Fox News & The Associated Press & The Miami Herald – 2012-05-28 00:58:27
Did US Agents Participate in Bloody Raid that Terrorized Honduras Village?
Fox News Latino
(May 22, 2012) — New allegations have surfaced that US DEA agents participated in a bloody raid that left civilians dead and a Honduran village terrorized. The gunfire from a US-backed Honduran anti-drug mission that killed four passengers on a riverboat and wounded four more wasn’t the only terror that night more than a week ago, villagers say. They say heavily armed commandos then stormed into homes and manhandled residents, and they allege that American agents joined in.
After the shooting, the masked commandos landed their helicopters in this community of wooden shacks on stilts near the river and began breaking down doors hunting for a drug trafficker they called “El Renco,” villagers told The Associated Press on Monday.
Witnesses referred to some of the agents as “gringos” and said they spoke English to each other and into their radios.
Hilaria Zavala said six men kicked in her door about 3 a.m., threw her husband on the ground and put a gun to his head. “They kept him that way for two hours,” said Zavala, who owns a market near the main pier in Ahuas. They asked if he was El Renco, if he worked for El Renco, if the stuff belonged to El Renco. My husband said he had nothing to do with it.”
The fatal shooting and raid on May 11 enraged villagers, and some joined up in a machete-wielding mob that burned down the houses of four families, including one believed to belong to the man known as El Renco, Ahuas Police Chief Filiberto Pravia RodrÃguez said. Pravia said he tried to talk the mob into stopping its rampage but had to run for his own life when the angry residents turned on him.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration has repeatedly said its agents who were on the helicopter mission acted only in an advisory role to their Honduran National Police counterparts and did not use their weapons. Police said the helicopters were following a load of cocaine that had been unloaded from a plane and was being transferred to a boat on the river when they were fired on from the ground. They shot back in self-defense.
DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said Monday night that there were no DEA personnel in the village when asked to respond to the villagers’ story. Honduran Security Ministry spokesman Hector Ivan Mejia said he had no information about the raid reported by residents.
Below, in a wide bend of the heavily traveled Patuca River, passengers on a riverboat said they were awakened by gunshots raining from a helicopter onto the boat and all 12 dove into the water for cover. The AP counted 20 bullet holes in the boat they were traveling in, some with bloodstains and large enough to put a finger through. It was unclear what happened to the boat that national police say was the target of the attack and on which officers found a half ton of cocaine.
Hilda Lezama was hit by a bullet that passed through both her legs, leaving a wound the size of a large hand on her right leg. The owner of the passenger boat, part of a family business transporting divers, said the helicopter fired in the dark, then turned on a spotlight, then turned it off and continued to fire.
“Why didn’t they turn on the light before they started shooting?” she said. “They saw us and they continued firing.”
On the shore near the main pier for Ahuas, Sandra Madrid cowered in her home from the bursts of gunfire coming from overhead. She said it lasted 15 minutes. “I’ve never seen a machine like that. I’ve never seen a shootout like that,” said Madrid, who manages the village’s main river transportation company. Then about an hour later, helicopters landed in her front yard. Neighbor Mariano Uitol said about 40 men in total got out, adding, “They told everyone to get inside and don’t anyone leave.”
The commandos seized a neighbor’s boat and gasoline to travel down the river, Madrid said, taking Hilaria Zavala’s teenage nephew to guide them. He had been waiting on the dock for his mother in the shot-up passenger boat. Witnesses said the agents made several trips carrying sacks and loading them onto the helicopters that took off and landed repeatedly over the next two hours.
An investigation by the Honduran military based in nearby Puerto Lempira concluded that the agents fired on the civilians by accident, killing four and wounding four, said Col. Ronald Rivera Amador, commander of the Honduran Joint Military Task Force-Paz GarcÃa. He said the task force conducted only part of the investigation and sent its findings to the Joint Task Force Gen. Rene Osorio. Mejia said a Honduran federal prosecutor is leading the investigation.
The isolated savannah and jungle region of northern Honduras, known as the Mosquitia for the Miskito Indians that have lived there for centuries, has been a drug-running area for decades. But cocaine shipments increased dramatically in the last few years as authorities cracked down in Mexico and other parts of the main drug routes from South America to the United States.
The State Department says 79 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights leaving South America first land in Honduras.
Members of the US Congress and human rights groups have been ramping up their criticism of US spending in this small Central American country of 8 million people, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world and an equally high rate of impunity. Everyone has openly spoken about the problem of impoverished families in the region earning money by helping load and unload cocaine, from President Porfirio Lobo to the local police chief, Pravia.
The chief said there is little he can do to confront traffickers from his four-person post where officers get around on bicycle and foot. “I have 30 bullets. Here at least 50 to 100 men gather (for drug shipments), with the best weaponry, new and with bullets,” he said. “If we see them or know what they are doing, what we do is go away or get back into the post. We cannot do anything against them.”
Pravia said he heard the helicopters in the middle of the night but did not go out until soldiers knocked at his door about 5:30 a.m. He and a judge tried to go to the river, where soldiers said there were two bodies in the water, but they were met by the angry crowd waving machetes and clubs and carrying cans of gasoline. “I was lucky I could run,” he said.
Several hours later, the crowd turned its wrath on the four houses.
“The family and friends of the victims burned the homes because of the narcos,” Zavala said. “This whole mess was their fault … because of them, we all had to pay.”
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Survivor: Honduran Police Fired on Passenger Boat
Alberto Arce / The Associated Press & The Miami Herald
LA CEIBA, Honduras (May 21, 2012) — Lucio Adan Nelson dozed on a riverboat ferrying him home from a visit with his mother when helicopters appeared overhead and started shooting. He and about a dozen other passengers traveling in the middle of the night jumped into the water for cover.
The young Honduran man was hit in the arm and back, but says he couldn’t seek help. “I had to stay in the water for some time because they kept shooting,” he said Sunday from a hospital bed.
Honduran police, who with DEA agents were aboard US helicopters for an anti-drug operation, have said they were shooting at drug traffickers who fired first from a boat in the Patuca River in the remote Mosquitia region near the Caribbean coast.
Local officials say four innocent people died in the incident May 11. Honduran police say they can’t confirm that, saying the anti-drug team didn’t find any casualties after the shooting but only an empty boat with nearly a half ton of cocaine. The US Drug Enforcement Administration agents never fired during the operation, acting only in an advisory role, both US and Honduran officials say.
Honduran military intelligence is investigating, but no one has talked to Nelson, 22. He could hardly speak from the pain Sunday, more than a week after the shooting, as he recovered in the hospital in La Ceiba where he was flown for treatment.
Elsewhere in the hospital lay 14-year-old Willmer Lucas Walter, who had a hand amputated because of injuries from the shooting. The Honduran teenager’s mother, Sabina Romero, said she was too angry to speak about what happened. “Here nobody is going to talk because they will kill you,” she said. “The only help we need here is from doctors, not from reporters.”
Nelson’s uncle, Dany, 32, helped tell the story for his nephew, who speaks mostly Miskito, the language of the indigenous who have lived in the isolated region for centuries. Nelson has been awaiting surgery to put pins in his lower arm. He and Willmer were flown from Ahuas, a community of less than 2,000 people, by the Moravian Church, said Dany Nelson, a health technician who works for the Honduran government on malaria prevention. They both arrived unaccompanied and with IV bags attached to their arms, said Luis Savillon, the taxi driver who picked them up at the airport.
Nelson said he was returning to Barra Patuca, a community of about 6,000 on the Caribbean coast, after visiting his mother in a tiny river community when the shooting occurred about 3 a.m. He managed to pull himself ashore alongside Willmer, and waited there until the helicopters left. He said he never saw any police on the ground. National Police Chief Ricardo Ramirez del Cid has said officers rappelled to the spot from the helicopters after the shooting.
Nelson said he and Willmer started walking in the dark and came upon a house. A woman there walked with them to the clinic in nearby Ahuas. Dany Nelson said he was called by the clinic at 5:30 a.m. Initial reports from local officials said the people killed by the shooting were diving for lobster and shellfish.
Honduran and US officials have voiced doubts about whether people with legitimate business would be traveling the river at night in a heavy drug-trafficking area. President Porfirio Lobo said many in the impoverished indigenous community transport the cocaine that comes in on illicit airplanes from South America to its next destination on the coast.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.