"If you can't hide it, confuse it"
The multiple cases of 'missing' police-owned and confiscated weapons just gets more and more confusing with contradictory statements and reports. El Heraldo stated that the Anti-Organized Crime Prosecutor has known since 2008 about the theft of 3,000 weapons in custody of the Cobras but has done nothing to bring those responsible to justice.
[Note: all links are to articles in Spanish unless otherwise noted.]
El Heraldo's confidential informant says that the police slogan is "That which can not be hidden must be confused." Authorities seem to be adhering very nicely to that slogan. [Cartoon entitled "Guard your silence" by Dario Banegas, La Prensa.]
Later reports about the 3,000 weapons said that those weapons are or were in the custody of the Honduran armed forces, not the police, disputing an official report of the disappearance from police custody which was reported on in detail, and begging the question as to why the prosecutors would have an open case if the weapons were safely in the custody of the military. An unnamed military official initially responded with the strangely vague comment, "In effect, yes, there are some 2,500 AK-47s in the bodegas of the armed forces", not verifying whether or not they are the same weapons in question or what might have happened to the other 500.
El Heraldo said that the official military statement was being worked on until late hours November 15 despite the fact that El Heraldo broke the story on November 7 and the military to date had made no statement about the weapons, almost as if they were unaware that they did have custody or possibly because the 'solution' to the 'problemita' had not yet been developed.
Finally, about noon on November 16, Communicado No. 04 was posted online in which they briefly verify that records show that in December 2007, they took custody of 1,615 AK-47s in bad condition from the police, again with no mention of which weapons these were or what might have happened to the other 1,400 weapons if they were part of the missing 3,000. Police confiscate arsenals of weapons virtually every month in raids in Honduras which could easily be substituted for other weapons.
UN called it a farce
In 2003, an estimated 3,000 prohibited arms were 'bought back' for L.1,000 (about US $53) by the police under a United Nations sponsored program in order to get them out of circulation. These included other arms in addition to AK-47s but there is no report of exactly how many weapons were bought back, what type they were, or who was paid. Julieta Castellanos, who worked with the UN weapons destruction program in Honduras, says that she knows the weapons were not destroyed as required by the decree.
Castellanos said that a UN team arrived in 2004 to witness the destruction of weapons as required by the program but the UN representative declared "the entire process was a farce" when police presented them with rusty pieces of weapons and chatarra (scrap metal) which were obviously not the weapons bought from the public. Both a police official and a prosecutor have verified that the majority of weapons bought in this program were in good condition. As a result, the UN only funded one million lempiras (approximately US $53,000) of the program.
Apparently in this case and at least one other, the inventory records themselves are missing, too, so there is no way to know which weapons are in the custody of the military or whether they are the same chatarra presented to the UN for destruction.
More attempts to confuse and confabulate
Ex-commissioner of the National Police, José Luis Muñoz Licona, initially denied any knowledge of a theft of weapons and then assured other reporters that in his administration there was no robbery of arms from the police, referring to the recent scandal in which 300 weapons and 300,000 projectiles were stolen from the police. Then to cover all the bases, he said that the quantities were exaggerated, that it all happened in the past, and that there was no recent report, a statement which disputes the written report to which the media has had access and the statements of other officials that Muñoz had been informed of the August 10, 2011 investigation report. Confronted with that information, Muñoz then went on to say that there was a report, but it hadn't been verified, the investigation was not concluded, it is still in process so he couldn't confirm it. Former Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez also states that he was never notified by Muñoz of the existence of this report. In a different article, Muñoz stated that he had informed Alvarez about the report of which he had no knowledge. Confused yet?
Julieta Castellanos qualified Muñoz's comments as an attempt to confuse the people and smear the entire state. Worried about her own security based on the information she has made public in the vast police corruption scandal, Castellanos went on to say that she is not the only person in possession of the information and that they will reveal more facts directly to the intervention committee when it is established. She also commented that she has heard from other mothers whose children were killed in the same manner as her son and that they were threatened by the police to not file denuncias (complaints).
More and more weapon irregularities
Other weapons have been loaned to judges, prosecutors, and other officials for their personal protection. In 2007, 152 of 186 weapons stolen by a "high level official" were located in Nicaragua to be shipped to a South American country. About 40 weapons were stolen from the police training academy. Prosecutors have custody of some 80 police weapons because they are "in the process of" bringing charges against police for crimes of murder, robbery, etc. In 2007, it was reported that more than 950 weapons had been stolen in past few years from the Supreme Court evidence room [English].
In another weapons case, a 2010 TSC audit of the ministry of security for the period of 2006-2010 showed that ownership of 65 police-issued weapons have been illegally registered in the names of individuals, including police officials. On July 5, 2010, a response was received from the Minister of Security promising an "exhaustive investigation", however, because there are no records of who was responsible for custody of these weapons, it was impossible to hold any functionaries or employees responsible.
Even Coralia Rivera, appointed only two weeks ago to the number two spot in the Ministry of Security was charged but ultimately absolved for allegedly ordering the alteration of arms in police custody in 2002 so that the weapons could not be identified or tested as evidence in the extrajudicial executions of 50 people. The case remains unsolved and in impunity. We can presume that the 50 murders remain unsolved as well since the weapons could not be used as evidence.
Director General of the National Police, Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, says that he can give no information about any investigations in the hands of the prosecutors. Prosecutors, of course, can give out no information about cases they are in the process of investigating. Police also can give no information about any cases that they themselves are investigating, so as long as these investigations remain open — for years and years or perpetually, as they nearly always do — we can expect that the only information the media will attain will be from confidential sources. Ramírez del Cid also stated the Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla has ordered audits of arms and other logistics in all of the police facilities to see if there have been any irregularities and to take corrective measures.
In other weapons news, General René Arnoldo Osorio Canales announced that the Honduras military would be purchasing some unnamed amount of assault weapons from Israel and the USA to replace the current weapons which have served their useful life. The quantity was not named because of "national security". The general also confirmed that a military official was in prison for theft of weapons, giving no further details. He assured reporters that the unusable weapons would be destroyed, but left himself an out by saying that some could serve as spare parts for other weapons still being used. Here we go again: weapons, weapons, who's got the weapons?
Possibly as a result of all the police leaks to the media, a memorandum was posted in police facilities indicating that the Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla has prohibited giving information to the media. The only case in which police agents may speak is to limit their comments to "the national police are working for the benefit of the Honduran population". [Click photo to enlarge.]
Summary of recent news:
- Missing some or all of the 3,000 weapons bought back from citizens in 2003
- 186 weapons stolen, 152 later appeared in Nicaragua
- 40 weapons stolen from the police training academy
- 300 weapons and 300,000 projectiles stolen from the Cobra unit
- 20 weapons stolen from the Belén police bodega, 12 found in pawn shops
- 32 weapons stolen from prosecutor's evidence storage
- 950 weapons stolen from Supreme Court evidence storage [English]
- Unknown origin of the 1,615 damaged AK-47s in military custody
- Unknown amount of weapons stolen from the military
- Unknown amount of weapons loaned to government officials
- Unknown amount of weapons possibly sold to privately security companies
- Unknown amount of illegal weapons simply returned to criminals [English]
- Unknown number or location of confiscated weapons
- Unknown number of ex-police still in possession of their police-issued weapons
- Unknown number of criminally accused police still on duty and carrying weapons
The police and military have been highly successful at covering up and confusing massive and continuing thefts of weapons to the point that it is obvious that no amount of auditing or investigating will ever be able to determine how many weapons have been stolen or to hold anyone responsible for the thefts.
After all, this is the same government that hasn't even been able to hold anyone responsible for the theft of narcoplane stolen from a guarded military base.