What Makes Killings by Police in St. Lucia Different from Those in Honduras?

August 23, 2013

As we have previously described, members of Congress have called for suspension of U.S. aid to Honduras’ police and military over allegations – and evidence – of human rights abuses, including forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. The U.S. State Department response has been one of deception and circumvention, with officials saying U.S. assistance to the Honduran police does not go to National Police Director Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla – at the same time that Honduran officials point out that Bonilla is of course in charge of all Honduran police officers.

It appears though that the State Department has no problem in halting support to rights-abusing police forces elsewhere when it wants. Reuters reported yesterday:

The United States has suspended assistance to the police department of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia as a result of allegations of serious human rights violations, the State Department confirmed on Thursday.

The allegations stem from 12 killings committed between 2010 and 2011, some of which were committed by an “ad hoc task force within the police department,” a U.S. State Department Human Rights Report said.

The alleged extra-judicial killings stemmed from the circulation of a hit list targeting persons deemed to be criminals. Five suspects whose names were on that list were shot and killed during police operations.

As with St. Lucia, members of Congress have pointed to groups within the Honduran police that are committing gross rights violations. Associated Press correspondent Alberto Arce has documented several cases of gang suspects disappearing after going into police custody, and has reported witness accounts of extra-judicial executions by police as well. Video evidence of the suspicious cold-blooded killings of young men gunned down in city streets has also emerged; the appearance of both the vehicle and the clothing worn by the murderers matching descriptions of the suspect police units. There is also the case of the police officers convicted for murdering the son of Julieta Castellanos, rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras. The extent of such police killings and other abuses is unknown, in large part due to rampant corruption within the force, and the inability of Honduras’ justice system to be able to hold police officers accountable – perhaps most evident in the previous investigation of Bonilla’s past involvement in death squad crimes, which fell apart due to “interference by top security officials,” threats and intimidation.

None of this, apparently, warrants a suspension of U.S. aid as has happened with St. Lucia. What makes St. Lucia’s situation so different from Honduras is unclear.

As Reuters has reported elsewhere, “The Honduran Congress approved on Thursday the creation of a new military-style police force, which is aimed at countering violence spawned by Mexican drug cartels that use the country to transport cocaine.” According to Honduras’ La Prensa, the new force will be “strictly military and will begin operations no later than early October.”

Of course, the Honduran military also has a problematic human rights history. Honduras Culture and Politics blog weighed in yesterday, writing:

This proposal stirs up memories, and not good ones. Honduras used to have a militarized police force, called the Fuerza de Seguridad Publica. It had an awful reputation for human rights violations and corruption.  Its National Investigation Directorate [DNI in Spanish], responsible for “investigating” crimes, was useless.  They merely sat in the office and took crime reports (and solicited bribes) from victims.

It was actually worse than that.  Ineffectual in dealing with crime, the DNI was good at something: violence against the Honduran population.

The blog goes on to cite reports of how in the 1980’s the DNI “persecuted, tortured, and murdered hundreds of Honduras because they thought their ideas were dangerous for the stability of the regime.” These practices were actively supported by the Reagan administration, which used Honduras as a launching pad for its proxy “contra” war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

But killings by the Honduran military are not a thing of the past. Human rights attorney Lauren Carasik wrote recently of

business oligarchs who partner with the military and police in meting out repression for acts of resistance to their absolute power. In the Bajo Aguan, over a hundred campesinos have been killed resisting eviction by agro-oligarchs led by Dinant Corporation’s Miguel Facusse.

To mention a few other examples, in May 2012, as AP reported, 15-year-old Ebed Yanes was “chased down and killed” by “soldiers trained, vetted and equipped by the U.S. government” after running a military checkpoint.  Most recently, in July, Honduran soldiers shot and killed Tomás García, a leader of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH), “in front of the contested Agua Zarca hydroelectric project headquarters in the town of Achotal.” They also shot his 17-year-old son, Alan, who was seriously injured.

It is because of this problematic history and ongoing violations that members of the U.S. Congress have consistently expressed concern that U.S. assistance should not go to rights abusers in either the Honduran police or the military.

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