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Home About Us Equipo Sur Stories of Honduras One year after the Ahuas attack, the victims are completely abandoned
One year after the Ahuas attack, the victims are completely abandoned PDF Print E-mail

By Marvin Palacios, COFADEH.  (This is a translation of an original spanish article.)

This May 11th marks the first anniversary of the dreadful events involving US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents and a combined Honduran police and military unit which attacked a canoe on the fast-flowing Patuca River carrying 16 Miskito indigenous people in the municipality of Ahuas, Gracias a Dios department.

During the military incursion, Juana Jackson and Candelaria Pratt (both pregnant), Hasked Brooks Wood, a boy of 14, and Emerson Martínez, a young man of 22, died of multiple wounds from high-calibre bullets.

In addition, a boy, a young man, and a woman were wounded; a further three women, four children and two men also suffered the brutal attack and nine children and young people were orphaned and left in a precarious situation in terms of their day-to-day survival.

The state, through the Ministry of Indigenous People and Afro Hondurans (Secretaría de los Pueblos Indígenas y Afro hondureños) far from supporting the families of the victims of the attack by the military and police, deceived them, disregarding their grief and their urgent needs. After being in contact with the families and offering support and an investigation, it went totally quiet.

The Ministry has failed to take responsibility for meeting the basic needs of the children who were orphaned.

Wilmer Lucas Walter, a boy of 15, was one of the seriously injured who is undergoing rehabilitation arranged by COFADEH (Committee of the Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras). The attack severely damaged his left hand. Wilmer has also missed out on his schooling.
Through his family's own efforts and COFADEH's offices, Wilmer is currently awaiting reconstructive surgery which must carried out by a specialist hand surgeon, not available in state hospitals.

Lucio Nelson has also been forced to undergo a long recuperation period because of the wounds to his back and right arm from machine-gun bullets which left him unable to work.

Meanwhile, Hilda Lezama, another surviving victim who was wounded in both legs by high-calibre bullets, has recovered, although she still walks with difficulty.  Her family paid for her emergency treatment in a private hospital, but she was unable to continue with the skin graft procedures to her legs because their money, built up over years of work, ran out. The attack at Ahuas left Hilda Lezama without a source of income for her family, as the boat, which was damaged by the bursts of gunfire from the DEA helicopters, was her property.

In terms of the legal case, the investigations are at a standstill. COFADEH, which is representing the victims in the case, has not had access to the communications between the US government and the Honduran Public Prosecutor's Office.

The investigations are not being carried out with due diligence and no charges have been brought against those responsible for the attacks, either Honduran or foreign – the foreigners in this case being US DEA agents.

The state is apparently intending to pay damages to the victims of the attack, but COFADEH is of the opinion that it should be full compensation reviewed by experts in the field and in line with international standards governing this type of compensation, especially when it is being provided within the context of militarization with serious consequences in terms of human rights violations.

Communication between the Honduran Public Prosecutor's Office and US State Department

On December 2012, according to document FGR No. 222-09-2012, Honduran Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubí sent a report to María Otero, Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, supported by an 'investigation' file by the Organised Crime Unit of the Public Prosecutor's Office.

The report, which seeks to define the United States' responsibility for the incident, states that the following Honduran police officers took part in the operation: Noel Andrés Hernández, Geovany Barahona Cruz, Santos Pablo Cruz Núñez, Eykel Boanerges Valladares, Selvin Emir Espinoza Lagos, Adrián Sánchez Hernández, José Manuel Cáceres, Dunior Leonardo Medina Matute, Oscar Linson Roney Ávila Suárez, Luís Alfredo Valladares Cedillo, Elmer Alexander García Marín, Alexander Ramón Robelo Salgado and Wilson Adil Villalobos Valladares.

In the letter sent by the Attorney General, he explains to María Otero that upon learning that a small aircraft, apparently carrying drugs from South America, was flying over La Moskitia, Tactical Response Teams (TRTs) were deployed to Ahuas municipality in four helicopters armed with M240 machine guns, 7.62 X 51 mm calibre.

Luis Alberto Rubí stated that the TRTs were made up of 10 members of the DEA's Foreign-deployed Advisory and Support Team (FAST) (he did not state the names and ranks of the US agents), 13 members of the Honduran Special Antinarcotics Group, 6 army and police machine-gunners and 8 Honduran air force pilots.

In an attempt to conceal the involvement of DEA agents in the events in Ahuás, the then Foreign Minister, Arturo Corrales Alvarez (now Minister of Security and Presidential Commissioner for Defense and Security) said on June 1, 2012 that the arrival of the DEA in the country "is not new, but they don't take part in activities that have not been fully identified through a protocol of cooperation between the United States and Honduras."

The Foreign Minister stated that the DEA agents' role was thus defined “from the moment the operation was devised” and stressed that the Honduran security forces in the helicopter fired in response to an attack from the boat.

"They didn't open fire – they returned fire after they were attacked," said Corrales. "The operation was designed so that it would be the Honduran authorities which would respond in the event of that happening".

Lisa Kubiske, United States Ambassador to Honduras, said on June 1, 2012, "“it is a tragedy but in this case, according to what I understand, they were acting in self-defense and this is their duty because the war against drugs is important”.

However, Marlon Pascua, the Defense Minister, told the digital newspaper proceso.hn a few hours after the events, "This isn't an armed forces operation, it isn't coordinated by the armed forces. I think it's important that this is recognised once and for all - it isn't something we've led or coordinated".

On 5 July 2012, the Italian journalist Giorgio Trucci published a newspaper article, reproduced by the digital newspaper defensoresenlinea.com, entitled "Honduran Moskitia: stop whitewashing the massacre and apologise, says human rights defender".

The article states:"'There's been an incident involving the army, our police and the DEA, and people who were carrying drugs, that's what's happened. Let's call a spade a spade,' Arturo Corrales told Tiempo newspaper."

On May 11, a joint operation with DEA FAST agents and the Honduran police's Tactical Response Team left a death toll of four people - Emerson Martínez Henríquez (21), Hasked Brooks Wood (14), Juana Jackson Ambrocio (28) and Candelaria Pratt Nelson (48) – with at least 4 people seriously wounded. Juana Jackson and Candelaria Pratt were five months pregnant.

"'We're perplexed by these statements. They're lying and I challenge all those institutions that caused people's deaths to be brave. To admit that they were wrong - that they fired on a civilian population that had no ties to drug trafficking – and to stop justifying the deaths of pregnant women and children,' said Bertha Oliva, General Coordinator of COFADEH," highlights the article written by Giorgio Trucci.

The victims died riddled with bullets

On July 21 and 22, 2012, the Public Prosecutor's Office performed inappropriate exhumations at three sites in Gracias a Dios department, where the victims' bodies were buried by their relatives. The exhumations were conducted with no legal representatives of the victims present and no protocol was observed to enable them to be carried out impartially. However, they were attended by a US citizen who did not say whether he was a DEA agent or from the US Embassy in Honduras. There is a video showing this person at the exhumations.

The report sent by the Attorney General to María Otero disclosed that, according to the exhumations conducted by his forensic team, all the bodies had wounds from firearms projectiles for military use.

US members of Congress demand answers

In late January 2013 in Washington, US representative Hank Johnson and 57 colleagues sent a letter to  Secretary of State John Kerry, and the Attorney General Eric Holder requesting an investigation into alleged abuses by the Honduran security forces and the possible role played by agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in an incident that resulted in the tragic death of four indigenous people on the Patuca River in northeastern Honduras.

This May 11th marks the first anniversary of the brutal attack that claimed the lives of four Miskito Indigenous people, whose relatives and 9 orphaned children have been totally abandoned by the authorities of the Government of Honduras.

English translation of original spanish article posted on defensoresenlinea.com.


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