Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Honduras’ New Security Minister: a Sign of Militarization?

In a potential indicator of the increasing militarization of public security in the country, Honduras has appointed the first ever active-duty general as head of its security ministry.

On Sunday, the administration of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez announced that General Julian Pacheco Tinoco would take charge of the agency responsible for internal security and law enforcement policies in the country. He will replace Arturo Corrales as head of the security ministry on January 15.

As Reuters has reported, Pacheco’s appointment marks an important break with the past. When he takes office he will be the first non-civilian official to direct the ministry since its creation in 1998. What’s more, local paper El Heraldo reported that Pacheco is expected to continue his current cabinet position as the head of the National Division of Investigation and Intelligence.

The announcement is sure to cause backlash from human rights groups and security analysts in the region, many of whom have warned against Honduras’ increasing reliance on the military for law enforcement.

Pacheco’s appointment could also worsen frictions within the country’s police forces. Just last month, Police Chief Ramon Antonio Sabillon was reportedly dismissed over his opposition to the Hernandez administration’s support for expanding a new Military Police force at the expense of  new funding for the National Police. As Angelika Albaladejo and Sarah Kinosian have noted in a helpful post over at Security Assistance Monitor, his replacement is an avid supporter of Hernandez’s security strategy and the new military police.

Despite concerns over militarization, there are signs that the new minister may bring positive changes for Honduras’ security approach. Last week the government announced that the security ministry will dismiss 700 police officers from their posts in an ongoing purge of the force. And General Pacheco, for his part, has shown some sensitivity towards concerns over his military background. In an interview published today by Proceso Digital, Pacheco said that he would be willing to retire from his intelligence and army posts in order to “avoid criticism” if the president asked him to do so. 

While the general framed the military’s involvement in policing as a practical necessity -- and rejected warnings of Honduras’ “remilitarization” -- he also said he hoped to use his new office to further train and professionalize law enforcement in the country, “so that they can do their job.”

News Briefs
  • Responding to claims from opposition lawmakers that the six former Guantanamo detainees in the country represent a potential threat, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has publicly presented a U.S. State Department document certifying that the men have not participated in terrorist acts. El Pais has a copy of the letter, which asserts that there is no evidence “the men were involved in conducting or facilitating terrorist activities against the United States or its partners or its allies.”
  • Mujica is also in today’s headlines for separate remarks regarding the political situation in Venezuela. When asked what he discussed with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in a recent visit to the country, Mujica responded: “In general terms I asked for compassion towards prisoners and for very preferential treatment towards the political prisoners that are disgraceful to have to have.” While hardly a stinging rebuke, the remark hints that the Uruguayan leader may be carrying out quiet calls for change in Venezuela through diplomatic backchannels.
  • In the Mexican state of Michoacan, six people died yesterday in a clash between rival “self-defense” groups in the area, a shootout officials say was sparked by a territorial dispute.
  • In a column for Spain’s El Pais, Human Rights Watch’s Jose Miguel Vivanco and former OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression Eduardo Bertoni take a look at an apparent pattern of online censorship in Ecuador. According to the authors, officials in the Correa government have used a Spanish company to compel social media users to take down anti-government content by invoking U.S. copyright law. Also worth mentioning from HRW is its recent criticism of Bolivia’s child labor, criminal justice and press freedom laws, which have received a good deal of play in Bolivian and international media (see La Razon, EFE).
  • Today’s Washington Post highlights discontent with Brazil’s massive public housing project, “Minha Casa Minha Vida,” and the squatters’ rights movement that has emerged in major cities to answer a demand for affordable housing.
  • Jair Bolsonaro, a notoriously misogynistic Brazilian lawmaker representing Rio de Janeiro, is coming under fire for repulsive comments he made recently on the floor of Congress. Veja and The Guardian report that the attorney general’s office is pursuing action against Bolsonaro after he taunted a rival legislator that he “wouldn’t rape her” because she’s “not worth it.” O Globo reports that a congressional ethics committee is investigating the incident as well.
  • In an excellent blog post for La Silla Vacia, Wilson Center Fellow Juan Carlos Garzon analyzes the policy debate in Colombia around a proposed measure to legalize medicinal marijuana in the country. He notes that debate over the bill, which has been postponed to March, has focused unnecessarily on the wider issue of ending drug prohibition rather than helping sick patients access a drug they can only get on the black market.
  • Foreign Policy reports this morning that Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, will be stepping down next month. The FP notes that the resignation comes as the USAID’s democracy promotion work in Cuba is under fire, though it is unclear if Shah is leaving as a direct result of the controversy.
  • Also on the USAID’s work in Cuba, the AP notes that its reporting on USAID’s support for dissident hip hop artists on the island has earned the criticism of legendary Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez. In a blog post, Rodriguez told the U.S. agency to “go to hell” for allegedly involving his son and other anti-Castro hip hop artists in a scheme meant to fuel youth discontent with the government.
  • Yesterday brought no new developments in Haiti’s ongoing negotiations between the government and opposition to resolve the country’s political crisis.  Reuters notes that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement urging both sides to come to an agreement to hold long-overdue elections as soon as possible.