Thursday, June 13, 2013

Honduras: US Efforts to Clean Up Honduran Cops an Abysmal Failure

According to The Associated Press, and as a follow-up to the police shooting of a university president's son, the government of Honduras launched an unprecedented effort last year to clean up a US-backed police force widely seen as deeply brutal and corrupt.

Hundreds of Honduran police officers were called to a hotel in the capital and subjected to polygraph tests administered by Colombian technicians funded by the US government. "Have you received money from organized crime?" they were asked in a series of questions about wrongdoing. "Have you been involved in serious crimes?"

Sadly, nearly four of every 10 officers failed the test in the first five months it was administered, some giving answers that indicated that they had tortured suspects, accepted bribes and taken drugs, according to the AP. Worse, local cops protested against the mass polygraphing and seized a police building umtil the central government backed down.

The end result is that that US efforts to clean up the Honduran police has essentially failed, despite the expenditure of huge sums of taxpayer dollars.

By April 2013, the Honduran government said it had dismissed a mere seven officers from the 11,000-member force, as a result of US concern for stopping the flow of cocaine into the US. Some of the seven officers have since been reinstated, the minister of public security told Congress. He said bureaucratic mix-ups had foiled efforts to dismiss more police.

COMMENT: As I have reported previously, Honduras has one of the world's highest homicide rates, according to the United Nations. I have also urged foreign travelers to scratch Honduras off their destination list, as they will continue to face extraordinary risks in a high-threat country.

As a result of US failures to make a difference in democratizing Honduran law enforcement, the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa last week that suspended funding for the police cleanup.  

The State Department has resumed funding to the Honduran police, but said the money supports only units vetted by the US, which is a questionable process at best. 

Now, here's the interesting part. Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, nicknamed "The Tiger," was selected by the Honduran government on May 21, 2012, to clean up the Honduran national police force. 

Unfortunately, the department's internal affairs division implicated Bonilla in running a death squad when he was a top regional police official. The report named Bonilla in at least three killings or forced disappearances between 1998 and 2002 and said he was among several officers suspected in 11 other cases. 

Rather than continuing to pour millions and millions of US taxpayer funds down an endless sewer, the US would be well-advised to end their assistance to the Honduran police as untenable and advise US citizens that travel to Honduras is discouraged, given the inability to safeguard visitors.

Clearly, given the fact that institutional corruption permeates the entirety of the Honduran police structure, it would be irresponsible for the US to continue to fund training for all Honduran police agencies for two reasons:

1. Any tactical training provided to Honduran police would only give them more skills with which to victimize Hondurans citizens and visitors; and

2. Given the continuation of the US recession, it is unforgivable for US taxpayers to fund a program that is destined to fail.