We Had to Kill the Villagers to Save Americans From the Cocaine They Want

Lucio Baquedano, the mayor of Ahuas, Honduras, says a U.S.-assisted anti-drug operation there last week left four innocent people dead, including two pregnant women. He says police mistook a fishing canoe for a boat carrying cocaine traffickers and fired on it from a helicopter. Villagers rioted in protest, burning down government buildings and demanding that agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who participated in the operation as part of a commando-style Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST), leave the area and stay out. An unnamed "U.S. official" said the DEA agents did not fire any rounds during the raid, which seized about 1,000 pounds of cocaine, and he questioned Baquedano's account:

The US official briefed on the matter expressed doubts that villagers would be out fishing in the middle of the night, near where helicopters carrying armed police had landed nearly an hour earlier. The large number of people unloading the plane in the video, the official said, was evidence that many members of the impoverished community of Ahuas were involved in lucrative narcotics trafficking.

“There is nothing in the local village that was unknown, a surprise, or a mystery about this,"’ the official said. "What happened was that, for the first time in the history of Ahuas, Honduran law enforcement interfered with narcotics smuggling."

The logic here seems to be that everyone in the town was complicit in the cocaine trade, so there is no such thing as an innocent victim. Even if Honduran police, who said they were returning fire from a boat that arrived as they were seizing the cocaine, did kill some villagers who were out fishing, they and their unborn children pretty much had it coming. Thus the literalized War on Drugs takes a step beyond regrettable "collateral damage" with the argument that anyone close enough to the action to get hurt probably was aiding the enemy.

As Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann notes, even the concept of collateral damage is inappropriate in this situation:

The basic distinction between the criminal justice system and a war is that the former does not tolerate "collateral casualties," whereas the latter regards them as an inevitable cost of military conflict. DEA agents are never permitted to be involved in the killing of innocent people, whether or not they are in pursuit of criminal suspects. What happened in Honduras appears to have crossed the line... 

Neither the drug czar nor anyone else in the Obama administration, or even in the Bush administration before that, likes to use the phrase "the war on drugs." But what happened in Honduras last week suggests that U.S. drug policy abroad—and often in the U.S.—increasingly resembles a real war, despite U.S. officials’ efforts to abandon that rhetoric.

Worse, it is a never-ending war with the unattainable (and undesirable) goal of achieving "a drug-free society." Even in this context, measures like last week's raid stand out as worse than futile. Seizing those 1,000 pounds of cocaine was not worth risking a single person's life, since it accomplished absolutely nothing of consequence, even as measured by the drug warriors' goal of reducing the supply of cocaine or raising its price. Governments can create black markets by fiat, but they cannot control the ever-adaptable operation of those markets, which will always override attempts to disrupt production or block supply routes. Is it any wonder that Latin American leaders are increasingly angry about arrogant U.S. demands that they participate in the vain crusade to stop Americans from getting the drugs they want? 

Addendum: Mike Riggs noted the allegations about the Honduras raid yesterday. 

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  • sarcasmic||

    DEA agents are never permitted to be involved in the killing of innocent people

    Since when?

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    DEA agents are never permitted to be involved in the killing of innocent people means that if someone got killed, that someone was not innocent by definition.

  • daveInAustin||

    Don't forget, Daniel Chong wasn't innocent either.

  • Brandon||

    SF'd, or is "Daniel Chong (Highlighted)" his official name?

  • sarcasmic||

    Oh yeah. I forgot.

  • TELLMOFF||

    The bright side of this story is "the burning down of government buildings".

  • Rasilio||

    Yeah apparently the people of Honduras have the whole protest thing a lot better worked out than the Occupy crowd since they actually attacked the right people.

  • tarran||

    The bright side of this story is "the burning down of government buildings".

    ATF Infiltrator is obvious.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    If he were an ATF infiltrator, his screenname would have a link to a website describing how to obtain materials for a bomb by calling this toll-free number.

  • tarran||

    He's toned it down a bit from when he first splashed down here demanding to know who had the balls to stand up and fight by his side.

    I think at this point he's playing the long game; after a year, he'll be a regular and then some new people who don't know who started hanging out here when will assume he is legit and accept his offer to join him in some direct action.

    Aside from the quasi racist stuff in the white birth-rate post, he only posts comments about attacking government officials and berating his countrymen for their lack of testicular fortitude.

  • ||

    Thank you for the history on this TELLMOFF character. He always seemed a little radical, but I had no idea. Luckily I didn't send him the little booklet on bomb making that I am putting together in my spare time, nor the PDF files of the floor plans of every gov't building on the planet that I have made a hobby of collecting.

    I will probably pay for that bit of sarcasm by being put on the "no-fly" list and being stopped from going to St. Lucia on my honeymoon this summer. Damn.

  • TELLMOFF||

    I am not a radical. I am not an extremist. I am an extreme extremist- with an interesting federal gag order against my website from U.S. Judge Joan Gottschall. If any of the Reason staff would like to contact me, you may find a subject for an article.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    Oh great, moron bait. Where's Mary?

  • NeonCat||

    Gamboling.

  • Brandon||

    Gamboling on Youtube?

  • ||

    "The US official briefed on the matter expressed doubts that villagers would be out fishing in the middle of the night, near where helicopters carrying armed police had landed nearly an hour earlier. "

    I fish at night all the time. Wed night my son and I filled an ice chest up with catfish. The whole time we were paddling up and down the line of yo-yos we could hear them going off. We couldnt bait and reset them fast enough.

    Apparently this fuckstain 'unnamed U.S. official' knows nothing about fishing.

    Do the four dead include the unborn children? Or do the two pregnant women and their children only count for one each? Two pregnant women, really? Jesus fucking Christ.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I had a lot of friends who fished when I was a teenager. The joke was whoever could deal with their hangover best at 4 AM would wind up catching the most that day.

  • ||

    Since they don't give a name, I can't look up that person's career history, but whenever I hear something of that nature I like to glance at Wiki for a CV and 99.98% of the time these folks have gone direct from college to lifetime service in government with no other employment whatsoever.

  • ||

    Here in DC, one of the prized fish of the Potomac (yes, there is such a thing and no, I can't remember which species) is best fished for at night. DEA is headquartered in DC - none of those eejits ever noticed people out and about in skiffs at 3am?

  • fried wylie||

    noticed, sure. but they didn't have the budget to be shooting everyone out on the potomac at night.

  • ||

    BTW, yall are all invited to a fish fry this weekend.
    Fried catfish, fried mushrooms, fried squash, potato fries, with remoulade, tartar and ketsup with generous amounts of hot sauce.

  • ||

    Oh yeah, byob.

  • ||

    Wherefore no fried okra? Are you a really a real southerner?

    What time should I be there? I'll bring the lobstah rolls and whoopie pies (the two most yankee dishes I can think of)

  • ||

    Ha ha! I only eat okra boiled with peas and bacon, I hate the fried stuff. I do love lobster rolls though.....I have no idea what a whoopie pie is.

  • Brandon||

    Sadly, you don't sound like you're in Denver.

  • So Played||

    Apparently, the DEA doesn't read the Bible. John 21:3.

  • ||

    President Suthenboy would appoint an AG who would entirely halt the drug war and prosecute every fucking drug warrior who has violated the constitution and/or killed anyone except in cases of self defense that rise to the same standards as any civilian could claim.

    I am sure I would last a week before meeting my Oswald.

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    We Had to Kill the Villagers to Save Americans From the Cocaine They Want

    Winner Headline

  • The Other Kevin||

    Villagers rioted in protest, burning down government buildings

    Wow, so more people who hate us for our "freedom" like they do in the mid east.

  • daveInAustin||

    So when the DEA shows up in your village, everybody should just stop whatever they are doing for their livelihood so they don't be mistaken for drug traffickers. The sad thing is that this has been going on for years and it hasn't done a damn thing to reduce the supply of drugs.

  • ||

    The logic here seems to be that everyone in the town was complicit in the cocaine trade commerce, so there is no such thing as an innocent victim bystander.

    I believe, Sullum, you have posted before on "Three Felonies a Day," where basically any act sans breathing (and even that one is in question) makes anyone culpable for some crime somewhere? The Commerce Clause still looms large. Worldwide, apparently. This sordid episode is disgraceful.

    As an aside, I was under the impression pregnancy doesn't equate to personhood. Unless of course there is a larger narrative in play requiring an appeal to emotion. Tsk, tsk Riggs. And fuck the "ITZ FOR THE CHILDRENZ!1one!!!" types. Makes me wanna puke.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I believe, Sullum, you have posted before on "Three Felonies a Day," where basically any act sans breathing (and even that one is in question) makes anyone culpable for some crime somewhere?

    Breathing releases CO2 into the air. It is probably in violation of EPA regulations.

  • BakedPenguin||

    It's bad enough that the US taxpayer have to subsidize the moronic whack-a-mole game the DEA likes to play with drug suppliers; you'd hope they could be happy with that and not add in murdering innocent people as part of their fun and games.

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