US anti-drug agents in Honduras have reported shooting a second suspected drug trafficker in less than a month, placing a spotlight on the DEA's increasingly aggressive role in the country.
The shooting resulted from a July 3 anti-drug operation by Honduran authorities with assistance from embedded Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) personnel, which a DEA spokeswoman called "successful." In the operation, a suspected pilot of a crashed drug plane was fatally wounded when he resisted arrest by Honduran and US authorities, making a "threatening gesture," DEA spokeswoman Barbara Carreno told InSight Crime.
The plane had crashed south of Catacamas, eastern Honduras (see map) following pursuit by government aircraft. Honduran authorities found 900 kilograms of cocaine at the scene, and took the plane's other pilot, who was wounded in the crash, into custody. Carreno said both pilots received medical care, and that Honduran National Police, crime scene technicians, and Public Ministry prosecutors were investigating the shooting.
This was the second incident of its kind in Honduras in less than a month. US agents recently killed another suspected trafficker who reportedly reached for a holstered firearm during another drug plane bust. Carreno said that DEA agents operating in Honduras are governed by strict procedures regarding the use of force.
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A Center for Economic Policy Research senior associate said the incident reflected a lack of accountability and that it appeared there had been no real inquiry, according to the AP. In response, Carreno told InSight Crime that criticism was unfounded, reiterating that Honduran authorities were investigating the incident.
Even if the Honduran investigation is indeed a comprehensive inquiry, the risk remains that the attention surrounding the DEA's activities in Honduras could provoke more opposition to the US agency's activities inside the country. And on the DEA's part, further constraining the agency's rules of engagement in Honduras could jeopardize law enforcement efforts.
And Honduras is one place where more aggressive law enforcement is sorely needed. According to a report by El Heraldo, statistics from the National Commission for Human Rights (Conadeh) show an estimated 89 percent of drug flights from South America now pass through Honduras, up from an estimated 26 percent in 2007. Given that the country has become a major waypoint for US-bound drugs, the DEA's increased involvement in confronting drug flights face-to-face with Honduran security personnel is perhaps inevitable.
View InSight Map - DEA Anti-Drug Operation outside Catacamas, Honduras in a larger map