Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Even with Death Squads, Honduran Police are a ‘Lesser Evil’

The Honduran national police are inefficient, corrupt, resistant to reform, and may be conducting extrajudicial killings in an organized capacity, but they’re the only reliable force in the country in the fight against transnational crime. At least, according to the United States.

A new Associated Press investigation illustrates the alarming extent of police corruption in Honduras, claiming that police in the Central American nation are participating in death squads, in which non-uniformed officers target alleged gang members and kill them extrajudicially.

Honduran gang members have been killed or disappeared immediately after a police encounter at least five times in recent months, according to AP reporter Alberto Arce. This fact, along with multiple eyewitness accounts cited in the article, raises questions about whether the United States should continue providing security aid to Honduran police.

The allegations are especially damning considering that National Police Director Juan Carlos Bonilla himself has been accused of participation in death squads. As El Faro reported in a 2011 piece on Bonilla’s record, human rights organizations accused him in 2002 of being a member of an extrajudicial killing squad known as “Los Magnificos” which murdered suspected gang members. He was acquitted in court after the prosecutor in the case was fired mid-trial.

The accusations surfaced again last year when he was appointed police chief, prompting the U.S. government to announce that it would only fund police units “who are not under Bonilla’s direct supervision.” This has been difficult, however, as the hierarchical structure of Honduras’ police means that every policeman in the country technically falls under his command.

This shows the difficult line that the U.S. State Department is walking in promoting an anti-narcotics agenda in Honduras, a major drug transit country. According to U.S. officials, there simply are no other capable partners other than the police. From the AP:
In the last two years, the United States has given an estimated $30 million in aid to Honduran law enforcement. The U.S. State Department says it faces a dilemma: The police are essential to fighting crime in a country that has become a haven for drug-runners. It estimates that 40 percent of the cocaine headed to the U.S. - and 87 percent of cocaine smuggling flights from South America - pass through Honduras.  
"The option is that if we don't work with the police, we have to work with the armed forces, which almost everyone accepts to be worse than the police in terms of ... taking matters in their own hands," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield told the AP via live chat on March 28. "Although the national police may have its defects at the moment, it is the lesser evil."

News Briefs
  • On the subject of unlawful police killings, InSight Crime profiles two videos of an apparent extrajudicial murder committed by police in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The videos, which were obtained by Globo television, show officers shooting at a suspect from helicopter, then congratulating each other on the operation while moving several dead bodies. The incident has been condemned by human rights groups in the country, and police say an investigation into the operation has been launched.
  • As mentioned in yesterday’s post, one possible way for Guatemalan ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt to avoid his 80-year sentence on genocide charges is by using his advanced age to appeal for a pardon on health grounds. A cynical observer might think this plan was set in motion yesterday, when Rios Montt was taken to a military hospital after allegedly fainting. Prensa Libre and the AP report that the incident occurred just as the former dictator was on his way to attend a hearing on reparations to the victims of military operations linked to the crimes he was sentenced for.
  • While peace talks between FARC rebels and the Colombian government are progressing well and both sides are publicly optimistic about their outcome, the government is standing firm in its position that there will be a time limit for the talks. Speaking on RCN Radio, Peace Commissioner Sergio Jaramillo stressed that the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos will not continue negotiations into next year
  • When Paraguayan President-elect Horacio Cartes takes office in August, his Colorado Party will control Congress. Official election results released on Friday show that the Colorados will have 44 of 80 lower house seats, and 19 of 45 Senate seats in the next term.
  • The government of Uruguay is pressing forward with its plan to make the country the first in the world to legalize marijuana production and consumption, despite widespread opposition to the initiative. A Cifra poll published last week showed that 66 percent of Uruguayans are against the legalization of cannabis, but El Pais reports that ruling Frente Amplio party lawmakers in the lower house are moving ahead with the plan anyway.
  • A new policing initiative, which involves coordination between the Venezuelan armed forces and the national police, went into effect yesterday in the state of Miranda. According to Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, the initiative was announced last week by President Nicolas Maduro, who framed it as a move to reduce violent crime in the country. Meanwhile, EFE reports that the government has created a new unit charged with investigating homicides. Both of these are products of Maduro’s election campaign, which focused heavily on security issues.
  • Although Maduro has accused Empresas Polar, Venezuela’s main food company, of reducing output and hoarding products in order to create scarcity, the company’s main executive has denied this. AP reports that Empresas Polar CEO Lorenzo Mendoza announced yesterday that his company has actually increased production of cornmeal over the past four months, and offered to buy government owned corn processing plants to boost output further.
  • The Nicaraguan government has claimed that the Chilean AFP photojournalist it deported over the weekend was initially arrested because he passed over a police cordon near President Daniel Ortega’s residence.