CHRISTIAN NEWS:SOURCE NY TIMES Published: May 23, 2012. AHUAS drug raid, Honduras — 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 the Honduran and American authorities swooped down in helicopters as part of a major drug raid that recovered a half ton of cocaine.
The New York Times
Cocaine goes through Ahuas.
“At first we had no idea what was happening,” Sinicio Ordoñez, a local leader, said of the fires.
It soon became clear: the burned homes were not part of the drug raid itself, but retaliatory attacks by residents against their neighbors who were working with drug traffickers. As angry as residents were with the Honduran and American governments for a joint commando operation on May 11 that they insist took the lives of four innocent people, they had rage to spare for those who have helped make this poor town on the Mosquito Coast a way station for cocaine moving from the Andes to the United States.
“The drug activity here creates a danger to all of us,” said Mr. Ordoñez, president of the indigenous Council of Elders. “The people here, they just wanted to be rid of it.”
Honduras has received an enormous influx of American military and antidrug support over the past few years, reflecting cocaine traffickers’ shift toward Central America. But with all that muscle, people here in Ahuas and in other towns nearby now say they feel threatened from outside and from within.
They are furious with traffickers for making their country a cocaine transfer point; disappointed in their neighbors who rely on the drug trade for work; and frustrated, as well, with the Honduran and American authorities who, in their view, often invade their communities with more concern for seizing cocaine than protecting people.
“They need to take concrete steps to help people who live here,” said Terry Martínez, head of development programs for Gracias a Dios, the department, or state, that includes Ahuas. “They’re making global decisions, not local decisions.”
Vulnerability around here begins with the land. Gracias a Dios, which includes most of the Mosquito Coast, is a 6,420-square-mile area of jungle and savanna near Nicaragua with only 50,000 inhabitants. Most live in villages accessible only by boat or plane, scratching out subsistence lives, mostly speaking an indigenous language called Miskito.
Government is essentially absent. The police station in Ahuas, a town of 1,400, is a concrete box with a red hammock outside that usually holds a young officer in shorts and sandals. The only hospital is run by Christian missionaries.
Given the context, residents and experts say it is no surprise that drugs and drug money have become accepted. Here in Ahuas, people blame outsiders — the Colombians and Mexicans who arrived in larger numbers starting five years ago — but they also admit that more recently everyone in town spoke openly about when drug planes would arrive, as if they were legitimate charter flights.
The flights translated into much-needed work for local residents, who helped unload the contraband for transport further north. But they have also started to alter ancient customs. For many, hard work like farming has started to look like a waste of time.
“It’s creating huge long-term problems,” said Mr. Martínez, who works in Puerto Lempira, the capital of Gracias a Dios. “People aren’t thinking — they’re putting their hopes in drugs; oh, next week there will be another plane.’ ”
Young people have also started developing a taste for the “narco life.” Drug use was once unheard-of on the Mosquito Coast. Now it is surging. More disturbingly to some, in a country with the highest homicide rate in the world, teenagers are developing a taste for weapons.
“They don’t even have enemies, and they want to walk around the village with a gun,” said Mylo Wood, a lawmaker visiting his constituents in Ahuas on a recent day.
Many Hondurans acknowledge that their country cannot possibly tackle the drug problem alone. “It has to do with a logistical problem, with communications, with detection,” said Julieta Castellanos, president of the Autonomous University of Honduras. “The other problem, which is fundamental, is that the police are penetrated by organized crime.”
She added: “The participation of the United States is important. There are sectors of the country that are even asking for more participation.”
At the site of the drug raid, in fact, there is still a desire for American help. Town officials and victims like Hilda Lezama, 52, who has bullet wounds in her legs from the drug raid, say they mainly want an apology and an acknowledgment that they were not traffickers, as some American and Honduran officials have suggested.
The recent drug raid has also prompted many here to insist on a more balanced antidrug approach. “Helicopters and soldiers are not development,” said Raymundo Eude, a leader of the Masta ethnic group, which is calling for the Americans to leave the area by May 30. “It doesn’t help.”
Opinions vary on what else the United States government could do to squelch the drug trade and its negative consequences. Many support programs to beef up the court system. Some, like Mr. Martínez, are calling for better roads to support agriculture, whereas Mr. Eude expressed fear that roads would draw too many people to the area. He suggested that the Americans compensate indigenous groups for protecting the forests.
American officials, meanwhile, say they are already providing “soft side” assistance. The Agency for International Development has spent nearly $1 million since 2008 to preserve the spiny lobster fishery, a main source of work on the Mosquito Coast. The State Department has also contributed computers to a youth center in Puerto Lempira, while American soldiers have provided free medical and dental care.
But many say such programs are not enough.
“The Americans are driving the drug business with their demand, while we are the ones who end up with the dead bodies,” said Carlos H. Sandoval, a forestry engineer who travels throughout the Mosquito Coast.
And yet, for now, the frustration here is aimed at the traffickers, too. After Ahuas residents burned down the houses, several of the tenants who had links to the drug trade fled. American officials say they expect that traffickers may steer clear of the town given the highly publicized drug raid, and local residents agree that, at the very least, business will become more discreet.
Other towns have also challenged the status quo. Officials and residents of Brus Laguna, a town upriver from Ahuas, said a mob there threatened the mayor after the drug raid because they believed he was receiving money from the traffickers that he did not share with the community, forcing them to assume the risks but not the benefits.
And all across the area, residents are anxious about the future, questioning whether it will be the authorities or the traffickers who ultimately hold sway. “The people here are thinking more about all of this right now,” Mr. Ordoñez said. “But they are also thinking about the fact that they need to eat.”
Source on drug raid:
One drug raid recovered half a ton of cocaine
Tags: drug raid, drug trafficking, honduras, ahuas, cocaine, AID, US State Department, Mosquito Coast, US drug raid, Honduras drug raid