AP Further Documents Evidence of Honduran Police Death Squads; U.S. State Department Hits Back
|Written by Dan Beeton|
|Tuesday, 14 May 2013 16:40|
A new investigative feature by award-winning Associated Press correspondent Alberto Arce probes deeper into recurring police death squad activity in Honduras. Following up on his reports in March, Arce details the cases of several gang suspects who have disappeared after being taken into police custody, as well as what witnesses have described as the gunning-down, in cold blood, of suspects in the streets. The article reveals that:
As we have previously examined, Arce has noted that U.S. support for the Honduran National Police while some officers engage in death squad activity would seem to violate the Leahy Law. Rather than proceed with greater caution or reexamine ongoing policy, the U.S. State Department has responded defensively. Arce quotes Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield as saying
Brownfield has taken a PR offensive to the Honduran and Latin American press as well. But there, rather than describe the U.S.’ Honduran police partners as police partners as an “evil” a sort of lesser evil, an EFE article yesterday reports that Brownfield said that he “respects” and “admires” the “effective work” that notorious Police Director Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla has done, and that
The comments represent a doubling-down by the State Department in the face of growing congressional pressure and concern about human rights violations committed by Honduran police and other authorities. While Brownfield -- who has been the State Department’s point person regarding the Bonilla controversy -- has previously defended ongoing U.S. support to the Honduran police, neither he nor anyone else at State seems to have previously been willing to praise Bonilla while members of Congress point fingers at him regarding past and current death squad activity.
In another sign of doubling-down and lashing back, Brownfield also dismissed what he described as “some groups’” claims regarding Bonilla and other suspect cops: “I haven't seen that any conclusion has been reached that supports the accusations of some groups about the history of the leadership of the Honduran police,” and he reiterated his misleading claim that some Honduran police units are not under Bonilla’s control:
While Honduran officials have previously denounced statements by “groups” and individuals regarding rights violations and corruption in Honduras, it seems to be a departure from recent practice for the U.S. State Department to do so. And as we have previously noted, Bonilla’s activities a decade ago were at the time cause for great concern from the State Department. A 2003 cable made available by Wikileaks reveals that then-Western Hemisphere Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Dan Fisk had urged Honduran authorities “to send a strong signal about impunity by arresting fugitive policeman Juan Carlos “Tiger” Bonilla.”
While Bonilla did go to trial for murder charges in one case and was found innocent (when the prosecutor quit mid-trial), Bonilla was suspected in over a dozen others. The head of the police internal affairs department at the time, Maria Luisa Borjas claimed that her investigation was obstructed by authorities and that she received death threats.
Part of Brownfield’s PR counter-offensive focuses on aerial operations, citing this as an area in which Leahy Law restrictions were hampering police counternarcotics operations:
(Coincidentally, Honduran armed forces chief, general René Osorio Canales, gave an interview to Honduras’ La Tribuna newspaper today in which he described in detail areas in which he says the air force has a need for upgraded planes and helicopters.)
Various Honduras observers and authorities in Honduras have described the involvement of the Honduran police and other authorities in the drug trade.
The Honduran National Police, meanwhile, have predictably also reacted defensively to the report. Arce reports:
But while Hernandez claims it is gangs dressed as cops who are committing the murders, Arce notes that plain clothes officers may also be gunning down suspects.