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Home About Us Equipo Sur Stories of Honduras One Year Anniversary of DEA Raid Gone Wrong in Honduras
One Year Anniversary of DEA Raid Gone Wrong in Honduras PDF Print E-mail

“On May 11th, it’ll be a year that I’ve been in hospitals,” 15-year old Wilmer commented, “and the only hope is surgery.” Another surgery, that is, this time by a hand specialist – which isn’t available in Honduras’ public hospitals. Wilmer now lives in one of those hospitals, waking up each morning and going to physical therapy for his hand. Monday through Friday, he goes to therapy four times a day—twice to physical therapy and twice to occupational therapy. The lanky 15-year old sleeps in a large crib. It is too small for him but there is no other option so he rolls up to sleep.

Wilmer is one of the victims of high-caliber gunfire from a US helicopter in an operation that involved at least 10 US DEA agents as well as Honduran counter-narcotics agents. Now known as the “Ahuas massacre,” Wilmer and 15 other passengers were traveling in a passenger boat, the main mode of transportation in the rural Mosquitia region of Honduras, when suddenly they were attacked by bullets from above. As Wilmer explains, “I don’t know what happened, I was sleeping and suddenly out of nowhere I heard shots… I felt something hit me and I fell into the water. I swam, swam, swam, and swam until I reached the shore. I was in so much pain and there was a lot of blood. There were helicopters and we began to run.”

Wilmer ran until he reached a town and then kept running until he found someone who took him on motorcycle to the small hospital in the area, where they put band after band around his wrist and hand in an attempt to stop the bleeding. And so began his journey from one hospital to another to another. He probably would have lost his hand, if it weren’t for the Committee of Family Members of the Detained-Disappeared of Honduras (COFADEH), which helped him to have surgery to save his hand.

He has made progress in regaining some of the use of his hand but is no longer progressing – the therapy is now to simply maintain what use of his hand he has until there can be reconstructive surgery to free the tendons. The surgery with the hand specialist costs 63,000 Lempiras, about $3,200. However, despite the fact that the high-caliber gunfire that injured him came from US State Department helicopters as part of a US-Honduran drug raid gone wrong, neither the Honduran government nor the US government have taken responsibility. The US spends millions upon millions for the “drug war” but apparently there is nothing for the innocent children and adults whose lives are ruined by those expensive weapons. And so Wilmer waits, passing day after day in the hospital far from his family wondering if he will ever be able to return to his life as a 15-year old.

Wilmer is far from the only victim suffering in the absence of responsibility by the governments responsible. As Hilda Lezema, whose legs were pierced by bullets, explained, “I have spent all the money I had and now I have nothing, not even to eat. I have bills at the hospitals.” Then there are the children who lost a parent in the attack. Extended family members struggle to take care of them, a difficult challenge in the already poor Mosquitia region. COFADEH counts nine children whose mother or father were killed. As Bertha Oliva, Coordinator of COFADEH, explains “neither government has assumed responsibility” for their wellbeing.

In the absence of government responsibility, COFADEH has done what it can, providing for Wilmer so that he has a hope at the future. In addition to ensuring he gets medical care, they have enrolled him in 7th grade.  He hopes to be a scientist when he grows up, if he can get out of the hospital and have the resources to study full-time.

But the stopgap measures and care of a human rights organization for just one of the victims in desperate need of medical care are no substitute for the financial and moral responsibility of the two governments to all those whose lives were destroyed by the aerial attack on a passenger boat full of innocent civilians. As Bertha Oliva from COFADEH makes clear, the two governments “have responsibility” and “we need them to assume that responsibility.” That need is urgent for Wilmer and others who can’t afford the medical care they need.

The US strategy is to shirk responsibility by diminishing the role of US agents and relying on a “deeply flawed” investigation of the Honduran government -- which is notorious for corruption and a non-functioning justice system. An excellent report by Rights Action and the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) details the problems with the Honduran investigation, including autopsies carried out on top of an open grave long afterward and numerous contradictions between the official version of events and eye witness accounts. In fact, CEPR details how a second Honduran government report, that of the Honduras National Human Rights Ombudsman, suggests that US DEA agents led the operation and were responsible for the order for the helicopter to open fire on a passenger boat. An April 2013 CEPR and Rights Action analysis of the Honduran government reports finds "that both the investigation and report have 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."

On January 30th, 58 members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Attorney General Eric Holder calling for a “thorough and credible investigation” of the May 11th killings. Despite all the failings of the Honduran investigation, a State Department spokesperson said "there will be no separate investigation."

It has now been one year since Wilmer, Hilda, Lucio, and so many others have their lives literally shattered by gunfire from above and well over a dozen children lost their parents. Their lives, and for many of them, their bodies, will never be the same again. But they should at least be afforded the dignity of recovering to the extent possible. When will the US and Honduran governments step up and take responsibility so that they can get medical care they need to regain some semblance of their lives?


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