Evidence the DEA Attempted to Alter Testimony on Drug War Massacre in Honduras
Clara Wood survived a shooting carried out during a joint Honduras-U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) drug interdiction operation in the Moskitia region in eastern Honduras on May 11, 2012. Her 14-year old son, Hasked Brooks Wood, was killed during shooting.
To date, no Honduran or U.S. agents have been held accountable for the death of four Miskitu indigenous people who were assassinated and three who were gravely injured during the attack Between February and March 2013, three Honduran agents were acquitted for their involvement in the May 2012 incident. Honduran authorities say that the U.S. Embassy refuses to hand over the names of the U.S. agents involved in the massacre, thus obstructing investigation of the case.
Beginning in mid-2013, Clara Wood and a family member of a woman killed during the operation began receiving phone calls from a Honduran man that identified himself as ‘Eddie’. Eddie offered to help them, including insisting that they drop their current legal representation and allow him to find them – the survivors and family members – a ‘better’ lawyer to take on their case. He told Clara he had friends in the U.S. Embassy that could help her. He suggested the other survivor, who he was also trying to convince to change legal representation, travel to San Pedro Sula with a woman rumored in Ahuas to traffic sex workers.
On two occasions in February 2014, Mrs. Wood traveled with Eddie to Tegucigalpa for questioning conducted by individuals that she was told were Americans and/or worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration. On the first trip, two U.S. men attempted to convince Mrs. Wood to alter her testimony regarding the series of events that led up to the May 2012 massacre.
During questioning, the two Americans – one identified as ‘Mr. Andres’ – insisted that two men in the passenger boat in which Wood was traveling opened fired at the U.S. State Department helicopter, thus justifying the helicopter shooting and killing four innocent civilians.
On this trip, Eddie told Wood that she would receive 100,000 Lempiras [$5,000 USD] if she said that two men in the passenger boat fired first at the helicopter. Later that day, after proposing she return to Tegucigalpa to speak with colleagues of his coming from Washington, Mr. Andres asked Wood to bring her bank account number, apparently confirming Eddie’s offer.
On the second trip, as Eddie escorted her to the meeting, he stopped at a pharmacy and asked for a pill to calm nerves, which he gave to Clara and she took. She was then taken to a building that she understood to be the U.S. Embassy and hooked up to a polygraph machine.
She recounts that an American man who identified himself as working with the DEA began administering the polygraph test and soon asked her if she had taken any kind of medication. He then left the room and she heard him speaking in the hall with Mr. Andres who came in, asked her who had given her a pill, and said they would no longer administer the test because she did not want to tell the truth. Throughout both trips, Wood refused to alter her testimony and stood by her original account of the events of the 2012 massacre.
It is possible that the February 2014 contact with Clara Wood is linked to an internal investigation being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice and the State Department or an internal investigation that the DEA announced it was conducting in May 2012. When a U.S. human rights observation delegation questioned the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa about contact with Mrs. Wood in November 2014, they were told that the Embassy had limited knowledge of the contact, but that they had been contacted first by someone claiming to have information about the May 2012 incident.
The following is Wood’s testimony of her initial contact with Eddie, her two trips to Tegucigalpa and the questioning she endured without legal representation:
‘Eddie’ Makes Contact with Massacre Survivor, Clara Wood.
Eddie first contacted Clara Wood in December of 2013. “He told me he is from San Pedro Sula, the first time he called me from San Pedro and he told me that he saw me on the internet and he pitied me because I’m poor. He said that he knows people who help poor people . . . He was going to take me to those people who can help me.”
Eddie told Clara that he had gotten her phone number from Clara’s cousin who lives in Puerto Lempira, Gracias a Dios. Repeatedly over the next few months, Eddie called Clara, asking how she was doing. During these conversations, he made references to the killing of her son Hasked Brooks Wood in the DEA-Honduran government massacre in Ahuas on May 11, 2012.
“He always called me on my cell phone, asking how I’m doing, sometimes sending me phone credit to my phone. [We spoke] in the months of December , January, and February.”
In February 2014, Eddie phoned Clara and invited her to come to Tegucigalpa. He told her that he had people in Tegucigalpa who would help her because of the loss of her son.
“[Eddie] called me one day before he went to Roatan. The day he arrived, he called me, ‘Listen, where are you? I’m in Roatan’ he told me.”
The next day, Eddie went to Wood’s house. Wood describes him as “dark- skinned, I don’t know how old – he was heavy set, muscular, not young, he’s a grown man. He spoke Spanish and English.”
Eddie picked Mrs. Wood up at her house, and the two of them went by ferry to the mainland and then by public bus to Tegucigalpa. Upon arriving in Tegucigalpa, Eddie took Clara to the Hotel Guanacaste. For the rest of the day, Clara stayed in her room. Eddie reserved a room for himself adjacent to Clara’s room.
Questioning and Interrogation in ‘US Embassy’ in Tegucigalpa
Early the following morning, Eddie took Clara by taxi to a building that Clara believed to be the U.S. Embassy “I don’t remember the color of the house, it had flowers outside and an entrance.It’s a low-rise building, one level.”
Outside what Clara was told was a U.S. Embassy building, stood a Honduran guard and “the guard inside [the building] was American – I saw his [skin] color, his hat and his clothes were khakis. He spoke Spanish but because of his clothes, I knew he was American.”
Once inside the building, she was asked for her identification. A man named Mr. Andres met Wood and Eddie at the door. “Mr. Andres said ‘Hi Eddie.’ They hugged.”
Wood describes Mr. Andres as “an older man . . . he had the physical build of an American and he told me he was American.” Mr. Andres also spoke Spanish.
Mr. Andres led Wood into a room He said, “‘Let’s go inside’ and we left Eddie outside with the guard [at the entrance]. He [Eddie] did not go into the room with me. Don Andres and another man, yes”
Mr. Andres and a “tall” American man took Wood into a “small room with no windows.” They began asking her questions about the sequence of events of the incident that took place May 11, 2012 in Ahuas when she was in a boat that was fired on by helicopters as part of a joint DEA-Honduran drug interdiction operation.
Wood reiterated her entire testimony, including when the boat was fired on, and her arrest upon getting to the shore of the Patuca River. She said that she cried as she described how she found her son Hasked’s dead body. The two men got her a glass of water. Wood says at this point she was not scared.
“One [man] was standing behind me, the other was asking me things. The older [tall] American man told me, ‘I’m sorry, that was an accident, it was not our intention to kill anyone.’”
Both men questioned Wood about what had happened that night, specifically whether any passengers on the boat had guns.
“Mr. Andres asked me to tell the truth–that Mr. Melanio and Emerson [the pilot and his assistant on the boat the night of May 11, 2012] provoked the helicopter [to fire]. And I told him ‘no’, I told him no, I did not see that’, but he told me that Emerson was a military soldier, that he had a gun under his shirt and that people say that Emerson walked around with a shotgun all the time, and that he had it [that night], but I told him that it was night time, I didn’t see anything because the boat left at 7 [at night] and I didn’t see anything.”
“I told him that I could not lie, because I saw shots fired, but from the helicopter. I heard shots, but I did not know where they came from, I heard four shots that came from above – that’s what I told them.” She said that it was impossible for Melanio to fire a gun because he would have lost control of the boat.
During the questioning, Clara reports that Mr. Andres asked her for a bank account number. She responded that she did not have one.
Mr. Andres also asked Clara about Eddie. “He asked me if Eddie gave me anything. I said that he had not given me anything [money]. He gave me food, drink, he brings me from the hotel. He has not given me anything, I told them”
Mr. Andres said that he gave Eddie $500 dollars to give to Wood and then wrote a Honduran phone number down on a piece of paper. Mr. Andres then gave Wood the piece of paper, telling her to call him if she needed anything.
“I gave $500 to Eddie for the expenses. Did he give it to you?’” Asked Mr. Andres. “’He never gave me anything’ I said, ‘I haven’t received anything in my hand’ I told them.”
When the questioning was over, Wood was taken back to the hotel. Upon arriving, Eddie asked her for the piece of paper that Mr. Andres had given her. She gave it to him and he did not give it back to her. Back at the hotel, Eddie told Wood that they would deposit 100,000 Lps [$5000] in her account if she “told the truth.”
“How much are you going to give me when they give you the money?’ Eddie asked Clara. ‘I don’t know,’ Clara told him. “You’ll give me 70,000 … how much will you give me?’ said Eddie. ‘They’re going to give it to you,” Eddie told Clara.
“No, I don’t think they will give me anything, I said.”
The following morning, Wood, accompanied by Eddie, traveled back to the island of Roatan. Eddie went with Wood to Siguatepeque where he got off the bus, while Wood continued on to Roatan
Lie Detector Test and Clara’s Second Trip to Tegucigalpa with Eddie
Wood relates, “In the same month of February, two weeks later, he brought me back again. Eddie went to Roatan, Eddie went to my house to take me [to Tegucigalpa].”
Upon arriving, she was told that she would wait for a man from the DEA who was coming from the United States. She waited for two days in Tegucigalpa in the hotel. Eddie brought her food and she did not leave the hotel much. When Clara and Eddie did leave the hotel, Eddie gave Clara sunglasses to put on so that people would not recognize her.
“I was waiting for two days in the hotel in the Guanacaste [neighborhood] waiting with him [Eddie] and they came specifically to put a polygraph on my body. They came for that.”
During the time they waited in the hotel, Eddie made reference to money that Clara would receive if she “told the truth.” Clara was told that “They are going to give you money if you tell the truth. ‘I will tell the truth’, I told him, I’m going to speak about the same thing that I saw, I cannot say lies’ I told him. ‘No, you were going to say that Melanio and Emerson fired,’ he told me. ‘But I cannot lie’ I told him.
Eddie told Wood that he received a call asking him to make sure that Wood slept well, ate well, and did not take any medications before going to what Wood believes was the U.S. Embassy again.
On the third day, early in the morning Eddie took Wood again by taxi to the same house that she assumed to be the U.S. Embassy. On their way to the Embassy, they stopped at a pharmacy.
“Eddie came with me and close to the Embassy, he bought a pill to calm nerves.” Eddie told Wood that the pill would help her with her nerves. She took the pill even though she had not asked for it nor did she feel like she needed it.
Eddie and Wood walked from the pharmacy to the building. Wood was taken inside and led into a room alone with a man who told her he had come from the United States specifically to give her the polygraph test and worked with the DEA. He began asking Clara questions about the series of events that occurred on May 11, 2012. Shortly after, he asked Clara if she had taken any medication.
“Then he asked me what I had taken. He [then] left the room and went outside where they were waiting. Mr. Andres was outside with the other American . . . and then Mr. Andres came into the room. Mr. Andres said – ‘You don’t want to tell the truth on the machine’. Eddie told me that you were going to speak the truth but you don’t want to speak’. The man from the DEA [giving the lie detector test] asked me what pill I had taken. I told him that Eddie had bought me a pill. ‘But I told him not to give you anything,’ he said, that he told Eddie to make sure I ate dinner, and went to bed early and to not take anything. I don’t know,’ I told him, he stopped at a pharmacy and bought a pill. He asked me what pill I had taken, a pill for nerves?’ I said ‘Yes, he bought it for me”
Upset and crying Clara was taken off the lie detector test. Eddie then took Clara back to the hotel telling her that “for a little thing, we lost everything.”
Eddie gave her food for dinner, but she did not eat it. She went to her room. The following morning, Clara traveled back to Roatan by herself. Eddie gave her 1,200 Lempiras [60 USD] for her travel costs, but it was not enough for her to get back to Roatan.
Mrs. Wood’s testimony was taken over a series of interviews – in person and by phone – from July to December 2014. The purpose of the contact and polygraph test administered to Mrs. Wood is unknown, however human rights organizations that are accompanying Mrs. Wood and other survivors of the Ahuas incident are concerned for her safety. The manner in which Mrs. Wood was contacted is alarming, as is the form in which she was questioned by individuals associated with the DEA, without any legal representative, in an attempt to alter her testimony of the incident.
The survivors and family members continue to be hopeful in seeking justice for the murder and injury of their loved ones despite the impunity rampant in the Honduran justice system, the failure of an adequate, complete, and public U.S. investigation into the incident, and the unwillingness of the U.S. Embassy to provide the names of the agents involved.
This May will mark the third year anniversary of the Drug War massacre in Ahuas, and the complete impunity in which U.S. and Honduran forces militarize, injury, and kill in the name of the ‘War on Drugs’.
Karen Spring is the Honduras-based Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network and a contributor to the Americas Program www.cipamericas.org