Honduran jet fighter shot down DEA drug plane

A jet fighter from Honduras shot down a plane carrying cocaine last month over Guanaja, part of the Bay Islands chain in the Caribbean, killing a DEA agent onboard.

According to El Herald newspaper in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, which broke the story, the shoot-down of the DEA-approved drug flight was behind the U.S. cut-off of radar intelligence to Honduras.

Citing military sources, El Herald reported that the previously-undisclosed incident was also responsible for the recently-announced U.S. decision to suspend Operation Anvil, the DEA’s commando-style mission in Honduras.

It also prompted an unscheduled visit from General Douglas Fraser, head of the U.S. Southern Command. Afterwards, Pepe Lobo, President of Honduras since the coup in 2009, sacked the head of the Honduran Air Force.

Hammered by Operation Anvil?

The unprecedented decision left Honduras blind to air traffic, and vulnerable to drug traffickers.

Even so, the U.S. State Department denied anything as dramatic as a dead DEA agent. Explaining the sudden cut-off, a State Department spokesman offered another version of events.

“The U.S. agreement with Honduras for sharing radar intelligence specifically prohibits shooting down civilian aircraft. We are merely seeking better controls for its militarized approach to combating drugs in Central America,” said the spokesman.

“The decision came after two separate incidents in July, when civilian aircraft were shot down off the coast of northern Honduras. We don't have information about the occupants or their cargo."

The current drug trafficking news from Honduras carries a strong whiff of Iran-Contra déjà vu. And America’s shameful history of misleading reporting about U.S. participation in drug trafficking using Honduras adds credence to El Herald’s reporting.

But then, the latest intrigue in America’s Drug War has been summed up in a book written earlier than Iran-Contra; in fact, it was written 300 years before the birth of Jesus.

“There’s nothing new under the sun,” states Ecclesiastes. “What has been will be again.”

Deja vu all over again

They used to call it “The Trampoline.”

Since the cocaine-fueled 1980’s drug pilots have flown to Honduras from Colombia or Venezuela. Like a convenient rest area halfway to Disneyland, Honduras is a comfortable distance— for a twin-engined plane with a full tank of gas— from both Medellin and Miami.

The planes briefly touch down, re-fuel, and then bounce back into the sky (hence the name ‘Trampoline’) ready for the second half of their flight to the U.S., or the trip back to base in South America.

And the leaders of the Honduran military—the original tin-horn generals in mirrored shades—are appropriately  grateful for this geographical boon, as well as to anyone willing to be appropriately grateful to them.

Rank, after all, has its privileges.

“We turned the whole damn country into an American battleship,” lamented the chairman of a House of Representatives investigation into the cocaine traficking end of the iran-Contra scandal. 

“We created the ‘USS Honduras.’”

When the U.S. indicted a crony of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez last year for routing his regular gringo-bound drug flights through Honduras, the 'plaza' in Tegucigalpa began heating up.

Today Honduras is once again 'in play' in the Drug War. Along the country's remote Mosquito coast, thousands of kilos of Colombian cocaine, thrown overboard by 'distressed' narco-vessels, have washed up on the beach.

And in the skies above, there’s a shooting war, although one that is definitely one-sided.

Drug War rationale is a shadow in the shade

Parsing current events in America’s War on Drugs can sometimes feel like reporting a battle that's taking place in heavy fog; you can report that it’s filled with sound and fury, but what, exactly, does it signify?

A current example of the intentional fog of the Drug War took place on Honduras’ Mosquito coast.

Villagers from a hamlet near the coast called Ahuas said Honduran forces aboard American helicopters mistakenly fired on a civilian riverboat in May, killing four, including a pregnant woman.

After the incidentthe New York Times reported:

“ Residents of the isolated Mosquito Coast of Honduras have burned down government buildings and are demanding that American drug agents leave the area immediately.”

With no explanation, no retraction, and no correction, less than a week later the NY Times story had radically changed:

 “The orange glow of a burning house brightened the morning sky. Then another and another. Four homes were set ablaze in this muddy river town just hours after Honduran and American authorities swooped down in helicopters as part of a major drug raid that recovered a half ton of cocaine.

''At first we had no idea what was happening,'' a local leader, said of the fires.“It soon became clear: the burned homes were not part of the raid itself, but retaliatory attacks by residents against their neighbors who were working with drug traffickers.”

The censorship is so blatant that no more need be said.

A catalogue of 'threatening gestures'

Operation Anvil differed from past anti-drug efforts because of its reliance on military outposts to provide a militarized response modeled on counterinsurgency tactics used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were six DEA helicopters patrolling for drug planes, piloted by mercenary U.S. and Guatemalan pilots, and commando-style squads of DEA agents accompanied by Honduran counternarcotics police. The predictable result: firefights with cocaine smugglers.

On June 13 a Honduran Air Force jet intercepted a twin-engine prop plane in Catacamas. The plane crashed, killing both pilots, in a fire that charred both bodies almost beyond recognition. Pictures taken at the crash site showed bullet holes
in the propeller.

Then a DEA agent killed a suspected drug trafficker in late June, and in early July the pilot of a suspected drug flight was shot dead by two DEA agents. He had refused to surrender, authorities said, and then made what they called “a threatening gesture.”

The incidents, cited by the State Department as the basis for their decision, were over by the end of the first week of July. The U.S. pro-consul’s visit to Honduras  came long after this string of violent events, on August 24, which was barely a week after the rumored downing of the DEA plane.

Playing favorites

Different drug trafficking organizations (DTO’s) receive vastly different receptions in Honduras.

The unfortunate pilots whose planes were shot out of the sky by mercenary pilots and the smugglers on the ground gunned down by DEA agents earlier this summer would have been green with envy had they known about the red carpet treatment afforded another, more favored, group of drug traffickers.

When 18 “journalists” in a caravan of satellite televisions vehicles from Televisa crossed Honduras on their way to being busted entering Nicaragua recently, Nicaraguan police found evidence showing that the group, before heading for the border, spent four days lounging around the pool in $150 a night rooms at the most luxurious hotel in the Honduran capital.

And then there's an example which shows just how like Americans the Hondurans have become.

A drug trafficking flight from Colombia carrying a ton of cocaine landed on private property belonging to one of the wealthiest men in Hondurus, Miguel Facusse, who is also the uncle of former Honduran President Carlos Flores Facusse.

Its cargo was off-loaded onto a convoy of vehicles guarded by 30 heavily-armed men, according to witnesses. The property's sole caretaker was shot at and fled the scene.

How do we know about this incident? Wikileaks. (Just another example of why Julian Assange is being persecuted.)

An officer in the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa wrote a cable about it:

“This incident marks the third time in the last fifteen months that drug traffickers have been linked to this property owned by Mr. Facusse, including a July 2003 incident in which a go-fast boat crashed into a sea wall on the property and then engaged in a firefight with National Police forces.”

“Post finds it improbable that the Honduran Air Force interceptor would not have been able to see an aircraft being burned on the ground.  Also, Facusse's property is heavily guarded and the prospect that individuals were able to use the airstrip without authorization is questionable.”

There are people who get shot out of the sky and charred beyond recognition… And then there are people who never seem to go to jail.

Along with increasing inequalities of income, wealth, and opportunity, Americans today confront another fundamental inequality: differing measures of accountability, according to how well-connected you happen to be.

Street felons still go to prison. But bankers don’t go to jail.

The sun rises in the East. And the Drug War marches on.

Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.

10 Responses

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