April 11, 2013
CEPR has released a new paper, along with the human rights organization Rights Action, examining the Honduran Public Ministry’s official report on the May 11, 2012 shooting incident last year in which four local villagers were killed in Ahuas in Honduras’ Moskitia region during a counternarcotics operation involving U.S. and Honduran agents. This is also the first time that the Public Ministry’s report has been made available to the public, posted to Scribd in English here, and Spanish here.
The Honduran Public Ministry’s report deserves special scrutiny because thus far it represents the official version of events according to the Honduran authorities. And since the U.S. government has declined to conduct its own investigation – despite the wishes of 58 members of Congress – it also represents by default the version of events tacitly endorsed by U.S. authorities as well. The DEA and State Department didn’t allow Honduran investigators to question the U.S. agents and contractors that participated in the May 11 operation. At the same time a U.S. police detective working for the U.S. Embassy reportedly participated in the Public Ministry’s investigation, so the U.S. also bears some responsibility for the report’s flaws.
The CEPR/Rights Action paper found that the Public Ministry’s report:
- Makes “observations” (not conclusions) that are not supported by the evidence cited;
- Omits key testimony, that would implicate the DEA, from police who were involved in the May 11 incident;
- Relies on incomplete forensic examinations of the weapons involved, improper forensic examinations of the victims’ bodies and other improperly gathered evidence;
- Does not attempt to establish who is ultimately responsible for the killings;
- Ignores eyewitness reports claiming that at least one State Department-titled helicopter fired on the passenger boat carrying the shooting victims;
- Does not attempt to establish whether the victims were “in any way involved in drug trafficking” as both Honduran and U.S. officials originally alleged;
- Does not attempt to establish what authority was actually in charge of the operation;
- Appears to be focused on absolving the DEA of all responsibility in the killings.
The CEPR/Rights Action report represents the first such public critique of the Public Ministry’s report. As we have previously noted, there are significant discrepancies between different accounts of the May 11 events, including those of Honduran police officers who participated in (and say the DEA was in charge of) the operation. These discrepancies – cited in a separate report published by the Honduras National Commission of Human Rights (CONADEH) – are not mentioned in the Public Ministry report. Nor does the report include police testimony indicating that a DEA agent ordered one of the State Department helicopters to open fire on the passenger boat in which four people were killed.
The report concludes by calling for the U.S. government to carry out its own investigation of the Ahuas incident to better determine what occurred and to determine what responsibility, if any, DEA agents had in the killings. It also calls on the U.S. government to cease being an obstacle to an already flawed investigation by making the relevant DEA agents, weapons and documents – including an aerial surveillance video of the Ahuas operation in its entirety – available to investigators.
The new CEPR/Rights Action paper follows the “Collateral Damage of a Drug War” report released last year which was based on eyewitness testimony and other evidence the authors obtained in Honduras and concluded that the DEA played a central role in the shooting incident.