As the war on drugs has spread from Mexico to Central America, so has the U.S. role in Honduras. Pentagon contracts are helping to fund new military bases in remote regions of that country, and U.S. troops and special Drug Enforcement Administration agents have been deployed to train local security forces and assist in counter-narcotics operations.
It's a delicate partnership, and one that is already causing controversy. Last week the Obama administration confirmed that DEA agents were with Honduran security forces aboard a U.S. helicopter during a botched May 11 operation. Four civilians, including two pregnant women, were allegedly killed after the helicopter fired on a canoe during a predawn raid, local authorities said. U.S. officials insist that the DEA agents were participating only in an advisory capacity and were not involved in the shooting, but several Honduran officials have described the raid as a DEA mission.
The incident raises more questions than it answers. In their role as advisors, did the DEA agents participate in the decision to open fire before the targets were positively identified? Are those agents authorized to intercede to prevent the killing of civilians? Does the U.S.-financed anti-drug effort in Honduras run the risk of putting American forces on the side of an unpopular and possibly trigger-happy Central American military — a position the United States has been in all too often during the last century?