Press Release  | 05/17/2012

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Involved in Killings of Innocent Civilians During Drug Interdiction Operation in Honduras

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Killings Scrutinized in Light of Growing Calls from Latin American Leaders for Alternatives to Drug Criminalization and Prohibition

Statement From Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance

Last Friday, United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents were involved in a drug interdiction effort with the Honduran national police that left four innocent people dead – two of whom were pregnant – at least three others seriously injured, and two children missing, according to local Honduran authorities. The shooting took place on the Patuca River in northeast Honduras after helicopters carrying DEA agents and Honduran police chased a boat presumably carrying illegal drugs; a second boat filled with civilians was mistaken for traffickers and shot at from the aircraft.

Honduras and Mexico have become principal corridors for transporting drugs into the United States and Europe from South America. As a result, countries in the region have suffered the devastating consequences of drug trafficking and US-led eradication and interdiction efforts. Central America is now home to some of the world’s most dangerous cities, with the highest global homicide rate found in Honduras, at 82.1 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The region has become unsafe for human rights defenders and journalists that expose the violence; for politicians and security officials that refuse to be corrupted by drug trafficking groups; and, most of all, for its citizens that get caught in crossfire between rivaling gangs.

Increasingly, Latin American policymakers are speaking out against the war on drugs and are highlighting its devastating effects on the hemisphere. In June 2011, as part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico spoke out about the damage that punitive drug policies are inflicting on their countries. And in early 2012, the new president of Guatemala called for a debate on alternatives to the war on drugs, an idea that quickly received support from other leaders in Latin America, including the current presidents of Colombia and Costa Rica.

This unprecedented momentum for major drug policy reforms comes at a time when the U.S. is escalating its law enforcement and military presence in Mexico, Honduras and other Central American countries (as reported recently in the New York Times article, “Lessons of Iraq Help U.S. Fight a Drug War in Honduras”).   The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration maintains 86 field offices in 62 countries.

Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance issued the following statement:

“The basic distinction between the criminal justice system and a war is that the former does not tolerate “collateral casualties” whereas the latter regards them as an inevitable cost of military conflict. DEA agents are never permitted to be involved in the killing of innocent people, whether or not they are in pursuit of criminal suspects. What happened in Honduras appears to have crossed the line – an action that was not approved by the U.S. Congress – and is, ultimately, unethical.

Neither the drug czar nor anyone else in the Obama administration, or even in the Bush administration before that, likes to use the phrase “the war on drugs.” But what happened in Honduras last week suggests that U.S. drug policy abroad – and often in the U.S. – increasingly resembles a real war, despite U.S. officials’ efforts to abandon that rhetoric.”

Tony Newman 646-335-5384 or Ethan Nadelmann 646-335-2240

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