bureaucrats have no qualms about inventing a genocide so as to sanction their own genocide in accordance with the interests of Western powers, why would they refrain from demanding the release of a convicted drug dealer like Jason Puracal?
Many other important cases await attention from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, such as the recently passed law by U.S. President Barak Obama in late 2011, which allows for the indefinite detention of persons without charge, and imprisonment without trial, alongside the widely reported cases at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the many other secret CIA prisons around the world. Or there is the case of the 7,000 Palestinian children that Israel has had behind bars since 2000, or the case of more than 200 immigrant detention centers in which the European Union today detains tens of thousands of people who have not committed any crime, and so on.
What are the chances that the UN Working Group will deal seriously with these issues? None whatsoever, because its members are totally supportive of countries that are known human rights violators. Israel, arguably the closest ally of the United States, and it’s largest recipient of military aid, is also a de facto member of the European Union under generous trade and other agreements of cooperation and association.
Nothing happens spontaneously in the corrupt world of institutional “human rights”, controlled by NATO. As an example, one should ask, who is the person charged with requesting the UN Working Group to investigate the case of Jason Puracal?
Jared Genser, named by the National Law Journal as one of the “40 rising stars under 40 in Washington”, is the manager of Perseus Strategies, LLC and founder of Freedom Now, an “independent”, “non-profit ” organization devoted to defending alleged prisoners of conscience worldwide. Genser worked for the law firm DLA Piper LLP and the famous consulting firm McKinsey & Company, among whose clients are several multinational companies and governments along with their militaries. One detail in this bright star’s career: In 2006-2007 he was a visiting professor at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), one of whose founders, Allen Weinstein, said back in 1991, “much of what we do today is what the CIA was doing covertly 25 years ago.” Another detail: amongst his official clients are former Czech president Vaclav Havel, Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, the Chinese Nobel prize winner Liu Xiaobo, South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the Hungarian-Jewish Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Genser is a graduate from prestigious universities such as Cornell, Harvard and Michigan. Nor should one omit from his curriculum a year spent as Raoul Wallenberg Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Genser is also the author of “Review and Practical Guide” for the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (to be published in 2013) and co-editor of another work on the R2P doctrine: “The Responsibility to Protect: The Promise of Stopping Mass Atrocities in Our Times “(Oxford University Press, 2012). Who was the editor of that book? None other than the former Canadian justice minister who sent the inflammatory letter to President Daniel Ortega demanding the immediate release of drug trafficker Jason Puracal in the first place: Irwin Cotler. With such a backdrop, it’s not surprising that the Nicaraguan Government has not paid much attention to the Puracal campaign, nor replied to the letter from the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. When a group of influential allies with close contacts within the most powerful circles of the empire begin a campaign of letters and statements to the media, this is not a social movement, but a conspiracy.
One of Genser’s partners in Perseus Strategies, LLC, is Chris Fletcher, more a CIA agent than an idealistic lawyer. Fletcher is an expert on human rights and corporate social responsibility with office experience within the UN, he participated in the trials of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and worked for the NGO Oxfam in the United States among other organizations. Furthermore, Fletcher has been involved in “Tibet Forum, Governance and Practice”, at the University of Virginia. This university is a well-known CIA recruiting ground with professors active in national security and intelligence circles for decades, such as Frederick P . Hitz, at the university’s law school. Other temporary appointments of Chris Fletcher have been at the State Department and the World Bank.
Perseus Strategies, LLC, is a company dedicated to providing legal consulting services to large NGOs, multinational corporations and governments in the field of human rights, corporate social responsibility and the implementation of R2P. Their activities often include the promotion of U.S. interests in various countries, and the preparation of various documents to justify the application of imperialist aggression under the guise of R2P against target, as in the case of North Korea.
In parallel, or indeed as a special division within the organization, Genser and Fletcher operate a sui generis “social movement”, Freedom Now. This organization works to free “prisoners of conscience” from around the world by giving them “pro bono” legal assistance. It is no surprise that the list of Freedom Now defendants fails to include cases such as the Cuban-American citizens René González and his four Cuban comrades unjustly incarcerated in maximum security prisons for working to obtain information in order to prevent terrorist acts against Cuba from Miami. Incidentally, this August 13, within three days of Puracal initiating his appeal in Nicaragua, René González turned 56 years old somewhere in the U.S., unable to be with most of his family still living in Cuba.
These cases are of little or no interest or concern for the UN Working Group, for Genser, or for Fletcher and other individuals like them. They are only interested in cases that promote US government interests: for now, these include Chinese dissidents, Iranian “activists”, perhaps some journalists in some dark nether region of the Third World, or convicted U.S. drug traffickers in countries like Nicaragua, or some other nation being targeted by White House smear campaigns.
Genser is just one member of the Freedom Now board. Another, the president of Freedom Now, is the lawyer Jeremy Zucker, a former law clerk at the International Criminal Court and a member of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, where the elite of American power, both Democrats and Republicans, decide United States and allied foreign policy. In Norway, the Cuban-American Teresita Alvarez-Bjelland, works as a specialist “non-profit” consultant with the directors of the Norwegian-American Association, positioned to exert pressure on the UN Working Group through their strong Norwegian influence there. Peter Magyar, the attorney in charge of expanding the activity of Freedom Now in Europe, is an influential lawyer in the fields of privatization and international capital markets.
Freedom Now does not defend just anybody. Their work is designed “strategically” so as to promote political changes in the countries where they have selected defendants. Nor is their work limited to the courts, but is also devoted to developing public relations and propaganda campaigns with a broad range of agents and actors.
Freedom Now say they only defend prisoners of conscience. But in the case of Jason Puracal, convicted for drug trafficking, it is difficult if not impossible, to use that argument. In short, their activity is merely one more way, under the guise of human rights campaigns, to intervene with political motives in countries targeted by the United States.
Innocence? What innocence?
One of the most influential organizations sponsoring the campaign for Puracal is the group called the Innocence Project, whose mission is to protect the rights of American citizens unjustly imprisoned inside and outside the United States. In addition to media support, the organization has given Puracal legal support through its network of lawyers in the United States. This organization in 2011 received a grant of $ 400,000 for two years for overhead as part of US financial magnate George Soros’ “Open Society Foundations”, belonging to his Open Society Institute.
According to U.S. investigator Eva Golinger, the Open Society Institute has been involved in the destabilization of governments that have withstood the post-Soviet colour revolution offensive. The Open Society Institute was active in Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Georgia, working closely with both Freedom House and the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI) to overthrow governments by financing media and opposition groups. While the area of most interest for the Open Society Institute is Eastern Europe and the Caucasus, it is also very active in Africa and Latin America.
According to Barry C. Scheck in the New York Times late last year, the new director of Soros’ “philanthropic empire”, Christopher Stone, “has a passion to change things and a great vision and understanding of how to build institutions and re-engineer them to endure”. Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, is notorious as O. J. Simpson’s lawyer in the highly publicized 1995 case.
Scheck’s organization is just another in the dozens of NGOs and other groups that Soros has co-opted throughout the world to follow the empire’s agenda with his millions, last year alone, some 860 of them. An expert in breaking central banks around the world via speculative attacks on vulnerable national currencies, Soros criticizes the excesses of the financial system and advocates regulation, yet, he says, “not excessive regulation. Regulators are human beings who are fallible and are also bureaucrats who make decisions slowly and are subject to political influence.”
Soros’s speech about open societies, free markets and his criticisms of Bush have made him popular among Democrats, but he is by no means progressive. With respect to the strategy of empire, Soros is a leading player among the global power elite. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Bilderberg, the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch, all organizations working to achieve U.S. geopolitical goals, often using “human rights” as a pretext for US and NATO interventions.
The white rags of the DEA
The “recommendation” by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention turned out to be political engineering at the highest levels of the U.S. government’s self-interested, politicized, corrupt “human rights” network. The former Canadian Justice Minister who so severely criticized Commandante Daniel Ortega, turns out to be an old friend of Jared Genser, the network’s orchestrator. Soros provides far-from-innocent funding to the international human rights “Innocence” organization
Likewise, there is more than meets the eye to former DEA chief Tom Cash as regards his support for Puracal. Thomas V. Cash is one of the men who helped prosecute Pablo Escobar. When he left the DEA, Cash went to work at the information and intelligence consulting company Kroll Inc., becoming head of it’s Miami office. Among its services Kroll offers advice to governments of various tax haven countries on how to improve their image and get themselves removed from the anti-money laundering lists of the Organization fro Economic Cooperation and Development.
Kroll hires former intelligence officers when they leave public office to go into the private sector. Kroll assigned Cash to whitewash the tax haven of Antigua by giving it a financial facelift and creating the loopholes through which contemporary Pablo Escobars can continue flushing drug revenues. What made Tom Cash fall from grace, however, was a different matter.
Last June, the fraudster R. Allen Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison. An investigation into his Ponzi scheme found that over a period of 20 years he stole $7 billion from 30,000 depositors, promising fabulous interest rates on their deposits at the Stanford International Bank in Antigua. The case first burst open three years ago, in 2009, when federal authorities raided the offices of the Stanford Group to investigate fraud.
In late July of that year, Cash left his position at Kroll. The reason? As a consultant working for Kroll, Cash gave investors the green light to invest in Stanford, but never bothered to report that his company had once been “hired and paid” as a consultant for Stanford. An electricians’ organization which lost more than $6 million in the Ponzi scheme then denounced Cash. Cash never told the electricians that Stanford had been penalized by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. Nor did he inform them that a former Stanford employee had sued the company charging that the scheme was all a scam.
Among Cash’s credentials, according to the New York Post, he has served as chairman of the Fraud Prevention International Bankers Association of Florida. The newspaper adds that the connections amongst the circles between Cash and state police were so large that a judge assigned to the electricians’ demand against Kroll, had to give up the case because he had been a personal friend of Cash for many years.
On August 16th the appeal hearing begins in Nicaragua in the case of Jason Puracal. The Granada district appeal court will decide whether or not there are enough elements to declare a mistrial in the original trial that ended with his prison sentence of 22 years based on the procedures in Nicaragua’s Constitution and Penal Code. Even so, via their networks of political interference, false US human rights groups are using Puracal’s case for blatant anti-Nicaraguan propaganda. That in its turn does very little to help Puracal’s defense.
The campaign to free Jason Puracal, a convicted narcotics dealer, perfectly illustrates, yet again, the extent of the corrupt manipulation of human rights by the United States and its allies around the world.
* Translated by: Leandro E. Silva and toni solo
Yesterday the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an unfortunate and legally incorrect decision holding that the Fourth Amendment provides no protection against warrantless cell phone tracking. Although couched in language stating narrowly that the Constitution does not protect criminals’ “erroneous expectations regarding the undetectability of their modern tools,” the impact of the opinion sweeps far more broadly, holding that the innocent as well as the guilty lack Fourth Amendment protection in cell phone location information. This is wrong, for a number of reasons.
The defendant in the case is one Melvin Skinner, who was allegedly involved in a marijuana trafficking operation of epic proportions. After a complex investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Skinner was busted while in possession of over 1,100 pounds of marijuana. The DEA tracked Skinner down in part by obtaining various kinds of location tracking data for the cell phone he was using: cell site information, GPS real-time location, and “ping” data. Law enforcement agents appear to have tracked Skinner’s movements using this information for about three days.
The ACLU has argued repeatedly that the Fourth Amendment provides protections against warrantless cell phone tracking, particularly continuous tracking over prolonged periods of time such as the three days at issue in Skinner’s case. The Fourth Amendment protects people’s reasonable expectations of privacy, and people reasonably expect that they will not be subject to this invasive form of surveillance. That is because location data is very sensitive, revealing private facts. As an appeals court has observed:
A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups—and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.
That is not to say that law enforcement agents can never obtain cell phone location data. The question, rather, is under what circumstances they are permitted to do so. Because of the privacy interests at stake, law enforcement should have to go to a judge and get a warrant, which involves proving that they have probable cause to believe that tracking location would turn up evidence of a crime. There are numerous police departments that get a warrant for cell phone tracking, and it’s the best way to ensure that law enforcement can do its job while also protecting Americans from having their privacy needlessly invaded.
Unfortunately, that is not the conclusion drawn by the Sixth Circuit. The majority practically scoffed at the idea that Melvin Skinner had any reasonable expectation of privacy in “data emanating” from his cell phone. This passage best captures the court’s view that Skinner’s claim to constitutional protection was the height of audacity:
The law cannot be that a criminal is entitled to rely on the expected untrackability of his tools. Otherwise, dogs could not be used to track a fugitive if the fugitive did not know that the dog hounds had his scent. A getaway car could not be identified and followed based on the license plate number if the driver reasonably thought he had gotten away unseen.
In other words, a person’s ignorant belief that he has made a clean getaway does not shield him from detection.
But this is not the right question. The mere fact that the police are capable of tracking someone doesn’t mean they’re entitled to do so without first getting a warrant, any more than the mere fact that it’s easy to break down someone’s front door or open their postal mail gives the police the right to take these steps without a warrant. The question, rather, is whether a police action invades a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable. Because people reasonably expect privacy in their movements, as the D.C. Circuit explained in the passage above, the Fourth Amendment provides us with protection.
If a suspected criminal’s phone can be tracked without a warrant, then all of our phones become tracking devices that the government can use to monitor us for any reason or no reason at all.
The Sixth Circuit was able to reach the conclusion that it did by relying on a 25-year-old Supreme Court case dealing with a more primitive tracking technology known as a “beeper.” In the beeper case, United States v. Knotts, the police used a combination of visual surveillance and signals from the beeper to track an investigative target as he traveled on public roads. The Supreme Court approved the tracking in Knotts, and the Sixth Circuit found that the DEA’s tracking of Skinner was not meaningfully different:
Similar to the circumstances in Knotts, Skinner was traveling on a public road before he stopped at a public rest stop. While the cell site information aided the police in determining Skinner’s location, that same information could have been obtained through visual surveillance. There is no inherent constitutional difference between trailing a defendant and tracking him via such technology.
This is really the heart of the matter. The Sixth Circuit’s fundamental error is in believing that a technological change that makes it vastly more feasible to track us all in great detail, continuously, and at little cost is simply irrelevant. It is not irrelevant. It is highly significant. Physically tailing a person for days on end requires a mass commitment of resources, which in turn limits the possibilities for abuse. The police aren’t going to enlist huge numbers of people for a massive surveillance operation without a very good reason. But when a single police officer can achieve the same level of surveillance using GPS, all while sitting at his desk and flipping open a laptop, the situation is radically transformed. As the invasiveness of tracking and the ease of tracking increase, the supervision of courts applying meaningful constitutional standards become all the more important.
The Sixth Circuit is the first court of appeals to address the Fourth Amendment and cell phone tracking after the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Jones that when the police attach a GPS device to a car, that is a search under the Fourth Amendment. But Jones will be of little value if the police can simply track cell phones instead of cars and, with the Sixth Circuit’s decision holding that they can indeed do so, we’re off to a bad start. The Fifth Circuit is poised to consider the same issue later this year and has scheduled argument for October. Let’s hope that it’s more sensitive to the privacy interests at stake than its sister circuit.
The United States wants to drag Africa into its drug wars – on top of Washington’s War on Terror. Since drugs always follow American “anti-narcotics” activity in the world, the inevitable result will be an explosion of drug networks in targeted African countries. “Liberia and Ghana will soon emerge as hubs of the African drug trade – just as happened in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America.”
When a high U.S. government official says Africa is “the new frontier,” it’s time for everyone that cares about the continent to watch out, because something really dangerous is afoot. A top guy in the D.E.A. recently described Africa as the “new frontier” where Washington hopes to embed commando-style teams of specially vetted police for an American-run war on drugs, similar to U.S. operations in El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama, and the Dominican Republic. And we all know how those U.S. so-called anti-drug operations turned out. We should add to the list Colombia and Afghanistan, the world capitals of cocaine and heroin, respectively.
According to mythology, everything King Midas touched turned to gold. It appears the United States has the Narcotics Touch; everything the Americans touch turns to dope. American allies in the developing world quickly become narco-states.
The pattern has not changed in 60 years, since the Italian and French mafias were rewarded with international drug franchises in return for their assistance against socialists and communists. Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle became the center of the global heroin trade during the Vietnam War – a project of the CIA. When the U.S. shifted its focus to suppressing leftist movements in Latin America, cocaine became the region’s biggest export. The United States has never waged war against drugs – quite the opposite. Washington rewards its political friends with drug franchises and monopolies, in return for service to American corporate interests. That’s why most of America’s friends in the developing world are criminal regimes.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is most proud of its work in Honduras, where a U.S.-backed coup overthrew a mildly leftist government during President Obama’s first year in office. The Americans now roam the country like they own it, in joint operations with the same soldiers and national police that continue to kill and brutalize peasant, student and worker organizations. The joint drug operations, which have succeeded in killing at least four innocent Mosquito Indians, including two pregnant women, will undoubtedly result in a march larger drug trade under the tight control of the military, police and wealthy landowners allied with the Americans. That’s how the American Narco Touch works. The endless phony War on Drugs is a tool of U.S. policy, designed to subvert foreign governments and societies. The drug trade never gets smaller.
Now it’s Africa’s turn. Washington has its eyes on Liberia and Ghana, where it plans to train elite police units after first “vetting” their personnel – a euphemism for making sure that the commandos are willing to act as de facto U.S. operatives. You can be sure that Liberia and Ghana will soon emerge as hubs of the African drug trade – just as happened in Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America. With Washington’s “vetted” operatives in charge of the African drug networks, the U.S. will vastly increase its ability to buy influence among the greedy classes all across the continent, both in and out of uniform. Just as in Colombia and Honduras and Panama and Guatemala, the Drug Wars become indistinguishable from the War on Terror, which used to be called the War on Communism. It’s really a war against the poor.
Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
- Our Perverse War on Drugs (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Ninth Circuit to DEA: Putting a Gun to an 11-Year-Old’s Head Is Not OK
At 7 a.m. on January 20, 2007, DEA agents battered down the door to Thomas and Rosalie Avina’s mobile home in Seeley, California, in search of suspected drug trafficker Louis Alvarez. Thomas Avina met the agents in his living room and told them they were making a mistake. Shouting “Don’t you fucking move,” the agents forced Thomas Avina to the floor at gunpoint, and handcuffed him and his wife, who had been lying on a couch in the living room. As the officers made their way to the back of the house, where the Avina’s 11-year-old and 14-year-old daughters were sleeping, Rosalie Avina screamed, “Don’t hurt my babies. Don’t hurt my babies.”
The agents entered the 14-year-old girl’s room first, shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl, who was lying on her bed, rolled onto the floor, where the agents handcuffed her. Next they went to the 11-year-old’s room. The girl was sleeping. Agents woke her up by shouting “Get down on the fucking ground.” The girl’s eyes shot open, but she was, according to her own testimony, “frozen in fear.” So the agents dragged her onto the floor. While one agent handcuffed her, another held a gun to her head.
Moments later the two daughters were carried into the living room and placed next to their parents on the floor while DEA agents ransacked their home. After 30 minutes, the agents removed the children’s handcuffs. After two hours, the agents realized they had the wrong house—the product of a sloppy license plate transcription—and left.
In 2008, the Avinas—mom, dad, and both daughters—filed a federal suit against the DEA for excessive use of force, assault, and battery in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. That court ruled in favor of the DEA, and the Avinas appealed. Last week, the family got justice.
While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals defended the agents’ rough treatment of Thomas and Rosalie, it also declared that yanking the Avina children of their beds and putting guns to their heads did, in fact, constitute the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” (Read the Obama administration’s defense of the DEA agents.)
“A jury could find that the agents pointed their guns at the head of an eleven-year-old girl, ‘like they were going to shoot [her],’ while she lay on the floor in handcuffs, and that it was excessive for them to do so,” reads the Ninth Circuit’s decision, which was filed June 12. “Similarly, a jury could find that the agents’ decision to force the two girls to lie face down on the floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs was unreasonable.”
More from the decision:
Under our case law, an issue of material fact exists as to whether the actions of the agents were excessive in light of the ages of B.S.A. (age eleven) and B.F.A. (age fourteen) and the limited threat they posed. See Tekle, 511 F.3d 839 (holding that officers were not entitled to summary judgment on excessive force claim where officers pointed guns at an eleven-year-old boy’s head during the arrest of the boy’s father); Motley v. Parks, 432 F.3d 1072, 1089 (9th Cir. 2005) (en banc) (holding that officer’s act of pointing a gun at an infant during the search of a gang member’s house was objectively unreasonable); see also McDonald ex rel. McDonald v. Haskins, 966 F.2d 292, 294-95 (7th Cir. 1992) (holding that officer’s act of pointing his gun at a nine-year-old’s head during the search of home was excessive use of force). Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States on B.F.A.’s and B.S.A.’s claims for assault and battery.
In a footnote, the court wrote:
Although there is evidence that the agents released the girls from their handcuffs once they realized how young they were, there is also evidence that the agents knew, prior to entering the girls’ bedrooms, that the girls were children. Rosalie testified that, as the agents were heading towards the girls’ rooms, she screamed at the agents several times, “Don’t hurt my babies.” Moreover, one of the agents testified at his deposition that, when he first saw one of the girls (presumably the older of the two girls), she appeared to be “12 [or] 13 years old.”
The ruling concludes:
Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Avinas, a rational trier of fact could find that agents engaged in “extreme or outrageous” conduct when the agents: (1) pointed their guns at the head of eleven-year-old B.S.A. “like they were going to shoot [her]” while B.S.A. was lying on the floor in handcuffs; (2) forced eleven-year-old B.S.A. and fourteen-year-old B.F.A. to lie face down on the floor with their hands cuffed behind their backs; (3) left B.S.A. and B.F.A. in handcuffs for half an hour; and (4) yelled at eleven-year-old B.S.A. and fourteen-year-old B.F.A. to “[g]et down on the f[uck]ing ground.” See Tekle, 511 F.3d at 856 (holding that officers were not entitled to summary judgment on claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress where officers pointed guns at eleven-year old’s head during the arrest of the eleven-year-old’s father); see also id. at 859 (Fisher, J., concurring). Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States on B.F.A.’s and B.S.A.’s claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
As a side note: While this raid was conducted under President George W. Bush, the deputy administrator of the DEA at that time was Michele Leonhart. She is now the administrator of the DEA, thanks to an appointment by President Barack Obama. Furthermore, the Obama Administration could have declined to defend the DEA in this case. Instead, Obama’s Justice Department has decided to make the case that federal agents should be allowed to hold guns to the heads of children.
- DEA Embroiled In Prostitution Scandal (huffingtonpost.com)
- The DEA and the Massacre in the Moskitia (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Here’s How the Obama Administration Defended DEA Agents Who Put a Gun to a Little Girl’s Head (reason.com)
The US is once again hell bent on establishing death squads in its militarization of Central America. This is a stark reminder of the 1980s when Ronald Reagan and Ollie North were funding the contras with drug money, but now it is reinforced with lessons learned in terrorizing the people of Iraq and Afghanistan through night raids and counterinsurgency tactics. Another tactic that the current US administration has reinvigorated comes from the “War on Drugs” playbook of past administrations: by using the DEA as a front for creating and sustaining havoc, it can attempt to justify the military buildup and control the policies of the host country while manipulating the flow of drugs, all the while appeasing the tax payers back home and the folks in the host country who see the build up as necessary. Not abating by any measure the flow of narcotics into the U.S., the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has actually increased the narcotics industry in Central America and provided a bogus rationale for the increased militarization of yet another Latin American county; this time Honduras.
On May 11th on the Rio Patuca near Ahuas, a small municipality in the Moskitia, a helicopter titled to the US State Department sprayed bullets into a pipante, a long, narrow dugout canoe, which carried sixteen locals. Four people were killed: 28-year-old Juana Jackson (six months pregnant), 48-year-old Candelaria Pratt Nelson (five months pregnant), 14-year-old Hasked Brooks Wood, and 21-year-old Emerson Martínez Henríquez. At least four more were seriously injured. The DEA confirms that its Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) participated in the operation supporting a Honduran National Police Tactical Response Team.
I first heard of the tragedy while in the process of preparing for a human rights delegation to Honduras coordinated by the Alliance for Global Justice and led by Karen Spring from Rights Action. The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Associated Press have all published stories glorifying the role of the DEA in seizing a huge quantity of drugs in the incident. They not only down played the killing and injuring of innocent people (some reports even questioned if there even were casualties), but also some of the news reports stated that those shot were actually involved in drug trafficking. In typical mainstream media fashion there was over-the-top anonymous quoting of US and Honduran officials and not much fact checking.
I arrived in Honduras on May 18th for the delegation. The original itinerary focused on the struggles of the campesinas and campesinos of the Aguan Valley and their fight to win back the land stolen from them by the oligarchs with the backing of the illegitimate post-coup government of Pepe Lobo. As important as the land rights struggle is to us, it did not take long for the delegation (made up of academics, human rights and labor activists, Canadian and U.S. citizens, several with extensive experience in Honduras) to agree that the massacre in the Moskitia was of a greater urgency especially in light of the contradictory reports coming from the US State Department and the DEA.
We spent our time in Ahuas talking to the survivors of the incident and families of those slaughtered by the US supplied M-60 bullets. We also spoke to several village leaders, the Mayor of Ahuas, and to many locals in order to piece together as best we could the incident and the aftermath. What we got was a startling look into how our government conducts its military adventurism and then obfuscates in order to cover up its crimes. We also witnessed the increased militarization of the region as platoons of masked Honduran soldiers, automatic weapons slung across their chests, patrolled up and down the muddied streets of Ahuas. An older commanding officer, whose Velcro name and rank patches were blank, stated that they would be there “for as long as necessary,” another chilling echo from the Iraq/Afghanistan quagmires.
Getting to Ahuas is no easy feat. We took a small plane from La Ceiba, closer to the Western end of the Caribbean coast of Honduras, to Puerto Lempira, which is on the Laguna Catrasco in the Moskitia on the Eastern side of the country near the Nicaraguan border. Once in Puerto Lempira we hired a small lancha, a motorboat with a capacity of about 15 people, to take us across the Lagunas. It was approximately an hour and a half in the scorching midday sun before we reached the port. Once there, we loaded into a giant pickup truck fastened with wooden planks for seating, which are placed across the truck bed, for the thirty-minute bumpy ride into Ahuas.
After our boat ride across the Laguna and through the rivers, which act as highways for the local people, it became clear to us what one of the survivors had been quoted as saying in the press, and that we were later to hear first hand. The reason that the pipante had been on the river at 2 AM was because they waited until the sun had set to take the boat home in order to avoid the mid-day heat. This is significant in light of the statement by the Honduran foreign minister, Arturo Corrales. He was quoted in the New York Times (05/18/12) as saying “it was totally dark, in a place that is not a fishing spot.” He added, “It’s in the jungle. It is very hard to believe that at 2 a.m., in the jungle, the people in a boat that is beside another boat with 400 kilograms of cocaine were fishing,” the implication being that they, the victims, were drug smugglers.
The ill-fated pipante had disembarked way downstream at the mouth of the river where it runs into the Caribbean, fighting against the current in order to get to Ahuas. Those that we interviewed said that they had been on the river for 8 hours. The owners of the boat had dropped off lobstermen at the opening of the Caribbean earlier in the day and waited for the sun to begin to set before heading back to Ahuas. This is a routine that they have been undertaking daily for 25 years. As they returned, heading into the current, they picked up other passengers along the way, some heading home and some heading toward jobs or to visit relatives. Many of them slept during the journey only to be awakened by the sounds of gunfire and the burning feeling of having M-60 rounds rip through their bodies.
The details of what exactly prompted the occupants of the helicopters to fire on the pipante are murky at best. The reports from the State Dept. and the DEA have not been consistent and leave out many details, which calls into question their depiction of the events of that night. While witness and victim testimonies have been consistent, the U.S. government versions are shrouded in a haze of information that cannot be divulged, parsed statements that are obviously leading, and “facts” that do not shed light on the operation and the role of U.S. government agents in it. COFADEH (Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared), a Honduran human rights group, put it most succinctly in a press release days after the incident, “To keep an act of terror covered up in the midst of media confusion was always a strategy of psychological warfare, a special chapter of state terrorism. We should not accept this.” Audio recordings of communications from the helicopters that evening or surveillance video, if it exists, could potentially clarify many of these issues. The release of such recordings is something that the delegation would like to see Congress demand in any congressional investigation that it conducts. Until such data surfaces, we will never know the true motivation of those in the helicopters who pulled the trigger nor what they were truly doing on the Rio Patuca.
The events of the immediate aftermath became clearer once our delegation took the time to interview numerous witnesses to the shooting and those who rushed to the river upon hearing that loved ones had been shot at. We spoke to Hilda Rosa Lezama Kenreth, 53, laid up in the Ahuas hospital, an underfunded facility run by an evangelical church. She stated that as the shots were being fired from the helicopter she felt a pain across both of her thighs. A bullet had ripped through her left leg and cut across her right leaving huge gaping wounds. She instinctively jumped from the pipante and swam as best she could for cover in the reeds that hugged the bank of the river. She stayed there clinging to the reeds for at least two hours while going in and out of consciousness waiting for help.
Hilda’s son and daughter, Hilder and Elmina, who had been in town when they heard of the shooting, and were awaiting family members to arrive, rushed to the landing, a small sandy area where pipantes and other riverboats were moored. When they got there a helicopter was landing on an open area near were the boats were moored. Before Hilder could begin to search for his mother and brother-in-law he was approached by what he described as three large white men in uniforms who spoke to each other in English. The soldiers ordered him, in broken Spanish, to sit down while pointing guns at his and his sister’s head and chest. They asked him where gasoline was stored. He told them that there was a building nearby that had gas for the boats. They ordered him at gunpoint to take them there often hitting him in the back of the head causing him to fall. When they arrived, the tall white soldiers kicked in the door of the building and stole two 18-gallon barrels of gas. They returned to the landing and ordered Hilder to fill a boat motor with the gas. He did so and then was ordered to get in the boat. They went down river to where the massacre had occurred and Hilder saw a boat with two more tall white soldiers sitting in it. Once they got along side this boat he was further ordered to move bags from it to the boat they had arrived in. He stated that the soldiers told him in broken Spanish to “move the drugs.” Once he was finished he and the five soldiers returned to the landing with the drugs. The soldiers then moved the bags from the boat to the helicopter, not allowing Hilder to look for his mother and brother-in-law. Instead, they hit him again and handcuffed him with plastic zip ties and forced him sit until they left. Once they were gone, another villager cut the ties from his hand. He found the body of his brother-in-law and loaded it onto a boat. He then searched for his mother and was able to find Hilda in the water semi-conscious, but alive several hours after he had gotten there and was detained by the soldiers.
Another survivor, Clara Wood Rivas watched as bullets shattered her fourteen-year-old son Hasked’s skull. As she described the tragedy, she lifted her arm in the air to show the downward trajectory of the bullets, motioning her hand toward the top of her own head and passing it downward mimicking the bullets exiting Hasked’s chin. She stated that he had been shot so many times that she couldn’t recognize his face. Her son slumped over and fell into the water. Ms Wood jumped in to avoid the rain of bullets. Unable to find her son, she swam to shore. When she made it to the landing, “tall gringos” who did not speak Spanish pointed guns at her. She saw her nephew, who had come to the landing to meet her, handcuffed with zip ties and also being held at gunpoint. Through tears she told us, “I thought they were going to kill me. I passed through a war there. I’m blessed to be alive. I’ll never see my son again!”
Traveling with Clara and Hasked was Walter Wilmer, also aged 14. We were unable to meet with him in the hospital in La Ceiba. According to the preliminary report put out by COFADEH, at the time when the bullets began riddling the pipante Wilmer was asleep. He awoke to sounds of screams and blasts of gunfire. He managed to escape the boat unharmed, but the helicopter gunners aimed at him in the water, destroying his left hand. Wilmer managed to swim using only his right until he reached the bank of the river. He could still see the helicopters hovering over the river so he ran through the darkness making it to the hospital in Ahuas. He was later transferred, at great expense to his family, to the hospital in La Ceiba, but it was too late to save his hand.
Members of our delegation were able to meet with Lucio Adnan Nelson, 22, in the hospital at La Ceiba. He had been shot in the back and in his right elbow where he still has bullet fragments. Under sedation he was able to speak to us, but only briefly. Lucio jumped from the boat when it was fired upon. He felt a burning pain in his back as he clung onto a tree branch sticking out of the river. He managed to swim to shore using one hand and ran through the woods until someone found him and helped him to the hospital. Lucio’s father stated that they had to sell some of their livestock in order to pay for the transportation to La Ceiba hospital. He also stated that if his son doesn’t recover fully, which he most likely won’t, he fears that Lucio’s only option in life is to become a beggar in the street.
The AP and the New York Times have revised their reports many times since the incident. The AP in particular has given a clearer picture of the events, but the overarching bent is still on the justification of the DEA and Honduran military’s presence in the Moskitia. They continue to imply that it was simply a tragic mistake in identity, an example of collateral damage in the War on Drugs. I spoke with a Honduran lawyer who represents the interests of the people of the Moskitia. He stated that there have been several reports of US and Honduran military drug interdiction in that region. The common link to these reports is that in all of them the narcotraffickers have gotten away, but the military have seized the drugs. This raises serious questions, not just to the efficacy of the military in drug interdiction, but indeed, what truly is the US and Honduran militaries’ role in the trafficking. In the wake of the DEA’s implication in drug trafficking as related to Plan Colombia and Plan Mexico, as well as the nefarious scheme of the ATF in supplying arms to drug lords in Mexico, plus the rampant corruption of the Honduran military and police and their interrelationship to narcotraffickers, the questions linger as to the true motivations of the US military/DEA presence in Honduras.
The US’s military motivations come under sharper scrutiny when the issue of recently discovered oil reserves in the Moskitia region are brought to light. Texas based Honduras Tejas Oil and Gas Company, which is pursuing an oil and gas concession in La Moskitia, estimate that there are six to eight billion barrels of oil reserves there. Honduras Tejas has lobbying ties to Tea Party nut job Rep. Louis Ghomert (R. TX), who introduced legislation on their behalf, HR 532 (110th): Recognizing the energy and economic partnership between the United States and Honduras. Its ties to the Honduran government as well as the US State Department need to be further investigated.
Many people we spoke with, including representatives of indigenous organizations, are deeply concerned that militarization and violence generated by the “drug war” are negatively impacting their communities and are focused where there are significant natural resources, rivers with hydroelectric potential, petroleum, gold, and forests with many of these natural resources being privatized.
In light of what our delegation observed on our visit and the concerns raised, we demand:
- That the U.S Congress investigate and hold hearings about the U.S. role in the events of May 11, 2012 in La Moskitia.
- That serious and independent investigations take place exploring the role and responsibility of agents of the U.S. government in the May 11 massacre in Ahuas, be they DEA agents, private security contractors under the direction or contracted by agencies of the U.S. government or other security forces. This investigation should include identifying criminal responsibility of specific individuals.
- That the rights and decisions of indigenous communities and popular movements be respected rather than treated as drug traffickers and insurgents with complete disregard to fundamental human rights.
- That the U.S. government speak out publicly against the presence of individuals widely known to have involvement in drug trafficking and death squads within the Honduran justice system today.
- That in light of the abuses we documented, the U.S. government must withdraw all U.S. security forces including DEA and private contractors from Honduras, cease military assistance and training, and stop promoting re-militarization in Central America.
On June 6th the State Dept. was asked to provide an update on the DEA agent investigation in Honduras and on what is being done to assist the victims?
“DEA’s internal investigation is ongoing and should be completed in the next few weeks and we refer you to the Department of Justice for further information. A Honduran special task force conducted an initial investigation and we understand their preliminary conclusion is that the Honduran security forces were justified in firing in self-defense. The Honduran Government referred the investigation to their Attorney General’s office. The U.S. government is working closely with the Government of Honduras and offered transportation for investigators and additional assistance.
All Honduran citizens are eligible to receive care through the Honduran public health system.”
After four weeks of inadequate care in Honduran hospitals where horror stories are common, such as the lack of sutures for routine stitching procedures let alone for major surgery, The International Red Cross and UNICEF have agreed to intervene and pay for the surgeries of Walter Wilmer and Lucio Nelson at La Ceiba Hospital. Meanwhile, the other survivors are left in the care of an inefficient underfunded healthcare system, while the family members of the deceased have not even received so much as an official apology from U.S. or Honduran government officials.
With the ever escalating US military presence in Honduras, we can expect the events described above to become commonplace, just as the horror stories that have come out of Iraq and Afghanistan are never ending. Can drone attacks be far behind?
Greg McClain was a member of the Human Rights Delegation to Ahuas, La Moskitia, Honduras.
- Uniformed US soldiers involved in killing of six Honduran civilians (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- DEA Agents Helped Kill Two Pregnant Women in Honduras Last Week (reason.com)
Caracas – A Venezuelan judge has fled to the United States after he was dismissed as a Supreme Court Magistrate on March 20th, when an investigation was launched into his links to Venezuelan drug lord Walid Makled. Venezuelan born Makled is currently on trial in the country for crimes including narco-trafficking and murder, after being extradited from Colombia to Venezuela in May last year.
According to the charges levelled at the ex-magistrate, Eladio Aponte, the judge granted a falsified identification document to Makled which named him as a member of the magistrate’s staff, permitting him free passage to anywhere in the country.
In an interview on Wednesday night for US television channel SOiTV, the ex-judge hit out at Venezuelan politicians and high ranking members of the army, accusing them of having intervened and manipulated the Venezuelan judicial system. He also added that he thought Makled to be a “reputable businessman”.
The government has categorically refuted the claims, which they say are an attempt to smear the Chavez administration.
“He is an ex-magistrate being prosecuted for his links to drug trafficking, and who has sold his soul to the devil,” said Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Nicolas Maduro, whilst defending the country’s judicial institutions as independent.
“We can say with total certainty that in the case of Aponte, the decisions taken by our public institutions were in total compliance with the law, demonstrating that there are laws in Venezuela, that here there or no privileges and that no one is protected by narco gangs”. “Aponte is a totally discredited man,” he added.
The minister also went on to criticise the role of the U.S.’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in engineering Aponte’s escape after it emerged that a DEA plane had transported the fugitive from Costa Rica to the United States.
“The DEA now takes away this man accused of being linked to drugs trafficking mafias to turn him into a spokesman against Venezuela… The United States continues to be a sanctuary for drug traffickers, the corrupt, traitors and terrorists,” he said.
Maduro’s sentiments have been echoed by other members of the Venezuelan government and armed forces, as well as by US- Venezuelan attorney and investigative journalist Eva Golinger, who said that Aponte’s claims were part of a “systematic” campaign by Washington to depict Venezuela as a “narco-state” using whatever means possible.
OFAC Criticises “Worrying Trend”
Aponte’s flight to the U.S. comes as the Director of the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), Adam Szubin, criticised a “worrying trend” in Venezuela, relating to the presence of “drugs kingpins” in the country.
In an interview with opposition newspaper El Universal earlier this week, Szubin stated that the organization was particularly concerned with individuals who were in violation of the “Kingpin Act,” which “goes after foreign persons” accused of financially aiding or supporting the international trafficking of narcotics. Several Venezuelan government officials have been controversially added to the organisation’s sanctions list since 2008.
“The designations made over the last two years,” said Szubin, “conform to the Kingpin Act and point towards a worrying trend in Venezuela.”
“Nobody is added to the list by mistake,” he continued, although conceding that 400 individuals had been removed from the list since 2009.
Szubin went on to cite current Venezuelan Defence Minister, Henry Rangel Silva, who was placed on the agency’s sanctions list in 2008 for allegedly attempting to increase cooperation between the Venezuelan government and Colombia’s FARC guerrillas as proof of this trend. To date, no evidence has been presented by the OFAC in support of these allegations.
As a division of the Treasury Department’s “Terrorism and Financial Intelligence” agency, the OFAC is responsible for administering and enforcing sanctions against states, individuals and groups accused of terrorism, such as those currently being enforced against Iran. The agency is described by the Washington Post as being an institution that “U.S. policymakers increasingly rely on to advance national security and foreign policy goals in the post-9/11 era”.
Since 2008, six other members of the Venezuelan government, including former Caracas mayor Freddy Bernal, have also been added to the OFAC sanction list.
Relations between the United States and Venezuela in the fight against the international drugs trade have been strained since the latter expelled the U.S.’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 2005 for acts of espionage, with the Venezuelan government charging the agency with maintaining a consistent campaign against the left wing politics of the government, as opposed to focusing on counter-narcotics operations.