Broken Anvil: Human rights groups push Washington to investigate
Annie Bird discusses where May 11 case stands
KAELYN FORDE, TRNN: On May 11, four people were killed and many more injured during an anti-drug trafficking operation run by the Honduran military and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The victims were two pregnant women, a child and a young father. Since then, the D.E.A. has suspended Operation Anvil. But victims continue to search for justice and human rights groups are pushing the U.S. Congress to investigate. Annie Bird is the co-founder of Rights Action, and discusses where the case stands now.
ANNIE BIRD, CO-FOUNDER OF RIGHTS ACTION: There has been no serious investigation of this massacre, other than those carried out by human rights organizations. And it’s very clear that there were innocent bystanders killed by armed security forces under U.S. command, whether they were killed directly by U.S. agents or by Honduran agents under the command of the D.E.A.
BIRD: Essentially, the State Department and the D.E.A. have had no response to the victims and said that this is all entirely a problem of the Honduran government, even though it was–and they admit it was–an operation directed by the U.S. D.E.A. Some members of Congress and the Senate have been interested and responsive in asking questions of the D.E.A. and the State Department, but as yet there has been no compensation of the victims, no one’s paid for medical expenses. There are really serious needs that are left with the surviving families and the surviving victims that nobody has responded to.
BIRD: No one has paid for any operations. Wilmer’s [Wilmer Morgan] had to be carried out in a private hospital, Lucio’s [Lucio Escoto] was done in a public hospital but it was done badly, Hilda [Lezama] is having trouble with her expenses in terms of travel, and then there are the family members of the victims. Candelaria Trapp’s children had to drop out of school because they can’t pay for school, because secondary school in Honduras is paid for by the families. Juana Jackson’s sister is struggling to take care of her two young children that were left, as is Emerson’s [Emerson Martinez] widow.
BIRD: There’s also not been any serious examination of U.S. policies. If the D.E.A. is going to arm agents and put them in a country with a non-functional justice system, they have to come up with a way of holding people responsible when bystanders are killed. No one could look at the investigation that was carried out by the Honduran Attorney General’s Office and say that was in any way a serious investigation of the massacre of four people. Often when investigations look this bad come out, the perception that comes across is that there is a lack of capacity in the Honduran justice system, but actually what I would argue is that it goes beyond that, that there is a lack of political will to carry out a real investigation. It’s not that the Honduran authorities donâ€™t know that when an incident like this happens that you should immediately impound the weapons and conduct ballistics testing, itâ€™s that there’s not a political will for that to happen. So investigators don’t do it because they feel their jobs could be at risk, that it’s not encouraged until maybe political pressure extends for months and months and they feel the need to do something to cover their tracks.
BIRD: The drug war in Honduras exactly coincides with areas where there are acute conflicts over natural resources. Whether that is land, petroleum, rivers for hydroelectric dams, or mines–that’s what the conflict is in Honduras today, more than about drug trafficking, it’s about natural resources.
BIRD: There are a lot of land conflicts in Honduras today essentially because in the 1990s, the agrarian reform laws were changed and basically through violence, illegal title transfers happened. And because people are fighting in the courts to regain their land, and beginning to have some success, there have been lawyers who have been killed. Campesino organizations, small farmers who are involved in land conflicts, can’t find lawyers to defend them because they are all threatened and run off by people with a lot of influence in the government, and apparently enough influence to levy support from the U.S. military.
BIRD: Recently there was a case in which four farms, four plantations, were returned to campesinos after 18 years of struggling to get their land back, and the lawyer defending them from appeals after they had won was murdered. Because the African palm planters know that if they can’t beat them in court, they’ll kill the lawyers, or threaten them or bribe them. So campesino organizations can no longer obtain lawyers. The U.S. is becoming directly involved in those land conflicts, and often using the infrastructure of the drug war to support security forces which are getting involved in other kinds of conflicts which have nothing to do with the drug war.