by Keane Bhatt
Honduras has belatedly appeared on the radar of the U.S. media over the past couple of weeks. A joint U.S.-Honduras drug raid on Friday, May 11, reportedly killed civilians—including two pregnant women—near Ahuas, a town in the Mosquitia region of Honduras. According to press coverage based on accounts by U.S. officials, four State Department helicopters—piloted by Guatemalan military officers and outside contractors—carried a strike force of Honduran security officers from a U.S.-built base to the Patuca River. They were accompanied by what The New York Times called a “commando-style squad” of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, and acted on Colombian and U.S. intelligence. U.S. and Honduran officials told The Times the forces seized 1,000 pounds of cocaine from a boat before being attacked by another boat of drug traffickers; Honduran personnel, then on the ground, and with support from “the door gunner of at least one of the helicopters,” engaged in a late-night firefight with the traffickers, killing two of them. The State Department and the DEA insist that only Hondurans participated in the shootout.
Both the local mayor and congressional representative disputed this account, asserting in the Honduran newspaper El Tiempo three days after the raid that four people were killed—Emerson Martínez, Chalo Brock Wood, Candelaria Tratt Nelson, and Juana Banegas—and that they were ordinary citizens. In a later interview with TIME, the local leaders said the civilian boat was “ferrying passengers,” and “was passing from the opposite direction and got caught in the nighttime crossfire.” Close to a week after initial reports incorrectly described the mission as having been carried out solely by Honduran forces, and days after the local authorities accused the DEA of involvement, official U.S. spokespersons finally admitted to the DEA’s “advisory role” in the brutal raid.