Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Honduras Police Massacre Comes Amid Push for Reform

A Honduran policeman shot dead five fellow officers, which police commanders said would only spur on a controversial reform process meant to purge the force of corrupt elements.

On Monday afternoon, a police officer in the city of La Ceiba on Honduras’ Caribbean coast killed five of his colleagues in the offices of the DNIC, the police’s criminal investigations unit. The group had reportedly had an argument, before an officer identified as Elias Enrique Mejia Suazo drew his gun and began shooting at close range. He was arrested immediately afterwards.

Police are investigating the theory that the officers were arguing over how to distribute between them a cache of dollars seized as evidence, according to El HeraldoLa Tribuna, however, reports that witnesses said the killing was triggered by “harsh jokes” made between the agents.

Police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla said the shooting pointed to the need to continue with reforms to the police, and that the institution would not hide anything, saying “We need to establish greater controls within the institution to avoid these unfortunate events.”

Security Minister Pompey Bonilla said that the killing demonstrated the need for confidence tests to be performed on police officers.

The police in La Ceiba have been the focus of various corruption scandals -- four officers accused of extortion were arrested there earlier this month, while the anti-kidnapping unit was dismissed and the local commanders replaced in August over officers’ alleged kidnapping and murder of four young men.

report from IPS highlights opposition amongst officers to tests that are being carried out to assess them for competence and identify corruption and links to organized crime under the authority of newly-appointed police chief Bonilla. Some agents object to the tests, and refuse to recognize the authority of Bonilla, as he was promoted above them despite having lower rank. The rebels, headed by former prisons head Aldo Oliva, say the tests violate their human rights.

Eduardo Villanueva, head of the office for police evaluation, told IPS that “the reactions against the process merely indicate that we are on the right track.”

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports from Tegucigalpa on the case of a teenage boy shot dead by soldiers after passing a checkpoint at night. Fifteen-year-old Ebed Yanes had “never left their gated community alone, had never taken public transportation and didn’t know his way about the city.”

The army carried out a cover-up after the killing, but three soldiers have now been arrested. They were part of a special forces unit vetted by the US as being free of corruption.

News Briefs

  • In Brazil, the former chief of staff to ex-President Lula da Silva has been sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison over the “mensalao” vote-buying scandal. Jose Dirceu, a former Marxist guerrilla, was also fined 646,000 reais ($315,000). The Financial Times said the sentence was one of the toughest ever for a senior politician accused of corruption, while Bloomberg noted that it was the first time a former cabinet member had been jailed for corruption since the end of the dictatorship. Veja reports that, because he is a lawyer, Dirceu can be held in a military barracks until the sentence is made final, in a room without bars.
  • The WSJ reports on a surge of violence in Sao Paulo, where 90 of the 1,000 homicides seen this year have had police as their victims (other news sources quote a figure of 100 police murdered this year). Analysts attribute this to a cycle of revenge killings between the police and prison gang First Capital Command (PCC), with police extrajudicially executing members of the gang, which retaliates by ordering hits against officers. The state governor has responded by transferring some jailed gang leaders to federal prisons, and sending police to raid Paraisopolis favela. Killings continue to rise -- the AP quotes Brazilian media reports saying that 31 people were murdered in the city over the weekend.
  • The presidents of Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica issued a joint statement declaring that votes to legalize marijuana in Washington and Colorado would impact efforts to clamp down on the production and trafficking of the drug in Latin America. They called for a UN special session on drug prohibition, as the AP reports.
    Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ takes the legalization vote as a prompt to argue against the war on drugs, pointing to a report from Animal Politico which found evidence that drug gangs are making use of forced labor, kidnapping technical specialists and young people and making them work. O’Grady makes the connection with the Mexican government’s insinuations that most victims of drug violence are themselves criminals, siding with “human-rights groups” to argue that this is false and that “violence is affecting Mexican society more broadly than government officials want to admit.”
  • Alma Guillermoprieto has an essay for the New York Review of Books on the danger organized crime poses to journalists in Mexico, noting that reporters are threatened for refusing to follow orders of gangs as well as for following those of a rival gang, placing them in an extremely difficult situation.
  • The Washington Post reports from Chihuahua state in north Mexico, where abuses allegedly committed by an army general and his men have become a landmark case for prosecuting soldiers accused of human rights violations in civilian courts. William Booth states that if the trial goes ahead, it would mean an “unprecedented shift of power that could end a century of impunity for Mexico’s armed forces.” This would be the fourth of the five Supreme Court rulings needed to change the constitution, which currently mandates trying soldiers in military courts.
  • Verdad Abierta has a lengthy report on unlicensed mining in the remote forested province of Guainia, west Colombia.
  • A bomb attack against a police station in Cauca, southeast Colombia, wounded 25 people, reports the AP. It has been blamed on militia units of the the FARC rebels, according to RCN.
  • Guatemala has lowered the number reported dead in an earthquake last week from 52 to 42, after some of those missing were found alive, reports the AP.
  • The WSJ reports on the growing importance of the female Latin vote in the US, with 76 percent of Hispanic women choosing Obama in last week’s elections, up from 68 percent in 2008. Studies vary on which of the main candidates won the Cuban-American vote, with one study claiming Obama got 51 percent, and another claiming Romney got 59, reports the Miami Herald.

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