In a scene that could have been straight from a Hollywood action flick, a US-supported drug raid in Honduras last week ended with something very real: the death of four innocent civilians. Once again, the ill-run, ill-conceived War on Drugs in the Americas has brought about needless tragedy.
The story of exactly what happened last week on the banks of a remote Honduran river is a little muddy: initial reports failed to mention US involvement. But local officials let slip that the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) played a role when calling for an investigation into the deaths.
US 'assistance' grows
The US has played a role in anti-drug operations in Honduras since the 1970s. In recent years, efforts in Mexico to crack down on drug cartels have pushed the transport hub south: now, according to the US State Department, 79 percent of all flights leaving South America to smuggle cocaine north land first in Honduras.
Despite signs last month that the US might be changing its policy, US commando squads are still working alongside local police in Honduras. On May 11, four helicopters carrying commandos and police seized a boat carrying 900kg (2,000lb) of cocaine – but they also fired on another boat that was not involved, killing four civilians, two of them reportedly pregnant women. Both governments have said that the DEA did not fire during the raids; it remains unclear whether they advised the Honduran officials to do so.
'Get out', say locals
The Honduran authorities have launched an investigation, but many are saying that is not enough.
The incident set off a firestorm of protest over the US presence in Honduras, raising yet more questions about the damage done by the War on Drugs. Citizens from the area burned down government offices in protest, demanding that DEA agents leave the country.