Listen to the President of CBN, Judy Ancel, on Project Censored on the Drug War in Honduras. Thank you Maria Robinson of Task Force on the Americas and Karen Spring of Honduras Solidarity Network for doing this interview with her.
See below for more information on Ahuas and the War on Drugs in Honduras
The Lethal Arms of the U.S. Drug War in Honduras
On December 28, 2015 in the early morning, the Honduran Navy shot and killed two Afro-Indigenous Garifuna men, Jostin Lino Palacios, age 24 and Elvis Garcia, age 19 in Barra de Iriona in the department of Colon, on the northeast coast of Honduras.
Immediately, the Honduran Armed Forces issued a communique stating, “During an anti-drug operation, the occupants of the two cars began firing against the naval patrol which as a result left one civilian dead and one wounded. It happens repeatedly since special operations began, that they fire on Navy patrols upon being discovered moving drugs.” Later they said the victims were caught in a crossfire between the Navy and narco-traffickers.
Still later they had to eat their words. A survivor of the attack, Jefferson Martinez, father of one of the dead said, ““We were heading toward the community of Limon, carrying ice and other products to sell when we got to Iriona and got stuck in a sandbar. We called some compañeros to help get us out. Two cars arrived and they pulled us out when we were attacked.” Arnulfo Mejia, ex-Mayor of Iriona who was driving one of the three cars stuck on the beach said, “The agents came out of a pasture. There were approximately 20. It was a miracle that we’re alive. There were women and children in the cars.”
The incident was followed immediately by a wave of protests by residents in Iriona including the burning of a military vehicle. Then on January 5, the Honduran government filed charges against seven soldiers from the Naval Base in Puerto Castillo, on Trujillo Bay. Then it granted them bail.
While the public outcry over the killings is no doubt why the soldiers were charged, but where are the charges against officers? No doubt there is great skepticism that anyone will be convicted. The Garifuna organization, OFRANEH, commented, “The criminalization of the Garifuna people by government officials and the military is no more than a smoke screen to hide the alliance of mayors, judges and narcos.”
In January, 2016 a delegation from Kansas City’s Cross Border Network and the San Francisco Bay Area’s Task Force on the Americas visited northern Honduras to investigate land grabs by the hotel and palm oil industries and the impact of our 40 yearlong drug war on the people. We were in Trujillo and decided to go talk to the Navy at the Puerto Castillo base. We were welcomed in by Captains Ernesto Avila and Juan Antonio de Jesus.
They told us their principle responsibility is to patrol the coast for drug smugglers from the Nicaragua border to Trujillo Bay. They patrol marine, land and air looking for planes flying in from Colombia and traffickers moving cargo to boats for transportation to the US. Ten months out of the year ten American Marines are there to train Hondurans in tactical operations, physical training, and weapons. Special U.S. Navy units also come there as do 20-30 trainers from Colombia. The U.S. keeps three helicopters at the base.
We asked Capt. de Jesus if he thought they were making progress in the drug war. He said, “In the last two years, drug traffic has been reduced a lot . . . We are making progress in our space, but now they’re going other ways.” He said the drug traffic had moved to the Pacific coast.
As for the two men killed in Iriona, De Jesus readily admitted that it was his men who killed and added only that they were “investigating.”
Some context on the U.S. drug war
The presence of U.S. training teams and proliferation of at least a dozen American bases in Honduras under cover of the drug war has been little noticed at home, but it is the latest phase in a history which began over a century ago with gunboat diplomacy and Honduras as banana republic. At least since 1954 Honduras has served as the fulcrum of U.S. power in Central America and the Caribbean. Our government has leveraged regime changes, engaged in counterinsurgency and low intensity warfare, and narcotics interdiction. In a 2015 article, Fred Alvarado writes,
“Strategically well-located at the center of Latin America and the Caribbean, Honduras has become an important American military platform, operating as a center for advanced tactical training and joint military operations under the Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM). From the Honduran coast, foreign military forces are able to control the Caribbean and carry out regional monitoring along maritime borders of Colombia, Mexico, Grand Cayman, Nicaragua, Cuba, Belize, Guatemala and Jamaica.” 
In the 1980s, the U.S. staged the Contra War in Nicaragua from Honduras and trained and armed the Honduran military for domestic terrorism. The U.S. financed this illegal war by shipping cocaine in league with Honduran military officers. Since 9/11, as part of the global war on terror, the U.S. has been remilitarizing Mexico and Central America, citing narcotics trafficking as a threat to the security of American citizens. Like Plan Colombia and Mexico’s Merida Initiative, the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI - 2008) has poured in millions of dollars to militarize control of narcotics trafficking while criminalizing campesinos and anyone who dissents.
The latest plan, in response to the surge of refugees from Central America’s Northern Triangle, is more of the same. It’s called the Biden Plan, a $750 million component of the new Alliance for Prosperity, partnering with the Inter-American Development Bank, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It’s modeled on Plan Colombia. The Biden Plan’s first proposal is security. An analysis of its budget reveals a doubling of money for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement. $349 million is going to CARSI. The rest calls for fighting government, police and military corruption and economic development. The former will necessitate government cooperation – a tall order – and the latter is based on the same neoliberal model that is wiping out worker protections and privatizing vast stretches of the land and economy.
The Ahuas Massacre
Our skepticism about a conviction in the Iriona murders was fueled by our experience on a delegation in May, 2012 when several of us went to the remote village of Ahuas in the Moskitia to investigate the killing of four indigenous Miskito people and wounding of four others at the hands of Honduran police and a U.S. FAST team under command of the DEA’s Honduras chief, Jim Kenney. The dead were all traveling in a pipante, a passenger boat headed for Ahuas. They included two pregnant women, a 14 year-old boy and the boat’s 21 year-old co-pilot. None were drug traffickers. The killers were aboard four helicopters owned by the U.S. State Department. After terrorizing the village, the helicopters flew away, leaving dead and wounded in the water. To date, the U.S. government has failed to complete its investigation or admit its mistake, and the survivors and families of the dead have received neither justice nor compensation.
Our delegation went to the island of Roatán to meet with families of the Ahuas victims. There we met Sabina Lucas, mother of Wilmer Lucas who was fourteen at the time and was shot, Brenly and Yani Trapp, whose mother Candelaria Trapp Nelson was killed, and, Edmor Anthony Brooks Wood whose brother Hasked Brooks Wood was killed.
We met at our hotel, an enchanting beach resort, but the stories we heard were dismaying. Sabina, came to Roatan from Ahuas to work at age 14 after her father died. Life has been a real struggle. She’s a single mom. Her son Wilmer was going to Ahuas with Hasked, his best friend, and Hasked’s mother Clara to visit his grandmother. Wilmer was shot in the right hand, fracturing several bones. She said, “The hospitals were terrible. They wouldn’t operate on Wilmer until a specialist arrived. We had to wait 32 days.” Sabina had to leave her job in a shrimp factory to care for him. Today, after a second surgery, paid for by a US religious group, and two years of physical therapy, his arm still has limited movement. He can move his fingers but his hand is weak and the muscles are atrophied. She thinks he needs more physical therapy, but there’s no money for doctors. Wilmer is still suffering trauma from the attack. Sabina said Wilmer is changed since the incident. “He angers easily. Two weeks ago he witnessed an accident in the street. He got so upset he almost fainted, his heart beat so rapidly.” She added, “We want justice, but there’s no money for lawyers.”
Edmore Anthony Brooks Wood is 29. He said he was representing his mother, Clara who was away. “It’s difficult to talk about my brother, Hasked. It makes me very sad. My mother goes to the cemetery every day and cries. She is not the same as before.” He said the authorities dug up Hasked’s grave to test the bullets. They couldn’t identify them as having come from the Honduran police guns.
A man came to find Clara and said the gringos wanted her. They took her to Tegucigalpa and gave her a lie detector test. He was an American. She thinks he was a handler for the DEA. Clara said killing Hasked wasn’t enough. They also had to pressure her to lie. She was harassed with calls. She changed her number. She was followed.
Edmore said, “The politicians are running the drugs. We want justice. We want the death penalty for the killers. It would help my mother.”
Candalaria’s son Brenly Trapp is 24. Yani, is 23, the oldest daughter. After their mother was killed at Ahuas, all six brothers and sisters had to come to Roatán because there’s more work there. Candalaria was a single mother. She and Brenly supported all the kids. Brenly said, “What hurts me most is that my mom had worked very hard to keep the kids in school.” Brenly didn’t graduate, and all the kids had to drop out. “I am the only worker. Yani takes care of the kids.” “The work here is only temporary; sometimes one month, sometimes 15 days, or just a week.”
The Trapps have received no compensation, not even scholarships so they could go back to school. Senator Leahy said they had to wait for the investigation, but the DEA has blocked it.
We asked, “What do you want?” He said, “We want support for our people. We want the death penalty, something that stops this. The US government has the power to stop this; to stop our government.”
Brenly and Yani took us to their room in a row of rooms housing several families. It was in a swamp, and water was running across their doorstep. It was so crowded, dark, and fetid, that we could hardly stand to be there.
Yet despite the efforts of Senator Leahy, the investigation has stalled because the DEA refused to turn over evidence to Department of Justice investigators. So after nearly four years there’s no accountability for the killings and maiming at Ahuas, and more and more victims of our war on drugs pile up. Our organizations will work to help all the Ahuas survivors and families stay united and strong until they get justice.
Vallecito: The Power of Solidarity
On the last day of our tour we went to Vallecito. Here the insanity of the drug war meets the firm resistance of the organized Garifuna. They are occupying Vallecito to keep narcotraffickers, palm oil barons, and others interested in resource exploitation from encroaching on their land. It’s a place with a vision for the future of the Garifuna people where they can pass on their amazing culture and language to their children, with space for communities dislocated by the rising sea. We met a traditional healer, Selvyn Lopez, who was boiling herbal medicine in a giant pot. We visited a huge building they’d constructed, destined to become a school to teach agriculture and the Garifuna language and culture. We saw people happy, hard at work, and full of plans. They were about to celebrate their New Year the next day and plan on a big conference of up to a thousand this summer.
In Vallecito we met Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator of OFRANEH. She gave us a tour to see a landing strip where narcotraffickers landed planes coming from Colombia. The Garifuna hold title to a vast tract of land at Vallecito. They discovered that it was being used as a transit point for drugs and was heavily guarded. They were barred from entering. So in 2011 they began to reclaim their property. In January 2014 they got the government to dynamite the airstrip, blasting six craters that would prevent planes from landing. Despite this, the narcotraffickers came back. In July before Garifuna lived there they saw local campesinos cutting pine trees to fill in the craters. In Vallecito the narcotraffickers control the local authorities, the police and military, and the campesinos. Miriam describes what happened next:
“We came back the next morning and a crater was totally filled with pine trees but no dirt yet and another was half filled. Around 7:30 we walked back to where our car was, and a car with tinted windows approached. Several armed men - sicarios - with bulletproof vests got out. They had nothing covering their faces. We realized they planned to kill us. The chief ordered everyone to gather together. They wanted all our cell phones, but someone was able to make a call. Within minutes the authorities began to get calls and emails demanding our release. There was lots of international pressure, and they released us about 9:30 am. It was very hard. We’re so isolated here and we’re surrounded by Miguel Facusse’s African palm plantations. This is a zone of resistance against African palm. . . This area is important for the government, especially for a Model City and for the extension of African palm into this area. Also, they suspect that there’s oil here. Studies have been done. . When you live in a narco state, it’s dangerous. If you don’t abide by what they want, you put yourself at risk . . . That’s why international solidarity is very important for us, and every time groups visit and learn about our struggle there are more voices to counter the government’s statements that everything is OK.”
What we saw in Honduras, despite the fear, were people protesting, fighting back and struggling for justice. We also saw the ugly international face of our endless War on Drugs. The U.S. plays whack-amole pushing narcotraffic from country-to-country and innocent people die. While there’s plenty of evidence of this war’s failure, it continues because it keeps feeding the interests and profits of politicians, the prison industry and the military-industrial complex. The war on Hondurans is mostly invisible to Americans. We only see the blowback in the thousands of desperate women and children washed up on our borders. So we send more military trainers, more guns and ammo, more helicopters. And, of course, it’s a sham, a cover for maintaining a corrupt government and the U.S. strategic grip on Central America.
Yet, we were inspired by the resistance and hunger for justice that we saw. We will tell their stories, but we know that it’s going to take all of us: Hondurans and Americans to end the drug war. Please help all of us by sharing this, telling your elected officials to end the war on drugs, and by joining the Honduras Solidarity Network and supporting our partners in Honduras.
The Cross Border Network
Fred Alvarado, Honduras: The Process of American Remilitarization and the Failure of the War on Drugs (2015) http://pencanada.ca/blog/el-proceso-de-remilitarizacion-estadounidense-y-el-fracaso-de-la-guerra-contra-las-drogas/.
Joe Biden: A Plan for Central America, New York Times, Jan 29, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/opinion/joe-biden-a-plan-for-central-america.html?_r=0.
Annie Bird and Alexander Main, Collateral Damage of a Drug War The May 11 Killings in Ahuas and the Impact of the U.S. War on Drugs in La Moskitia, Honduras, http://rightsaction.org/sites/default/files//Ahuas_Report_120815.pdf
Esther Yu-Hsi Lee, Experts Say U.S. Aid Package To Central America Is Backfiring Big Time Think Progress 2/4/16 http://thinkprogress.org/immigration/2016/02/04/3745790/us-alliance-for-prosperity-money-central-america/.
Eric Lichtblau, “Tighter Lid on Records Threatens to Weaken Government Watchdogs,” The New York Times, Nov. 27, 2015
Alexander Main, Will Biden's Billion Dollar Plan Help Central America? NACLA 2/27/15
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2, The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations, (accessed 2-4-16) http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB2/index.html#3b
Mattathias Schwartz, “A Mission Gone Wrong,” New Yorker, Jan. 6, 2014
U.S. Department of State, CARSI (accessed 2-4-16) http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rt/carsi/
 La Prensa, Dec. 28, 2015 – Incendian camión militar en Colón tras muerte de dos garífunas
 La Prensa, Jan. 5, 2016 - Confirman prisión para navales por muerte de garífunas
 Alvarado, 2015
 Alvarado, 2015 and National Security Archive
 According to the U.S. Department of State: “The deteriorating security situation in Central America poses serious threats to the safety of its citizens. Traffickers across Central America smuggle drugs to the United States and other nations, while arms and cash flows move south from the United States to sustain these criminal organizations. The continued expansion of national and transnational gangs has created communities of fear, and rampant organized crime and corruption robs citizens of their trust in public officials and their ability to earn a livelihood.” The U.S. has provided $642 million in U.S. CARSI assistance since 2008. State Department, Central America Regional Security Initiative http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rt/carsi/
 Biden, 1/29/15
 Main 2015 and Yu-Hsi Lee, 2016
 FAST stands for Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team. For more on Ahuas killings, see Schwartz, Mattathias and Bird and Main.
 Eric Lichtblau, “Tighter Lid on Records Threatens to Weaken Government Watchdogs,” The New York Times, Nov. 27, 2015.
 Facusse, who recently died, was the richest Honduran. His palm oil plantations blanket northern Honduras on land stolen from campesinos. He was one of the leaders of the military coup in 2009 that overthrew popular President Manuel Zelaya.
Español es después de inglés
Our organization, which has been active in human rights and solidarity work in Honduras since the 2009 coup, is deeply saddened and outraged by the assassination of Berta Cáceres on March 3rd in La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. Berta was the General Coordinator of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). She was awarded the prestigious Goldman Prize last year for her courageous defense of the environment. Her loss is a tragic blow to her indigenous Lenca people, to the Honduran popular resistance movement and to the worldwide movement for the environment and democracy. However, despite her death, Berta’s leadership for justice will have lasting impact.
Berta was an inspiration who led her people to resist the privatization of rivers and force the withdrawal of a Chinese company building the Agua Zarca damn on the Gualcarque River. However dam construction was only stalled temporarily, and when it resumed, so did resistance and numerous death threats against Berta and members of COPINH. Since 2010, more than 100 environmental activists have been killed in Honduras. Global Witness, the worldwide human rights organization, says an average of two people are killed every week defending their land, forests and waterways in Honduras against agriculture, logging or energy projects.
We express heartfelt condolences to the members of COPINH and to the Honduran people, and also our outrage at the complicity of the U.S. government in the intolerable level of violence and impunity in Honduras. From their support of the 2009 coup to their escalating militarization, the U.S. government has nurtured a regime with astounding levels of corruption, repression, and violations of human rights.
We echo the concerns of COPINH for their own safety and deplore the murder on March 15 of Nelson Garcia, of COPINH by military or paramilitary forces, and we are concerned for the safety of their member Aureliano Molina Villanueva and the Mexican activist Gustavo Castro Soto. Molina is still being held by the Honduran authorities, and Castro was held for three days and now is not allowed to leave Honduras. We deplore apparent attempts to implicate Molina or other members of COPINH in the assassination of Berta Cáceres. We deplore as well the failure of the Honduran authorities to implement precautionary measures granted by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States.
We call for the following:
Nuestra organización, que ha estado activa en Derechos Humanos y Trabajo Solidario en Honduras desde el golpe del 2009, está profundamente entristecida e indignada por el asesinato de Berta Cáceres en la Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. Berta fue la Coordinadora General del Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH). El año pasado ella recibió el prestigioso Premio Goldman por su valiente defensa del medio ambiente. Su pérdida es un trágico golpe al pueblo Lenca, al movimiento popular de resistencia de la gente de Honduras y al movimiento mundial por el medio ambiente y la democracia. Sin embargo, a pesar de esta perdida, su liderazgo para la justicia tendrá un impacto duradero.
Berta fue la inspiración que dirigió a su gente a resistir la privatización de los ríos y consiguió el retiro de una compañía china para la construcción de la represa de Agua Zarca en el río Gualcarque, pero la construcción de la represa fue suspendida solo temporalmente. Cuando reanudó, también retornó La Resistencia así como numerosas amenazas en contra de Berta y miembros del COPINH. Desde el 2010, más de cien activistas del ambiente han sido asesinados en Honduras. Global Witness, la organización mundial de derechos humanos. Declara que un promedio de dos personas son asesinadas cada semana defendiendo sus tierras, sus bosques y sus vías acuáticas, en contra de la agricultura, tala de bosques o proyectos de energía.
Expresamos nuestras más sentidas condolencias a los miembros del COPINH y al pueblo de Honduras, y también nuestra indignación ante la complicidad del gobierno de los Estados Unidos y el nivel intolerable de violencia e impunidad en Honduras. Con el apoyo al Golpe del 2009 al aumento de la militarización, el gobierno de los Estados Unidos ha alimentado un régimen con asombrosos niveles de corrupción, represión y violación de los derechos humanos.
Condenamos el asesinato de Nelson Garcia por fuerzas militares o paramilitares el 15 de Marzo. Hacemos nuestra la preocupación de COPINH por su propia seguridad y la seguridad de sus miembros Aureliano Molina Villanueva y del activista mexicano Gustavo Castro Soto. Molina todavía está detenido por las autoridades hondureñas, Castro fue detenido por tres días y ahora no se le permite salir de Honduras. Deploramos los aparentes intentos para implicar a Molina y otros miembros de COPINH en el asesinato de Berta Cáceres. Deploramos también la falla de las autoridades de Honduras de implementar medidas de precaución autorizadas por la Comisión de Derechos Humanos (IACHR) de la Organización de Estados Americanos.
Requerimos la implementación de las siguientes medidas:
Back in the 1960s, Mexico was a developing nation with strong rates of growth and a large and growing middle class. Mexico in the era of corporate-driven globalization, however, has been a society rapidly running in reverse with surging inequality of wealth and opportunity and communities undergoing social dismemberment.
The disappearance of 43 normal school students in the State of Guerrero on September 26, 2014 and the killing of 6 others by police under orders of the Mayor of Iguala and an allied narco gang gave rise to mass expressions of repressed anger and protest by the Mexican people. Distraught in their grief, the parents and fellow students of the disappeared have demonstrated all over Mexico, calling on the government to remove corrupt officials, to end the so-called war on drugs that has cost at least 70,000 lives since it began under the orders of President Felipe Calderon in 2006. And behind all this are the demands of students and their teachers to stop the austerity which impoverishes rural Mexico and gives them an inferior education with only phony education reforms which only lead to greater inequality.
Since the early 1980s Mexico suffered from structural adjustment at the hands of the International Monetary Fund so it could pay its debts to international banks. This began wave upon wave of “reforms” which have culminated in the social chaos that is Mexico today. The IMF and U.S. creditors forced Mexico to open to foreign investment, sell off its public sector, cut spending on education and health and ultimately in 1994 completely bend to the will of foreign and homegrown elites and accept the North American Free Trade Agreement.
As multi-national corporations took over the economy, regular jobs disappeared. In the cities wages declined and in rural areas 2-3 million farmers were displaced from their lands by a flood of U.S. agricultural commodities. The fastest growing industry was narco trafficking, which became a viable career choice for many of the displaced and the youth with no good prospects for their future except emigration to the U.S. The violence and corruption are worse in the poorest rural and largely indigenous parts of the country.
In 2008 just before he left office, President Bush signed the Merida Initiative, otherwise known as Plan Mexico, a “new security cooperation initiative” between Mexico and the U.S. aimed at combatting drug trafficking and organized crime. The Obama administration has continued it with gusto so that by the end of 2013, the U.S. had delivered over $1.2 billion in equipment and training out of $2.3 billion in appropriated funds. Funds were used to train, arm and advise Mexican police, prison authorities, prosecutors and others in the criminal justice system. Some are trained at the notorious School of Assassins, formerly called the School of the Americas. The program contains aircraft including nine UH-60M Blackhawk helicopters, satellite tracking devices, communications equipment and software, upgraded prisons, Culture of Lawfulness programs in junior high schools in 31 states, and, of course, improved border security.
However, as the events surrounding the disappearance of the 43 students make clear, narco trafficking in Mexico has morphed into a narco State. Torture is still widely used to exact false confessions. The close ties between the cartels and public officials at all levels only appear to deepen. It is estimated that 90% of weapons used by drug cartels come from the U.S. Are many of these funded by U.S. taxpayers?
Nor do the billions envisioned in the Merida Initiative address in any significant way the root causes of all this: the economic devolution of Mexico under the regime of debt slavery, global restructuring and free trade. Yet addressing the proliferation of poverty to over half the population is fundamental to solving the problems of drugs, crime and corruption. Mexico’s economic policies continue to center on holding down wages to attract foreign investment, selling off assets, and exporting its people to find jobs in the U.S. and Canada and send back billions in remittances.
It’s no coincidence that the Ayotzinapa Caravan participants plan to go to Ferguson, Missouri after visiting Kansas City. Just as the U.S. substitutes a viable plan to address poverty and racism with the War on Drugs and the militarization of our police, so too Mexico, uses the War on Drugs and its accompanying militarization of society instead of finding real solutions to poverty and racism against indigenous people.
Human rights delegation finds disturbing evidence of US involvement in killings of Miskito people in Ahuás
3 of the 7 organizers of this campaign were CBN representatives (Judy Ancel, Melissa Stiehler, and Alice Kitchen). More information on this campaign can be found at hhrd2012.wordpress.com