People in Honduras have burned down government offices and demanded U.S. drug agents leave the area after news got out that American and Honduran forces shot and killed up to six innocent Hondurans.
The dead included two pregnant women and two children. The Drug Enforcement Administration agents, with their Honduran counterparts, fired from U.S. helicopter gunships at a boat carrying the civilians, mistaking it for their intended target – a boat carrying drug traffickers.
Anger is aimed at both Honduran authorities and U.S. authorities. “These innocent residents were not involved in the drug problem, were in their boat going about their daily fishing activities … when they gunned them down from the air,” Lucio Vaquedano, mayor of the coastal town of Ahuas, said Wednesday.
“For centuries we have been a peaceful people who live in harmony with nature, but today we declared these Americans to be persona non grata in our territory,” the statement continued.
Honduran news media and human rights organizations began publicizing the incident, of which the American people were not informed, and claimed the DEA agents themselves did the shooting. But after news broke out, U.S. authorities started claiming the American agents merely assisted Honduran forces, without doing any of the shooting themselves and that didn’t shoot first.
Honduras has become a hub of drug-trafficking, particularly cocaine, which has earned it renewed focus from Washington.
The Obama administration chose to support the illegal military coup in Honduras in 2009, which ousted democratically elected Jose Manuel Zelaya. The coup leaders continued to receive U.S. aid as American military and DEA presence in the country began to expand. This began a descent into what Dana Frank, professor of history at the University of California, called “a human rights and security abyss.”
More than 600 U.S. troops are stationed in Honduras and the DEA has a Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team based there. By the end of 2011, 42 Honduran law enforcement agents were working with the DEA, despite widespread human rights abuses and forced disappearances of political opponents and journalists.
“We have seen over the years that whenever the military interfaces with the populace, incidents of human rights abuses go way up,” said George Withers, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. “We’re concerned that the U.S. is encouraging the use of the military for police work.”
In a written statement, the Committee of the Families of the Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), a human rights organization, said that “a foreign army [i.e., the U.S. army] protected under the new hegemonic concept of the ‘war on drugs,’ legalized with reforms to the 1953 Military Treaty, violates our territorial sovereignty and kills civilians as if it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Syria.”
COFADEH called Honduras “a failed state” and said “the so called Honduran authorities have the ethical and political duty to demand from the U.S. Department of State an explanation and a public apology, and to punish those responsible.”