Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Honduras Deploys Controversial Military Police

A new security force, comprised almost entirely of former soldiers, has begun patrolling crime-stricken areas in Honduras. Reuters reports that some 1,000 military police officers were deployed in the country’s most violent cities on Monday (in San Pedro Sula and part of Tegucigalpa, according to El Heraldo).

The new police body, known as the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP), was created in August after a unanimous congressional vote. The measure was initially proposed by National Party Congressman Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is also a leading candidate ahead of next month’s presidential election. Polls show he is statistically tied with Xiomara Castro of the left-wing LIBRE party, who has opposed any military involvement in law enforcement. “Not only are [soldiers] trained for defense purposes, they are also professionals, they have experience,” Castro told local press last month. “They’re not meant to be monitoring traffic lights.”

The creation of the PMOP is in some ways an extension of President Porfirio Lobo’s anti-crime strategy, which has been marked by an increasing reliance on the armed forces for internal security.

 One of the strongest arguments for military involvement in policing presented by advocates of this strategy is the unreliability of the National Police. Honduran police are notoriously corrupt, and have been repeatedly accused of extrajudicial executions and other human rights abuses. Efforts to clean up the National Police have stagnated, as authorities have been slow to implement background checks and other vetting procedures for police officers. So while it is hardly ideal for the military to assume law enforcement responsibilities, supporters of this argue it is a necessary evil.

The problem with this is that the Honduran army is not immune from criminal infiltration either. Current and former Honduran military personnel have been implicated in a range of illegal activities in recent years. In March 2012, for instance, Mexican officials arrested two former Honduran soldiers accused of providing military training to the Zetas. In November 2010, a plane seized in a drug trafficking operations was “stolen” by military personnel from an army base in San Pedro Sula. Eleven soldiers were arrested in connection with the incident, including a handful of mid-level officers and a lieutenant colonel.

The mixed record of the Honduran military has caused concern in the United States government as well. A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008, for instance, cited an internal report finding that grenades and anti-tank weaponry sold to the Honduran military by the U.S. were later found in seized arms caches belonging to criminal groups in Mexico and Colombia.

News Briefs
  • Writing for the Global Post, Simeon Tegel looks at increasing U.S. anti-drug aid to Peru, as well as Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s plans to implement a mass forced eradication campaign in the coca-growing heartland of the Valley of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers (VRAE).  Citing local opposition to coca eradication, combined with a small but spirited guerrilla presence in the area, Tegel argues that Peru could turn into the next U.S.-supported “drug war debacle.”
  • A new comparison of regional public opinion surveys by the Mitofsky polling firm provides an interesting snapshot of popular support for the various presidents of the Americas. The top three most popular presidents in the hemisphere are Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic (with 88 percent support), Ecuador’s Rafel Correa (84 percent) and Ricardo Martinelli of Panama (69 percent). U.S. President Barack Obama is 11th on the list with 44 percent approval, just below Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, who has a 45 percent approval rating.
  • A New York judge will begin hearing arguments today in a suit filed by oil company Chevron against environmental lawyer Steven Donziger, over the oil giant’s allegations that Donziger obtained a $19 billion ruling against the company in an Ecuadorean court by bribing judicial officials.  The Miami Herald reports that Chevron is expected to present evidence showing that Donziger lied about the origins of an environmental damages report cited in the Ecuador trial.
  • The latest round of peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels has drawn to a close, and El Espectador reports that no agreements were made on political participation, the item currently on the agenda.
  • Mexican officials say that an outbreak of cholera has killed one and sickened 154 individuals across five states, the first cholera epidemic that the country has seen since 2001.
  • The Associated Press takes a look at kidnapping and extortion schemes in Mexico, which appear to be on the rise. Experts consulted by the wire service claim that this is proof that the country’s criminal landscape is becoming more unstable and fragmented as a result of government operations targeting cartel leaders and break their command chains.  
  • The L.A. Times profiles the work of Brazilian sem-teto, or roofless activists, who have occupied nearly 50 abandoned buildings in São Paulo this year, fueled by the rising cost of living as well as a sympathetic local government.
  • In the wake of revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring phone and online communications in Brazil, the Brazilian government has announced that government workers will be required to use a special, encrypted email service. However, it is unlikely this new service will prevent U.S. surveillance.  “The entire system is compromised if any user of an encrypted email sends a message to somebody on an outside program, like Gmail,” according to the AP.
  • On Monday, the constitutional chamber of El Salvador's Supreme Court ruled that the Legislative Assembly's 2012 selection of Salomon Padilla as president of the Supreme Court was unconstitutional. This sets up the potential for the kind of constitutional crisis that the country saw last year, in which members of the Supreme Court refused to acknowledge a constitutional chamber ruling which annulled their election. Padilla, for his part, has said he will not challenge the ruling, although the ruling FMLN party has denounced the decision as overreach of the chamber’s powers.

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