Police Death Squads in Honduras Then and Now
|Written by Dan Beeton|
|Wednesday, 20 March 2013 12:14|
An important new investigative report from the Associated Press’ Alberto Arce describes the apparent ongoing activities of death squads within the Honduran police, reporting that:
The AP report also describes a now-infamous and disturbing video (posted here) that appears to show the extrajudicial, cold-blooded murders of two young men in city streets “by masked gunmen with AK-47s who pulled up in a large SUV” – consistent with the police death squad modus operandi as described in the article.
Arce writes that “Even the country's top police chief has been charged with being complicit,” going on to summarize charges against Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, now the National Chief of Police, for involvement in extrajudicial killings and disappearances back in 2002. Arce notes that “Last year, Bonilla was chosen to lead the national police force despite unanswered questions about his past. The U.S. Congress decided to withhold State Department funding to the police while they investigated the 2002 internal affairs report.”
A confidential 2003 State Department cable made available by Wikileaks reveals that State Department officials wanted Bonilla (then a fugitive) arrested at the time, and also were concerned with “extra-judicial killings of youth” – in which Bonilla was implicated:
In a post last year when Bonilla was named National Police Chief, Insight Crime examined “El Tigre’s” sketchy past:
As AP reported at the time, a 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.”
AP went on to cite Maria Luisa Borjas – the “whistle blower” “ex-Chief of Police International Affairs” also mentioned in the Wikileaked cable:
Considering the allegations raised in the new AP report, Bonilla’s new “incarnation” may actually be more of a re-branding. Despite apparent past State Department concern over Bonilla, since he has taken over as Honduras’ National Police Chief it is members of the U.S. Congress who have raised concerns with the State Department about Bonilla’s history. While congressional pressure has led to a portion of U.S. police assistance to Honduras being suspended – for police under Bonilla’s command - State Department officials appear publicly unconcerned about other ongoing police aid to “vetted units.” According to Arce:
In remarks to World Politics Review, Bertha Oliva, founder of the Committee of Families of the Detained and Disappeared (COFADEH) called for
Oliva also noted that “there is ‘more focused and targeted violence and more complete impunity’ in Honduras now than when she founded the group,” and that the June 2009 coup against the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya had resulted in “an intensification of violence that is growing dramatically.”
Simultaneous with publication of the new AP report, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield traveled to Honduras over the weekend, and police and gangs were at the top of his agenda. According to a State Department press release, Brownfield and the Government of Honduras were to “inaugurate the Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF), a new initiative to better support police and prosecutors investigating serious crimes in Honduras,” to which the U.S. would commit “up to $6 million.”*
But extra-judicial killings of drug suspects in the Moskitia region – and infamously of four civilians – have raised questions over protocol, procedure, chain of command and the precise nature of U.S. government cooperation with Honduran police and military forces in anti-drug trafficking efforts elsewhere in Honduras. It was “vetted” police that were involved in the killings of the civilians. A recent report [PDF] from Rights Action examines the activities of death squads in the Bajo Aguan region as well.
CEPR’s Alex Main explained to World Politics Review’s Catherine Cheney that vulnerable sectors with no known links to drug trafficking are the object of increasing attacks:
*Update March 20, 2013 3:00pm EDT: According to press materials from the State Department and Honduran press reports, the U.S. government is committing an additional $10.3 million to help train and equip police, including for anti-gang activities, for a total of $16.3 million.