EspañolHonduran Newspaper El Heraldo has leaked the report of an internal affairs investigation that reveals a long list of felonies committed by members of the national police. In a country with a homicide rate of 75 per 100,000 inhabitants, the growing number of agents involved in criminal activities complicates security problems even more.
The list names 202 accused officials, of which 196 are police officers, five are lawyers, and one is a secretary. According to the report, the lawyers were boycotting the investigations in an attempt to protect corrupt police officers from any purge.
The document shows how many Honduran police have become allies of drug-traffickers and organized crime. These officers no longer protect citizens; rather, they help criminals with their activities. They give them confidential information, sell disclosed files, and aide their escapes from jail. They also provide uniforms, weapons, cell phones, and narcotics.
Some officials have even turned into the criminals’ main rivals, by leading gangs from inside the police. The report cites dozens of cases where police officers have confiscated drugs and money from traffickers but have not reported so to the authorities. Their crimes include money laundering, bribes, extortion, and bank robberies. Further, agents have carried out kidnappings and murders — including as paid hit men — and have run prostitution networks.
Despite state efforts to reinforce police security, several times officers have stolen guns, ammunition, bullet-proof vests, computers, and even police cars from police stations.
Good Cops, Bad Cops
Some contend that not all police officers are black sheep in this institution. For example, the national commissioner for human rights, Ramón Custodio, has emphasized the need to purge all the “bad” ones, and separate them from the “good” ones.
“We have to recover the police from the bad cops . . . because we have given them complete permission as if they were the owners of the country. They kill, allow alleged culprits to roam free, and extort and traffic weapons,” the commissioner stated. Custodio also pointed out, “The Honduran people must regain the civil control of this institution that is in practice perverted; it’s even a menace and not a source of public security anymore.”
The critical state of Honduras’s police force shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially the government. Most of this information is in the hands of the Office for Investigation and Evaluation of the Police Profession (DIECP), the secretary for security, the Superior Court for Accountability, and the attorney general. However, an officer that confirmed the report’s veracity to El Heraldo stated that no security minister has wanted to make a compelling decision on the matter.
In the last few weeks, the secretary for security, headed by Arturo Corrales, has begun a “purging” operation to expel dozens of delinquent police officers. Nonetheless, their departure has been voluntary, and they are discharged with honors, even though some of them are on the black list. Many expelled officers have even reentered the police, despite their criminal past.
Representative Tomás Zambrano, a former member of the security commission in congress, has admitted the willingness to ignore the number of complaint files the DIECP has sent to the Ministry for Security, or the status of those investigations. In this regard, Zambrano declared, “If the purge remains [waiting at] the security minister’s desk, this Congress has the power to request an accountability report.”
How to “Clean” the Police?
One of the main obstacles to solving the police corruption lies with the Public Ministry — the government agency that processes these cases. This task, with its criminal investigations department, has agents who are the very same police officers. In other words, police agents would have to investigate themselves to purge the institution.
In December, 2013, after previous agreements with newly elected President Juan Orlando Hernández, Honduras’s lame duck Porfirio Lobo dismissed the director of the National Police, Juan Carlos Bonilla — also known as “the Tiger.” Bonilla had manned the post since May, 2013, but he Lobo discharged him on account of several irregularities under his supervision, including human rights violations.
Hernández has supported the creation of a military police to face the security problem in the country. Last year as president of Congress, he lobbied and managed to approve the creation of a this security body, including with constitutional authority.
Nonetheless, the problem of impunity inside the police body remains unsolved. In front of this deadlock, representative Augusto Cruz Ascencio stated: “What’s happening in the police is critical, more critical than what many think, and if we don’t act on time to solve this, this country will regret it.”