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)
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the US over its plan to continue financing certain Russian NGOs. Moscow has accused Washington of meddling in its domestic affairs.
“We consider the statement by the US State Department official representative Victoria Nuland, saying the US is going to continue financing some of Russia’s NGOs through intermediaries in third countries, avoiding the Russian legislature, a blatant interference into our internal affairs,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich said in a statement on Saturday.
Mass audits of Russian NGOs started on March 21, on orders from the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s office.
The checks immediately sparked criticism in the international rights community, which labeled them an attempt to pressure activists. Russia has maintained the checks are regular inspections to see if NGO work complies with Russian law – legislation was recently amended to require that NGOs receiving foreign funding register as ‘foreign agents.’
Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokesperson, said that Washington’s NGO funding will continue unabated: “We are providing funding through platforms outside of Russia for those organizations that continue to want to work with us,” she said at a Thursday briefing.
The Russian Foreign Ministry believes the US is engaged in “direct instigating of certain non-governmental and public structures to violate legislation related to the work of non-governmental organisations in the Russian Federation,” according to Lukashevich’s statement.
Russian diplomats were also incensed by Victoria Nuland’s description of the NGO raids as a “witch hunt.” Lukashevich’s statement described his American counterpart’s choice of words as “cynical and provocative.”
Moscow has said that its NGO policy is in line with generally accepted international practices. So far, auditors have reported no infractions in the activities of non-governmental groups, apart from one incident. On Thursday, ‘For Human Rights’ leader Lev Ponomaryov refused to turn over working documents to inspectors, saying that his organization had already been subjected to a recent check.
Law enforcers said the act was a refusal to comply with lawful demands, and started an administrative case against the activist.
President Putin on Friday asked Russia’s top Human Rights Commissioner, Vladimir Lukin, to monitor the situation with the NGO raids. “I would like to rule out any excesses there,” Putin said.
Associated Press reporters Alberto Arce and Katherine Corcoran have written a follow up article to Arce’s investigative feature last week on the continuation of death squad activity by the Honduran police. The new article, which appeared in the New York Times and various other media over the weekend, suggests that U.S. State Department officials may have deceived members of Congress in order to illegally fund Honduran police units even though some police – under the command of National Police Director General Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla – may be involved in death squads.
The article begins:
The U.S. State Department, which spends millions of taxpayer dollars a year on the Honduran National Police, has assured Congress that money only goes to specially vetted and trained units that don’t operate under the direct supervision of a police chief once accused of extrajudicial killings and “social cleansing.”
But The Associated Press has found that all police units are under the control of Director General Juan Carlos Bonilla, nicknamed the “Tiger,” who in 2002 was accused of three extrajudicial killings and links to 11 more deaths and disappearances. He was tried on one killing and acquitted. The rest of the cases were never fully investigated.
Honduran law prohibits any police unit from operating outside the command of the director general, according to a top Honduran government security official, who would only speak on condition of anonymity. He said that is true in practice as well as on paper.
Celso Alvarado, a criminal law professor and consultant to the Honduran Commission for Security and Justice Sector Reform, said the same.
“Every police officer in Honduras, regardless of their specific functions, is under the hierarchy and obedience of the director general,” he said.
Congress has already withheld some funding ($30 million) to the Honduran police under the Leahy Law over concerns about Bonilla’s alleged past death squad involvement, but the State Department has continued with some other funding and just announced a new $16.3 million commitment to the Honduran police during a visit to Honduras by Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield last weekend. AP noted that “Some of the U.S. money will go to the Gang Resistance Education and Training program under the director of community policing, who also told the AP that he reports directly to Bonilla.”
As the AP article states, “U.S. support goes to Honduran forces working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on anti-narcotics operations, and anti-gang, anti-kidnapping and border-security units, according to an embassy official who was not authorized to speak on the record.” We have detailed how U.S.-assisted counternarcotics operations have involved the killings of civilians and what seems to be a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach by some Honduran forces in the past that led to the U.S. to temporarily suspend radar assistance to Honduran authorities.
Arce and Corcoran note that they tried to ask Brownfield questions regarding the police assistance when he was in Honduras, but Brownfield declined to answer.
The AP article includes additional statements from Honduran officials regarding the chain of command, which goes up to Bonilla:
When asked by AP if the specially vetted Honduran police units working with the U.S. Embassy still report to Bonilla, the Honduran security official said: “Yes, that’s how it works, because of personal loyalty and federal law.”
“I only report to the director general, all of the programs of the Honduran police are directed personally by him,” said Otoniel Castillo, a police sub-commissioner. “He has a personal and intense closeness to all projects of international cooperation, especially because of his good relationship with the U.S. Embassy.”
In the wake of the AP’s revelations, the big question is how will Congress react? While State Department officials are likely to claim plausible deniability or a different interpretation of Honduran law and how it relates to police supervision and accountability, State Department officials’ past responses to Congress indicate that human rights concerns may be less of a priority than they are for the members of Congress who have spoken out on this issue. The unwillingness of senior officials such as Brownfield to answer questions from reporters also does not signal credibility.
Arce and Corcoran noted that the State Department has not been forthcoming with information to Congress that would explain the discrepancy:
That information so far has not been provided by the State Department, and the AP’s findings have prompted more questions.
“Senator Leahy has asked the State Department to clarify how they differentiate between what they told the Congress and what is being said by those within Honduran police units under his authority,” Leahy aide Tim Rieser said Friday. “Sen. Leahy, like others, made clear early on his concerns about Gen. Bonilla and the conduct of the Honduran police.”
- World Bank Must End Support for Honduran Palm Oil Company Implicated in Murder
- Step by Step: Honduras Walk for Dignity and Sovereignty
- Reporting on Romer’s Charter Cities: How the Media Sanitize Honduras’s Brutal Regime
- Killings Continue in Bajo Aguán as Report Documents Abuses by US-Trained Honduran Special Forces
Tibisay Lucena, the president of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council (CNE) rejected statements on Sunday by U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary for Latin America Roberta Jacobson, who said it would be “a little difficult” for Venezuela to have “clean and transparent elections,” next month on April 14.
“We roundly reject the naïve statements of Ms. Roberta Jacobson, for their meddling and disrespectful content,” Lucena said during a speech at the CNE headquarters in Caracas, Venezuela. “Jacobson said that the elections in Venezuela should be free and fair, causing some to believe that Venezuelan elections do not comply with the basic conditions, when our electoral system has been recognized nationally and internationally, both by voters at home and abroad by experts like former President Jimmy Carter, who said that ‘Venezuela has the best electoral system in the world,’” she said.
Lucena called the statements imprudent, “especially when they come from the United States, a country with a fragile and unsafe electoral system that increasingly excludes minorities and low-income sectors.”
She said that Venezuela has an electoral system that guarantees the sovereign decision of voters “and while we audit 54% of the electoral booths at the end of the day, in the United States the results aren’t audited. For a long time, citizens’ groups have been fighting to be allowed to audit three to five percent of the booths after voting.”
She said that Venezuela’s fully automated electoral system, “more than just a technological platform, is the instrument of the expression of all our people.”
Lucena also announced Sunday that tests have already been carried out on the electoral platform ahead of the April 14 presidential vote “and we can guarantee that the machinery is working properly.”
“We guarantee trustworthy, transparent results and the integrity of the Venezuelan electoral system,” she said.
During the testing of the voting equipment, Lucena added, electoral accompaniers were present from the Inter-American Union of Electoral Bodies (UNIORE) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
The CNE announced the date of the upcoming elections on March 9, and began accepting candidacies the next day. Campaigning will occur from April 2 to 11 at midnight.
- New Venezuelan Presidential Elections Set for 14 April (venezuelanalysis.com)
The United States has announced it will withdraw from a joint rights working group with Russia.
“The working group was not working,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday.
The working group was part of the US-Russian Bilateral Presidential Commission established in 2009 by US President Barack Obama and his then-Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to “reset” US-Russian ties.
Nuland said the Russian government’s recent restrictions on civil society prompted Washington to take the measure.
In July, Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a bill, forcing non-governmental organizations (NGO) involved in political activity with foreign financing to be classed as “foreign agents.”
The new legislation would force the NGOs to publish a report of their activities twice a year and carry out an annual financial audit.
“These new restrictions the Russian government is placing on civil society were increasingly calling into question whether maintaining this government-to-government mechanism was useful or appropriate,” she added.
However, Nuland said Washington would continue to work with Russia on different issues, including defense, counterterrorism, and nuclear security.
On Friday, Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s point man on human rights issues, said that the US State Department had not informed its counterparts in Moscow of the US withdrawal from the working group.
Nuland also lashed out at Russia’s lower house of parliament for passing a Friday draft law banning “homosexual propaganda.”
The United States is “deeply concerned” about the legislation, Nuland said.
Relations between Russia and the United States have deteriorated over the past months.
Last year, Washington angered Moscow by implementing the Magnitsky Act that imposed visa restrictions on and froze the US bank accounts of Russian officials who were allegedly linked to the death of Russian lawyer Magnitsky at a Russian prison in 2009.
On December 28, US President Barack Obama enacted the so-called “Countering Iran in Western Hemisphere Act” which seeks to undermine Iran´s growing relations with Latin America, a region that has traditionally seen by the United States as its backyard and sphere of influence.
The Act, passed by congressmen earlier this year, requires the US Department of State to develop a strategy within 180 days to “address Iran´s growing hostile presence and activity” in Latin America. The Act points out that “Iran´s business and diplomatic ties are a threat to US national security”. It is seen, however, as another anti-Iranian move fabricated by the Zionist lobby in the US.
Shortly before, in July 2011, Robert F. Noriega – former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, former US ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS) and current Visiting Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, one of the main neoconservatives -controlled entities in the US – said in a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence that Iran was carrying out “an offensive strategy” in Latin America.
The Iranian presence in the Latin America has also been harshly attacked by the pro-Israeli hawk Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman and self-appointed bulwark against the alleged “Islamo-Boliviarian threat” to US security. She was co-star of a so-called “documentary” entitled “La amenaza iraní” (The Iranian Threat), in which she said, without blushing, that the US should attack Iran in order to “avert bomb explosions in various Latin American capitals”. The film was aired by Univision, a US broadcast network, which is owned by someone who has hosted galas in honour of the occupying Israeli army.
In 2009, another ridiculous “documentary” released by Univision involved the Venezuelan consul in Miami, Livia Acosta, in an absurd cyber-plot against the US allegedly promoted by “Iranian diplomats and Mexican computer hackers”. This was the pretext used for expelling her from the United States in a move that was widely seen as an American political revenge for Venezuela´s independent foreign policy.
Actually, the US Act rudely violates Latin American countries´ sovereignty and contains some stupid claims such as that the opening of Iranian embassies or cultural centers is to “spread terrorism”. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also echoed those views by claiming, in a recent visit to Colombia, that Iranian attempts to expand its influence in South America amounted to expanding terrorism. Of course, no real evidence has ever been shown to support that laughable allegation.
“The paranoid nature of these estimations, and the scant evidence presented for them, are eerily reminiscent of the kind of broad-strokes, hawkish fear-mongering on display in the lead up to the war in Iraq. The testimony comes from a group bent on hyping security threats and, as Noriega admitted in the testimony, is not even in agreement with the State Department or intelligence agencies”, wrote John Glaser in a recent report.
The US accusations against Iran are also a way of targeting and casting suspicion on Latin American Muslims. In the Act, Washington speaks of “isolating Iran and its allies” and US officials accuse Iran or other pro-Iranian forces of “establishing mosques or Islamic centers throughout the region” in order to advance violent jihad “on our doorstep”.
US declining influence in Latin America
However, Latin American people know well that for over a hundred years it was the United States, and not another country, which wrought terror, war, poverty and repression throughout Latin America in the form of CIA-orchestrated military coups and support of paramilitary crimes, terrorism and dictatorial regimes. Military personnel found guilty of the worst violations of human rights in Latin American countries were trained in the notoriously famous School of Americans by US officers.
Actually, the Act is more evidence that US influence in Latin America is rapidly waning. Latin American countries have developed their own policies and set up independent blocks -ALBA, UNASUR and CELAC- while the Organization of American States, which includes the US and Canada, has been declining due to its submission to US policies on issues such as Cuba´s participation in its summits.
Iran has been seeking to increase its relations with Latin America in a bilateral way and in the framework of the Non-Aligned Movement and other international organizations. This has irritated Washington, which still seems to consider Latin American countries as vassals not having the right to pursue an independent foreign policy or seek its own friends and partners. Any agreement between Latin American states and Iran –or Russia and China- always arouses suspicion in the US.
Several Latin American countries have enhanced their diplomatic and trade ties with Iran in recent years, while their relations with the US have been downgraded amid popular demands for an end to dependence on Washington. Although the United States is still the largest economic partner of many Latin American countries, its economic and financial crisis has adversely affected them. This has led some nations, such as Mexico, to announce their intention to diversify their commercial partners in the next years.
As an international partner, the Islamic Republic is one of the best positioned to help Latin American countries develop their economies and their scientific and technological skills in many fields. The Iranian industry is highly developed. It has remarkable expertise in oil and gas exploitation and other sectors including health, defence, agriculture and space technology.
Iran has helped Venezuela build unmanned drone aircraft as part of their military cooperation. Referring to a Spanish media report that US prosecutors were investigating drone production in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez said: “Of course we are doing it, and we have the right to. We are a free and independent country.”
In a televised speech to military officers at Venezuela´s Defense Ministry, Chavez said the aircraft only had a camera and was exclusively for defensive purposes. He said that Venezuela planned to soon begin exporting the unmanned drone. Moreover, Iran and Venezuela have mutual investments of about $ 5 billion in factories to make cement, satellites and tractors and the Iranians have helped the Latin American country build 14,000 houses.
Tehran has forged significant economic and political relations with the government of Evo Morales in Bolivia and with that of Rafael Correa in Ecuador. Iran´s links with Argentina, where Zionist circles have unsuccessfully tried to blame Iran for the AMIA attack in 1994, are also rapidly improving, as the government of President Cristina Fernandez is promoting a more conciliatory line towards Tehran.
Latin American countries, especially those that follow an independent foreign policy, trust Iran because they know that the Iranians cannot be pressured into betraying an agreement that disturbs the US or its allies. This is a main reason of Iran´s rising popularity in Latin America despite the propaganda of Zionist-owned media outlets and the US political and diplomatic actions.
HispanTV, the Spanish-language channel similar to the English-language Press TV channel, is also feared by the US establishment and Zionist circles because it is giving Latin American audiences accurate information about the Middle East and international developments that exposes the lies of Zionist-controlled agencies and media. The recent expulsion of Hispan TV from the Spanish-owned Hispasat channel is, in this sense, a desperate attempt to prevent the channel from reaching mass audiences. However, this move, as other similar ones in the past, is doomed to failure.
Therefore, Latin American nations won´t allow the US to dictate their foreign policy on the issue of their relations with Iran or any other country. In fact, Washington has already had a sign of this when it tried to pressure these countries to vote against Palestine´s bid to gain the status of a non-member state at the United Nations. Only one country, Panama, whose government has strong links with the Zionist entity and the local Zionist lobby voted against it.
- US, Israel instill fears over Iran’s growing influence in Latin America (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Ecuador to maintain foreign policy, ties with Iran: FM (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino has reaffirmed his country’s determination to maintain its foreign policy and continue bilateral ties with Iran and other friendly countries despite disagreements by the US.
Recent US legislation aimed at countering the Iran-Latin America ties will not affect Ecuador’s relationship with Iran, Prensa Latina news agency quoted Patino as saying in an interview on Thursday.
On December 28, 2012, US President Barack Obama enacted the law to counter Iran’s growing relations with Latin American countries. The Countering Iran in Western Hemisphere Act requires the US Department of State to develop a strategy within 180 days to “address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity” in Latin America.
The Ecuadorian minister decried the US legislation and said Washington believes that when it breaks off relations with a country, the rest must also follow suit.
He emphasized that Quito would proceed with its relations with Iran, China, Russia, Middle East, Africa and all the countries with which it has traditionally maintained ties.
He expressed hope that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) would support Ecuador’s stance during their next meeting.
Patino added that the new US law seeks to affect countries in Latin America that have good relations with Iran as in the case of Ecuador.
This law refers only to the US interests and not the global peace, he said, emphasizing that we should not maintain the interests of the power elites.
Major Latin American nations have enhanced their diplomatic and trade ties with Iran in recent years. The promotion of all-out cooperation with Latin American countries has been among the top priorities of the Islamic Republic’s foreign policy over the past few years.
Washington considers Latin America as its strategic backyard, a term used to refer to the USA’s traditional areas of dominance.
- US, Israel instill fears over Iran’s growing influence in Latin America (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The United States says that its military has detained more than 200 teenagers in war-torn Afghanistan since 2008.
The US Department of State revealed that the Afghan teenagers were held at a military prison next to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and a few of them are still imprisoned at the Detention Facility in Parwan.
The figure was released in a report sent every four years to the United Nations regarding the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The US military held the teenagers to “prevent a combatant from returning to the battlefield,” the report claimed.
Jamil Dakwar, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights program, said on Friday that if the average age is 16, “This means it is highly likely that some children were as young as 14 or 13 years old when they were detained by US forces.”
Dakwar also criticized the length of the detentions, which the State Department report said was one year on average.
“This is an extraordinarily unacceptably long period of time that exposes children in detention to greater risk of physical and mental abuse, especially if they are denied access to the protections guaranteed to them under international law.”
Tina M. Foster, the executive director of the International Justice Network which represents adult and juvenile Bagram detainees, said, “I’ve represented children as young as 11 or 12 who have been at Bagram.”
“I question the number of 200, because there are thousands of detainees at Parwan,” Foster stated on Friday.
“There are other children whose parents have said these children are under 18 at the time of their capture, and the US doesn’t allow the detainees or their families to contest their age.”
The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 on the pretext of combating terrorism. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but years into the invasion, insecurity remains in the country.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela rejects most firmly and categorically the false and defamatory content of the “Country Reports on Terrorism 2011″ published by the State Department of the United States of America on July 31, 2012.
The government of the United States, once again, presents these unilateral and interventionist reports which express a tendentious and distorted opinion of the policies of other countries, on a matter such as terrorism about which, moreover, that country has no moral ground on which to make pronouncements.
It is precisely the government of that country and its double morality which has been widely denounced by Venezuela at the United Nations for giving shelter and protection to recognized international terrorists, as is the case with Luís Posada Carriles, sought by Venezuelan justice for placing a bomb on flight 455 of Cubana de Aviación, which cost the lives of 73 people in 1976; and the case of Raúl Díaz Peña, a terrorist sentenced under Venezuelan law for having placed explosives in the diplomatic missions of Spain and Colombia in Caracas in 2003. Both are protected by the hypocritical anti-terrorist policy of the U.S. government.
It is lamentable that for those countries such as ours that are truly committed to the anti-terrorist struggle on an international level, that countries like the United States maintain the practice of issuing reports that have no validity because they contain no verified information, and, therefore, are obviously political instruments for defamation. An example of their malicious lies is the list of “State Sponsors of International Terrorism,” which unilaterally and arbitrarily includes the Republic of Cuba, a country that complies with periodically presenting true and exact information to the pertinent mechanisms of the United Nations for matters relating to confronting terrorism.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela considers the publication of this defamatory document an unfriendly act and rejects it in its totality, while reiterating its complaint against the United States for continuing to allow its territory to serve as a refuge for international terrorists sought by Venezuelan justice.
- CITGO to Help 50,000 Families Conserve Energy This Summer (prnewswire.com)
The US says it has been worried by a Russian bill that would force non-governmental organizations (NGOs) financed by other states to register as “foreign agents.”
“The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to be heard and have a voice in government. That’s why we’ve raised our concerns about the potential passage of this new NGO legislation,” said Patrick Ventrell, a spokesman for the US Department of State.
The comments came after Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has passed the bill in its first reading.
The bill, if passed in the second reading of the state Duma on Friday, would force the NGOs to publish a report of their activities twice a year and carry out an annual financial audit.
The founders of the non-governmental organizations would face four-year jail sentences and/or fines of up to 300,000 rubles (USD 9,200) if they failed to comply with the law.
The legislation is expected to be reviewed by the Federation Council upper house on July 18.
The use of the term of “foreign agents” in the law was equivalent with “spying and treason” in the Soviet era.
Disputes over who has been funding Russian NGOs have increased after some controversial remarks made by the US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul who said in April that the Obama administration would like to set up a ‘civil society fund’ in Russia.
Rejecting reports about US involvement in anti-government protests that hit Moscow during the country’s presidential elections, McFaul said the US government funds no organization in Russia except independent NGOs.
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)
The United States has predicted that another Houla-style massacre will occur in Syria and has even mentioned exact locations.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday that the Syrian government “may be organizing another massacre, this time in the village of al-Haffa, in Latakia province, as well as in the towns Deir el-Zour, in Daraa, in Homs, in Hama, and in suburbs of Damascus.”
She accused Damascus of using new tactics of repression but made no mention of the armed gangs’ failure to abide by the joint UN-Arab League peace plan, brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.
In 15 months of violence in Syria, the Houla massacre, in which over 100 civilians were killed in the western town on May 25, was the worst incident.
A Syrian government-appointed fact-finding mission has said armed groups carried out the Houla massacre to frame the government and foment sectarian strife.
But anti-government groups say Syrian government forces were the perpetrators of the acts of carnage in Houla.
Annan’s six-point plan, effective from mid-April, calls for the establishment of a cease-fire between the government and the opposition and also says humanitarian groups should be allowed to have access to the population, detainees should be released, and a political dialogue should be started.
The unrest in Syria began in March 2011, with demonstrations being held both against and in support of President Assad’s government.
The West and the Syrian opposition accuse the government of killing protesters, but Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, insisting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.
- Propaganda War: The Houla Massacre Committed by The West’s “Free Syrian Army” But They Accuse Syrian Gov’t (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Reconsidering The Houla Massacre – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- Syrian government denies involvement in Houla massacre (alethonews.wordpress.com)