U.S. Human rights activists document US participation in massacre of Moskito people

Press Advisory: U.S. Human rights activists document US participation in massacre of Moskito people [also: see initial findings below and CLICK HERE to hear a Free Speech Radio News report from the delegation]

Tegucigalpa, Honduras, May 27, 2012
Contact: Karen Spring, 9507-3835 (In Honduras)
Annie Bird, 202-680-3002 (in Washington, D.C.)

On May 22 and 23 a delegation of human rights activists from the United States organized by Rights Action and Alliance for Global Justice visited the community of Ahuás in the Moskitia region of Honduras. The delegation witnessed an atmosphere of terror being generated amongst dire poverty in an area where the indigenous people are now losing control of natural resources which are key to the development of their economy.

The group inquired into the May 11, 2012 massacre of indigenous Miskito people by gunfire from U.S. State Department - titled helicopters that the US government confirms carried U.S. DEA agents and security contractors. The boat and its passengers had almost completed an eight hour trip to Ahuas from the town of Barra Patuca. Four were killed, including two pregnant women, a 14-year-old boy and a 21-year-old man, while at least four more were seriously injured.

Following the massacre at least one helicopter landed and at least ten, tall, light-skinned English speakers with limited Spanish proficiency wearing military type uniforms exited the helicopters to collect cocaine from a boat near the massacre site. They aimed guns at, threatened to kill, and handcuffed residents of the town who had come to assist the wounded. Victims lay on the banks of the river and in the damaged boat until after helicopters departed. In this way security forces delayed emergency medical assistance two to three hours.

Neither U.S. nor Honduran authorities have interviewed the eye witnesses or secured evidence at the crime scene, indicating that no serious investigation has been conducted into the massacre. Even without conducting a serious investigation U.S. and Honduran officials have accused the victims, the population in general and local authorities of participating in drug trafficking.

Since the massacre Ahuas has been occupied by several dozen Honduran troops, and it is reported that U.S. military presence in the vicinity of Ahuas is increasing. U.S. government authorities recognize that counterinsurgency tactics are being used while they identify the indigenous communities as drug traffickers. Indigenous communities in Central America have once again become the focus of U.S. counterinsurgency actions.

Many people the group spoke with noted that militarization and violence generated by the U.S. drug war is focused where there are significant natural resources, Ahuas is known to hold significant petroleum deposits and Texas-based Honduras Tejas Oil and Gas Company, a joint venture with concessions in the Moskitia, estimates there are six to eight billion barrels of oil reserves in the Moskitia.

The delegation is calling for a serious and credible investigation including a Congressional hearing that identifies criminal responsibility in the massacre, the withdrawal of U.S. security forces from Honduras, and suspension of U.S. military assistance to Central America.

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Initial Findings:

Human rights delegation finds disturbing evidence of US involvement in killings of Moskito people in Ahuás

A delegation of academics, human rights and labor activists, Canadian and U.S. citizens, many with extensive experience in Honduras, organized by U.S. and Canadian-based human rights groups Rights Action and Alliance for Global Justice, visited the community of Ahuás in the Department of Gracias a Dios in a region known as La Moskitia located in eastern Honduras on May 22-23, 2012.

On May 11, 2012 four helicopters conducted an apparent drug interdiction near the town of Ahuas. At least one of the helicopters opened fire on a passenger boat killing two pregnant women, a 14-year-old boy and a 21-year-old man, while seriously injuring at least four more. The purpose of the visit was to inquire into this tragedy.

According to press reports, the United States State Department acknowledges that participating helicopters were titled to the State Department but were piloted by Guatemalan military and contractors. The DEA confirms that a DEA Foreign-Deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST) participated in the operation supporting a Honduran National Police Tactical Response Team, while U.S. military’s Southern Command claims that no U.S. military personnel or contractors participated in the action.

Our delegation interviewed local community representatives, injured survivors, family members and eyewitnesses on the scene as well as a Honduran military officer.

Based on our investigation, we are able to confirm that:

  • Following the massacre the helicopters landed to seize drugs from a boat near the massacre site. All those who exited the helicopter were identified as tall, light-skinned English speakers with limited Spanish proficiency wearing military uniforms, appearing to be U.S. military personnel. They carried out all actions on the ground, appearing to play much more than a support role in the operation.
  • These security forces identified as Americans aimed guns at, threatened to kill, and handcuffed local residents who were attempting to assist those wounded in the massacre during approximately 2 to 3 hours while military personnel retrieved the drugs by forcing at gunpoint a relative of some of the victims to ferry drugs from a boat to the helicopters. In this way security forces actively prevented emergency medical attention to the victims who lay on the banks of the river and in the water until after helicopters departed. One injured and bleeding victim clung to weeds in the river for as long as three hours before being assisted.
  • All witnesses stated independently that all shots fired came from overhead from a helicopter.
  • Neither the U.S. nor the Honduran government has interviewed the eye witnesses or secured evidence at the crime scene which indicates that no serious investigation has been conducted into the massacre that was carried out from one of the U.S.’s own helicopters with participation of U.S. Security Forces.
  • Since the massacre Ahuas has been occupied by several dozen Honduran troops who patrol the unpaved streets and state they will stay as long as necessary. We received reports that the U.S. military presence in the vicinity of Ahuas is increasing, a center of U.S. military operations has been established in nearby Brus Laguna and a permanent U.S. military base in Caratasca, roughly an hour boat ride from Ahuas.

Our visit to the Moskitia region in Gracias a Dios has raised a number of concerns.

  • We are extremely concerned by the lack of credible investigation. The U.S. government categorically denies the possibility that its security forces were involved in the killings, or that the United States shares responsibility. Rather, the State Department claims it is ‘cooperating’ with Honduran investigations and is referring all inquiries to the Honduran government officials; this despite the fact that the Honduran public prosecutor’s office, National Police and military are widely reputed to be corrupt.
  • We are alarmed by the distorted response to the massacre by the Honduran and U.S. governments' and much of the media coverage. US and Honduran officials have blamed and criminalized the victims, the population in general and local authorities.
  • We are deeply concerned by the militarization that we observed. U.S. military and civilian security forces in Honduras are applying counterinsurgency tactics to combat drug trafficking and militarizing regions where there are significant natural resources. Thus, today we are witnessing a resurgence of death squads and the remilitarization of Central America such as occurred in the 1980s. We are alarmed by press reports of the recent transfer of counterinsurgency tactics and personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan to Central America. By characterizing the general population and local authorities as drug traffickers, indigenous communities have become the focus of counterinsurgency actions.
  • Many people we spoke with, including representatives of indigenous organizations, are deeply concerned that militarization and violence generated by the ‘drug war’ is negatively impacting their communities and is focused where there are significant natural resources, rivers with hydroelectric potential, petroleum, gold, and forests. Texas-based Honduras Tejas Oil and Gas Company, a joint venture with concessions in the Moskitia, estimates there are six to eight billion barrels of oil reserves in the Moskitia.
  • Our group was outraged that this is the role our government is playing and at how our tax dollars are used. We wonder what our country is doing bringing a counterinsurgency model to a country where U.S. backed covert counterinsurgency has caused so much suffering in the past.
  • What we saw in the Moskitia was dire poverty and an atmosphere of terror being generated in an area where the indigenous people are now losing control of their resources, which are key to the development of their economy.

In light of what we observed on our visit and the concerns raised, we demand:

  • That the U.S Congress investigate and hold hearings about the U.S. role in the events of May 11, 2012 in La Moskitia.
  • That serious and independent investigations take place exploring the role and responsibility of agents of the U.S. government in the May 11 massacre in Ahuas, be they DEA agents, private security contractors under the direction or contracted by agencies of the U.S. government or other security forces. This investigation should include identifying criminal responsibility of specific individuals.
  • That the rights and decisions of indigenous communities and popular movements be respected rather than treated as drug traffickers and insurgents with complete disregard to fundamental human rights.
  • That the U.S. government speak out publicly against the presence of individuals widely known to have involvement in drug trafficking and death squads within the Honduran justice system today.
  • That in light of the abuses we documented, the U.S. government must withdraw all U.S. security forces including DEA and private contractors from Honduras, cease military assistance and training, and stop promoting remilitarization in Central America.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras
May 27, 2012
Irene Rodriguez, Boulder, CO
John Walkey, Boston, MA
Maria Robinson, California, CA
Judith Ancel, Kansas City, KS
Greg McCain, Chicago, IL
Mary Dean, Chicago, IL
Karen Spring, Toronto, ON
Alice Kitchen, Kansas City, MO
Melissa Stiehler, Kansas City, MO
Jean Grahame, Farmington, IL
Susan Cole, Lafayette, LA