DEA blasted for botched operations in Honduras

DEA blasted for botched operations in Honduras

WASHINGTON, USA — A scathing federal audit released this week by the Inspector General for the US Departments of Justice and State, has disclosed troubling details of a series of failed operations in Honduras by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that killed four innocent civilians – including a 14-year-old boy and two pregnant women – and injured several others.

The drug interdiction missions were conducted jointly by the DEA, US State Department and the government of Honduras between May 11 and July 3, 2012, as part of a program called “Operation Anvil”, Judicial Watch reported.

Investigators found that, in the aftermath of the botched missions, top DEA officials consistently lied to the Department of Justice (DOJ), the DEA’s umbrella agency, and federal lawmakers. The probe also determined that DEA agents acted in a command role during the missions rather their authorized role as advisors, failed to cooperate with Diplomatic Security’s efforts to investigate, blocked Honduran investigators from questioning agents or examining their weapons and failed to report a host nation counterpart’s planting of a gun at the scene.

Then, when the DEA supposedly conducted an internal investigation of the shootings, the facts were covered up. This is referred to as a “paper exercise” in the IG’s lengthy report.

“…DEA inspectors did not meet their responsibility of ensuring a thorough, factual, and objective investigation of a very sensitive shooting incident,” the watchdog report states.

In the May 11 incident in Ahuas, Honduras four people were killed – including two pregnant women – and four others were injured. US and Honduran law enforcement officers aboard a canoe-like boat loaded with seized cocaine opened fire on a nearby passenger boat, the report says. A DEA agent also ordered a Honduran law enforcement helicopter to fire on the passenger boat, killing four people and injuring four others. The DEA claimed passengers on the boat fired at authorities, though there was never any evidence of it.

“Even as information became available to DEA that conflicted with its initial reporting, including that the passenger boat may have been a water taxi carrying passengers on an overnight trip, DEA officials remained steadfast – with little credible corroborating evidence – that any individuals shot by the Hondurans were drug traffickers,” the report states.

In a June 23 operation in Brus Laguna, Honduras a DEA agent killed a man lying face down. Law enforcement officers were searching for drug suspects that had already fled the area, the IG reported. DEA officials lied about the event, reporting that the shooting involved an armed suspect who ignored orders to drop his weapon during a search for drug traffickers.

In a separate incident on July 3, DEA agents fired multiple shots at a pilot who ignored their commands by re-entering a plane that had crash landed near Catacamas, Honduras. Investigators from the IG’s office determined that a handgun was planted at the scene by a Honduran police officer to justify killing the pilot and US officials went along with it. The gun planting was discovered because the first agency report involving the July plane incident made no mention of the use of deadly force, even though a man had been shot at the scene.

A report released in March by the US Department of State credits the Honduras government with battling crime and drug trafficking, while being sharply critical of Eastern Caribbean islands, Antigua and Barbuda in particular, for failing to curb drug trafficking and money laundering.

According to the State Department’s 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), the Eastern Caribbean hosts abundant transshipment points for illicit narcotics, primarily from Venezuela destined for North American, European and domestic Caribbean markets. However, no evidence was provided or any sources given for these assertions.

On the other hand, Honduras has entire “boneyards” of crashed, burned and abandoned drug-smuggling aircraft. The flights are usually one-way trips from Venezuela, ending in deliberate crash landings with the mission accomplished. The average payload is worth much more than the plane itself.

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Abandoned aircraft at Roatan Airport, Honduras, in February 2016, including a mysterious Gulfstream II business jet with registration number N707KD. Photo: Tom Demerly

The Caribbean island of Utila is another remote part of Honduras that has a boneyard of aircraft that have been abandoned and believed to be used by drug smugglers, since the registration numbers are generally scraped off the planes and no crew are to be found.

Nevertheless, the State Department report detailed the efforts of the Honduras government to battle drug trafficking.

“The results are visible,” the INCSR concluded, perhaps an unintentional allusion to the many pictures of crashed and abandoned drug smuggling aircraft.

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Small planes are routinely burned and abandoned by drug smugglers

Christa Castro, minister advisor for strategy and communications for the government of Honduras, said that her government has taken concrete steps to combat organized crime and drug trafficking.

“The State Department report highlights the fruits of our labour,” she noted.

In fact, her government was apparently so pleased with the INCSR that it issued a press release on Friday entitled: “Honduran government receives praise from US State Department for reducing crime and corruption rates”.

In contrast, the governments of Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts and Nevis have condemned the report, accusing the State Department of misrepresenting the situation in the Eastern Caribbean.

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