Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Honduran Police Chief Accused of Intimidating Opposition

Honduras’ Liberation and Re-foundation Party (LIBRE), the opposition party associated with deposed former president Manuel Zelaya, has formally accused the head of the country’s police force of orchestrating a campaign aimed at intimidating its members.

As El Heraldo reports, Zelaya and around one hundred supporters presented a denunciation to the public prosecutors’ office yesterday alleging that National Police Director Juan Carlos Bonilla had threatened LIBRE’s leadership and member base.

The move comes after Bonilla publicly accused LIBRE of plotting to damage the credibility of the police force by spreading videos purportedly showing evidence of police misconduct and abuses. In a press conference on Friday, Bonilla appeared with the rest of the police command and accused the party of working to “destabilize” the country’s security forces.

"I want to be very emphatic, there are members of the Liberation and Re-foundation Party with the sole intention of discrediting the work of the director of the National Police and likewise the entire institution, who are leading a smear campaign against me personally," he said.

Bonilla was referring in part to a widely-shared video recently posted on YouTube which claims to depict the police director planning the assassination of Zelaya during the 2009 political crisis caused by his ouster. As InSight Crime notes, there is nothing in it to suggest the assassination plot allegation is true, although police officials have admitted that the operation Bonilla planned was involved with Zelaya’s appearance at the Honduras-Nicaragua border after the coup.

LIBRE denies Bonilla’s accusation, and there is no solid evidence that the party is behind this or any other video’s release, making the police chief’s public warning look very much like an intimidation tactic. And while it is possible that LIBRE is capitalizing on public distrust of police to score points ahead of the November elections in which Zelaya’s wife Xiomara Castro will run for president, the party’s allegations fit well with Bonilla’s profile.

The complaint is the latest in a string of misconduct and corruption allegations against the police chief. As El Faro detailed in a 2011 profile of Bonilla, in 2002 human rights organizations accused him of being part of an extrajudicial killing squad known as “Los Magnificos” which murdered suspected gang members. He was acquitted in court only after the prosecutor in the case was fired mid-trial.

More recently, another former Honduran national police chief, General Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, directly blamed the February 17 murder of his son on Bonilla. While officials said the teen had been killed by gang members, Ramirez claimed to have proof that his murder was the result of a botched kidnapping orchestrated by corrupt elements of the security forces under Bonilla’s command.


News Briefs
  • Venezuela is investigating the death of Chief Sabino Romero, an indigenous rights activist who has been involved in a clash between the country’s Yukpa indigenous people and ranchers over land that the Yukpa say is theirs. According to David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz of WOLA’s Venezuela Politics and Human Rights blog, Romero frequently denounced links between government and landowners in the western Perija area. Venezuelan indigenous rights group Provea (which is currently facing a government suit for its work in defending the Yukpa) claims that Romero had been repeatedly harassed and threatened by police officers. The AP reports that Romero repeatedly requested government protection. Since January 2012, six indigenous yupka have been killed in the country, according to Provea. 
  • In its latest medical update on President Hugo Chavez’s health, the government has said that he is suffering from a “severe” new respiratory infection, Telesur and Reuters report. His health is now being described as “very delicate.”
  • Folha de Sao Paulo offers a slideshow featuring images of the “pacification” of the Caju and Barreira do Vasco favelas in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday. Although some 1,5000 police and soldiers were involved in the operation, not a single shot was fired, causing local officials to declare it a success.
  • The L.A. Times has an interesting report on journalism bias in Brazil, where the majority of media outlets are controlled by wealthy families critical of President Dilma Rousseff and her Workers’ Party. In spite of this criticism, the paper claims she has responded by largely leaving the news media alone.
  • The New York Times highlights recent comments made by Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who has said that the government was “tracking” opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski during his recent visit to New York. In a televised appearance over the weekend, Maduro accused Capriles of owning an East Side high-rise apartment and jokingly referred to him as the “prince of Manhattan.”
  • The Miami Herald reports that the attorney of former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier has been hospitalized, raising questions about whether his “illness” is a ploy to delay the hearing against him over whether he can be charged for crimes against humanity. According to the lawyer, Reynold Georges, Duvalier’s appearance in court last week came against the orders of his doctor.
  • Yesterday a Mexican judge ordered the country’s once-mighty teachers’ union boss, Elba Esther Gordillo, to stand trial for embezzlement after assessing the government’s case against her. According to Milenio, the judge also ordered her to stay in prison while the trial proceeds. In a sign that her arrest last week was a warning against political corruption, the AP notes that President Enrique Peña Nieto announced to his party that “there are no untouchable interests” in Mexico.
  • In an interview with El Espectador, Colombian Senate President Roy Barreras explains why he led a congressional delegation to Cuba on Sunday to visit with the FARC negotiating team. Barreras believes that the peace talks are going well, and expresses optimism that the guerrillas will be able to participate in democratic politics if a peace accord is signed.
  • Colombia Reports looks at the response to the ongoing coffee growers’ strike on social media sites like Facebook, in which Colombians are voicing outrage at the government’s response to protestors.  Meanwhile, EFE reports that the decision by a truckers’ union to join the strike led to food shortages in cities around the country yesterday. According to El Colombiano, the truckers’ strike is over after an agreement with workers was reached early this morning.
  • In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Jackson Diehl looks at the recent move to limit the independence of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, noting that the Obama administration will likely fail to intervene, in keeping with the president’s oversight of Latin America issues.