Militarization of law enforcement in Honduras

Last week, we posted a run-down of the militarization of policing in Guatemala. Today, we are looking at similar developments in Honduras, a country with a strong military tradition (pdf)

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that spent much of the 1990s trying to reduce the institution’s power. However, recent deployments of troops to the streets have highlighted concerns that the country is increasingly militarizing its fight against organized crime – and it appears as though soldiers will remain on the streets for the foreseeable future.

Earlier this month Honduran President Porfirio Lobo announced there had been nine days in 2013 (albeit not consecutive) without a recorded murder in Tegucigalpa. He lauded the statistic as “historic,” saying, “before we were always talking about two digits; there were more than 30 murders. Today we have many days at a national level with only one digit.” He attributed this to military presence and police reform, which he claimed was “pushing out those who ought to be pushed out” of the police, despite reports that only seven members of the 11,000-member force have been fired. “How am I going to take the military off of the streets if the work they have done is extraordinary?” he asked journalists.

However, it is unclear if there has been much of a change. According to the National Autonomous University Observatory of Violence, from the start of the year through May 31 of 2013 there were an average of 20 murders per day in the country. The Honduras Culture and Politics blog used this average to calculate projected murders for the whole year and found the country could expect 7,140 murders for 2013 if the rate remains constant. This would yield a murder rate of about 85 or 86 per 100,000 (depending on population growth), about the rate that the Observatory found in 2012. For 2013, the University’s Violence Observatory predicted that the homicide rate could fall by six percent, although, as InSight Crime noted, the prediction had more to do with population growth than a decrease in violence.

Some recent uses of military for law enforcement:

 

  • In February, the Honduran government launched “Operation Liberty” with the deployment of 1,300 troops — 800 to the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital, and 500 to San Pedro Sula. The armed forces will remain on the streets until January 2014.Two months into the operation, an official from the 105th Brigade claimed crime had dropped 60 percent, while the police department claimed crime had fallen 10 percent. Similar claims of drops in homicides and capture of gang leaders were reported again in June. However, sources failed to explain what kind of crimes they referred to and over what time period they were reporting.
  • In early June, Honduras’ Congress approved a $4.4 million plan to add 1,000 more troops to fight organized crime, money that some members of Honduras’ Congress thought would be better spent on police.
  • Also, in June Honduras’ Congress approved the creation of an elite high-technology military police force known as the Tigers – TIGRES in Spanish and an acronym for: Tropa de Inteligencia y Grupos de Respuesta Especial de Seguridad. (Intelligence Troop and Special Security Response Groups)
  • On June 7, the line between military and police became even more blurred when the Congress merged the responsibilities of the Ministry of Defense, which controls the military, and the Ministry of Security, which controls the police. The vice minister of security is also a retired member of the military, as are a number of security advisors in the government.

 

Institutional implications

In addition to worries of corruption and human rights abuse, analysts have expressed concern over the institutional implications of involving the military in domestic security. The Congressional Research Service’s latest report on Honduras (pdf) highlighted worries that the military has started to play a larger role (again) in domestic politics. Before 1982 the armed forces repeatedly took control of the country and only in the late 1990s were they subordinated to civilian leadership.

The military has also played a central role in major recent political shuffles. It led the 2009 coup of President Zelaya and in December 2012, troops guarded the National Congress when it voted to dismiss members of the Supreme Court. The day after, military commanders appeared publicly with President Lobo. In 2011, members of the Honduran Congress approved a reform to the constitution allowing soldiers to assume police duties and be used “on a permanent basis in the fight against drug-trafficking and terrorism, weapons-trafficking and organized crime.” As noted above, several former military members now hold high office within the government.

Human rights concerns

Honduras’ military has been cited as worse than the police for its human rights violations, as it has been linked to extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, drug and arms trafficking and extortion. One such example can be seen in the Army’s 15th Battalion, which receives U.S. assistance, that has control over the rural Bajo Aguán region, where over 60 people fighting for campesino land rights have been killed in the past three years.

Because of the military’s history of corruption, murder, and links to organized crime, experts have warned that putting boots on the streets could increase corruption in the institution by giving soldiers greater opportunity to become even more involved in narcotrafficking. This is compounded by the fact that there is almost near-complete impunity for state security forces in a highly-politicized judicial system.

In mid-June 21, U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the State Department “conduct a thorough review to ensure that no U.S. assistance is provided to police or military personnel or units credibly implicated in human rights violations,” as it questioned the release of aid to Honduras in 2012.

As with the military, there is also substantial evidence that members of Honduras’ notoriously corrupt police force have participated in extortion rackets, are involved with organized crime, and have carried out several extrajudicial killings. According to a March 2013 Associated Press report, “Honduran prosecutors have received as many as 150 formal complaints about death squad-style killings in the capital of Tegucigalpa, and at least 50 more in the economic hub of San Pedro Sula.”

Despite these alarming statistics, the United States continues to fund the police (and military). William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, rationalized continued aid, saying, “Although the national police may have its defects at the moment, it is the lesser evil,” according to the Associated Press. The statement came following several Associated Press reports on Honduran police corruption that also document U.S. funding for police units, which has reached about $16 million this year.

Former U.S. Southern Command head, General Douglas Fraser, noted in his 2012 posture statement (pdf) that using the Honduran military for internal security “is a necessary initial step to help curb the rising tide of violence,” but maintain that such an approach “is unsustainable in the long term.”

Currently, Congress is holding up $10.3 million in funding to Honduras because of security forces’ questionable human rights record. While there is legislation that puts some human rights conditions on military and police aid to Honduras, as Lisa Haugaard, Executive Director of Latin American Working Group pointed out in an interview with Free Speech Radio News, there is a large loophole: the conditions do not apply to funding for counternarcotics assistance to fight drug trafficking and related violence. In a country like Honduras, through which 40 percent of cocaine that reaches the United States is said to be trafficked, it is difficult to classify which episodes of violence are linked to drugs and which are not.

As lawmakers in both the Senate and House debate the appropriations bill that will determine foreign aid spending for FY2014, human rights advocates can only hope that some of the above will be taken under consideration.

Memories of War and Dignity: Report on victims of Colombia’s conflict

On Wednesday, Colombia’s Historical Memory Center (Grupo de Memoria Historica) published a report on the number of conflict-related deaths and violent actions that have occurred in Colombia in the past 55 years.

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The 431-page document was the result of a five-year investigation that revealed some alarming statistics about kidnappings, deaths, and massacres carried out during the past five decades. The report, “¡Basta ya! Colombia: memorias de guerra y de dignidad,” (“Enough Already! Memories of War and Dignity”) can be download on the Historical Memory Center’s website.

This reports comes in the midst of ongoing peace negotiations with the FARC. Uponreceiving the report, President Santos said it was a “first window towards the truth that we owe to the victims of this country.”

Some key findings from the report:

 

  • The report found that in total, 220,000 Colombians were killed between 1958 and 2013. Of that number, 176,000 were civilians — a ratio of eight civilians for every ten deaths, or about 80 percent.
  • Since 1981, paramilitaries have been the biggest perpetrators of violence. In the past three decades, there were 1,983 massacres, which have cost the lives of more than 400 children. The paramilitaries were responsible in 59% of the cases, the guerrillas in 17%, and state officials in 8% of the cases. Victims were 60% farmers, 10% workers, and 30% traders.
  • Between 1985 and 2012, 26 people were displaced per hour. The number of people displaced by the fighting – 4.7 million — represents almost the entire population of Ireland, Costa Rica or Lebanon.
  • There were 23,154 assassinations between 1981 and 2012. In 16.8% of the cases the guerrillas were the ones responsible, while in 10% of the cases the police force carried out the assassinations.
  • The majority of kidnappings, around 27,000, between 1970 and 2010, were carried out by the FARC. Between 1996 and 2002, there were 16,040 kidnappings. Of those, the FARC were responsible for 8,578 and the ELN for 7,462. Kidnappings have occurred in 919 municipalities across the country.
  • Colombia has the second-highest number of landmine victims in the world, after Afghanistan: 10,189.
  • 5,000 reported cases of forced disappearances. Out of that number, only 689 cases were solved.

 

As Colombia Reports noted, Gonzalo Sánchez, director of the Historical Memory Center said in an interview with Colombian newspaper El Tiempo:

“We propose that the State take the lead. The State says it would not recognize anything until the crime is proven in the highest appeal. But if we are reconstructing what has happened and if we believe the victims, we must ask for forgiveness. This is a mechanism that facilitates the peace process.”

He added that the “biggest sin of the State” was to “fight the war without fighting the causes.”

The El Tiempo interview can be found here, an El Espectador article expanding on the report’s findings can be found here, and an English summary of the report can be found on the Colombia Reports website. Colombian magazine Semana has a selection of quotes organized by topic and an accompanying article.

Militarization of law enforcement in Guatemala

Latin American countries have a long history of using the armed forces to carry out internal security duties.

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However, these militaries also have a long history of human rights abuses. While progress has been made, many countries in the region continue to deploy their troops to combat crime as they struggle with weak public institutions, pervasive impunity, and high crime rates.

Recently several governments have launched military initiatives to deal with these issues. In many cases the country is undergoing a longer-term police reform that is not yielding results, or in the case of Honduras, producing more headaches.

Although international bodies and human rights organizations have pushed for the region’s governments to allow civilian police to fight crime, leaders send their militaries into high crime zones or areas with a strong organized crime presence but poorly trained local law enforcement, in order to see results in the short term, and many times with U.S. support. There are several examples of this throughout the region and in a series of posts we will look at a few of them.

Guatemala

When President Otto Pérez Molina assumed the presidency in January 2012, he became the first career military official to hold that office in 25 years. Guatemalan security analysts say that now about 40 percent of security-related positions are held by former members of the armed forces. After taking office, Pérez immediately calledon the army to collaborate in “neutralizing illegal armed groups by means of military power.” Since then, given the weakness and endemic corruption of the National Civil Police (PNC), Pérez Molina has relied heavily on the military to fight organized crime and contain social unrest.

In March 2012, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay expressed concernabout “reports of an increased use of the military in law-enforcement functions.” She stressed that any such participation should only be in a “police support capacity without diverting resources from the police”; must be “subject to civilian direction and control”; and needed to be “limited in time and scope.” Since then, it appears little has improved:

 

  • Since the beginning of 2012, the government has opened at least five new military bases and outposts.
  • Currently there are over 21,000 troops deployed for maintaining security throughout nine states: from Huehuetenango to sectors of Quiche and Alta Verapaz,from Escuintla to sectors of Suchitepequez and Santa Rosa, and from Zacapa to sectors of Izabal and Chiquimula.
  • In September, the Maya Task Force was deployed to Zone 18 of Guatemala City, with 1,200 soldiers and 100 police, representing a ratio of ten to one. A similar operation began in Zone 12 in November.
  • On June 14, 2013 1,500 members of the military reserves were deployed to Huehuetenango in western Guatemala, Escuintla in south central Guatemala and Zapaca in the eastern part of the country as part of an initiative known as the Army “Citizen Security Squadrons.” They were split into three squadrons of 503 soldiers at a cost of $15 million (119 million quetzales), according to Guatemalan news outlet Siglo 21.
  • On July 1, a new military Inter-Agency Border Unit, also known as Joint Task Force Tecún Umán (Fuerza de Tarea Tecún Umán) began operating in zones along the border shared with Mexico. On June 28th the group finished two months of training. The U.S. also in part funds the unit.

 

Guatemala’s army has a poor record of human rights violations and has yet to be held accountable for the abuses committed during the country’s civil war from 1960-1996, in which 200,000 people were killed and 45,000 forcibly disappeared. According to the Historical Clarification Commission, Guatemala’s truth and reconciliation commission, the Guatemalan state (military and government paramilitaries) was responsible for over 90 percent of the human rights abuses. More recently, in October of 2012, six people were killed and another 34 injured when soldiers open fired into a crowd of indigenous protestors. The military has also been tied to drug trafficking and organized crime.

For decades, the U.S. State Department has been barred from providing aid to the Guatemalan army over concerns of human rights abuses dating back to the civil war. However, this ban does not apply to Department of Defense assistance, which accounted for $26 million in antidrug assistance 2011 and 2012.

While President Perez Molina has started a police clean-up initiative, reports indicate that the effort lacks sufficient funding and political will from much of the government. Aside from the concerns about human rights, analysts have questioned the overall strategy of military deployment, saying that it does not address the need for preventative policies, such as community policing. As one analyst questioned, “What is going to happen when the military finally withdraw?” she asked. “Won’t crime just go back up?”

The Week in Review

The following is a round-up of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the region over the past week.

Entire Region

 

  • Brazilian newspaper O Globo released three reports this week detailing documents released by Snowden asserting that the United States has been collecting data on telephone calls and e-mails from several countries in Latin America, such as Brazil and Mexico.The reports indicate that the United States has not only been amassing military and security data, but also collecting inside commercial information on the oil industry in Venezuela and the energy sector in Mexico, which are state-run and essentially closed to foreign investment.The reports also showed that Colombia, the strongest U.S. military ally in South America, along with Mexico and Brazil, were the countries where the U.S. program intercepted the biggest chunks of information on emails and telephone calls during the last five years. Similar activities took place in Argentina and Ecuador, among others.

    Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is demanding an explanation for the United States’s spying and plans to involve the United Nations in an investigation of the NSA’s actions. Brazil also said that it might contact Snowden as it investigates the matter. “Mr. Snowden’s participation in an investigation is absolutely relevant and pertinent,” said Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota. MexicoChileColombia and Argentina are also demanding official explanations and the MercoSur trading bloc held a special session on Friday to discuss the U.S.’ espionage programs. More from the Pan-American Post.
    The New York Times featured an article on U.S. attempts to to prevent Snowden from receiving asylum in Latin America, citing a State Department official who warned that helping Snowden “would put relations in a very bad place for a long time to come.” However, according to the piece, “Washington is finding that its leverage in Latin America is limited just when it needs it most.”

  • Bolivia is accusing Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal of violating the norms and regulations of international law by impeding Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane while it was passing through European airspace, based on a suspicion that Edward Snowden was on the plane. The OAS expressed the discontent of a large part of Latin America regarding the incident via a firm resolution condemning the European nations’ actions and demanding an apology.
  • The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) found there was a drop in cocaine production in the Andean region. The estimates indicate a 41 percent drop in potential pure cocaine production since 2001, from an estimated 1,055 metric tons to 620 metric tons in 2012. The largest reduction was in Bolivia, which dropped from 190 metric tons of potential pure cocaine production capacity to 150 metric tons. Unlike Colombia and Peru, Bolivia receives very little counternarcotics aid from the United States.
  • Mexico and Argentina topped the list in Latin America on Transparency International’s recently released list for the most corrupt countries in the world.Corruption is something that has become inevitable and there is no field that has been spared from its spell. Trading market is also corrupted with some swindled trading platforms and it is a caution to all the traders to stay away from such ones. Legality and authenticity are the principles followed by few binary trading applications like the HB Swiss and so people should take up trading here.

    The report also pointed out the most corrupt institutions in each country. While politicians and political parties held the top spot in Mexico and Argentina, the police was named the most corrupt entity in Bolivia, Venezuela, and El Salvador. More from ABC News.

 

Colombia

 

  • On Tuesday, Colombia’s highest administrative court annulled a 2002 electoral court ruling preventing the Union Partiotica (UP), a left-wing Colombina party formed in 1985 during peace talks between the Farc and the government, from political participation. Although the UP’s regained legal status will allow the party to participate in the upcoming March 14th elections, changes in the political landscape since its barring mean the UP may no longer be the Farc’s main political party as it was in the 1980’s and 90’s. More from the
    Pan-American Post.
  • InSight Crime looks at how intra-urban displacement in the country’s second-largest city, Medellin, is used as an “instrument of war” between two of the main groups vying for control over the city’s underworld: the narco-paramilitary group the Urabeños and the Oficina de Envigado, which has largely held control of the city since the fall of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel.

 

Uruguay

 

  • Uruguay’s legislature met on Monday and agreed to postpone the vote on legalizing marijuana for a period between 10 and 30 days. Dario Perez, the deputy, proposed postponing the vote based on concern that “it’s not the time” to vote on the initiative; a “period of reflection” will take place before the vote, which will be on Wednesday, the 31st of July.

 

Mexico

 

  • Nearly half of Mexico’s 31 states held elections for a mix of local parliaments and municipal governments on Sunday. Focus was on the tight race in the election for governor of the key Mexican border state of Baja California. According to Huffington Post, both the National Action Party (PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) were claiming victory following preliminary results. Sixty percent of voters abstained from the elections, reported El Proceso magazine.Fears of violence accompanying the elections are on the rise in the border state of Baja California. Experts say it is more effective and less risky for cartels to control or intimidate local governments, leading gangs to target and intimidate local officials to yield tangible results. “Their thinking is that ‘we are going to support the candidates who sympathize with us or whom we can negotiate with, and if there is a candidate who might win who won’t make a deal with us, we’ll tell him not to run or attack them, or even kill them.”
  • Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda announced the reinstallation of five generals who were released from prison last Friday. They had been incarcerated under former President Felipé Calderón over accusations of alleged ties to drug traffickers. A judge dropped the charges citing insufficient evidence. According to El Proceso, this was the first time in the history of the military that high ranking military officers who had been accused of having ties to the drug trade have been given back their positions after being exonerated.

 

Cuba

 

  • In a prominent speech before legislators at one of parliament’s twice-annual sessions on Sunday, Cuba’s President Raul Castro scolded his countrymen for all kinds of bad behavior, including corruption, loud music, theft, public swearing, illicit logging, unauthorized home construction, and the acceptance of bribes. “When I meditate on these regrettable displays, it makes me think that despite the undeniable educational achievements made by the Revolution… we have taken a step back in citizens’ culture and public spirit.” More from the Washington Post.

 

Brazil

 

  • In response to continuing protests and discontent in Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a package of political reforms which she says would reduce corruption and make politicians more accountable. However, as the Economist noted, whether the reforms pass hinges on Brazil’s Congress, in which 191 of Brazil’s 594 senators and deputies are currently under investigation for offenses ranging from minor administrative offences to drug trafficking and murder. Rousseff also announced Wednesday that an additional $1.3 billion would be spent on healthcare and education.
  • On Thursday there was a one-day nationwide general labor strike. Mass protests resumed in several major cities by workers calling for better labor conditions and improved social services. According to the New York Times, the mobilization had mixed success “with some cities and states disrupted severely and others largely unaffected.”
  • Henrique Eduardo Alves, the leader of Brazil’s House of Representatives, said Tuesdaythe proposed plebiscite that is among President Dilma Rouseff’s key responses to waves of mass protests is unfeasible. Top politicians and congressional party leaders who have also cast doubt on the feasibility of the plebiscite favor drafting political reform legislation and submitting it for a popular referendum instead, which would allow citizens to vote yes or no to a series of proposals, with legislation to be drafted based on the results.

 

El Salvador

 

  • Tim’s El Salvador Blog and Central American Politics both look at a spike in violence in El Salvador. This week there were over 100 homicides, prompting questioning of the stability of a year-long truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang and rival gang Barrio 18. Truce mediator Raul Mijango asserts that the surge in killings is a response to changes in government policy, such as new restrictions on imprisoned gang members. However, there has been little analysis of the murders or the victims, and many questions are left open as to whether the end of the truce is really nearing and why.
  • InSight Crime has a post outlining the five biggest differences between the troubled Salvadoran truce and the emerging Honduran truce. The article asserts that “The one area where Honduras may have an advantage is on the mediation front,” as the agreement is being brokered by a unified Catholic Church as opposed to a divided one.
  • report (PDF) by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights the political connections of two drug trafficking organizations confirmed to be operating in El Salvador, according to an article in La Prensa Grafica and translated by InSight Crime. The report found that the effectiveness of the cocaine trafficking and organized criminal operations of the Perrones and the Texis Cartel is owing to protection and lack of investigation from the state.
  • The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue published a new report entitled “Mediating Criminal Violence: Lessons from the gang truce in El Salvador.” (PDF) More from Armed Groups and International Law.