Honduras: US claims success in drug war militarization
With anger still growing in Honduras over the May 11 raid on the village of Ahuas that left four dead, the White House shows no sign of reconsidering the Central American Regional Security Initiative, under which the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Pentagon's Southern Command are coordinated with regional security forces. Officials boast the new cooperation is working, stating that last year the US monitored more than 100 small planes from South America landing at isolated airstrips in Honduras, with no interference. In contrast, two such flights were intercepted in May—including the one involved in the deadly raid at Ahuas. "In the first four months of this year, I'd say we actually have gotten it together across the military, law enforcement and developmental communities," William R. Brownfield, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, told the New York Times. "My guess is narcotics traffickers are hitting the pause button. For the first time in a decade, air shipments are being intercepted immediately upon landing."
The Times reports there was a gun-fight at the other May raid, without saying exactly where it was—only that, like Ahuas, it was on the Miskito Coast. The earlier incident apparently left no casualties. The Times says the May 11 raid was launched when Colombian officials informed the Southern Command in Miami via a joint intelligence task force of a flight headed for Honduras. A surveillance aircraft from US Customs and Border Protection tracked the plane as it landed, leading to a raid that was carried out by four State Department-chartered helicopters. They flew out of one of three new "forward operating bases" built this year by the Southern Command's Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras. Guatemalan pilots flew the helicopters, because Honduras lacks qualified pilots. The helicopters carried a strike force of Honduran National Police and DEA agents, described as "part of a special commando-style squad that was on board as advisers." (NYT, May 29)
Any earlier Times article bemoans the drug culture taking hold on the Miskito Coast, warning: "For many, hard work like farming has started to look like a waste of time." Terry Martínez, aid and development director for the local Gracias a Dios department said of the drug trade: "It's creating huge long-term problems. People aren’t thinking—they're putting their hopes in drugs; 'oh, next week there will be another plane.'" Also quoted is Julieta Castellanos, president of the Autonomous University of Honduras, who bemoaned that "the police are penetrated by organized crime," but added:"The participation of the United States is important. There are sectors of the country that are even asking for more participation."
The article also plugs the "soft side" of US assistance. The Agency for International Development has spent nearly $1 million since 2008 to preserve the Miskito Coast's spiny lobster fishery, a main source of work in the remote region, while US soldiers have provided free medical and dental care.
Reporter Damien Cave did speak to local Miskito indigenous leaders. "The drug activity here creates a danger to all of us," said Sinicio Ordoñez, president of the Ahuas Council of Elders. "The people here, they just wanted to be rid of it." Raymundo Eude, leader Miskitu Asla Takanka (MASTA) or Unity of the Miskito People, was forthright in rejecting the militarization as well as the traffickers: "Helicopters and soldiers are not development. It doesn't help." (NYT, May 24)
In 2011, the FAST program was a subject at the National Defense Industrial Association's symposium on "Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict" in Washington DC. The presentation, given by FAST section chief and former Navy SEAL Richard Dobrich, showcased the unit's training supported by US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), known for its covert, offensive operations. The trainings mentioned on the presentation's slideshow included "close-quarter combat shooting" and "land warfare."
Honduran human rights groups meanwhile charge that the investigation into the Ahuas raid, conducted by the military, has been slow and insufficient. "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," the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), wrote in a statement days after the incident. "We should not accept this." (UDW, May 30)
A later statement, COFADEH protested "the abandonment" of the victims of the Ahuas raid, which left four wounded at the community of Paptalaya—including a 14-year-old boy. "The indifference and cowardliness of state authorities to confront the consequences of their actions...has resulted in the lack of adequate medical attention for the wounded and the criminalization of their family members for denouncing this," COFADEH charged. Honduras' Radio Globo reported the International Red Cross was finally contracted by UNICEF to perform needed surgery on two youths wounded in the raid, after they had languished for 20 days in public hospitals. COFADEH's statement said the organization "calls on the international Human Rights community and the democratic world, to take vigorous action to prevent the rights of the victims from being violated again." (Vos el Soberano, June 9; COFADEH, June 4 via Honduras Resiste)