Monday, November 4, 2013

Honduras’ Top Cop Plays Up U.S. Support

Alberto Arce of the Associated Press has a revealing interview with Honduran General Juan Carlos Bonilla, the controversial National Police director accused of corruption and human rights abuses.  As Bonilla’s first interview with a reporter since 2011, it is well worth reading in full, and contains several interesting tidbits for Honduras-watchers.

Perhaps the most significant of these is Bonilla’s insistence that, despite the U.S. State Department’s attempts to distance him from security aid and cooperation programs, he has a close working relationship with American authorities. The police official described the U.S. government as his “best ally and support,” and stressed that his department regularly receives operational assistance from the U.S.:
Throughout the afternoon and evening, Bonilla returned frequently to the support he receives from the U.S. Embassy for police operations. In one case, he ordered a subordinate to track a police commander with possible ties to drug traffickers. “I want to know where he is now. Find their phones and tap them. I will ask the Embassy for help,” he said.
This allegedly close relationship contradicts the State Department’s claims that it does not provide assistance to police units under Bonilla’s command. In March, Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield told reporters that the U.S. had no dealings with Bonilla or the roughly “20 officers or officials” who work directly under him. “We have no relations with him; we don’t give him so much as a dollar or even a cent,” Brownfield said. Under this logic, the U.S. has continued to provide police aid to Honduras despite accusations that Bonilla is linked to extrajudicial killing squads, and more recently, that he is overlooking forced disappearances and has used his position to intimidate government critics.

Another interesting element of the AP piece is Arce’s effort to highlight Bonilla’s personality. In spite of the widely held image of him as a hawkish, ruthless security type, the general comes off as a surprisingly cultured intellectual:
In private, many Hondurans say they are terrified of Bonilla. In the interview, however, he was unwaveringly gracious, smiling even when answering the most pointed questions. He showed off his library of hundreds of books on drug-trafficking, history and philosophy, underlined or marked with colored Post-it notes. The feared general liberally quotes French social theorist Michel Foucault and Austrian writer Stefan Zweig.
The interview apparently ended with Bonilla lamenting the allegations against him and quoting a Sun Tzu passage about false impressions. Who knew that a man known to enemies and allies alike as “El Tigre” could have such a sensitive side?

News Briefs
  • After the negotiating teams of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) declared that the latest round of peace talks -- set to end on Friday -- would be extended until today, El Tiempo reports that both parties are expected to announce that some progress has been made in the agenda. According to the paper, President Juan Manuel Santos has authorized government negotiators to adopt a changed schedule in the talks, which involves fewer breaks between dialogue rounds.  
  • Newspaper El Pais stirred up controversy in Uruguay over the weekend after it claimed that the government of Brazil would be sending a delegation of officials, including Vitore Maximiano, the Rousseff administration’s drug czar, to meet with Uruguayan lawmakers to speak out against the smaller country’s marijuana legalization proposal. The Montevideo-based paper reported that the delegation would be led by Brazilian Congressman Osman Terra, and would meet with the Uruguayan Senate Health Committee, which is currently debating the bill. However, this proved to be inaccurate. Maximiano told Radio 180 that not only had he never been invited to speak to the committee, he would decline the invitation if it were offered. “Brazil respects the Uruguayan position and obviously will not interfere in the direction of its policy,” the drug czar said. Rio Grande do Sul Governor Tarso Genro, another official El Pais claimed would join the delegation, told Radio 180 that while he planned to travel to Montevideo and meet with Uruguayan President Jose Mujica this week, this had nothing to do with the marijuana bill. Ultimately it seems this “delegation” will only consist of Terra, whose opposition to the measure is unsurprising considering that he sponsored a controversial forced treatment bill in Brazil earlier this year.
  • In an overview of classified agency documents obtained Edward Snowden, The New York Times finds that the National Security Agency was deeply involved in a Cold War-like struggle to rein in Venezuela’s foreign policy influence in recent years. The NYT reports that an NSA goal included “preventing Venezuela from achieving its regional leadership objectives and pursuing policies that negatively impact U.S. global interests.” This included monitoring the government and personal email accounts of the top ten officials involved in economic policy in the country.
  • On Sunday, O Globo ran a report on the use of force by police in Brazil. Citing data from an unpublished report by the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, the paper found evidence of a disturbing trend: some 1,890 people died at the hands of police in 2012, an average of five people a day. Samira Bueno, the organization’s director, called the figure “unacceptable,” noting that less people are killed annually by police in Mexico, despite the drug-fueled conflict there.
  • According to G1 Noticias, some 70 police officers assigned to a unit linked to the disappearance and death of Rio de Janeiro bricklayer Amarildo de Souza have been replaced for “psychological reasons.” Colonel Frederico Caldas, commander of the Police Pacification Units in the Rocinha favela, told reporters that the officers “felt harassed, many intimidated,” by the public response to de Souza’s death.
  • For the first time, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled in favor of a survivor of torture committed by state agents of Chile’s 1973-1975 Pinochet dictatorship. The court has ordered Chile to pay $32,000 in damages to Leopoldo Garcia Lucero, who fled to the UK in exile after being detained and tortured for over a year and a half, an experience which left him permanently handicapped. The BBC reports that lawyers say the decision sets a precedent for other survivors of abuse by the Pinochet regime.
  • In the latest sign of improving ties between Mexico and Cuba, Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray has announced that his country would forgive 70 percent of a debt held by Cuba for some $487 Million in development funds.
  • The Cuban government has ordered the immediate closure of dozens of unregistered private movie theaters and video game salons, an increasingly popular business that has sprung up amid a push for economic reform on the island. On Saturday, an announcement by the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers ordered owners of the theaters, which had previously operated in a legal grey area, to “cease immediately in whatever kind of private business activity.’’
  • The Economist has published a rundown of the latest regional poll by Chile’s Latinobarometro. Among its findings is that while support for democratic governance has remained steady over the past several years, it has seen a ten percent increase in popularity in Venezuela since the last poll in 2011, at 87 percent. In stable Costa Rica, meanwhile, the number of respondents who say democracy is preferable to any other form of government has fallen by twelve points, and now stands at 53 percent.
  • As Colombia braces for the arrival of U.S. coffee giant Starbucks, which has announced it will open some 50 chain stores in the South American country in the coming years, its biggest local rival is fighting back. The Miami Herald reports that Colombia’s Juan Valdez plans to open up the same amount of coffee shops in South Florida.