A US agent's killing of a suspected drug trafficker in Honduras highlights Washington's deepening involvement in the country's fight against crime, despite rising controversy among Hondurans.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Public Affairs Officer Rusty Payne told InSight Crime that the operation was an anti-drug mission led by Hondurans with assistance from embedded FAST (Foreign-Deployed Advisory Support Team) personnel. He called it a "very successful mission," highlighting the 360 kilograms of cocaine seized.
During the operation in northeastern Brus Laguna (see InSight Crime map below), Honduran police and a US agent arrested three ground crew members and the pilot of a small plane loaded with cocaine. US Embassy spokesman Stephen Posivak said a suspected trafficker killed was fired upon by a US agent after reaching for a holstered firearm, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
US officials told the AP that the raid was carried out as part of a new US anti-drug mission in Honduras, known as Operation Anvil. It was the fourth such raid since Anvil began two months ago, compared with a rate of less than one mission every two months for the previous year and a half. US and Honduran personnel now follow every suspicious flight they detect, using six State Department-provided helicopters operated by non-US pilots.
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The death was the first time a DEA agent has used deadly force since they were first sent to accompany local anti-drug forces in Latin America several years ago, spokeswoman Dawn Dearden told the AP. It follows another deadly incident when four people were killed during a joint drug interdiction operation between the DEA and Honduran police in May. The incident caused great controversy, with witnesses reporting that the dead were unarmed civilians. US personnel reportedly did not open fire.
Despite anger in Honduras over the killings, President Porfirio Lobo publicly appealed for more anti-drug aid from Washington only days later. This latest killing suggests that US assistance is not being scaled back in response to the criticism, but is continuing to expand.
The country has become an increasing importance transshipment point for drugs heading from South America to the US. The government reported seizing some 22 tons of cocaine last year -- a mere drop in the bucket compared to the 143.55 tons that we can estimate are shipped through each year, using a Honduran government estimate that 87 percent of cocaine consumed in the US goes via the country.
View InSight Map - DEA Operations in Honduras in a larger map