Thursday, May 25, 2017

DEA lied about operations in Honduras that killed four civilians (May 25, 2017)

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) planned and led a 2012 anti-narcotics operation in Honduras that killed four innocent civilians. The agency then lied about the episode to Congress, the Justice Department and the public, according to a scathing report released yesterday by the inspectors general of the Justice and State Departments.

The 2012 operation carried out on May 11 killed four people traveling in an unarmed taxi boat, and seriously injured three others. Seven children were orphaned as a result of the confrontation, which the DEA had claimed was in self-defense, reports the Guardian. But the inspectors general found no evidence to back the claim. "Not only was there no credible evidence that individuals in the passenger boat fired first, but the available evidence places into serious question whether there was any gunfire from the passenger boat at any time," according to the report.

The investigation heavily cites a report by Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which drew on eyewitness testimony to contradict the DEA version of events.

DEA agents in a program known as Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) were involved in two other deadly shootings in Honduras that year before it was shut down, reports the New York Times. FAST was originally used to combat Taliban-linked opium traffickers in the Afghanistan war zone and later expanded to Latin America in 2008 to help fight transnational drug smugglers.

The three incidents analyzed were part of Operation Anvil, a 90-day pilot program designed to disrupt drug flights from South America to Honduras, reports Reuters. At the time Honduran protesters burned government buildings and demanded the expulsion of DEA agents. The controversy temporarily derailed U.S.-Honduran anti-drug efforts, reports the Los Angeles Times.

"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,'" reported the New Yorker in 2014. "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."

The report released this week found that the DEA poorly planned the operation, failed to fully investigate the incidents and gave inaccurate information to Justice Department officials and Congress, notes the Associated Press.

The report rejected DEA's claim that the missions were led by Honduran law enforcement officials. The review "concluded this was inaccurate" and said D.E.A. agents "maintained substantial control," notes the NYT. Agency leaders made critical decisions and directed the mission's actions, according to the report. Only D.E.A. agents, not the Hondurans, had the necessary equipment to command the operation and had direct access to intelligence.

The DEA further refused to cooperate with the embassy, the state and justice departments, and the Honduran government.

"Many elements of the report suggest the DEA doctored its post-shooting reports and applied aggressive and sometimes fatal counterterrorism tactics to a law enforcement operation. At best, the agency had a severe case of confirmation bias," reports the Intercept.

"This report is nothing less than a wholesale indictment of the DEA and Honduran police for three poorly planned operations that resulted in the use of deadly force -- in one case, the shooting deaths of four innocent civilians -- and of incompetent investigations that never seriously pursued the truth," said U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy. "DEA, Honduran, and State Department officials provided Congress with incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading information in order to perpetuate a self-serving narrative that was fundamentally flawed and demeaned the lives of the victims and the reputation of the United States.  I am deeply concerned about the uninformed arrogance at these agencies that produced these failures.  This raises serious questions whether these cases are isolated incidents."

"The IG report makes it clear that DEA agents abroad can literally get away with murder. In this case, not only did the DEA fail to hold agents accountable for their role in the killing of innocents, they appear to have knowingly deceived the public about what actually occurred during the Ahuas operation," said Alexander Main, coauthor of CEPR's two reports on the incident. "Alarmingly, despite these revelations, there is no indication that the agents or those that protected them within the DEA will be sanctioned in any way."

The victims of the crime have yet to receive compensation or justice, notes the Guardian. The report does not make any recommendations regarding compensation or help for the victims.

"There have been no convictions against US or Honduran agents involved in the operation. There have been no remedies for the victims’ physical and emotional injuries, or for the resulting social and economic hardships sustained by the victims and their families," Karen Spring of the Honduras Solidarity Network told CEPR.

The report "confirms our worst suspicions," WOLA's Adam Isacson, told the LA Times. "I don't want to use the word 'coverup,' but [DEA officials] strongly discouraged, perhaps even impeded, efforts to investigate what happened ... I don't see any guarantee that another incident like this won't happen tomorrow."

News Briefs
  • The last eight weeks of anti-government protests in Venezuela have killed at least 55 people. Attorney general Luisa Ortega, who has been a critical voice of dissent within the government, issued a report detailing that the vast majority of those who have died during the protests — 38 — were killed by gunshots and projectiles, reports the Miami Herald. Many of those killed were teens or in their 20s. She accused security officers of excessive force and condemned the use of military tribunals to judge protesters, reports Reuters.
  • Most of the protests follow a pattern -- they begin with thousands of people in a peaceful march towards Caracas government buildings. They are then intercepted by security forces armed with rubber bullets and teargas, and backed by water cannon, reports the Guardian. Then commence the clashes between youths, known as los chamos, or la Resistencia, and security forces. (See Monday's briefs for David Smilde's account of how the protests unfold and criticisms.)
  • Protests continue in Venezuela, but the crisis appears deadlocked, writes Francisco Suniaga in a New York Times Español op-ed. "The opposition protests have been enormous, brave and fervent. But turning them into a popular rebellion that could force Maduro out would demand a greater level of organization and mobilization," he writes. The military will play a key role moving forward -- either maintaining loyalty to the government as it has done until now or defecting. And internationally, diplomacy is needed to help guide the two sides out of conflict, though there are no promising efforts on the horizon, he concludes. 
  • The latest round of protests in Venezuela is different from previous ones, argues Rachelle Krygier in a Washington Post World View. She points to broader participation -- numerically and across economic classes; divisions within the ruling party; increased international isolation of the government; and increased unity among the opposition coalition.
  • On the issue of dissent within the government: two Supreme Court magistrates said they were against the measure to convene a Constituent Assembly, decreed earlier this week. (See yesterday's post.) They said the attempt to rewrite the constitution was not an appropriate way out of the country's current crisis, reports el Nuevo Herald. Their criticisms join those of attorney general Luisa Ortega, who voiced opposition to the government plan. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • An enraged opposition said the Constituent Assembly convoked this week is a stalling tactic to delay regular elections it would lose, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Greater criticism from the left, and increased social cohesion in Venezuela point to change, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The intensity of the crisis is forcing people to look past years of chavista-opposition polarization, according to the piece. The piece quotes Dmitris Pantoulas, who points to "more voices bridging" the country’s two political poles. 
  • Food shortages in Venezuela would seem an excellent opportunity for the country's agricultural production. But producers find themselves unable to increase production, thanks to a combination of price controls and lack of hard currency to pay for imported feed, fertilizer and spare parts -- which are no longer produced by the country's failing industries, reports the Washington Post.
  • Brazil deployed federal troops to contain violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Brasilia, reports the New York Times. Officials say about 35,000 people protested in demonstrations demanding President Michel Temer's ouster -- setting fire to on ministry building and vandalizing other government buildings. Videos circulating on social media show mounted police advancing on a crowd as tear gas canisters fly through the air, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • Temer lost another close aide yesterday, after former lawmaker Sandro Mabel resigned yesterday. Mabel is one of several linked to corruption allegations, reports the Guardian.
  • Lenín Moreno took office as Ecuador's president yesterday and promised more subsidies for the poor and a major social house-building program which would create millions of jobs, reports the BBCHe has promised more dialogue and a more conciliatory style, compared to his predecessors polarizing stance, reports Reuters. But former President Rafael Correa used the last month of his administration to hit hard against the opposition, media and civil society, writes Fundamedios' César Ricaurte in a New York Times Español op-ed. "Correa wants to mark his successor's territory. Leave him corralled, in the middle of two disputing forces, which adopt violent and exclusive language towards each other, making the dialogue and consensus Moreno promised, nearly impossible."
  • The United Nations said it would not be able to maintain essential operations if Trump's proposed budget cuts for next year are carried out. The White House submitted a budget for the 2018 fiscal year that would reduce funding of the State Department by roughly a third and cut foreign assistance by about 29 percent, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs on how the cuts would impact aid to Mexico and Central America.)
  • USAID programs in Cuba would be cut under the proposed budget as well, reports the Miami Herald. There are no economic support funds for Cuba in the State Department’s 2018 budget proposal. (See yesterday's briefs on how the cuts would impact aid to Mexico and Central America.)
  • Over 40 leading U.S. travel companies and associations sent a letter to Trump, urging the administration not to rollback expanded U.S. travel to Cuba. The letter, organized by Cuba Educational Travel, additionally asks President Trump to support private sector growth in both the U.S. and Cuba by removing inefficient and unnecessary government regulations in order to further expand U.S. travel to Cuba.  
  • Former Haitian President Rene Preval showed the leader died of heart disease in March, according to an "eagerly anticipated" autopsy, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine authorities raided Odebrecht's Buenos Aires offices, as part of an investigation into alleged bribes in the granting of construction contracts for a water treatment plant, reports the Associated Press.
  • Amid Brazil's political turmoil, a local Uber competitor -- 99 -- raised $100 million from a Japanese bank, reports the New York Times.
  • Looking for a mouthwatering review of Noma Mexico, chef René Redzepi's seven-week Tulum pop-up? The New York Times' critic explains why he is staying away from the "the meal of the decade."

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