LA CEIBA, Honduras – Lucio Adan Nelson dozed on a riverboat ferrying him home from avisit with his mother when helicopters appeared overhead andstarted shooting. He and about a dozen other passengers travelingin the middle of the night jumped into the water for cover. Nelson was hit in the arm and back, but says he couldn’t seek help. “I had to stay in the water for some time because they keptshooting,” he said Sunday from a hospital bed. Honduran police, who with DEA agents were aboard U.S.
helicoptersfor an anti-drug operation, have said they were shooting at drugtraffickers who fired first from a boat in the Patuca River in theremote Mosquitia region near the Caribbean coast. Local officials say four innocent people died in the incident May11. Honduran police say they can’t confirm that, saying theanti-drug team didn’t find any casualties after the shooting butonly an empty boat with nearly a half ton of cocaine. The U.S.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents never fired duringthe operation, acting only in an advisory role, both U.S. andHonduran officials say. Honduran military intelligence is investigating, but no one hastalked to Nelson, 22. He could hardly speak from the pain Sunday, more than a week afterthe shooting, as he recovered in the hospital in La Ceiba where hewas flown for treatment. Industrial Keyboard With Trackball
Elsewhere in the hospital lay 14-year-old Willmer Lucas Walter, whohad a hand amputated because of damage from the shooting. Willmer’s mother, Sabina Romero, said she was too angry to speakabout what happened. “Here nobody is going to talk because they will kill you,” shesaid. “The only help we need here is from doctors, not fromreporters.” Nelson’s uncle, Dany, 32, helped tell the story for his nephew,Lucio, who speaks mostly Miskito, the language of the indigenouswho have lived in the region for centuries. Lucio Nelson has been awaiting surgery to put pins in his lowerarm. China Custom Kiosk Design
He and Willmer were flown from Ahuas, a community of less than2,000 people a week, by the Moravian Church, said Dany Nelson, ahealth technician who works for the Honduran government on malariaprevention. They both arrived unaccompanied and with IV bags attached to theirarms, said Luis Savillon, the taxi driver who picked them up at theairport. Nelson said he was returning to Barra Patuca, a community of about6,000 on the Caribbean coast, after visiting his mother in a tinyriver community when the shooting occurred about 3 a.m. He managedto pull himself ashore alongside Willmer, and waited there untilthe helicopters left. He said he never saw any police on the ground. Custom Kiosk Design Manufacturer
National PoliceChief Ricardo Ramirez del Cid has said officers rappelled to thespot from the helicopters after the shooting. Nelson said he and Willmer started walking in the dark and cameupon a house. A woman there walked with them to the clinic innearby Ahuas. Dany Nelson said he was called by the clinic at 5:30a.m.
Initial reports from local officials said the people killed by theshooting were diving for lobster and shellfish. Honduran and U.S. officials have voiced doubts about whether peoplewith legitimate business would be traveling the river at night in aheavy drug-trafficking area. President Porfirio Lobo said many inthe impoverished indigenous community transport the cocaine thatcomes in on illicit airplanes from South America to its nextdestination on the coast.
The State Department says 79 percent of all cocaine smugglingflights leaving South America first land in Honduras. Ramirez said the national police spotted a plane that night, andthe helicopters were monitoring people taking bales of cocaine fromthe plane to a boat on the river when their aircraft were fired on.He said the national police policy is not to attack planes whenthey are being unloaded because of the possibility that civilianswill be hit. Dany Nelson said boats are the public transit of the river, runningpeople from tiny communities to larger towns such as Barra Patucaand Brus Laguna. Ahuas is about 18 miles (30 kilometers) as thecrow flies from Barra Patuca, but at least double or triple thatdistance on the winding river. It takes four hours between majorpoints and the boats often travel at night to avoid the heat and tocarry workers to their jobs early in the morning, he said.
“The boats make a lot of stops between communities. There are noroads here. The river is our highway,” he said. “If the governmentwants us to stop traveling at night, that would keep us fromworking.
We know the criminals travel at night, but so do workers.Those helicopters have technology to tell the difference between acriminal and a worker.” Honduran military intelligence is investigating, said Col. JoaquinArevalo, a military spokesman. He referred The Associated Press totwo Honduran commanders at the Caratasca Naval Base and a U.S.Joint Task Force installation in Mocoron in the heart of theMosquitia. The area, which is near the Nicaraguan border, saw heavyU.S.
military presence in the 1980s when the U.S. was backingContra rebels fighting the leftist Sandinista government ofNicaragua.