Entradas etiquetadas como Guerra antidroga

Ending the Drug War Tragedy: From Honduras to NYC

Posted: 08/27/2015 8:25 am EDT Updated: 08/27/2015 8:59 am EDT
HONDURAS

Last June, I traveled to Honduras to confer with civil society leaders about organizing a five-nation, “end the drug war” caravan — all the way from Central America to New York City.

The “caravan” aims to stir debate in places profoundly damaged by the drug war and to bring people and their stories from those regions along the route to New York City just prior to the convening of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drug Policy (UNGASS) next April.

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We knew this trip was guaranteed to be challenging. Honduras has been hit very hard by the drug war. The dramatic profits available to those who traffic in prohibited drugs have fueled the growth of criminal organizations, spurred violence, underwritten pervasive corruption, and bolstered the institutionalized impunity that enables all of it.

But there was a big, hopeful surprise awaiting us in Honduras: the stunning emergence of a powerful civil revolt against government corruption that took to the streets while we were there, and that has been calling for the President’s resignation ever since.

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As I was preparing to travel I had read of allegations that funds were pilfered from the country’s social security and health system. This seemed really bad, but I was so focused on travel details and our safety that I failed to understand the depth of discontent that this would unleash.

We were, after all, mapping out an itinerary that included San Pedro Sula — currently one of the world’s most violent cities. From there we’d head to a community meeting with Garifuna leaders, seven hours (and hundreds of kilometers east of my comfort zone) in the sweltering, mafia-dominated lowlands near the Caribbean coast.

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On reflection, it’s not really surprising that discontent has boiled over in Honduras. Extreme poverty is widespread and just a few oligarchs control most of the country’s lands and wealth.

Decades of a heavy U.S. military footprint in the country — and more recently, Hillary Clinton’s back-channel support of a 2009 military coup — have encouraged the enemies of democracy in Honduras.
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US Military Training Honduran Counterparts

Since the 2009 coup, gang violence has surged — adding to the economic pressures that prompt thousands of desperate families to emigrate, or sometimes even send their kids north alone, despite the terrible risks involved.

But the trigger for this summer’s peaceful uprising was the revelation that hundreds of millions of dollars were stolen from the national health system, much of it channeled directly to ruling party political campaigns. Thousands of Hondurans died needlessly due to shortages of medical personnel and medicines. These are the facts behind the outrage that has propelled multitudes of discontented, torch-carrying citizens into the streets.

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As we traveled and spoke with organizations and leaders across Honduras we encountered deep opposition to the militarization and corruption of public life that have accompanied the drug war.

We were especially interested in speaking with Garifuna and other indigenous leaders who have been among the most outspoken critics of the drug war — even as they have confronted smugglers encroaching on their ancestral lands.

The Garifuna are descendants of escaped African slaves and indigenous peoples who intermarried and settled along Central America’s Atlantic Coast in the 1700’s. They were once isolated, but in recent years have come under intense pressure from unscrupulous tourist development and sprawling African Palm plantations.

Last year, Garifuna in the tiny settlement of Vallecito found a drug-smuggling airstrip built and being operated on their territory.

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Miriam Miranda, leader of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) stepped in to document and protest the intrusion. OFRANEH pressured the government to shut down the airfield. The army eventually complied, dynamiting large holes to disable the dirt runway.

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But that was not the end of the story. The smugglers returned and started filling the hole with logs and dirt.

When OFRANEH leaders began to document the refurbishing of the airfield, they were seized at gunpoint by sicarios on motorcycles. They were released long hours later, but only because other members of their party had eluded the gunmen, alerted media, and triggered an international campaign for their freedom.

Now, a year later, OFRANEH boldly maintains a permanent encampment on the site to keep traffickers away.

This year, as protests were mounting across the country, OFRANEH held their national leadership meeting at the remote encampment. They invited us to come there to talk with them about working together to end the drug war.

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“Mimo”, who guided us into Vallecito on his motorcycle, points toward a baby crocodile in one of the water-filled craters dynamited into the airstrip.

We agreed about a lot of things: The drug war is a disaster and it is past time to break the taboo on speaking honestly about its impact on people, families, communities, countries, and entire regions.

They explained how parasitic criminal organizations that grew from the hyper-profits of the prohibited drug trade now run other enterprises, like extortion rackets and human trafficking. They launder ill-gotten funds through investments in mining, hotels, agriculture and other superficially legitimate industries.

The OFRANEH leaders are interested in promoting an international discussion of how we could starve the beasts of the drug war through realistic regulation of drugs that aims to dramatically reduce the illegal trade.

We talked about how human rights, public health, and harm reduction practices should be the guideposts of any new, reformed drug policies. But to be clear, no one thought ending the drug war or dismantling the powerful criminal organizations whose money and influence derives from it would be easy. Nor will it be easy for Hondurans to restore democracy and curb the power of the oligarchy.

Open public debate and scrutiny is needed to reveal the truth about the drug war: it is a deadly, decades-long international mistake that cannot be solved by any country on its own. Pragmatic drug policy reforms require concerted international cooperation.

Such reforms will not resolve all the deep tensions roiling Honduras and other countries, but freezing the drug war profit machine via incremental regulation of today’s illicit markets is a critical step toward reducing violence and weakening the networks of corruption and impunity that undermine democracy and deny justice.

The morning I left Honduras I took a taxi from my hotel in San Pedro Sula to the airport. I was in the mood to chat and asked the taxi driver if he ever felt scared doing his job in this most violent of cities. He told me that, “Yes,” he was often afraid and that (pointing to a police car), “the worst part is that you can’t rely on the authorities for help because many of them were working with the criminals. Do you know about the war tax (impuestos de guerra)?” he asked.

“Every business in this city”, he explained, “has to pay a tax to the gangs.”

“Everybody pays”, he emphasized.

“Whether you run a sandwich stand, a dry cleaning shop, a hotel, or a travel agency, you have to pay–or die. In our case, we have about 150 members in our taxi collective and we have to pay 10,000 Lempira [about 500 dollars] a week.”

“What terrifies me,” he continued, “is that the authorities are involved.”

“Let me explain,” he said.

“Every week we take our ‘contribution’ to the local jail. I am not joking,” he insisted.

“But it is even worse than that.” he told me. “One week we had trouble getting our payment together and we arrived late to the jail. The guards told us visiting hours were over and we could not enter. We started freaking out because a missed payment can mean sudden death. So, we called the cell phone of our contact inside the jail. A few minutes later the guards came back out and invited us in to deliver the ‘tax’ payment.”

“So,” he said, “You can see who is really running the show.”

As he dropped me off to catch my flight I was still thinking over the nightmarish implications of what he’d told me. For people trapped in this criminal maelstrom there is really no way out.

The enduring lesson of the 13 years of alcohol prohibition in the United States in the early 20th century is that, whether we approve or not, people will seek out mood-altering substances. We can regulate alcohol, but trying to eliminate it simply incentivized crime and fueled the growth of domestic mafias.

In the early 1930s the U.S. ratified an amendment to the Constitution to rectify the mistake.

Today, there is a growing consensus that the international war on drugs is a similar fool’s errand.

The United Nations Special Session next year is a good forum to push this conversation ahead, but it will take a longer, concerted effort to democratically change minds, hearts, and policies.

That’s why we will travel from Honduras to NYC next year. We invite you to join us, in-person, on-line, and around the world.

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For more information: ted(at)globalexchange.org or caravana2016@gmail.com

Fuente: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ted-lewis/ending-the-drug-war-trage_b_8018970.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

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“La guerra al narco es una guerra que no es nuestra”

JUAN ORLANDO HERNÁNDEZ | Presidente de Honduras

El mandatario hondureño señala a Estados Unidos como uno de los responsables del problema migratorio de su país

Juan Orlando Hernández, en la entrevista en Madrid. / Carlos Rosillo

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El presidente de Honduras, Juan Orlando Hérnández, de 46 años, quiere presentar su país como un foco de oportunidades para inversores. De visita oficial en España, se esfuerza en dibujar un futuro esperanzador para uno de los países más violentos y pobres del mundo, clavado en una de las principales rutas del narcotráfico hacia EE UU y considerado con frecuencia un Estado fallido.

La oleada de niños migrantes que este verano puso en aprietos a Washington partía, en su mayoría, de Honduras. Miles de chavales en busca de algo diferente a la miseria, las maras, la extorsión, los asesinatos. Hernández admite que esas son las raíces del problema, pero advierte que Washington tiene una parte de responsabilidad: “Lo que provoca la mayor parte de la violencia en Honduras tiene que ver con la producción de drogas en Suramérica y el consumo masivo de EE UU. Por desgracia, nosotros estamos en el paso”, explica con voz pausada el martes por la tarde en un barroco y abarrotado —de personal diplomático, de prensa y seguridad— salón de Casa América, en Madrid, donde acaba de firmar un acuerdo de cooperación de 150 millones de euros con España para los próximos cuatro años. “Los carteles de la droga, el crimen organizado, son tan agresivos en sus conductas delictivas que sus hechos son similares a los que producen los grupos fundamentalistas como ISIS”, afirma. “Esa es una guerra que no es nuestra. Tenemos el plan Una Alianza para la Prosperidad, elaborado con Guatemala y El Salvador, para fortalecer la institucionalidad, trabajar en inclusión, crear crecimiento económico, ser efectivos contra la impunidad. Necesitamos la participación de EE UU. Como les dije a los líderes estadounidenses en Washington: ‘Si Centroamérica sigue convulsa, violenta, sin oportunidades, sin crecimiento económico, es un enorme riesgo para EE UU. Por el contrario, si Centroamérica es próspera, en paz, con oportunidades, es una gran inversión”, recuerda.

Miembro del derechista Partido Nacional, Hernández asumió el cargo en enero con un programa de mano dura contra el narcotráfico y prometió mejorar la seguridad. Honduras tenía en 2012, según el último registro de la Oficina de la ONU contra la Droga y el Delito (UNODC), la tasa de homicidios por cada 100.000 habitantes más alta del mundo: 90. El Observatorio de la Violencia de Honduras registró una tasa también descontrolada de 79 en 2013.

Lo que provoca la mayor parte de la violencia en Honduras son la producción de drogas en Suramérica y el consumo masivo de EE UU

Juan Orlando Hernández, presidente de Honduras

Hernández despliega un prolijo catálogo de los planes, programas y medidas que hay en marcha para responder a la pregunta de qué hace su Gobierno para que Honduras deje de ser un país del que los ciudadanos huyen, al margen de la responsabilidad de Estados Unidos que él ha señalado: “Hemos construido un escudo aéreo, porque antes mucha droga venía por esa vía, y lo hemos hecho por nuestra cuenta. EE UU tiene una ley que no les permite compartir algo semejante [autoridad para derribar avionetas civiles sospechosas de transportar droga], pero al final es nuestro derecho soberano. Hemos construido un escudo terrestre y otro, junto a EE UU, marítimo. Estamos en un proceso de depuración policial muy agresivo, porque buena parte de los operadores de justicia han estado permeados por el crimen organizado, pero por primera vez se han visto jueces, magistrados, fiscales, policías y soldados enjuiciados y a varios sentenciados”, dice.

Aunque el narco había llegado a suplantar al Estado en algunas zonas del país, Hernández afirma haber “recuperado el control de manos de los grupos criminales”. Por eso, afirma, “la gente empieza a respirar en lugares donde los criminales han sido extraditados, a otros se les han quitado sus bienes, otros huyen por tener órdenes de captura”. Al impulsar la policía militar, dice seguir el “patrón de Colombia”, que “usó sus fuerzas militares, y hoy es un ejemplo de éxito en esa lucha”. Sobre el riesgo de abusos que puede tener esa estrategia, cree que la “política de respeto de derechos humanos” de Honduras lo minimiza.

Los frentes se multiplican para un político, jurista de formación, que dice ver “oportunidades detrás de cada problema”. El 64% de los hondureños son pobres, según datos del Banco Mundial de 2013. Hernández detalla sus planes para pequeños empresarios, los programas de vivienda social y de subsidios condicionados para que los niños vayan al colegio, donde, asegura el mandatario, “estamos iniciando un plan no ya de merienda escolar, sino de un verdadero plato de comida”.

Hernández asegura que todas las semanas recibe a muchos inversores. “Están apostándole a la energía solar, a la fotovoltaica, en geotermia… estoy convencido de que en tres años vamos a ser líderes en Centroamérica en precio de la energía y vamos a poder exportar”, afirma, y explica el plan de construir el corredor logístico interoceánico, para que “en la menor distancia, de 392 kilómetros, usted pueda tener un contenedor del Atlántico al Pacífico”.

Pese a su optimismo, admite que el país “no se ha recuperado del impacto económico” del golpe de Estado que derrocó en 2009 a Manuel Zelaya. Sí cree que se han “rebajado las diferencias” en la sociedad. Su aspiración, dice, es que “en tres o cuatro años buena parte de los hondureños que están allá [en EE UU] digan ‘voy a estar mejor en Honduras”.

Fuente: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/10/01/actualidad/1412199282_188307.html

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Honduras Leader Rails Against Ineffective Drug War

The president of Honduras blamed the flight of migrant children to the U.S. on a drug war his country didn’t start and demanded the world pay as much attention to displaced Central American families as it does to those terrorized by wars elsewhere.

In an impassioned speech before the U.N. General Assembly, President Juan Orlando Hernandez railed against international drug policies he said lunge incoherently between “proposals based on legalizing drugs on the one hand” and others “based on waging a ceaseless war on all fronts without regard to the costs.”

He urged the world to agree on an international strategy and proposed creating “a multinational force” to fight drug trafficking cartels “just like the one that this morning, President Obama asked for to confront radical fundamentalists.”

“Today, we talk about what is happening in other regions to children, young people, families displaced by war, violence and radical extremists,” he said. “But little is said about the situation of thousands of families in the northern triangle of Central America.”

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossed from Mexico to the U.S. earlier this year, in an unprecedented surge. Many were from Honduras, which has the world’s highest homicide rate for a country not at open war. Some were fleeing recruitment attempts and death threats from vicious gangs or trying to reunite with family members. But some were also drawn by confusion over U.S. immigration policies and rumors that once in the U.S., they would be allowed to stay.

Hernandez blamed their flight “on violence caused by drug trafficking through our territory, poverty and lack of opportunities.”

“What is the difference between those displaced by violence in other regions and those displaced by violence generated by drug traffickers and organized crime?” Hernandez said. “The difference is that those displaced, thousands of families, boys and girls, are knocking on the doors of the U.S.”

He said Honduras, a key transit point for drugs, has been caught in the middle of drug-producing nations and major consumers, such as the U.S.

“Our territory is now one of the principle battlegrounds of a war that is not ours. A war that we didn’t start, whose strategies are decided outside Honduras,” he said.

Weeks before he was elected president in January, Hernandez, as president of Congress, pushed through legislation to create a new military police force that has taken over many security duties in Honduras. His government also extradited a suspected drug trafficker to the U.S. for the first time, a move the U.S. said was a sign Hernandez intends to crack down on drug trafficking.

Fuente: http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/honduras-leader-rails-ineffective-drug-war-25741077

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Que EEUU termine de financiar la Guerra contra las Drogas y al régimen corrupto de Honduras

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Los desgarradores relatos que emanan de los centros de detención para inmigrantes ubicados en la frontera de EEUU han figurado en las noticias últimamente, con mucha razón. Sin embargo los medios masivos han ignorado en gran parte las verdaderas lecciones que se desprenden del número creciente de menores, no acompañados, detenidos en la misma frontera.

Esta llamada “crisis humanitaria” no es causada por la naturaleza criminal de la población de América Central, o porque se trate de padres y madres irresponsables, o porque los menores busquen perseguir el estereotipo del  “sueño americano”. Los menores de edad y sus familias están llegando a los EEUU para poder sobrevivir. En el fondo, con demasiada frecuencia intentan huir de las devastadoras consecuencias de la política exterior de los EEUU en la región, tanto del pasado como del presente.

El número de menores de edad que ha intentado atravesar la frontera e ingresar en los EEUU ha aumentado de manera dramática en los últimos cinco años. Durante el año 2009, alrededor de 6.000 menores no acompañados fueron detenidos cerca de la frontera. Cálculos respetables estiman que el Departamento de Seguridad Interior (Department of Homeland Security DHS) habría detenido hasta 74.000 menores no acompañados a finales del año 2014.

Alrededor del 28% de los menores detenidos este año procedía de Honduras, 24% de Guatemala y 21% de El Salvador. Los aumentos  tan severos de la migración desde Honduras son un resultado directo del golpe dirigido por egresados de la Escuela de las Américas, sucedido el 28 de junio del 2009. Las abusivas políticas formuladas por los regímenes de Honduras, a partir de entonces, y el vergonzoso apoyo de los EEUU a estos gobiernos corruptos surgidos tras los cuestionados procesos electorales de 2009 y 2013.

Desde el 2008, los EEUU han desembolsado más de 800 millones de dolares en ayuda para la seguridad hacia Honduras, Guatemala y El Salvador, a través de la “Iniciativa para la seguridad regional de América Central” (Central American Regional Security Initiative CARSI), además de millones de dólares más en ayuda militar y policial a cada país individual.

La actual crisis humanitaria en la frontera es el resultado directo de una drástica militarización de la guerra contra las drogas, liderada por los EEUU, relaciones económicas desequilibradas (e.g. los Tratados de libre comercio que han devastado las comunidades campesinas) y el apoyo de los EEUU al gobierno de post-golpe de Honduras, infiltrado por los carteles de la droga.

Utilizando cualquier medida que se quiera utilizar – la disponibilidad de las drogas, las encarcelaciones masivas, la detención masiva de inmigrantes, y el uso eficaz del dinero de los impuestos en los EEUU; las tasas de homicidios y de violencia, la corrupción, el poder omnipresente de los carteles de la droga, y las tasas de migración en América Central – la “guerra contra las drogas” ha demostrado ser un fracaso.

Es tiempo ya de que el gobierno de los EEUU asuma su verdadera responsabilidad por el papel que ha representado en las causas profundas de la migración desde América Central. La región nunca será “curada” de los males que la aquejan sin una re-evaluación basada en los hechos, honesta, y como consecuencia de ello una re-implementación de la política exterior estadounidense.

Los patrones de violencia y migración forzosa establecidos durante las guerras sucias del Siglo 20 han persistido incólumes. No es sorprendente que los menores de edad centroamericanos emprendan solos el viaje a los EEUU para escapar de la violencia, sobre todo si uno de sus padres o ambos ya residen allí.

Una creciente militarización bajo el pretexto de ser una guerra contra las drogas ha dado como resultado violaciones masivas de los derechos humanos,  incluyendo la apropiación ilegal de tierras, y la persecución de líderes indígenas y comunitarios, con demasiada frecuencia a manos de militares y policías financiados y entrenados bajo programas de seguridad estadounidenses (muchas veces en la Escuela de las Américas).

En Honduras en particular, la situación se ha ido deteriorando dramáticamente, y sin embargo los EEUU continúa financiando a las fuerzas de seguridad de Honduras, brutales y corruptas, cinco años después del golpe militar del 28 de junio de 2009, llevado a cabo por egresados de la Escuela de las Américas. ¿Por qué tiene que seguir sufriendo la población de Centromérica, y por qué tiene que seguir siendo utilizada como chivo expiatorio, cuando las causas profundas de la migración son creadas con demasiada frecuencia por las políticas exteriores de los EEUU tan perjudiciales?

Fuente: http://www.defensoresenlinea.com/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3223:que-eeuu-termine-de-financiar-la-guerra-contra-las-drogas-y-al-regimen-corrupto-de-honduras&catid=42:seg-y-jus&Itemid=159

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Drugs and violence in the Northern Triangle – Two sides of the same coin?

Pien  Metaal, Liza ten Velde | July 03, 2014

The upsurge in violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle is often named in one breath with the drugs market. Although apparently obvious describing an illegal trade that has met with exclusively repressive state responses, assumptions on cause and effect are frequently flawed or blurred. While 2014 may present new opportunities in the growing global debate on alternatives for the failed War on Drugs – for example, Guatemala’s initiative to discuss the outcome of an OAS-led study, which considers a series of options for drug policy reform 1, at a meeting in Guatemala in September 2014, and the ongoing preparations for a Special Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) on drugs in 2016 (insisted upon by several Latin American countries) – a serious policy debate on what role drug policies can play in stemming the violence in Central America is pending. Nowadays, national governments – and the US in particular – and the international community still apply old recipes, in spite of evidence showing that these interventions are predominantly counterproductive and trends suggest that criminal violence will continue to escalate.

 

The Northern Triangle trilogy

This article is part of a trilogy on the security threats facing the Northern Triangle, that includes Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. These countries are challenged by the highest levels of youth violence in the world, the highest homicide rates, powerful drug trading groups, weak institutions and political crime. The influx of migrants in the United States reflects the instability in Central-American countries, as people flee to escape violence and poor living conditions. Many national, regional and international strategies have been developed to combat the region’s biggest threats in an integrated way, but often they have been counterproductive.

This trilogy therefore address each of the problems separately – the drug trade, gang wars and corruption – in order to untangle their causal relationship. All three articles present an overview of the security problems and their causes, the different strategies that have been developed to counter the proliferation of drugs, gangs and corruption, and evaluate their success.

This article on the relationship between drugs and violence, by Pien Metaal and Liza ten Velde of the Transnational Institute, untangles the relationship between the drug industry and high homicide rates for more effective violence reducing policies. The article on illicit networks by Ivan Briscoe of the Clingendael Institute sheds light on the intertwined structures of patrimonial relationships and the development of the state after the civil wars in the Northern Triangle, creating a criminal complexion of governments. And the article on anti-gang policies and gang responses by Chris van der Borgh of the University of Utrecht and Wim Savenije of the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, set out the gang phenomenon and how it’s evolution has been shaped by ineffective policies.

Iron Fist Strategies

In 2012 Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina called on regional leaders to consider drug market regulation and proposed other alternative drug policies as a way out of the violence crisis. He received the support of a few other Latin-American leaders, which eventually produced an OAS-led analytical report 2, to be used as input for the high level OAS meeting in Guatemala next September. At the UN General Assembly last September Perez Molina explained his motives by saying: “Since the start of my government, we have clearly affirmed that the war on drugs has not yielded the desired results and that we cannot continue doing the same thing and expecting different results”. There are also other signs of changed discourse, of finding ways to apply harm reduction perspectives to the security issue, which have also been seen in recent UN policy documents. 3 This change was long overdue, as widespread Iron Fist strategies (aggressive and repressive state responses, also known as mano dura) have proven quite ineffective and even counterproductive as a policy response to the escalation of local criminal activities. Often directed at those operating on the drugs market and gangs (maras), these strategies have also led to alarming prison overpopulation.

The region – together with the Caribbean – has seen all kinds of clandestine traffic: drugs, people, weapons, animals and many other goods are shipped, driven, flown and even walked in and over the isthmus. Due to its geographical position between South and North America, Central America has a long history of illicit trade.  Particularly significant is that the neighbouring regions, the Andean region in the South and Mexico and the US in the North, either produce the bulk of the world’s cocaine, significant amounts of cannabis, and some heroin, or constitute a huge drug consumption market. It should be no surprise that decades of this trade and the unintended consequences of the strategies applied to counter it have contributed to a high concentration of its worse characteristics in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  These countries, each for specific reasons, are now facing the powerful presence and influence of several high profile drug traffic organizations (DTOs), like Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel,  in their territory, which they are simply unable to control.

Balloon effects

The 1990s saw shifts in the routes and strategies used to organize drug traffic to avoid detection and be effective in bridging drugs from South America to the huge North American and European markets. These changed traffic patterns were brought about by reshuffled and renewed groups dedicated to the business, and were in part a response to policies in other regions that had been more or less successful in reducing, dividing or expelling trafficking networks from their territory. These DTOs needed to find less effectively controlled territory and establish new local partnerships, eventually leading them to move into Central America. The Mexican military crackdown on DTOs in 2006, led by its President Felipe Calderón, is a perfect illustration of this ‘balloon effect’, previously experienced by Mexico itself after closing of the Caribbean routes in the early 1990s, and especially with the implementation of Plan Colombia at the end of the that decade.

In Mexico, as in Colombia in the 1980s and early 1990s, the cocaine economy gave a strong impetus to the country’s criminal networks and contributed to a wave of rival violence among criminal organizations aiming to strengthen and consolidate their control of key smuggling routes. Mexico’s criminal trafficking groups, with the possible exception of the Sinaloa cartel, may well be following the Colombian pattern of dispersion and fragmentation. Mexican DTOs – especially Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation – have definitely expanded their operational territory into Central America, where they control parts of Honduran and Guatemalan rural and border regions.

Drugs and violence: a causal relationship?

Both El Salvador and Guatemala have been experiencing higher murder rates than those recorded during the civil wars in these countries, which ended in the mid-1990s. It is, however, Honduras – despite having been spared the kind of bloody civil wars experienced by its neighbours – that currently occupies first place on worldwide homicide rate rankings (see the figure below.  For these three countries in particular, but also in the rest of the region, the high number of homicides and violent confrontations of the past decade are related to the settling of scores (ajustes de cuentas) and territorial disputes or rivalry between DTOs. But the high homicide rates are also fuelled by police and military interventions that destabilize DTOs and illicit markets, with increased competition and clashes as a result. Exactly to what extent violence in the Northern Triangle is specifically drug-related is thus unfortunately extremely difficult to determine.

It has been argued, for example, that in Honduras the political struggles following the 2009 coup have resulted in links between law enforcement, security forces, politicians and organized criminals to shift to such an extent that distinguishing between drug violence and politically motivated violence has become next to impossible. 4 Furthermore, the quality of homicide typology data – to the extent that they are available at all – is highly variable, making it difficult to determine the share of reported homicides that is related to organized crime or gangs. By extension, with DTOs being a particular type of criminal organization and gangs becoming increasingly involved in the drug trade, it is even more difficult to obtain reliable statistics on the extent to which homicides in the Northern Triangle are related to drug trafficking.

On a related note, the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and other analyses have argued that drug-related lethal violence is prompted first and foremost by changes in drug markets, rather than by trafficking levels per se, as with the above mentioned ajustes de cuentas. It seems that at least part of the drug-related homicides in Central America can be attributed to such threats to the status quo, either in the form of growing efforts by law enforcement agencies to counter drugs, or changes in the quantity of drugs being trafficked through the region, which causes criminal organizations to vehemently fight for control of territory and markets. 5

These clashes among DTOs, and between DTOs and law enforcement agencies, are thus to a large extent the cause of the region’s high homicide rates, a fact that is all too often overlooked by media outlets eager to portray violent gang members operating under the influence of drugs as the most important ‘sources’ of violence. Although research shows drug consumption patterns are higher amongst people that commit crimes, and drug use rates are also higher within the prison population, it does not support the thesis that drug consumers commit more violent crimes.

A remarkable development of relevance in the debate on the relationship between drugs and violence in the Northern Triangle is the diversification of DTO activities, which has increased notably over the last few years. 6 These organizations have found activities such as extortion, human smuggling and trafficking, kidnapping and weapons smuggling to be very profitable, in some cases causing a partial shift away from drug trafficking. Eliminating the illegal drug trade, by regulating the market, or allowing DTOs to traffic drugs through Central America via ‘a corridor’ to the US, one of the original proposals by Pérez Molina, could definitely contribute, but does not offer the panacea the region is looking for in its attempts to counter its high levels of violence.  This diversification of DTO activities is an additional argument that should motivate policy-makers to change the prevalent habit of equating – often without question – drug trafficking to high violence rates, and look at underlying historical and socioeconomic variables instead.

The need for attention to socioeconomic causes of involvement with organized crime is further supported by the fact that the people mainly involved in the illicit drug economy – the human beings behind the homicide figures – are predominantly young and male. Most have a marginal educational background and come from the lowest income groups. They constitute an apparently endless army to be tapped from in this continued cat and mouse game between law enforcement and DTOs. Continued repatriation of gang members from the US to the countries of the Northern Triangle assures that the ranks keep growing.

Assistance and prevailing strategies

Unsurprisingly, the United States plays an important role in the security problems troubling the Northern Triangle, currently expressed in the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). Originating from the Mérida Initiative – which also included Mexico and the Caribbean – CARSI is designed to build upon existing strategies and programmes, spending US$ 496 million (from 2008 to 2013) on Central America alone. 7 All CA countries have been added to the US administrations’ list of major drug transporters or producers, and narcotics interdiction and law enforcement take the lion’s share of CARSI aid, emphasizing the provision of technical support, equipment and training to local police drug squads and the creation of often military style Special Forces.

Not to be overlooked in this regard is the rather alarming track record of the region’s security and police forces. 8 The involvement of these forces in human rights abuses, corruption and other illegal activities and their cooperation with organized crime is widely documented. Coupled with the largely unsuccessful plans for reform of law enforcement and vetting procedures, we might conclude that the current focus providing support for the military and police is quite risky, if not outright detrimental to the security situation of Central America. And as said above, one of the most important lessons to be drawn from recent experiences in the Americas is that Iron Fist approaches with an emphasis on arrests and drug interdictions often lead to substantial spikes in violence as the drug trade is disrupted, alliances shift and territorial control is disputed. Some initial discussion is emerging on alternative approaches, proposing shifts in focus for law enforcement and drugs markets. 9

All in all, we can thus see a continuation of the Northern Triangle governments’ prevailing mano dura strategies, while these have proved to be remarkably ineffective in stemming the proliferation of violence in the region. Even though Mexico’s militarization of its battle against crime has been widely criticized for its contribution to human rights abuses and violence, it is precisely this strategy which is now being applied and internationally supported in the Northern Triangle. In Guatemala, for example, in spite of calling for alternative approaches in the war on drugs, the president has simultaneously broadened military involvement in anti-crime operations while supporting aggressive approaches to drug trafficking. 10 

Redirecting violence reduction strategies

Undoubtedly, the drug market plays a critical role in the criminal violence in the Northern Triangle. But it should be clear that this role is all too often grossly overestimated, supported by stereotypes and superficial assumptions about causal chains. Prevailing drug trafficking control measures often exacerbate violence levels and, though recognized as such, they are still widely applied. An open debate on alternative approaches to drug trafficking and violence needs to continue, considering and discussing harm reduction strategies on law enforcement. Examples to reduce criminal violence can be found in Uruguay, which recently introduced cannabis regulations. In Jamaica, Belize and Puerto Rico cannabis is increasingly being decriminalized. In Nicaragua, the introduction of community policing has reduced violence within communities. And in El Salvador, the government is encouraging negotiations between market actors. It is of the utmost importance that this rhetoric is soon supported by concrete changes in drug policies, legislation and practice, promoted by a shift in the focus of international aid, so as to redirect the Northern Triangle’s violence reduction strategies.

Co-readers

Juan Tokatlian, director of the department of political science and international studies at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires.

And Mabel Gonzalez Bustelo, journalist, researcher and advisor on international security.

Photo credit main picture: Nick Leonard – Cocaine ‘Factory’ in Colombia

Footnotes

  • 1. The following proposals from Central America were tabled at a regional summit in April 2012:  Firstly, to intensify interdiction efforts while introducing a funding mechanism through which the value of seized drug shipments would be reimbursed by the consuming end destination country. The US, for example, would pay 50% of the US market price for any kilogram of cocaine intercepted in Guatemala, in compensation for the high social costs and law enforcement expenditure of drug control efforts in transit countries. Secondly, the establishment of a Central American Penal Court for drug trafficking offences with regional jurisdiction and its own prison system, to relieve the national criminal justice systems from the high burden of prosecution and incarceration for drug law offences. Thirdly, the ‘depenalization’ of the transit of drugs by the establishment of a corridor through which cocaine could flow unhindered from South to North America without destabilizing the whole region in between. And finally, the creation of a legal regulatory framework covering production, trade and consumption of drugs, without providing further details about how such a regulated market would work or the possibility of varying mechanisms for different drugs. For an overview of current debates in Latin America on alternatives for current policies see http://www.tni.org/article/latin-america-debates-alternatives-current-drug-policy.
  • 2. Organization of American States, Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas, and Scenarios for the Drug Problem in the Americas 2013-2025, both May 17, 2013.
  • 3. UN Regional Human Development Report 2013-2014: Citizen Security with a Human Face: Proposals for Latin America. In one of its recommendations it refers to “Tackling drug use as a public health problem through prevention, treatment, harm reduction and rehabilitation programmes”.  P32 of the executive summery.
  • 4. Bull, B. (2011). In the shadows of globalization: drug violence in Mexico and Central America, NOREFhttp://www.peacebuilding.no/Regions/Latin-America-and-the-Caribbean/Latin-America-and-global-trends2/Publications/In-the-shadows-of-globalisation-drug-violence-in-Mexico-and-Central-America
  • 5. UNODC (2011). Global Study on Homicide: Trends, Contexts, Data, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
  • 6. Garzón, J.C., Olinger, M., Rico, D.M. & Santamaría, G. (2013). The Criminal Diaspora: The Spread of Transnational -Organized Crime and How to Contain its Expansion, Wilson Center Latin American Program.
  • 7. US Department of State: Central America Regional Security Initiative http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rt/carsi/
  • 8. Meyer, P.J. & Ribando Seelke, C. (2012). World Report 2012: Events of 2011, Human Rights Watch.
  • 9. Garzon Vergara, J. (2014). Local Markets for Illegal Drugs: Impacts, Trends, and New Approaches, Wilson Center. http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/local_markets

    Siglo21 (2012). Inauguran dos bases militares en Día del Ejército, 30 June 2012. http://www.s21.com.gt/node/246811

    Bird, A. (2012). Return of the death squads, Red Pepper, June/July 2012, Issue 184.

    Zinecker, H. (2012). Más muertos que en la guerra civil, El enigma de la violencia en Centroamérica.

    Costa, G. (2012). Citizen Security in Latin America. Inter-American Dialogue Latin America Working Group, February 2012.

  • 10. Latin American Newsletters (2012). Pérez Molina shifts gear on  drugs. Latin American Security & Strategic Review, June 2012.

Fuente: http://www.thebrokeronline.eu/Articles/Drugs-and-violence-in-the-Northern-Triangle?utm_source=The+Broker&utm_campaign=b6ab398d42-2014_07July_Monthly&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ce1057f088-b6ab398d42-236511853

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Honduran indigenous groups caught in crosshairs of global drug trade

Traditional tribal lands, known for their biodiversity, are being cleared to serve the cocaine trade

Honduras drugs
A soldier stands guard as 420 kilos of cocaine seized in La Mosquitia in Honduras are incinerated by the organized crime public prosecutor’s office, in Tegucigalpa, in October 2013.
Orlando Sierra / AFP / Getty Images

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — When the outsiders came offering food and cash for manual work, the village leader in La Mosquitia, a remote corner of northeastern Honduras at first thought his community was being asked to clear rain forest for cattle ranching.

But when the men returned, he said, they cut down trees and blasted out roots to clear two clandestine strips for drug flights.

“They used axes, chainsaws and earth compactors to flatten the land,” said the leader, one of four elders who agreed to speak out for the first time, on the condition of strict anonymity. “Then they brought in sand to surface the strips, which were big enough for aircraft with one or two engines to land.”

Now a dozen years later, leaders tallied at least 39 operational airstrips that have transformed their traditional tribal lands into a global hub for the cocaine trade, accelerated deforestation in an area of exceptional biodiversity and snared indigenous people in the war on drugs.

The area, studded with scores of clandestine airstrips and now dotted with abandoned and burned-out aircraft, contains the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dubbed the Amazon of Central America. It is home to threatened or rare species, including giant anteaters, jaguars, ocelots and manatees as well as flocks of increasingly scarce macaws.

The region’s largest wilderness area is also home to the Miskito, Pech and Tawahka peoples, who live by farming, fishing and hunting sustainably on ancestral lands flanking sinuous jungle rivers and coastal lagoons. The four leaders who spoke to Al Jazeera America represent two of the most affected communities, and all four have received death threats.

The dangers faced by indigenous groups were highlighted last month in a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed by more than 100 members of the House of Representatives urging him to pressure the Honduran government to “protect the fundamental rights of its citizens,” investigate and prosecute abuses and “restore the rule of law.” Among particularly vulnerable groups, it singled out indigenous and campesino activists who, it said, were being “targeted and killed.”

Central America has long been a corridor for cocaine headed to U.S. markets. Trafficking operations erupted there after Mexico began to crack down on cartels in 2006. The ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya three years later further loosened already feeble state control in La Mosquitia and unleashed an influx of drug flights using scores of hastily cleared landing strips, some of them receiving as many as two to three flights a weeks, indigenous leaders said.

“The whole area was practically abandoned. There was no military presence, and the people trafficking in the coastal area decided to make landing strips,” another leader said. “The effect for us has been catastrophic.”

We can’t go and cut down a tree to make a canoe because there is now a wire fence. We can’t go to places to collect our natural medicines because they appear out of nowhere with guns and demand to know where you are going.

Honduran indigenous leader

‘Shock troops’

The picture painted by the Honduran government is even bleaker. Former Deputy Defense Minister Carlos Funez said last year that the armed forces had identified some 200 clandestine landing strips in the north of the country and that troops destroyed about 70 of them.

Some 90 percent of the strips are operated by Los Cachiros, a brutal Honduran trafficking organization that coordinates the movement of drugs to and from Honduras for Colombian and Mexican drug-trafficking organizations, including Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The air-trafficking boom has flooded the region with heavily armed criminals and millions of dollars in illicit cash, accelerating a process of deforestation by affiliated ranchers, palm oil barons and loggers eager to exploit lands that have been under the de facto protection of indigenous peoples for centuries, academics said.

“The traffickers are the shock troops of capitalism rendering these spaces available for external capital,” said Kendra McSweeney, a geographer at Ohio State University who co-authored a report on drug policy and narco-deforestation published in Science magazine earlier this year. “They have so much money to hand, they can pay people unimaginable sums to clear forests.”

The study found that the pace of deforestation in eastern Honduras increased more than fivefold in the five years prior to 2011, when more than 70 square miles of forest were cleared.

“The people doing the dirty work are former small-time timber traffickers or people selling scarlet macaws. They were frontiers people who all of a sudden got access to a lot of money and weapons,” McSweeney said.

The tribal people who live along the area’s forested rivers and lagoons farm cassava, rice and bananas and hunt game such as deer and pigs. They are increasingly finding their access to traditional lands denied and their ancient way of life disrupted.

“We can’t go and cut down a tree to make a canoe because there is now a wire fence. We can’t go to places to collect our natural medicines because they appear out of nowhere with guns and demand to know where you are going,” another traditional leader said, warning of growing food insecurity.

Young people are increasingly turning their backs on tradition, lured by the cash, drugs, weapons and consumer lifestyle of the traffickers.

“What is this teaching our children?” a leader asked. “They are not interested in education anymore but in joining in this illicit activity.”

Collateral damage

la mosquitia honduras
A river in La Mosquitia region in 2012.
Rodrigo Abd / AP

In 2011, UNESCO placed the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve on the World Heritage in Danger list because of illegal logging, fishing and land occupation there and noted the state’s reduced capacity to manage the site because of “the deterioration of law and to the presence of drug traffickers.”

The recent influx of traffickers is bringing unprecedented violence to a once relatively safe corner of Honduras — currently the most violent country on earth, with a homicide rate nearly 20 times the United States’.

According to figures compiled by the National Autonomous University of Honduras, the murder rate tripled last year in La Mosquitia, at a time when the overall street-gang and drug-fueled homicide rate in Honduras dipped.

Most of the dead have been traffickers killed in clashes with rival bands over territory and drugs. Among them were up to 17 gunmen killed in a gun battle among Honduran, Nicaraguan and Mexican traffickers in the coastal village of Belén in August, reportedly over a disputed 1,500-pound shipment of cocaine.

Indigenous people are getting cut down in the crossfire. Two years ago, Honduran police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents on a counternarcotics operation along the Río Patuca fired from a helicopter on an unarmed Moskito group in a motorized canoe, killing a 21-year-old man, a 14-year-old boy and two women, one of whom was six months pregnant. Another four people were wounded by gunfire.

None of the dead or injured were traffickers. A subsequent Center for Economic Policy and Research and Rights Action report on the killings, “Collateral Damage of a Drug War,” flagged concerns that the U.S. government was “promoting increasingly aggressive military-style tactics” in regional drug interdiction efforts, with “few if any attendant accountability mechanisms.”

In another outbreak of violence last year, in Ahuasbila, a Moskito village on the border with Nicaragua, at least 30 armed traffickers dressed in police uniforms took over the community and shot dead five men in a bitter turf battle, according to news reports.

Pressured by violence, as many as five indigenous communities have been either totally or partly abandoned in La Mosquitia, including Ahuasbila and neighboring Rus Rus, leaders said.

The 2,000-strong Tawahka community, meanwhile, will decide this month whether to move women, children and the elderly to relative safety in neighboring Nicaragua.

“This drug war has nothing to do with us,” one of the leaders said. “It’s wrong that we, as indigenous people, are being made to pay the price.”

Fuente: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/6/23/honduran-indigenousgroupsdrugwar.html

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Se refinará ayuda antidrogas

Martes 28 de enero de 2014

09:52 pm  – Redacción 

Tras la solicitud de más apoyo contra el narcotráfico del nuevo presidente, la embajadora Kubiske afirma que se refinará la ayuda que se está brindando al país en dicha materia.

El presidente de la República, Juan Orlando Hernández.

El presidente de la República, Juan Orlando Hernández. (Carmen Godoy)

Tegucigalpa,

Honduras

Estados Unidos comparte la perspectiva del nuevo gobierno de Honduras sobre el criterio de la responsabilidad compartida que debe existir para hacerle frente al problema del tráfico de drogas.

En esos términos reaccionó ayer la embajadora norteamericana acreditada en Tegucigalpa, Lisa Kubiske, luego de las palabras del presidente Juan Orlando Hernández, quien en su discurso de toma de posesión demandó mayor apoyo de las autoridades estadounidenses.

Hernández dijo el lunes en su mensaje de toma de posesión que “ha llegado la hora que todos los países productores, consumidores y de tránsito aceptemos que la solución de este problema pasa por obtener resultados efectivos derivados del principio de responsabilidad común-compartida pero diferenciada de los gobiernos”.

Seguidamente anunció el comienzo de una ofensiva diplomática para obtener resultados e invitó al gobierno del presidente Barack Obama a “que reconozcan este principio de responsabilidad común-compartida para trabajar en conjunto”.

Consultada sobre este particular, la representante diplomática dijo ayer que se refinará y reorientará la ayuda estadounidense a Honduras para la lucha contra el narcotráfico.

“Compartimos esa perspectiva de que haya responsabilidad compartida, que hay problemas en ambos lados y estamos trabajando juntos, vamos a refinar un poco o reorientar un poco quizás el tipo de ayuda que damos a base de conversaciones que vamos a entrar con el gobierno ahora”, dijo Kubiske.

La embajadora reaccionó sobre el particular luego de participar en la firma de la Alianza para el Corredor Seco realizada la mañana de ayer en la aldea Pitahaya, en el municipio de San Antonio del Norte, La Paz.

“Vamos a compartir con él (Juan Orlando Hernández) la información sobre lo que estamos haciendo y vamos a conversar sobre la dirección futura de nuestra colaboración conjunta, lo estamos haciendo ya con mucha ayuda”, subrayó.

“Lo importante no es tanto pensar primero en presupuesto, es pensar en las cosas que se pueden hacer para tener una respuesta efectiva y en eso hemos estado dedicados, continuamos siendo dedicados a colaboración no solo entre Honduras y Estados Unidos, pero con otros países también para enfrentar este problema juntos, cada uno haciendo lo que puede”, apuntó.

Apoyo

Consultado sobre el tema, el presidente Hernández manifestó ayer que aprovecharía su participación en la cumbre de la Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y del Caribe (Celac) para pedir que en bloque se demande un compromiso “fuerte y contundente” a los Estados Unidos.

“Llevamos la idea de pedirle a América Latina que demandemos de Estados Unidos un compromiso fuerte y contundente para que nos ayuden en esta lucha contra el tema del narcotráfico porque nos ha generado ya demasiado daño”.

“Yo repito lo que dije y se lo acabo de mencionar a la embajadora (Lisa Kubiske), es un tema para nosotros de vida o muerte, para muchos funcionarios en Estados Unidos es nada más un tema de salud de quienes consumen esta droga pero nosotros tenemos que demandar de ellos un compromiso fuerte y efectivo”, dijo el mandatario en la aldea Pitahaya.

Fuente: http://www.elheraldo.hn/Secciones-Principales/Al-Frente/Se-refinara-ayuda-antidrogas

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A Mission Gone Wrong – Why are we still fighting the drug war?

by January 6, 2014

In the drug war, Honduras is referred to as “downrange”; drug traffickers are “the enemy”; the Mosquito Coast is a “battlespace.”

In the drug war, Honduras is referred to as “downrange”; drug traffickers are “the enemy”; the Mosquito Coast is a “battlespace.” Illustration by Shout.

One night in May of 2012, a Honduran police inspector received a phone call from an agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, a man he knew as Tony. Tony told him to get his men ready. They were about to intercept a large cocaine shipment, one of many such missions that U.S. and Honduran forces collaborate on each year. At 8 P.M., four helicopters flew east from a base near the city of La Ceiba to a smaller refuelling base deep in the wet lowlands of La Moskitia, on the Honduran side of the Mosquito Coast. Along with the inspector, the helicopters carried ten D.E.A. agents, eighteen other members of the Honduran security forces, and eight Guatemalan pilots. Around 11 P.M., they lifted off again. Their target was a small plane heading for a Honduran village called Ahuas.

The U.S. military monitors what it can of the hundreds of tons of cocaine that enter the U.S. by plane, boat, automobile, submarine, tunnel, backpack, and catapult. Its maps show red lines veining South America and North America with such tangled complexity that they are known as “spaghetti slides.” Most of the air routes, however, follow a predictable path. They begin in Venezuela and head north, avoiding Colombian airspace, where authorities can shoot down suspicious aircraft. Then they turn west, toward La Moskitia.

Around 1 A.M., the plane touched down in a field near Ahuas, where a large receiving party had gathered. Some, carrying rifles, secured the perimeter. Others brought the plane’s cargo to a nearby truck.

A surveillance plane from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security relayed news of the landing to the D.E.A. agents aboard the helicopters. Their Honduran colleagues did not know exactly where they were going. Though the D.E.A. agents had vetted the Hondurans with polygraph tests and background checks, they were careful about sharing information, lest word of the mission get back to the cartels. Officially, the Hondurans were running the operation, with the D.E.A. agents present as “advisers.” But the D.E.A. agents had microphones and earpieces built into their helmets; the Hondurans had strips of reflective tape to help the agents find them if they got lost. (A D.E.A. agent told me that the Hondurans could have issued commands with arm squeezes and hand signals.)

From the helicopters’ gun bays, the Hondurans could see the truck below, driving toward a river landing. Michael Braun, a former D.E.A. chief of operations, compared this kind of moment to “a state trooper walking up on a midnight traffic stop on a lonely stretch of highway.” The uncertainty would have been especially great for the Honduran members of the force. In addition to the lack of timely information, they complained about inferior night-vision equipment. “If you use it to see something that’s near, it doesn’t work very well,” the Honduran inspector said later, during an interview with Honduran investigators. “The goggles that the Americans use are better.”

As the helicopters approached the riverbank, a group of men quickly transferred the cargo from the truck to a motorized canoe. One pushed the canoe out into the river, where it began to drift downstream. The men fled, just before six members of the anti-drug team reached the ground: the inspector, three Hondurans, and two D.E.A. agents.

At around 2 A.M., a helicopter swooped low and used the wind from its blades to push the canoe toward the bank. A D.E.A. agent, the Honduran inspector, and another Honduran policeman climbed in. They found waterproof bundles containing more than four hundred kilos of cocaine. The D.E.A. agent managed to start the canoe’s motor, but moments later it stalled. The agent struggled with the engine while the Hondurans scanned the area for threats. The boat drifted on the moonlit water, a high bank on one side and forest on the other. The men were exposed, but they did not want to abandon the drugs.

“I observed with my night goggles that something was approaching,” the Honduran policeman said later. It was another boat. He thought it might be his team members. A man stood at the bow with his shirt unbuttoned. There were shouts, then gunshots—rifle fire mixed with a machine-gun burst from one of the helicopters. “I saw sparks from the boat coming to us,” the policeman said. “Then I knew nothing.”

The Americans who touched down in Honduras that night were part of a unit called a Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team. Braun, who oversaw the creation of the FAST program, in 2004, told me that Special Operations Command had asked the D.E.A. for help building criminal cases against Afghan drug traffickers with ties to the Taliban. “They were running into heroin refineries and large caches of drugs,” Braun said. “They needed seasoned agents with the criminal investigator’s mind-set.”

Part special-forces manhunters, part detectives, FAST operators were trained to kick down doors, work informants, and collect evidence. In 2009, a FAST squad assisted in the arrest of Haji Bagcho, a prominent Afghan drug lord. In one of Bagcho’s compounds, they found a ledger recording more than two hundred and fifty million dollars in heroin transactions. Bagcho is now serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison. That year, the D.E.A. asked Congress to fund two additional FAST squads, for the Western Hemisphere. Braun said that “ungoverned spaces,” described as “possible terrorist havens” by the 9/11 Commission Report, deserved special attention, likening these regions to the “Star Wars” cantina scene. Terrorists and narco-traffickers “are frequenting the same shady bars, the same seedy hotels and the same sweaty brothels,” he told a congressional subcommittee, in 2012. “They are most assuredly talking business and sharing lessons learned.”

The Honduras mission was part of a larger program called Operation Anvil. Honduras was not a war zone, so FAST worked under the State Department, using Huey helicopters instead of swifter Black Hawks. In Honduras, FAST could not call in U.S. military forces to fight alongside it, as in Afghanistan. But in some ways Anvil was familiar, the latest in a long line of overseas counter-narcotics operations with names like Blast Furnace, Ghost Zone, Snowcap, and Zorro. In addition to using helicopters to spirit agents to remote locations and seize drugs in transit, the U.S. has tried paying coca farmers to switch crops, spraying herbicides out of helicopters, raiding jungle laboratories, stopping and searching small fishing boats, forcing down aircraft, tapping phones, hiring informants, and extraditing drug lords. Anvil, like many of its predecessors, combined the legal framework of a police action with the hardware and the rhetoric of war. Honduras is often referred to as “downrange”; drug traffickers are “the enemy”; the Mosquito Coast is a “battlespace.” In a broad sense, FAST was nothing new. What is remarkable is how many times the U.S. has tried such militarized counter-narcotics programs and how long it has been apparent how little they amount to.

In 1971, in a message to Congress, President Richard Nixon called drug abuse “a national emergency.” “We have faced great difficulties again and again,” he said. “Wars and depressions and divisions among our people.” If Congress furnished “the authority and the funds to match our moral resources,” the question was “not whether we will conquer drug abuse, but how soon.” Two years later, with a budget of less than seventy-five million dollars, he created the Drug Enforcement Administration, to wage an “all-out global war on the drug menace.”

In the early days of the drug war, cocaine was seen as less a threat to national security and more a “jet-setter and rocker drug,” according to Mathea Falco, who ran the State Department’s anti-drug program under President Jimmy Carter. Nixon’s main priorities were heroin, a problem aggravated by returning Vietnam veterans, and marijuana. Under Nixon, the U.S. succeeded in persuading Turkey’s government first to outlaw poppy farming and then to enforce a regimen of licensing and strict regulation. But heroin production in Southeast Asia and Mexico accelerated. Although the Mexican government was initially slow to accept interference with its domestic affairs, in 1976 it gave the U.S. broad authority to assist with Operation Condor, an ambitious eradication program. Thousands of Mexican soldiers were sent into poppy- and marijuana-growing areas, along with the federal police force and D.E.A. agents. Drug-producing fields were mapped with imagery from U.S. surveillance planes and satellites and then destroyed by flyover sprayings of chemical defoliants. Ground forces arrived by helicopter to secure the area, destroy any surviving plants, and pacify the farmers, many of whom left their barren fields for the city. In Mexico, the program was known as La Campaña Permanente.

After three years, Condor looked like a success. In the U.S., heroin overdoses and heroin purity fell, and prices nearly doubled. But, in the early eighties, poppy farmers from Iran to Burma and Afghanistan picked up the slack. The tendency of a crackdown in one area to stimulate production in another is now known as the “balloon effect.”

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan framed drugs as a national-security threat, to be confronted with Churchillian determination. “We’re running up a battle flag,” he said. “We can fight the drug problem, and we can win.” But the Reagan-era drug war did not get fully under way until 1985, the beginning of the crack epidemic and the Iran-Contra affair, when he appointed Edwin Meese Attorney General. Meese chaired quarterly meetings of a powerful drug-policy board, which included eleven other Cabinet members and the director of the C.I.A. In 1986, Reagan signed a law giving the Pentagon a permanent role in the drug war; Meese’s board asked for airplanes, ships, helicopters, and radar. Two years later, Meese donned a D.E.A. cap and a khaki suit for a weeklong, five-country tour of operations in Latin America. (At a D.E.A. training camp in Bolivia, he used a gasoline-soaked pole to set fire to two tons of cocaine paste.)

In 1988, Reagan signed his second Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which made it official U.S. policy “to create a Drug-Free America by 1995.” The same year, a RAND Corporation study concluded that interdiction—seizing drugs in transit—was unlikely ever to make much difference in U.S. cocaine consumption. It cited six previous studies that had reached the same conclusion. Later that year, Admiral Carlisle A. H. Trost, the highest-ranking officer in the Navy, said, “The economic incentives are so potent and the network of communications from farm to market via thousands of boats and small planes is so extensive. . . . The only way we are going to stop this immense flow of illegal narcotics into this country is to shut off the demand for it.”

The next year, President George H. W. Bush appointed William Bennett the director of the newly created Office of National Drug Control Policy. Bennett, who was known as the “drug czar,” coördinated anti-drug activities and published, each year, a book-length National Drug Control Strategy. Bennett initially called drugs “a crisis of national character” and asserted that casual drug users were more dangerous than hard-core addicts. They were “willing and able to proselytize,” which made them “highly contagious.”

Congress required Bennett to set quantifiable goals. He promised a ten-per-cent reduction in the population of illicit drug users by 1991, and a fifty-per-cent reduction by 1999. His targets were naïve at best. Since 1990, the number of users has almost doubled. Between 1990 and 2007, the street prices of cocaine and heroin, which Bennett sought to drive up in order to price out new users, declined by as much as eighty per cent, according to one recent study. Falling drug prices weren’t due to a lack of enforcement. During the same period, the D.E.A.’s budget tripled.

In 1989, Congress approved $2.2 billion for Bush’s five-year Andean Strategy, to pursue coca eradication with foreign militaries, who sought training and arms to assist with their own struggles against the leftist FARC and right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia and the Shining Path in Peru. The insurgents drew their strength from the remote mountainous areas that are hospitable to growing coca. U.S. aid paid for armaments, training, and a few alternative crop schemes, but these had little effect on drug cultivation. When the D.E.A. established a remote outpost, coca growers moved beyond the range of its helicopters.

During the third year of the Andean Strategy, counter-drug forces seized less than two per cent of Peru’s cocaine base. “The Peruvian-American anti-drug policy has failed,” Alberto Fujimori, the country’s President, told the Washington Post, in 1993. In Colombia, D.E.A. assistance helped bring about the killing of Pablo Escobar and the dismantling of the Cali and Medellín cartels, but new traffickers emerged to take their place. The rise of each subsequent organization seemed to occur with greater speed and violence than the one before. The guerrillas took over a large share of the Colombian drug trade. By the late nineties, the area under coca cultivation had quadrupled.

In 1997, Bill Clinton’s second drug czar, General Barry McCaffrey, attempted to retire the language of a “war on drugs.” “If you want to fight a war on drugs, sit down at your own kitchen table and talk to your own children,” he said. Nevertheless, Clinton allocated roughly two-thirds of the federal anti-drug budget to interdiction and law enforcement. During his final year in office, he approved Plan Colombia, which poured another round of aid into Colombian military and intelligence efforts. Planes accompanied by U.S.-funded helicopters sprayed chemicals over hundreds of thousands of hectares. Meanwhile, the Colombian military carried out a vicious counter-insurgency campaign against the FARC. Sometimes soldiers inflated body counts by dressing the bodies of dead civilians in camouflage. More than three thousand innocent people died, according to human-rights groups. Displaced coca farmers razed as much as a million hectares of native forest. After six years and nearly five billion dollars in U.S. assistance, the Colombian government had weakened the guerrillas and the paramilitaries. The country’s murder rate fell sharply. Coca cultivation rose for a few years and then declined as production shifted back toward Peru. Today, Colombia is the U.S.’s staunchest ally in South America.

The drug war has split in two, and there are increasing differences in how it is fought. In August, the Department of Justice advised federal prosecutors that while possessing a small amount of marijuana remains a federal crime, it is not an “enforcement priority.” A majority of U.S. citizens support decriminalizing the possession of marijuana, and Colorado and Washington have passed ballot measures legalizing it. “People see a war as a war on them,” Gil Kerlikowske, the current drug czar, told the Wall Street Journal, in 2009. “We’re not at war with people in this country.” The Obama Administration has managed to briefly lift a ban on the use of federal funds for needle-exchange programs and reduced sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine. Recently, the President commuted the sentences of eight inmates who had been convicted of crack-cocaine offenses, perhaps signalling a new approach; more than three hundred and twenty thousand people remain incarcerated on drug charges.

Overseas, however, the U.S. approach to drugs still looks a lot like war. The D.E.A., assisted by the U.S. military, acts as an international police force, coördinating with foreign militaries through a network of offshore bases. Of the twenty-five billion dollars that the federal government spent fighting drugs last year, forty per cent went to treatment and prevention programs. The rest went to “supply reduction.” In Mexico, the $1.9 billion Mérida Initiative has relied on an enforcement-driven strategy somewhat similar to Plan Colombia’s. In 2006, President Felipe Calderón decided to deploy the Mexican military to fight drug cartels; since then, more than seventy thousand people have been killed in drug-related violence. Another twenty-six thousand people were reported missing. At least ninety per cent of U.S.-bound cocaine continues to move through the country. In Washington, one of Mérida’s most prominent faces is Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield, formerly Ambassador to Colombia and Venezuela, who was also instrumental in organizing Operation Anvil. In June, Brownfield told a Senate subcommittee that the criteria for judging Mérida’s success should shift from “inputs” (aircraft, equipment, and training) to “outputs” (homicide rate, conviction rate, interdictions). “If the endgame is perfection, we’ll never get there,” Brownfield said. “At least, not in this world.”

In Congress, some are losing patience. “There is great fatigue surrounding our drug programs in the Western Hemisphere,” a staff member told me. “We don’t have good ideas. We don’t have good answers. We don’t have good anything. But we also know that doing nothing is a problem. So the whole thing is on autopilot. When you’re in the machine, it’s very difficult to say anything other than ‘Keep shooting. Keep decapitating the cartels.’ ”

“The war on drugs has simply not worked,” George P. Shultz, who served as Secretary of State under Reagan, told me. “It hasn’t kept drugs out of this country.” In 2011, Shultz, along with a committee of former heads of state, businessmen, and retired U.S. officials, called for an overhaul of U.S. drug-enforcement policy. The effects of interdiction programs like Anvil, they wrote, “are negated almost instantly,” wasting money that would be better spent on treatment and harm reduction. I asked Shultz why ineffectual policies have persisted. “We haven’t felt the full effects of it ourselves,” he said. “It took us twelve years to learn that Prohibition wasn’t working. There was Al Capone, there was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. The violence was here. Now we have outsourced the violence, in effect, to Mexico and Guatemala and Honduras.”

The origin of the name of the Miskitu people is unclear. The number of theories about it seems roughly equal to the number of note-taking visitors. Some natives say that Miskitu comes from Miskut, a warrior who led their indigenous ancestors on the coast, where they mixed with pirates and shipwrecked slaves. Others say it refers to an old phrase meaning “they who cannot be dislodged.” Still others say that the Miskitu got their name from “musket.” The word and the gun arrived in the seventeenth century, carried by European traders to what is now Honduras and Nicaragua. For centuries, the Miskitu maintained control of their territory, assisted by an alliance with England. They used their muskets against Spanish colonists and chased runaway slaves in Jamaica, at the governor’s behest. The British rewarded them with a treaty of protection and recognized a line of Miskitu kings. The king’s “suit and cap, gifts of the English, glowed like hot coals,” one Miskitu elder told an anthropologist. But, by the nineteenth century, the idea of an independent Miskitu nation struck the United States as preposterous. In 1856, the U.S. Secretary of State wrote, “The President himself cannot admit as true . . . that the Mosquito Indians are a state or a Government any more than a band of Maroons in the island of Jamaica are a state or Government.”

Today, there are as many as two hundred thousand Miskitu living in La Moskitia, a nearly five-hundred-mile stretch of Caribbean coastline. The only steady employment is lobster-diving. In season, experienced divers can earn fifty dollars a day, descending a hundred feet or more to retrieve lobster from the ocean floor with hooks made of rebar and wire. For years, many lobstermen worked a pulmón, by lung. In almost every village, there are former lobster divers with their legs frozen in place, pulling themselves along on hand-cranked tricycles. “There’s nothing special that makes Miskitu suited for this work,” one diver told me. “We are the ones who are willing, that’s all.”

There are no paved roads connecting La Moskitia to the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, and the Miskitu maintain their claim to independence. The Miskitu people “have not relinquished their sovereignty . . . by defeat, treaty or vote,” Bernard Nietschmann, the region’s foremost scholar, wrote, in “The Unknown War.” Nietschmann advised the Miskitu in negotiations toward the end of the Contra war, after the C.I.A. used at least a thousand Miskitu in a guerrilla campaign against the leftist government of Nicaragua.

In the spring of last year, Clara Wood, a fifty-year-old Miskitu woman, decided to return to Ahuas, the village where she was born. For the past seven years, she had lived in Roatán, a resort island off the north coast of Honduras, in a small apartment that she shared with her husband and three of her children; a cousin, Vera González, her husband, and their two daughters; and one other couple. Clara and Vera handled the housework, their children attended public school, and the men brought in money. “Any job they can get, they do it,” Clara said. “If you don’t have money, you don’t eat.”

Clara had not seen her mother for about a year. She missed the fine wooden house that her husband had built for her, near the end of a dirt road, raised high on stilts to let the breeze in. On clear nights, she slept in a hammock on her front porch. In Ahuas, she told me, people “don’t steal and kill like Tegucigalpa and other places. The way you see them is the way they are.”

The cousins decided that they would travel to Ahuas after the school year. Their husbands would join them later. On May 9th, they and three of their children, with their household possessions, boarded the Captain Gabo, a lobster boat bound for the Honduran mainland.

The Captain Gabo’s overnight trip passed through coastal waters that cocaine-laden speedboats have used since the nineties, when the U.S. pushed trafficking routes out of the Caribbean’s deeper waters. It was around this time that fishermen found the first twenty-four-kilo fardos of cocaine, jettisoned during high-speed chases, washed up on the shore. Some women were said to have mistaken the substance for flour at first and used it to make tortillas, but it soon came to be known as “white lobster.” Some lobster divers began smoking crack to steel themselves against the cold depths. They paid for the cocaine with lobsters, which were carried back to the coast of Colombia and sold at seaside restaurants. In 1999, fishermen were selling found cocaine for three hundred dollars per kilo. Today, the price is roughly twenty times as high.

The Captain Gabo laid anchor within sight of Barra Patuca, a village at the mouth of the Río Patuca. Clara could see the Miskitu stilt houses, and the cattle standing in the shallows of the silty water. Onshore, she sought out Hilda Lezama, a stout middle-aged woman who, for many years, had been ferrying Miskitu divers down the Río Patuca to the sea, returning upriver to Ahuas with passengers.

Clara and Vera had brought a stove, chairs, canned food, and sacks of used clothing that they planned to sell. Hilda’s husband, Melaño, loaded the cargo into the boat, assisted by his son-in-law, Emerson Martínez, who had recently served in the Honduran Army and had built a house beside the Lezamas’ house in Ahuas. The boat was a rented pipante, a long riverboat, painted turquoise with two red stripes. At 8 P.M. on May 10th, as the helicopters were leaving La Ceiba, the boat set off for Ahuas with thirteen passengers. The sky was clear and the moon was nearly full. Emerson stood at the bow, using the beam of a flashlight to point out pieces of floating debris. Clara sat in the middle, between two piles of her cargo. Her youngest son, Hasked, sat near the bow and watched the banks scroll by. Fourteen years old, he loved soccer and pop music. Clara still called him “my baby.”

As the turquoise boat made its way up the Patuca, Hilda received a phone call from its owner, one of the leading merchants in Ahuas. He said that he needed the boat for a trip upriver to the town of Palacio, where he was working on cell-phone antennas, Hilda recalls. She told him that she expected to arrive just after 2 A.M.

Clara wrapped herself in a blanket and rested against a sack of clothing. She awoke some time later to a loud noise. Helicopters and a plane circled above.

The helicopters seemed to panic Melaño. His steering became erratic, and the boat swerved from side to side. Some passengers shouted at Emerson not to turn on his flashlight. “Then they starting shooting at us,” Clara says. “Buh buh buh buh bum! Buh buh buh buh bum! ” She shouted for them to stop. She called out her son’s name. He did not answer. Then she was in the water. Near the riverbank, she came upon two other passengers, both young men, one with bullet wounds. Clara pulled herself out of the river. She ran to the landing, where the D.E.A. agents and the Honduran forces met her with guns drawn. “Don’t kill me!” she said. The men searched Clara, found nothing, and let her go. She ran to a house near the water and telephoned Hilda’s son, Hilder. The security forces intercepted him and demanded that he take them to a house that had gasoline. Hilder brought a can of gas down to the water and piloted two members of the counter-narcotics force downriver, where they met up with the stranded boat carrying the drugs. The turquoise boat was nowhere to be seen. Hilder pleaded with the men to help him look for his mother. He says that the men refused. (A spokesperson for the D.E.A. says that the security forces were never asked for such help.)

Around 5 A.M., the State Department helicopters set off for the refuelling base with the cocaine on board. They left behind the Lezamas’ passengers. A crowd of villagers, mostly family members of the missing, had gathered near the landing. Two boats set off to search for the injured and the dead. They found Hilda Lezama unconscious, tangled in the branches at the water’s edge. Bullets had cut two deep channels across her thighs. Soon, the bodies of three passengers were pulled out of the water and laid on the landing—Candelaria Trapp, Juana Jackson, and Hilda’s son-in-law Emerson Martínez. The crowd grew. Somebody slapped the justice of the peace, and three houses said to be owned by men connected to the drug trade were burned down. The mob marched to the center of town, where they surrounded the police station, waving sticks and machetes, until soldiers arrived by helicopter and ordered them to go home.

Clara resumed searching for Hasked the following day. That night, in the port town of Brus Laguna, she received a phone call. They had pulled Hasked’s body from the river and carried him to her home. “When I found him, he was in a plastic bag,” she said. “I could not take him out of the bag, because he was rotting. I buried him that way.”

About a mile from the river landing, within sight of a pair of cold-water mosquito-net hotels, is Ahuas’s palacio municipal, a single-story building of painted concrete. The mayor, Lucio Baquedano, is middle-aged, with a long mustache and wary sun-pinched eyes. One of the few Ahuas residents who is not Miskitu, he came to the area as a soldier, more than thirty years ago. Taped to the wall of his narrow paper-strewn office is a quote from Plato: “The man without laws resembles the wildest animal.”

Early on the morning of May 11th, Baquedano looked out from the veranda of his two-story house and saw the helicopters. “I assumed they were chasing them,” he said, referring to the traffickers with pronouns, as do most people in Ahuas. “They don’t use people from here. You see them—they come in groups. They stay for a short time, maybe two or three nights in a hotel. For this operation they bought a house.”

A few hours later, the families of the injured passengers asked him to arrange for a plane to take them to a hospital. He received a report from his son, who lives in Tegucigalpa: the Honduran border police had said there was a successful counter-narcotics operation in the department of Gracias a Dios. There was no mention of U.S. involvement. By late morning, Baquedano was on national radio. He said that innocent people had been killed, and demanded an investigation. On Tuesday, May 15th, the front page of the Diario Tiempo, one of Honduras’s national newspapers, carried the headline “THE DEAD IN LA MOSKITIA WERE NOT NARCOS, AUTHORITIES SAY.”

In Ahuas, the villagers’ anger flowed in every direction—toward the local authorities, the Army, the drug traffickers, the Americans. Two days after the mob set fire to the houses, the Mayor held an emergency meeting for the entire village. Only a few dozen showed up, but they agreed that the traffickers’ construction of illegal landing strips had to stop. Downriver, in Brus Laguna, a group of Miskitu tribal councils issued a statement demanding that U.S. and Honduran forces leave their land. They accused the U.S. of “invasion” and “the slaughter of innocent people.” The government deployed soldiers throughout the department to inspect cargo at river landings and maintain order in the streets.

A week after the incident, a report by a Honduran deputy police commissioner said that the shootings were caused by “confusion.” The security forces had mistaken household cargo for drugs. The U.S. Embassy maintained that the Lezamas’ boat had opened fire on the security forces, and that the Honduran members of the anti-drug team—not the D.E.A. agents—had fired back. That account prevailed in stories filed by foreign reporters, who described the incident as a “shoot-out” or a “firefight.”

By June, the controversy had reached Capitol Hill. In response to questions from the press and Congress, the D.E.A. screened video taken by the surveillance plane of the incident’s most crucial moments. The briefings were led by Richard Dobrich, a decorated Afghanistan veteran and former Navy SEAL, who heads the FAST program. Dobrich told the congressional staffers that the Lezamas’ boat was working with the drug traffickers. There had been an exchange of gunfire, he said, and the Honduran security forces responded to shots coming from the Lezamas’ boat.

A Senate aide who was at the briefing told me, “It was not obvious to me that what they described was what was in the video. It was very difficult to make out details.” A congressional staff member agreed. “Very few questions were taken,” he said. “The story that was out there at the time was entirely different from what we saw.” Later, having become more familiar with the shooting, the Senate aide said, “I am not aware of anyone in the Honduran government or the State Department who, after reviewing the case, believes that the evidence establishes that the people in the boat fired at the agents.”

In January, fifty-eight members of Congress sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and others, requesting more information about the incident in Ahuas. Six months later, Eric Akers, deputy chief of the D.E.A.’s congressional-affairs office, responded, writing that there had been “an exchange of gunfire.” Evidence that I saw in Tegucigalpa, including official case files containing interviews with Honduran members of the anti-drug team who were at the scene, raises serious questions about the accuracy of Akers’s letter to Congress. Not only did the alleged cross fire miss all three members of the anti-drug team, according to a report by the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, but their boat “showed no signs of gunshots.” The Lezamas’ boat had nineteen bullet holes. “We don’t have any evidence that the people in the boat had weapons on them,” an attorney in the Honduran prosecutor’s office said. The five surviving passengers with whom I spoke all said that there were no firearms on board.

I was not able to speak with three key witnesses who were on the boat with the drugs—the D.E.A. agent, the Honduran police inspector, and the lower-ranking policeman. But a bullet recovered from the body of one of the Lezamas’ passengers was “an exact match” for the policeman’s rifle, according to the Honduran prosecutor’s report. A second bullet did not match any of the Hondurans’ weapons. “I don’t know who shot, but I did hear shooting,” the policeman said. “I don’t know,” the inspector said, when investigators asked the source of the shots. “No one from my team that I know of.” Despite repeated requests, none of the D.E.A. agents have given statements to the Honduran government, nor have Honduran investigators been allowed to conduct ballistics tests on the FAST squad’s weapons. (The D.E.A. has honored the terms of its bilateral agreements relating to Operation Anvil, a spokesperson said.) In a letter to Michele Leonhart, the Administrator of the D.E.A., Senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, wrote, “I remain troubled by what appears to be a failure to thoroughly and critically assess the role that the D.E.A. played in the operation and its aftermath.”

Forensic analysis of the video that depicts the fatal shootings could possibly determine whether the “flashes of light,” as the Honduran prosecutor’s report called them, are consistent with gunfire, and whether they came from one boat or both. The D.E.A. has declined to release the video, and a spokesperson also refused to give an on-the-record account of what happened at Ahuas or respond to a list of twenty-two written questions. In August, 2012, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the video and related documents. A year later, having received no response from the D.E.A., I filed a federal lawsuit, which is now pending.

The Ahuas controversy came at a sensitive moment for the United States. In June, 2009, the Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, was deposed in a military coup. The U.S. said initially that it would not recognize elections the repressive interim government held six months later, but it eventually decided to support the winner, Porfirio Lobo. (Lobo’s conservative National Party prevailed against Zelaya’s wife in the 2013 Presidential election.) During weeks of street protests, the new government fought to consolidate its control of the cities, a campaign that aggravated the already volatile security climate in Honduras. Mexican and Colombian traffickers took advantage of the chaos by strengthening their ties to Honduran élites and increasing shipments. Among the underpaid police, some resorted to friendly extortion; others hired themselves out or formed death squads. In 2012, there were more than seven thousand killings in Honduras—the highest murder rate in the world. The workers in the morgues of the larger cities learned where to collect the bodies each morning. “If you have a problem with the groups in power, the state will not respond,” Julieta Castellanos, the rector of Honduras’s National University, said. Her son was killed by police at a checkpoint in 2011. “Then you know what the real state is like.”

By late 2012, the Ahuas case was one of several problems dogging U.S. efforts in Honduras. In July, 2012, the Honduran Air Force shot down two suspected drug planes without following warning protocols. The U.S. stopped sharing radar intelligence. Then Alberto Arce, of the Associated Press, began to publish a series of reports, cataloguing abuses by the Honduran National Police and allegations that the chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla, once had ties to death squads. Senator Leahy placed a hold on foreign aid for Honduras; ten million dollars has still not been released. In October, the head of the U.S. Southern Command met with the leaders of the Honduran military, and U.S. radar sharing resumed the following month. Also in October, Lisa Kubiske, the U.S. Ambassador to Honduras, flew to Puerto Lempira, the provincial capital of Gracias a Dios, where she announced a new U.S.-funded educational program for La Moskitia’s children, to be conducted in their native language. In November, Arce reported on a killing that occurred two weeks after the ones in Ahuas. An unarmed fifteen-year-old boy was shot and killed by Honduran soldiers after he failed to stop at a military checkpoint in Tegucigalpa. The U.S. had vetted the soldiers, trained the leader of the squad in Fort Benning, Georgia, and paid for the Ford truck that chased the boy down. “Everyone who does not stop at a military checkpoint is involved in something,” the head of the Army told the local press.

Washington’s behavior in Honduras appears to be undermining the lessons it wishes to teach. A Honduran police officer told me that the anti-drug teams did not preserve evidence at the scene of another fatal Anvil interdiction, in June, 2012, where a FAST member reportedly shot and killed a drug trafficker who was reaching for his gun. “When we got to the scene, they have the weapons ready for us,” he said, showing me an image from his cell phone of rifles laid out on the ground. “But why are the weapons together? Why can’t we determine if these weapons were actually carried there? This is an alteration of the scene.” He shook his head. “All they care about is the drugs. Not who dies, not the evidence, not the legal procedures. Just the drugs.”

United States drug policy was built on the premise that drugs are inherently evil. Even occasional users, Edwin Meese said, in 1985, are “supporting those who deal in terror, torture, and death.” He continued, “There are no neutrals in this country’s war on drugs.” In La Moskitia, the infrastructure for moving cocaine overlaps with civilian life in ways that make it hard to draw such clear moral lines. Bishop Sam Gray, a Moravian missionary who lived in Ahuas for six years, told me about a woman in a nearby village who was offered two hundred dollars to cut down a tree on her property so that traffickers could lengthen a landing strip. When the woman refused, they made a similar deal with a landowner at the strip’s other end. “There were no repercussions,” Gray said. “In Ahuas, you go about your business. Everybody knows who the folks involved are, and you don’t avoid them in public life.”

In the Nicaraguan part of La Moskitia, some village elders assigned profits from found cocaine to churches and public works. For a time, cocaine was called the “blessing of God.” Gray told me that the men who transported cocaine by boat sometimes asked local pastors to pray for their safety. “When they come back, it’s expected that they’re going to show their appreciation for that,” he said. “Do you refuse to pray for someone?” In the late nineties, the influence of money from cocaine led the Moravian Church to discipline twenty-seven Honduran pastors and contributed to a split within the church in Ahuas. “Drug trafficking was a Trojan-horse kind of thing,” Gray said. “It was seen as a blessing that’s dropped on us from the outside. And then you suddenly realize it’s not all that it’s supposed to be.”

In Ahuas, cocaine traffic was controlled by an outsider known as El Renco—“the lame one”—or simply as El Padrón. A Honduran police report gives his name as Danilo Peña. He is said to be a short man who walks with a limp. Though Peña has seldom been seen in Ahuas since the shootings, the few people who are willing to talk about him do so quietly. Even the policemen are afraid. “People get killed for making statements,” one of them told me. “All the information I give you can go on the Internet.”

One afternoon in August of 2012, along with a translator, I visited the river landing, half an hour’s walk from the center of Ahuas. More than thirty boats were floating in the river. Villagers carried away loads of timber, soda, gasoline, propane, and livestock. There were five houses in the vicinity, but no one could recall any contact with the traffickers on the night of May 10th, except for a teen-age boy wearing flip-flops and a baseball cap. He said that some of the village’s Miskitu leaders spoke with the drug traffickers that night and told them to take the product out of the village. As the helicopters hovered overhead, the traffickers “took cover under a house,” he said. “They asked us to hide them. We said no, because we would get in trouble if we did.”

Mayor Baquedano had told me that we were welcome to visit the airstrips, or pistas. “Just ask around,” he said. “Everyone knows where they are.” We hired a man to drive us into town. He had just moved to Ahuas from the city of San Pedro Sula, he said, and seemed eager to make new acquaintances. I said we wanted to see a pista, and he agreed to show us one. We turned off the main road and onto a dirt track. After a few kilometres, we reached a creek spanned by a rotten wooden bridge, where we parked. Our driver led us to a long stretch of meadow. The narrow pista was all but invisible. Two rows of knee-high branches sharpened into stakes lined the runway. Walking back to the car, we saw the charred skeleton of a small airplane poking out from the edge of the forest. Returning to Ahuas, our driver pointed out the house of a prosperous merchant. “He’s the one who used to lend the boats so they could take the drugs,” he said. “He’s the only one left who used to work with them. They wanted to burn his house, too, but he managed to calm them down somehow.”

Some pistas are as smooth as soccer fields, with centerlines of packed dirt. Last year, the Honduran Army began Operation Armadillo, identifying the pistas from the air and returning with ground crews and dynamite to blow them open. Between February and July of 2012, Armadillo disabled fifty airstrips, according to Colonel Ronald Rivera Amador, of the Honduran Army, who ran the program from the provincial capital. But the traffickers patched up the holes with truckloads of sand and constructed new pistas that are invisible from the air—nothing more than a stretch of ground, cleared of rocks and levelled with a tractor. When the drugs are due to arrive, the receiving party lights up the pista with two rows of headlights or torches. The drugs continue their journey by boat, or overland, through Guatemala and Mexico. “There are so many routes that it becomes a maze,” Amador, who used to command the Army base in Puerto Lempira, told me. The traffickers “use Miskitu to load and unload the drugs, but not for security,” Amador said. “For that they use people from the interior.”

We saw the driver again the next day. “El Padrón knows that you visited the airstrip,” he said. We asked if it was safe to stay in Ahuas. “Ehh . . . ,” he replied. “That man there”—he pointed out the window—“he is in direct contact with El Padrón. I told him you were prospectors looking at oil deposits.”

“Where is El Padrón now?” we asked.

“In hiding,” the driver said. “He has houses all over the country.”

That night, we told an officer from a Miskitu council about our trespass. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I will explain who you are and what you are trying to do here.” The tribal council, he said, was the real power in La Moskitia. He compared it to a hawk, moving hundreds of miles when necessary, quickly responding to threats, always returning to the same spot. “We protect the Mayor,” he said.

Despite the burning of the houses and the resolution against pistas, the official position of the tribal councils on drug trafficking is a work in progress. “We have a policy of not getting involved,” the officer said. “Each person chooses to participate or not, according to his own conscience.” A senior leader of the Miskitu organization Masta, in Gracias a Dios, was more emphatic. “Masta says they don’t want it,” he told me. “They reject it.” Nonetheless, he believed that cocaine would continue moving through Miskitu territory. “Not even the Americans can stop it,” he said. “Because of business. Money is the strongest thing in the world. The only one who can stop these things is God.”

A few days later, Melaño Lezama took a boatload of passengers from Barr Patuca to Ahuas. We went along with him. Hilda, whose legs were still healing, handled the arrangements with the divers from Ahuas. Her nephew took Emerson’s place at the bow. At sunset, the birds and the insects along the Patuca’s banks sounded like an orchestra tuning up. Soon, all that was visible of Melaño was the orange glow from the tip of his cigarette. We reached the landing at Ahuas, and he busied himself with unloading his passengers’ cargo—dry beans, fruit, sacks of clothes. The next morning, we spoke in his living room. The Miskitu officer translated his account into Spanish and helped him sketch a diagram. Melaño said that the helicopters had made him panic. He was trying to steer his boat out of trouble, toward the bank, when the other boat suddenly appeared. Then the helicopter started shooting. “I’ve worked for thirty years travelling the river,” he said. “Nothing like this has ever happened. When I pass the spot, I start remembering. I feel scared, but there is no other way for me. I have to keep working.”

Clara Wood buried her son in Ahuas. Soon afterward, her husband joined her at their stilt house. Clara has a few things from Roatán that were fished out of the water—a table, a bowl, a five-gallon bucket—all made of plastic and punctured by what look to be bullet holes. In her photographs, Hasked flashes a bright grin. Clara told me that she wants to open a small café in the school he would have attended. “I’m going to do it in order to keep myself busy,” she said. “Not to be sad all the time.”

In November of 2012, I visited the base where the helicopters refuelled on their way back from Ahuas. Just beyond the fence around the base’s perimeter was the shifting map of La Moskitia—“the battlespace,” a U.S. Army officer had called it. “The local communities see the helicopters landing, the ongoing operations,” a U.S. soldier on the base told me. “They are deterred.” Similarly, U.S. Ambassador Kubiske has said that villages, like superpowers, respond to shows of force. “These are not innocent communities,” she said at a public event in September, in response to a question about Ahuas. “These are communities in which people find it not dangerous, perhaps, to help the drug traffickers who live there. Afterwards, many more people began to think that it was dangerous. We’ve seen some changes in behavior.”

In the U.S., a gram of pure cocaine is worth roughly four grams of gold. Cocaine is harder to ship but much easier to produce than gold; making it from coca leaves is about as complicated as making corn syrup from corn. The amount of coca needed to supply the global market is relatively small: a plantation of two hundred thousand hectares, roughly half the size of Long Island, would be enough. For thirty years, the U.S. has chased this plantation around the Western Hemisphere.

In the late eighteen-thirties, an imperial commissioner in China named Lin Zexu arrested dealers, and destroyed more than a million kilos of opium. But the British East India Company, which brought the drug from India, went to war, forced China to reopen its ports, and resumed importing enough opium to satisfy the millions of users. This began what is known in China as the Century of National Humiliation.

More than a hundred years later, Mao Zedong adopted a more ruthless version of Lin Zexu’s approach, tearing up fields, breaking pipes, and executing dealers. In some provinces, addicts were required to register with the local police, and there were rumors that anyone who had ever smoked opium would be rounded up and killed. At the beginning of Mao’s reign, more than twenty million Chinese smoked opium. Within a few years, opium use in mainland China had all but disappeared.

Why did Mao succeed where Lin Zexu had failed? The victory was due in part to Mao’s characteristic willingness to terrorize his people. But even more important were changes in the supply chain. In 1890, poppy cultivation was legalized, and soon domestic opium production exploded. During the Second World War, the Japanese colonized eastern China, planted opium, and encouraged consumption. By the mid-forties, when they left, almost all of the Chinese opium supply was homegrown. Mao did not have to argue with foreign governments, or bribe them, or send his armies abroad to burn the crops of indigent farmers, only to have them replant the moment he was gone. Unlike Lin Zexu, he could attack both the demand and the supply sides of the opium trade within the borders of his own country.

In La Moskitia, the U.S. acts through the Honduran government, which must itself wage a kind of foreign campaign. A boat ride away from Ahuas in Brus Laguna, the Honduran Army has an outpost on the edge of town. Painted over the barracks’ wooden shutters is a flag, split along the diagonal between the five stars of Honduras and the U.S. Stars and Stripes. On the morning we visited, dogs and roosters wandered around the yard, and soldiers washed themselves from a water tank. The commanding officer, Captain Abraham Hernández, took us to a table in the shade. “What we lack is will from the people,” he said. “Whenever there’s a crash nearby, the whole community goes out to look for the drugs. They say they’re going fishing.”

The next day, Hernández borrowed a boat from the mayor, and we set off across a nearby lagoon with a few of his soldiers. Long ago, its marshy backwaters had been a pirate sanctuary. Recently, Hernández said, there had been violent “confrontations” with traffickers. An hour later, we arrived at an impressive pista—fifteen hundred metres of level ground concealed by high grass. Beside it were the remains of five airplanes. In its center was a circle of sand, where the military had gouged open the pista. The traffickers had returned, Hernández said, and filled in the hole. At the moment, there was not much he could do. The base in Brus Laguna was eight hours’ walk away. He would file a report with his superior in the provincial capital. ♦

Fuente: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/01/06/140106fa_fact_schwartz?currentPage=all

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AP Exclusive: Top cop is US go-to man in Honduras for war on drugs, denies death squad charge

By Associated Press,

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — In a capital accustomed to daily bloodshed, the man in charge of law enforcement is as feared as the criminals. Few dare speak his name above a whisper.

Five-star Gen. Juan Carlos Bonilla was accused a decade ago of running death squads and today oversees a department suspected of beating, killing and “disappearing” its detainees. He is the top cop in the country that serves as a way station for most South American cocaine bound for the United States and beyond.

Bonilla is also the U.S. government’s go-to man in Honduras for the war on drug trafficking.

Though the State Department officially keeps the 49-year-old chief at arm’s length over his dubious past, Bonilla embraces the U.S. government as his “best ally and support.” If the U.S. wants to fight drug trafficking in Honduras, it has to work with Bonilla.

“I am the director general, and I don’t delegate that responsibility to anyone,” Bonilla said during his first interview with a reporter since 2011.

In a wide-ranging conversation with The Associated Press that started over lunch at his favorite Tegucigalpa restaurant and ended after a late dinner at his well-appointed home, Bonilla denied he once led a social cleansing campaign, that his police force is as criminal as those it arrests, or that he is in any way responsible for a rash of gang members who disappeared after being arrested. Two of them later turned up dead on the edge of town.

“I can’t be on top of everything. Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human,” Bonilla said.

Honduras is a country under siege with one of the world’s highest murder rates, where corruption is rampant and the rule of law weak. Its citizens scurry home before dusk in the capital. The sound of automatic gunfire peppers the night, and cities awaken to discarded bodies, the handiwork of street gangs, extortion rackets, drug mafias and, apparently, the police.

By law, Bonilla runs all policing in Honduras, everything from planning operations and directing investigations, to approving travel abroad for training and vehicle repairs.  He oversees a troubled force where there is no consistent account of how many officers are on the payroll or how many show up for work, only estimates ranging from 8,000 to 15,000.

The police routinely are accused of civil rights violations. Between March and May, the AP reported at least five cases of alleged gang members missing or killed after being taken into police custody in what critics and human rights advocates call death squads engaged in a wave of social cleansing of criminals. In July, a man died of a burst liver after he was arrested for disorderly conduct and beaten by police, according to a prosecutor’s file. In August, a gang member was beaten to death after being arrested for shooting an officer, a crime captured on surveillance tape that went viral on the Internet.

Bonilla said he is aware of the charges and insisted that every complaint is being investigated.  Excesses “happen, yes. We investigate them and act,” he said. “You cannot use a word like ‘death squads,’ because there is no chain of command or an order by me, never, under any circumstances, to act illegally.”

He defended the institution where “I’ve spent my whole life. I am loyal to it.”

Bonilla is a formidable figure, solidly built at 6 feet, with a shaved head and large nose set in a ruddy face. His voice is like a windstorm rising from the depths of a cavern, his words come slowly at first and then accelerate to a dizzying onslaught.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, Bonilla returned frequently to the support he receives from the U.S. Embassy for police operations. In one case, he ordered a subordinate to track a police commander with possible ties to drug traffickers. “I want to know where he is now. Find their phones and tap them. I will ask the Embassy for help,” he said.

The close relationship runs counter to an August 2012 memo issued by the State Department to Congress shortly after Bonilla was named police chief, saying it was “aware of allegations of human rights violations related to Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla’s service a decade ago.”

A 2002 report by the Honduran police department’s internal affairs section  accused Bonilla of three killings or forced disappearances starting in 1998, when he was a regional police chief. It also linked him to at least 11 other cases. He was tried on one of the charges and acquitted. The others were never fully investigated.

The State Department decided to conduct its own review, meanwhile, and said in the memo that it was “carefully limiting assistance to special Honduran law enforcement units … not under Bonilla’s supervision.”  In March, Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield reiterated, “We have no relations with him; we don’t give him so much as a dollar or even a cent.”

Bonilla said there are no police units beyond his supervision. Fourteen months later, the U.S. investigation has not been completed. U.S. officials say there is no law against talking to Bonilla, and that it is necessary to do so in a country where an estimated 87 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing from South America land. Of $30 million in U.S. aid that was held up by the Senate Appropriations Committee because of concerns about human rights, impunity and Bonilla, two-thirds has since been released.

“Our diplomats talk to lots of people because they are in positions of authority, not because they like them,” said an aide to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who wrote the provisions requiring human rights vetting for U.S. aid. The aide was not authorized to speak on the record.   “What matters is not that they talk to him, but what the Honduran police are doing.  Are they protecting the people, or are they protecting the drug traffickers?  As far as his saying the U.S. is his biggest ally in counterdrug operations, our ally is Honduras, not the chief of police.”

The jury is still out on Bonilla’s success in fighting drug trafficking. In September, a joint Honduran-U.S operation targeted “Los Cachiros,” the cartel that controls an estimated 90 percent of the clandestine runways in the country. U.S. and Honduran officials first touted that Operation Neptune yielded some $500 million in assets, including real estate, a mining company and a zoo.  But then the director of Honduras’ Office of Seized Property said that 71 bank accounts seized were empty. Corrupt authorities had alerted the traffickers ahead of time, said Director Humberto Palacios Moya, though he did not implicate anyone specifically.

Bonilla says he hails from humble indigenous origins and was forcibly recruited into military service at age 12, where he gained the nickname “El Tigre,” or the Tiger. He transferred to the National Police when it was created 1998. Much to the dismay of international human rights groups, he was tapped as police chief in May 2012 after his predecessor was fired, presumably for two high-profile criminal cases involving police. In one, a prominent journalist close to President Porfirio Lobo was assassinated. In the other, civilians were shot dead during a joint Honduran- U.S. anti-drug operation in the remote Moskitia region, where most clandestine cocaine flights from South America land.

Bonilla “was the only top police commander without known links to organized crime,” said Arabeska Sanchez, researcher and founder of Honduras’ University Institute for Peace and Security who, as a professor at the National Police Academy, taught Bonilla in many classes. “But he still comes under suspicion because it’s impossible to know if he was involved in state-sponsored human rights violations that evidently happened very close to him.”

Dressed in a crisp, dark blue uniform, Bonilla moves about in an armored car in a city where gunmen travel by motorcycle for a quick kill and getaway. He keeps a loaded M-16 by his seat and says he would not hesitate to use it if attacked.

In private, many Hondurans say they are terrified of Bonilla. In the interview, however, he was unwaveringly gracious, smiling even when answering the most pointed questions. He showed off his library of hundreds of books on drug-trafficking, history and philosophy, underlined or marked with colored Post-it notes. The feared general liberally quotes French social theorist Michel Foucault and Austrian writer Stefan Zweig.

Among his books, Bonilla keeps a leather-bound copy of the indictment against him and says the death squad charges are not only false, but the stigma still haunts him.

“It’s very painful as a human being for your family, your children, your children’s schoolmates, your father, your friends or a woman you just met to ask you if you are a murderer,” he said.

At the end of the day, Bonilla asked his bodyguard to bring him a book from the glove compartment of his car. It was an annotated edition of “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu, a Chinese general who lived 2600 years ago.

He read an underlined paragraph in the introduction: “We live in a culture of simulation, in which nothing is what it seems and the image that reigns has no reference to the real world.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fuente: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/ap-exclusive-top-cop-is-us-go-to-man-in-honduras-for-war-on-drugs-denies-death-squad-charge/2013/11/01/3507243c-432c-11e3-b028-de922d7a3f47_story_2.html

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AP Exclusive: Top cop is US go-to man in Honduras for war on drugs, denies death squad charge

In this July 3, 2012 photo, Honduras Police Chief, Gen. Juan Carlos Bonilla, center, speaks to the press during a news conference in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The five-star general was accused a decade ago of running deaths squads and today oversees a department suspected of beating, killing and “disappearing” its detainees. He also is the top cop in the country that serves as a way station for most South American cocaine bound for the United States and beyond. Bonilla is also the U.S. government’s go-to man in Honduras for the war on drug trafficking. (Fernando Antonio/Associated Press)

By Associated Press,  Published: NOVEMBER 01, 5:00 PM ET


      Aa


TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — In a capital accustomed to daily bloodshed, the man in charge of law enforcement is as feared as the criminals. Few dare speak his name above a whisper.

Five-star Gen. Juan Carlos Bonilla was accused a decade ago of running death squads and today oversees a department suspected of beating, killing and “disappearing” its detainees. He is the top cop in the country that serves as a way station for most South American cocaine bound for the United States and beyond.

Bonilla is also the U.S. government’s go-to man in Honduras for the war on drug trafficking.

Though the State Department officially keeps the 49-year-old chief at arm’s length over his dubious past, Bonilla embraces the U.S. government as his “best ally and support.” If the U.S. wants to fight drug trafficking in Honduras, it has to work with Bonilla.

“I am the director general, and I don’t delegate that responsibility to anyone,” Bonilla said during his first interview with a reporter since 2011.

In a wide-ranging conversation with The Associated Press that started over lunch at his favorite Tegucigalpa restaurant and ended after a late dinner at his well-appointed home, Bonilla denied he once led a social cleansing campaign, that his police force is as criminal as those it arrests, or that he is in any way responsible for a rash of gang members who disappeared after being arrested. Two of them later turned up dead on the edge of town.

“I can’t be on top of everything. Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human,” Bonilla said.

Honduras is a country under siege with one of the world’s highest murder rates, where corruption is rampant and the rule of law weak. Its citizens scurry home before dusk in the capital. The sound of automatic gunfire peppers the night, and cities awaken to discarded bodies, the handiwork of street gangs, extortion rackets, drug mafias and, apparently, the police.

By law, Bonilla runs all policing in Honduras, everything from planning operations and directing investigations, to approving travel abroad for training and vehicle repairs. He oversees a troubled force where there is no consistent account of how many officers are on the payroll or how many show up for work, only estimates ranging from 8,000 to 15,000.

The police routinely are accused of civil rights violations. Between March and May, the AP reported at least five cases of alleged gang members missing or killed after being taken into police custody in what critics and human rights advocates call death squads engaged in a wave of social cleansing of criminals. In July, a man died of a burst liver after he was arrested for disorderly conduct and beaten by police, according to a prosecutor’s file. In August, a gang member was beaten to death after being arrested for shooting an officer, a crime captured on surveillance tape that went viral on the Internet.

Bonilla said he is aware of the charges and insisted that every complaint is being investigated. Excesses “happen, yes. We investigate them and act,” he said. “You cannot use a word like ‘death squads,’ because there is no chain of command or an order by me, never, under any circumstances, to act illegally.”

He defended the institution where “I’ve spent my whole life. I am loyal to it.”

Bonilla is a formidable figure, solidly built at 6 feet, with a shaved head and large nose set in a ruddy face. His voice is like a windstorm rising from the depths of a cavern, his words come slowly at first and then accelerate to a dizzying onslaught.

Throughout the afternoon and evening, Bonilla returned frequently to the support he receives from the U.S. Embassy for police operations. In one case, he ordered a subordinate to track a police commander with possible ties to drug traffickers. “I want to know where he is now. Find their phones and tap them. I will ask the Embassy for help,” he said.

The close relationship runs counter to an August 2012 memo issued by the State Department to Congress shortly after Bonilla was named police chief, saying it was “aware of allegations of human rights violations related to Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla’s service a decade ago.”

A 2002 report by the Honduran police department’s internal affairs section accused Bonilla of three killings or forced disappearances starting in 1998, when he was a regional police chief. It also linked him to at least 11 other cases. He was tried on one of the charges and acquitted. The others were never fully investigated.

The State Department decided to conduct its own review, meanwhile, and said in the memo that it was “carefully limiting assistance to special Honduran law enforcement units … not under Bonilla’s supervision.” In March, Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield reiterated, “We have no relations with him; we don’t give him so much as a dollar or even a cent.”

Bonilla said there are no police units beyond his supervision. Fourteen months later, the U.S. investigation has not been completed. U.S. officials say there is no law against talking to Bonilla, and that it is necessary to do so in a country where an estimated 87 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing from South America land. Of $30 million in U.S. aid that was held up by the Senate Appropriations Committee because of concerns about human rights, impunity and Bonilla, two-thirds has since been released.

“Our diplomats talk to lots of people because they are in positions of authority, not because they like them,” said an aide to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who wrote the provisions requiring human rights vetting for U.S. aid. The aide was not authorized to speak on the record. “What matters is not that they talk to him, but what the Honduran police are doing. Are they protecting the people, or are they protecting the drug traffickers? As far as his saying the U.S. is his biggest ally in counterdrug operations, our ally is Honduras, not the chief of police.”

The jury is still out on Bonilla’s success in fighting drug trafficking. In September, a joint Honduran-U.S operation targeted “Los Cachiros,” the cartel that controls an estimated 90 percent of the clandestine runways in the country. U.S. and Honduran officials first touted that Operation Neptune yielded some $500 million in assets, including real estate, a mining company and a zoo. But then the director of Honduras’ Office of Seized Property said that 71 bank accounts seized were empty. Corrupt authorities had alerted the traffickers ahead of time, said Director Humberto Palacios Moya, though he did not implicate anyone specifically.

Bonilla says he hails from humble indigenous origins and was forcibly recruited into military service at age 12, where he gained the nickname “El Tigre,” or the Tiger. He transferred to the National Police when it was created 1998. Much to the dismay of international human rights groups, he was tapped as police chief in May 2012 after his predecessor was fired, presumably for two high-profile criminal cases involving police. In one, a prominent journalist close to President Porfirio Lobo was assassinated. In the other, civilians were shot dead during a joint Honduran- U.S. anti-drug operation in the remote Moskitia region, where most clandestine cocaine flights from South America land.

Bonilla “was the only top police commander without known links to organized crime,” said Arabeska Sanchez, researcher and founder of Honduras’ University Institute for Peace and Security who, as a professor at the National Police Academy, taught Bonilla in many classes. “But he still comes under suspicion because it’s impossible to know if he was involved in state-sponsored human rights violations that evidently happened very close to him.”

Dressed in a crisp, dark blue uniform, Bonilla moves about in an armored car in a city where gunmen travel by motorcycle for a quick kill and getaway. He keeps a loaded M-16 by his seat and says he would not hesitate to use it if attacked.

In private, many Hondurans say they are terrified of Bonilla. In the interview, however, he was unwaveringly gracious, smiling even when answering the most pointed questions. He showed off his library of hundreds of books on drug-trafficking, history and philosophy, underlined or marked with colored Post-it notes. The feared general liberally quotes French social theorist Michel Foucault and Austrian writer Stefan Zweig.

Among his books, Bonilla keeps a leather-bound copy of the indictment against him and says the death squad charges are not only false, but the stigma still haunts him.

“It’s very painful as a human being for your family, your children, your children’s schoolmates, your father, your friends or a woman you just met to ask you if you are a murderer,” he said.

At the end of the day, Bonilla asked his bodyguard to bring him a book from the glove compartment of his car. It was an annotated edition of “The Art of War,” by Sun Tzu, a Chinese general who lived 2600 years ago.

He read an underlined paragraph in the introduction: “We live in a culture of simulation, in which nothing is what it seems and the image that reigns has no reference to the real world.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Fuente: http://m.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/ap-exclusive-top-cop-is-us-go-to-man-in-honduras-for-war-on-drugs-denies-death-squad-charge/2013/11/01/3507243c-432c-11e3-b028-de922d7a3f47_story.html

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Blaming the Victims: U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Doubles Down Regarding Ahuas Shootings

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Written by Dan Beeton
Friday, 13 September 2013 09:43

Earlier this week, U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske gave a talk at the Institute of the Americas in San Diego. During the Q and A, audience member Aaron Montenegro asked her about the May 11, 2012 DEA-related shooting incident in Ahuas, in Honduras’ Mosquitia region in which four local, unarmed villagers were killed and several others wounded. (As Americas Blog readers know, CEPR has co-authored two in-depth reports on the incident with Rights Action, based on evidence and interviews with survivors, witnesses, and various U.S. and Honduran officials; and on a review of official investigations.  And we have blogged about ongoing developments regarding the case as well.)

A recording of the revealing exchange is posted here, and a full transcript follows:

Question:  I’d like to mention something that you didn’t talk about, and that’s the Ahuas case in Mosquitia and the lack of cooperation coming from the U.S. Embassy.  For those of you who don’t know, in indigenous territory, the Mosquitia, there was a massacre that took place in the name of fighting narcotráfico, and this was taking place with U.S. State Department helicopters, with DEA agents and subcontracted Guatemalan pilots. And there has been a refusal to participate within this investigation as far as the ballistic tests are concerned.  So I would just like for you to maybe address that and why there hasn’t been so much forward participation with that if you are talking about impunity. And then, another question I would like to

Moderator: Wait a minute, let’s do that one…

Question: OK.

Kubiske: OK, Ahuas.  I don’t share that characterization that you just gave.  There was a program.  It ran for a very short period of time, called “Operation Anvil” or yunque in Spanish, and it was, it was part of a regional aviation air interdiction program – so drug interdiction program by air.  In that program, which was basically a program that was lending U.S. helicopters to Hondurans as they learned to do aerial interdiction — so it was a capacity building thing — they had one incident in Ahuas in which the Honduran people on board, Honduran police, in self-defense, shot at people on the ground.  And in that back and forth four people — they didn’t shoot from the air, they shot down on the ground — when people were coming at them in a way that looked like the people were trying to recover drugs that had been delivered illegally into Honduran airspace and down into Ahuas.  The goal was not to have anybody killed, obviously.  People were killed, and it was a tragedy.  And in looking at that program there are lessons learned about how to do that program if it were to happen in the future so that it would be safer, but it was a case in which there were investigations both in Honduras and in the United States.  Those reports– at least one of those reports, is circulating in Washington, and it should be available from your congressman, probably. It’s not a case of impunity.  It was a case in which there was a perceived threat.

There was — I’m going to go a little further and say it was not at all clear what was going on with the people.  There was a boat coming at the boat that had the authorities.  It was not at all clear that the people in the other boat were innocent or not innocent — still not clear — and it was very unfortunate.  It happened in a community that was well armed, which people can see from the videos that exist of the event.  So it was actually quite a dangerous interdiction as it happened.

And so one thing we learned is that when those drugs arrive in Gracias a Diós, which is a relatively unpopulated place — Ahuas has about 60…600 people I think — that these are not innocent communities.  These are communities in which a lot of people find it not dangerous, perhaps, to help the drug traffickers who live there.  And afterwards I think we know that many more people began to think that it was dangerous.  We’ve seen some changes in behavior.  That’s not to justify what happened.  It’s a tragedy that four people died.

Ambassador Kubiske’s comments are disturbing for several reasons. Despite interviews with survivors and deceased victims’ relatives in The New York Times, the Associated Press, The Real News and other outlets – and despite several reports on the incident (including ours), she again presents a version of the events first made by U.S. officials immediately after the shootings, but the veracity of which has been called into question by both official and unofficial investigations. As we have described previously, these accounts have been contradicted by the National Commission of Human Rights (a Honduran government agency), by the Honduran officers involved, and even by DEA and other U.S. officials.

Kubiske states that “Honduran police, in self-defense, shot at people on the ground,” but then adds the qualification that “they didn’t shoot from the air, they shot down on the ground…” Yet the forensic evidence – bullet holes in the villager’s boat and gunshot wounds suffered by victims – is consistent not with a horizontal (and two-sided) fire-fight, but with shots fired from above. The survivors and other witnesses as well as the Honduran police officers, former DEA chief in Honduras Jim Kenney, and an unnamed U.S. official (speaking to the New York Times just days after the incident) have said that the boat passengers were also fired on from the helicopter.

To bolster her version of what happened, Kubiske cites secret evidence – a video, supposedly taken by a Customs and Border Protection P-3 surveillance plane (also previously described in our “Collateral Damage of a Drug War” report). Although she says that “people can see from the videos that exist of the event” that the “community [was] well armed” and that it was “a dangerous interdiction,” in fact “people” have been unable to see this supposed video evidence. It has, to our knowledge, been seen by few outside of certain congressional offices and a few journalists. (Other journalists – from major media outlets – who have requested to see the video have had their requests denied.)

Kubiske’s description of a “well-armed” community is part of what is most disturbing about her response to the question: she again blames the victims, people who the evidence suggests have nothing to do with drug trafficking but who were returning home that night along a major traffic route in the area – the Patuca river – as is common. She comes back to this theme, to reiterate that the shooting victims may have been partly to blame, at least: “It was not at all clear that the people in the other boat were innocent or not innocent — still not clear,” and even more chillingly says

…these are not innocent communities.  These are communities in which a lot of people find it not dangerous, perhaps, to help the drug traffickers who live there.  And afterwards I think we know that many more people began to think that it was dangerous.  We’ve seen some changes in behavior.  That’s not to justify what happened.

Kubiske never notes, of course, that one of those shot dead in the operation was Juana Jackson, who was pregnant, and that another was Hasked Brooks Wood, a 14-year-old boy, and whether, therefore, the State Department and/or DEA wouldn’t find it strange for pregnant women and children to be involved in the drug trade. Kubiske has previously denied that any of the shooting victims were pregnant, even though a doctor’s report and statements by numerous individuals in the community – as well as eyewitnesses to her (unprofessional and insensitive) open-air autopsy — attest to the fact that Jackson was pregnant.

As we have previously noted, in addition to obstructing Honduran investigations into the incident, the U.S. government has failed to provide any assistance to the surviving victims of the incident — some of whom needed significant medical attention – nor the families of the deceased victims.

Kubiske also states that this “was a case in which there were investigations both in Honduras and in the United States.  Those reports– at least one of those reports, is circulating in Washington, and it should be available from your congressman, probably.” But as we have previously demonstrated, these reports themselves contain inconsistencies, and were based on improper investigations (as some authorities involved in the investigations have come forward to reveal). The public report to which Kubiske is referring is probably the Honduran Attorney General’s report, which has been sent to the U.S. State Department and congressional offices. It is this investigation that was the focus of our “Still Waiting for Justice” report released earlier this year, co-authored with Rights Action, and which we found had “serious flaws including major omissions of key testimony and forensic exams, a one-sided description and analysis of events, and ‘observations’ (in lieu of conclusions) that aren’t supported by the evidence that is cited.”

The U.S. report that Kubiske mentions is likely the DEA’s internal report on the incident, which has not been made public, and which has not been shared with Congress. Unfortunately, this remains the only U.S. probe into the shootings to have been conducted, as the State and Justice departments have refused to conduct an independent investigation despite calls from members of Congress for them to do so.

It is also worth noting that Kubiske never addressed Montenegro’s actual question regarding the reports that the U.S. didn’t cooperate with Honduran Public Ministry officials who carried out the official investigation of the Ahuas killings.  Indeed, though Kubiske cites the Honduran investigation to support her version of events, the U.S. government hasn’t allowed the Public Ministry to question the ten DEA agents and various State Department contractors involved in the Ahuas operation, nor allowed them to perform ballistic tests on these agents’ firearms.  The irony would be laughable if four lives hadn’t been lost:  the State Department and the DEA have themselves severely undermined the very investigation that they rely on to defend their deadly operation in Ahuas.

Fuente: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs/the-americas-blog/blaming-the-victims-us-ambassador-to-honduras-doubles-down-regarding-ahuas-shootings

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The Latin America mistake

Op-Ed

Memo to Secretary Kerry: Stop funding the bad guys in Honduras.

February 12, 2013|By Dana Frank
  • Honduran soldiers guard cocaine in a military base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras on Jan. 16.
Honduran soldiers guard cocaine in a military base in Tegucigalpa, Honduras… (EPA )

The United States is expanding its military presence in Honduras on a spectacular scale. The Associated Press reported this month in an investigative article that Washington in 2011 authorized $1.3 billion for U.S. military electronics in Honduras. This is happening while the post-coup regime of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo is more out of control than ever, especially since the Honduran Congress staged a “technical coup” in December.

But as the Obama administration deepens its partnership with Honduras, ostensibly to fight the drug war, Democrats in Congress are increasingly rebelling. Here’s a message, then, for new Secretary of State John Kerry: Recast U.S. policy in Honduras and the murderous drug war that justifies it.

In the last few years, the U.S. has been ramping up its military operations throughout Latin America in what the Associated Press called “the most expensive initiative in Latin America since the Cold War.” The buildup has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $20 billion since 2002, for troops, ships, clandestine bases, radar, military and police training and other expenses.

U.S. military expenditures for Honduras in particular have gone up every year since 2009, when a military coup deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya. At $67.4 million, 2012 Defense Department contracts for Honduras are triple those of 10 years ago. The U.S. spent $25 million last year to make the U.S. barracks at the Soto Cano air base permanent, and $89 million to keep 600 U.S. troops based there. U.S. direct aid to the Honduran military and police continues to climb as well.

But the Obama administration’s escalating military commitment in Honduras only deepens its support for the corrupt and repressive Lobo government. State security forces still enjoy near-complete impunity for thousands of alleged human rights abuses and even murders since the 2009 coup. The government hasn’t paid many of its teachers for at least six months, and the country is close to bankrupt.

On Dec. 13, in a clash of two equally corrupt groups of competing elites, the Honduran Congress illegally deposed four members of the Supreme Court, swearing in new justices within hours. Since then, the congress has run roughshod over the constitution, rapidly repassing a series of laws that had been overruled by the court, including a much-criticized mining law and a notorious law authorizing so-called model cities in which the constitution itself doesn’t apply.

These actions blatantly disregard the rule of law. Yet the U.S. State Department looked the other way at this “technical coup.”

In pouring U.S. military resources into the corrupt Honduran government, Washington argues that it is helping fight drug trafficking, which is indeed rampant, murderous and growing. But the Honduran government and the elites who control it are widely alleged to be implicated in the drug trafficking.

The drug war, though, does provide cover for a new wave of U.S. aggression in Latin America. Honduras, with the only large U.S. Air Force base between the United States and South America, has long been important as a linchpin of U.S. military domination of the region, including, most famously, U.S. involvement in the 1954 coup in Guatemala and the 1980s Contra war against the Nicaraguan government. Today, the expanding U.S. role poses an enormous threat to the whole region, and to Honduras’ sovereignty.

Moreover, as the media have reported, the Obama administration’s drug war in Honduras has been a disaster. In May 2012, agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration participated in an operation in which four Afro-indigenous villagers were killed and several others injured in the Mosquitia region of Honduras. The DEA acknowledges that it killed two alleged drug traffickers in separate incidents in June and July. In July, after the Honduran military shot down two supposed drug planes in violation of international protocol, the U.S. suspended radar cooperation for drug flights. In January, in the first joint operation after cooperation resumed, the Honduran coast guard killed an alleged drug trafficker utilizing intelligence provided by DEA agents.

Many Democrats in Congress have had enough. On Jan. 30, 58 members of the House, led by Reps. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Kerry and Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. demanding that the May 2012 incident involving the DEA be investigated, calling attention to state-sponsored repression of Afro-indigenous Hondurans and questioning the drug war. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt. ) has on hold about $30 million in U.S. aid to Honduran security forces, pending answers to questions about abuses of civilians and corruption.

That’s a start, but Kerry and the administration need to reverse U.S. policy in Honduras altogether. End the bloody drug war and focus on job creation and social justice instead. Stop treating the current Honduran government like a friendly partner; instead, forthrightly denounce its human rights abuses and corruption of the rule of law. Help guarantee a free presidential election in November by condemning the assassinations of at least five opposition party activists and candidates in the last year, and demand adequate protection for the hundreds of Hondurans in the opposition who have received death threats.

In other words, stop arming Honduran thugs and allow those in the opposition the space to define their own future, free of U.S. interference.

Dana Frank is a professor of history at UC Santa Cruz whose work focuses on modern Honduras.

Fuente: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/feb/12/opinion/la-oe-frank-honduras-drug-war-20130212

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