November 29, 2011

Suspensions, drug and polygraph tests for Honduran police

Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, National Director of Honduran police
National Director of Honduran Police, Ricardo Ramírez del Cid
Image: Diario Tiempo, Honduras


Bold headline, regurgitating official statements, but the reality is something quite different. [All links are in Spanish unless otherwise noted.]

Police suspensions

Some number of police agents and officials have been suspended. It is unclear exactly what 'suspended' means and some news articles have used the term 'separation'. If and when the charges are proven, these employees will be permanently removed from duty, always respecting the law, and their human and employment rights. Police spokesman Hector Ivan Mejía referred to "isolation" so that they can't interfere in investigations, but would not name names or the reasons for the suspensions. News reports have variously reported that the list includes 32, 38, 40, and 41 police, including up to nine mid- to high-level officials. Reader comments on the news articles clamored for names and photos of the suspended agents.

Some unknown number of the approximately 40 police could not be served with the written suspension notice on Monday because they requested vacation and the authorities, for some reason, cannot suspend them while they are on vacation. Similarly, some of the agents simply did not report for work on Monday so their notifications could not be served either.

The list has been sent to the Ministerio Público (MP) who has assigned five prosecutors to perform "profound investigations". Human Rights prosecutor Sandra Ponce has expressed concern that the MP wasn't called in by the Ministry of Security to observe the separation process, fearing that could result in legal flaws for which the accused could appeal.

If prosecutors do not find misconduct, the suspensions could still stand because of administrative violations, but there again, the employees are still entitled to the appeals process. The police in question will have 6-9 months to appeal and could be returned to duty as they often have been in the past. Always trying to save face, police spokesman Héctor Iván Mejía insists that the suspensions are a result of some administrative error or omission, not because they have proof of illicit acts. If that was the case, one would wonder why it couldn't be handled internally through normal administrative procedures rather than through investigations by the prosecutors.

El Heraldo reports that another shake-up of higher level officials is in process and that a list of commissioners accused of administrative faults and proposed for suspension is in the hands of President Lobo waiting for signature. Various police on that list are being investigated for illegal enrichment. This was later denied by police officials.

The list

Despite the secrecy, the list was leaked. The following are the suspended police, all of which are said to be from the "Cartel" La Granja police post in Tegucigalpa [in English] except as noted, according to El Libertador. In parenthesis are my comments and alternate spellings of the names.

LISTADO DE POLICÍAS SUSPENDIDOS (list of suspended police):
1. Subcomisionado de Policía Mario René Chamorro Gotay (who was replaced by Barralaga at La Granja, before that served at Los Dolores)
2. Comisario de Policía Einer Maryino Moncada Martínez (Elner; prior chief over La Granja)
3. Comisario de Policía Leonel Osmín Merlo Canales (Kennedy post, Tegucigalpa)
4. Comisario de Policía Nelson Martín Smith Hernández (La Esperanza, Intibuca)
5. Subcomisario de Policía Dorian Sobalvarro Buezo (San Francisco, Tegucigalpa)
6. Inspector de Policía Rosel Armando Nájera Hernández (old criminal charges of kidnapping)
7. Subinspector de Policía Zachary Mauriel Pineda Carbajal (Sachary, Rachary; old criminal charges of homicide, bank robbery)
8. Subinspector de Policía Essaú Gonzales Corea (Gracias, Lempira)
9. Subinspector de Policía Javier Armando Rivera López
10. Clase I de Policía Juan Gabriel Sosa Olmedo
11. Policía Manuel Eduardo Mondragón
12. Policía Eleazar Lorenzo Mejía
13. Policía José Reinaldo Turcios Corea
14. Policía Altair Castro Carrasco
15. Policía Carlos Alexis Sierra Rodríguez
16. Policía Jairo Javier Meza Pérez
17. Policía Miguel Antonio López López
18. Policía Leonel Martínez Castillo
19. Policía Javier Isaac Padilla Núñez
20. Policía Norlan Ariel Rugama Flores
21. Policía Joel Antonio Valladares
22. Policía Mauricio Moreno
23. Policía Gerson Alejandro Cruz Cruz
24. Policía Dennis Saúl Fúnez
25. Policía Miguel Ángel Castillo Ramírez
26. Policía Juan Ángel Zepeda Gonzales
27. Policía José Guadalupe Ordóñez Acosta
28. Policía Carlos David Quevedo García
29. Policía Alex Antonio Rodríguez
30. Policía Mario Iván Martínez Soriano
31. Policía Santos Alexis Morgan Mairena
32. Policía Ricla Wulmara Mendoza Córdova
33. Policía Edwin Francisco Zepeda
34. Policía Carlos Roberto Lagos Lagos
35. Policía Lucio Godoy Reyes
36. Policía Neptalí García Corea
37. Policía Emanuel del Cid Manueles
38. Policía Orlando Ramírez Flores

El Heraldo published the same list, adding that provisionally suspended were also ex-director of DNIC Marco Tulio Palma and Jorge Alberto Barralaga, responsible for giving days off to the four accused murder suspects. EH was also informed that one of the suspended agents was separated after discovering a million-plus lempira bank account. In this much commented upon article, several readers claimed that sub-commissioner Mario René Chamorro Gotay is an honest man and must be on the list by mistake. Chamorro apparently served as chief over La Granja from March 2010 until he was rotated out and replaced by Barralaga at the end of September.

Some of the agents are currently in custody for participation in homicides and bank robberies — though I did not find any crime news articles for any of the names on the list with the exception of two (Pineda Carbajal and Nájera Hernández; more on them later), indicating that authorities might have been able to keep some police-related crimes from the media. Conversely, none of the police agents for which I have reported recent accusations of criminal activity (here, here, and here, in English) were on this list.

Note that for the most part, all of these police were currently or in the past assigned to a few stations in Tegucigalpa, so it doesn't appear that any investigations have yet commenced in other parts of the country, despite authorities claims that all 14,000 police employees will be investigated. Tip: start with the ones who have been accused of crimes rather than diluting and delaying action by trying to investigate all 14,000.

Drug and lie detector tests

Authorities announced that voluntary drug and lie detector tests would be given to all police employees starting with the highest level officials. Authorities state over and over again that they have no legal power to obligate police employees to submit to drug or lie detector tests, just as they similarly state that they have no power to fire police agents accused of crimes, no matter how heinous, unless and until they are found guilty in a court of law. It is certainly hard to believe that employees flipping burgers at Burger King can be required to take drug tests, while police officers carrying guns cannot be.

Reading the Ley Organica de Policia, I don't understand why authorities are claiming that they have no right to subject police agents to drug tests. Article 33, paragraph 12, prohibits "the use of illicit drugs in any form" and gives the directorates the right "to order and apply blood and other tests that scientifically can demonstrate the use of the same." Article 115 states that a member of the national police submitted to a criminal process or disciplinary procedure for a serious offense will be suspended from their functions. Article 123, paragraph 2) describes drug use as a serious offense and paragraph 14) also describes a positive drug test as a serious offense. Article 126 clearly states that police can be fired for any of the following acts which include "1) for noncompliance of violation of any of the obligations or prohibitions established in the law". If there is some loophole elsewhere in the law that requires the police department to continue to provide uniforms and weapons to accused murderers, kidnappers, robbers, and drug addicts, obviously that law should be changed immediately.

Hopefully, these will be serious drug tests. In one La Ceiba laboratory that does drug testing for private companies, job applicants are told to "bring in a urine sample" when they come to the clinic. That sort of testing kind of defeats the purpose, don't you think?

Though much ado was made about testing all police and about the top-level authorities setting an example by voluntarily being the first to take drug tests, only 12 persons were actually tested on Monday. Missing from the list of those top level people tested was Joaquín Mejía Alvarenga, Director of the Preventative Police. On Tuesday, it was announced that 36 unnamed additional officials were drug tested. Forty-eight down and 1,352 to go.

The urine tests will check for cocaine, marihuana, heroin and amphetamines. When asked when basic level police would be tested, National Director of the Police Ricardo Ramírez del Cid said the situation is difficult and the tests are expensive, but that police suspects would be given tests — but again stressing that the tests are voluntary.

On Tuesday, in typical Keystone Kops or upside-down world fashion, the results of the first 12 drug tests were given directly and privately to the individuals, with no results provided to either the MP or police authorities, and of course, with no indication to the media if any of the tests had positive results. So if these individuals had any personal doubts about whether or not they were consuming illegal drugs, now they know. So much for that ruse. Save the taxpayer money. Don't do any more pointless drug tests. There are times that I can't think of anything to say except TIH (this is Honduras) and impunity is going to reign regardless!

Echoing President Lobo and Minister Bonilla, Martínez del Cid went on to say that other evaluations must be gradual and that "in some 10 or 12 years, we are going to have the police that we deserve".

In an interesting turn of events, Ramírez excused himself for not taking the lie detector test as he had planned. He explained that "to apply the lie detector test, a more complex process is required." I don't know if that means that he wasn't prepared to take the test or whether it means that the police organization is not prepared to give lie detector tests. I think the latter.

Police need to work on credibility

Police lose even more credibility by making bold announcements which they and everyone else knows they are completely incapable of following through on (all police stations will be investigated, all police will receive drug and polygraph tests, police department will be purified in six months, peace and tranquility will reign in Honduras in nine months, etc.). These statements are completely belied by the responses to reporters' specific questions. Additionally, though a certain amount of secrecy is required in open investigations, the police have been less than transparent about the extent of the problems. And if investigations are going to continue for 8-10 years as some have? At what point does the public have a right to know?

Many have suggested that congressmen, ministers, judges, prosecutors, and political candidates should be subject to the same tests, though there is no discussion of that ever happening.

November 26, 2011

From the 'too odd to believed' criminal cops files

Poll: International invention in corrupt cops, Honduras
Poll: Do you agree or disagree that international organizations supervise the purification of the police?
79% agree, 14% disagree, 7% don't know or no response.
The chart on the right shows the political parties of the respondents who agree.
Image: La Prensa, Honduras


Kidnapper cop

On his day off last Saturday in San Pedro, police agent Adonis Faustino Romero Banegas accelerated to avoid a military road block. A soldier fired a warning shot in the air and Romero stopped further on, but two other suspects in his vehicle fled before soldiers reached his car. Though he tried to use his police position to avoid search, he was caught carrying two weapons without documentation, one of which was verified to have been stolen in 2007. The VIN numbers of the vehicle he was driving had been altered and a complaint was made that he had been lent the vehicle and failed to return it. [all links are in Spanish]

Furthermore, it was discovered that Romero had an unexecuted order of capture against him issued by a Copán court in January 2002 for the crime of kidnapping. The article didn't mention whether he was hired by the police before or after the kidnapping charge or why the police were unable to capture a suspect for 9 years who is on their own payroll. In the initial hearing for the charge of carrying an illegal weapon and abuse of authority, Romero was released by the judge and must voluntarily report to the court periodically until the trial. Apparently the kidnapping warrant was still not executed. "The investigations continue and if he is found culpable, he should be castigated.....", said the police spokesman.

Is this an example of change and police purification that Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla and President Pepe Lobo have promised?

Top level narco-cop "investigated" since 2002

In another police exposé, apparently tipped off by a high level official, El Heraldo has exposed massive corruption and criminality of a high-level police officer who has been 'under investigation' by the DLCN (anti-narcotrafficking department of the MP) and the Anti-Organized Crime prosecutor since September 2003. During the 8-year period of 'investigation', not only was the official not criminally charged or even suspended, EH says that the unnamed official has accumulated great wealth and has been promoted from comisario through the upper ranks, and is now head of one of the five directorates of the police department.

In the voluminious report of which EH has a copy, it was shown that the official and a relative of his have ties to organized crime and narcotrafficking through a female relative of narco Manuel Antonio Avilez Durón, who was captured in Panamá in 2002 and extradited to the USA. The investigation began when this official was comisario in Copán, later transferred to Gracias, Lempira, only 45 kilometers away.

Accusations include drug trafficking, including selling drugs out of his own heavily secured and walled house, personally passing on shipments of cocaine and heroin to Guatemalans, transporting drugs from Colón and Olancho to Santa Rosa de Copán, as well as distributing drugs within Copán. Through his police connections, he was also tipped off to operativos, which might help to explain why even when massive amounts of drugs are confiscated, there are almost never any narco suspects captured in Honduras.

Other accusations include that, along with a police chief in Santa Bárbara, he participated in robberies of shipments of goods by truck. His personal vehicle was a F-150 truck originally owned by Avilez Durón. He and his relative have suspicious financial activity that could point to money laundering and illegal enrichment. The investigations also pointed to contacts with "influential persons in the current [at that time] government" as well as involvement in a 12-person gang of auto thieves.

In a response to DLCN in February 2004, Coralia Rivera, then director of the police and now Vice-Minister reporting directly to the top police official, stated that they had knowledge of the situation and that is why he was transferred to a different position.

The case was initially opened in September 2003 under the direction of Julián Arístides González, head of the DLCN, who was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in December 2009 while dropping off his daughter at school. In a new report in 2010, the DLCN gave a summary of the advances in the investigations. It was noted that the official took out large long-term loans, but then paid them off in 3-4 months, and that all three suspects had large bank accounts with suspicious financial activity.

Though not naming the person, EH concludes the article by listing the five commissioners who are the current heads of the five police directoratives. A few days later, Proceso Digital through a source in the president's office, announced that Transit Commissioner Randolfo Paguaga Medina had been suspended [alternately spelled in the news Paguada, Pagoaga, and Pagoada]. That rumor was quickly and firmly denied by police authorities.

Under investigation for 8 years! Not fired, not charged with crimes. Instead transfered here and there spreading the corruption, and then ultimately promoted to one of the highest levels in the police organization.

Minister Bonilla's response

You aren't going to believe this: On a morning talk show on Monday, the day after EH's exposé was published, Minister Pompeyo Bonilla asked El Heraldo to provide him with the investigative report and tell him who the commissioner is because Bonilla doesn't know. "My door is open and when we know, we'll take action in this case." — this despite 8 years of investigation, including stakeouts outside the suspect's home, the detailed information about where he was assigned when, information about his vehicle including his license plate number, and confirmation that Bonilla's number two official was cognizant of the investigation in 2004! If El Heraldo would only tell him who it was, Bonilla promised a "profound investigation" and if anyone has committed "indecorous" or criminal acts.... well, you know the rest of that line. "Indecorous"?

I was going to write that that 'Bonilla disingenuously asked....', but let's call it what it is: 'Bonilla deceitfully asked....'. The seriousness of the police scandal has been in the headlines for a month. Bonilla has promised thorough investigation and purification of criminal cops including at the highest level. There are only two choices here: Either the top cop and his immediate command are completely incompetent or he is being deceitful about what he knows. I guess we'll be looking at another several years of profound investigation until this pops to the limelight again as this unnamed official is obviously one of the 'untouchables'.

Inspector General of the police, César Augusto Somoza, also affirmed that he has no knowledge of any member of the police leadership involved in organized crime.

In an interview with El Heraldo reported on Friday, Minister Bonilla made the amazing comment that he has not even asked his top cops if they are the one in question. Additionally, he says that he has asked for reports from the prosecutor's office, DLCN, the courts, and others but implies that he has not received them yet. He has not spoken directly to DLCN. He basically implies there is nothing he can do until and if the official is charged and tried at which point he "will ask for the official's resignation". Wonder if he will receive it.

When asked directly where were ex-director José Luis Muñoz and the other officials who were replaced on October 31, Bonilla evaded the question by saying, "I haven't had the pleasure of communicating with them in the past days. They are in a condition of availability". When asked about other separations, he blamed the employment laws as preventing him from taking action, adding that the laws protect the rights of a few people at the detriment of the majority of society. He says that he needs the legal tools... but when referring to the law proposed by former Minister Alvarez, Bonilla also states that they can't be dictatorial. He also has been unable to find a diagnostic report about the police department performed by Colombian experts in the past few months.

Is this an example of transparency and police purification that Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla and President Pepe Lobo have promised to complete within the next six months? Is this an example of the authorities promises over and over again to the public that they will not cover up for any police officers? Why must whistleblowers leak information to the media in order to for the authorities to admit anything?

Narco police raid or police narco raid

In another one of cases from the 'too-odd-to-be-believed' file, in July of 2009, 12 Tegucigalpa police agents, some of them on vacation and another suspended from duty, traveled to La Mosquitia in the remote state of Gracias a Dios either to a) rob a narco's home of 143 kilos of cocaine (estimated value US $1.1 million) or b) perform a secret police operativo unknown to their supervisors, the local police, prosecutors, the DLCN, or the Minister of Security.

In addition to no one in authority knowing anything about this 'operativo', a few other pesky details were that the raid occurred at 4 am (an illegal hour for such activities), these officers were assigned to areas such as homicide and auto theft, some were on vacation at the time and one was suspended, the cocaine was not turned over to higher authorities but instead was hidden and was being guarded by a civilian, the officers used illegal weapons such as AK-47s and grenades, they stole two boats to transport the drugs upriver, and one of the officers was found hiding out in a hotel room with a kilo of cocaine and two AK-47s.

Neighbors alerted local police to the early morning home invasion by armed strangers. The suspects were later captured by a joint operation of local police authorities, DLCN, DNIC, and navy officials. The ten police could not justify being in the area and had no paperwork authorizing the operativo. They were charged with eleven administrative and criminal offenses, including trafficking of drugs, illegal weapons, and theft of two boats.

Captured were Mario Guillermo Mejía Vargas, head of the Homicide unit, Marvin Mauricio Zavala, sub-chief of the auto theft unit, Karil Alexis Romero Maldonado, Wilmer Fiallos, Josué David Villalobos, Jorge Luis Borjas Valladares, Miguel Ángel Cerna y Víctor Hernán Ortiz. The other two, injured in the operativo/robbery, were subinspector Juan Francisco Sosa (who was at the time suspended from duty) and agent Carlos Díaz, who were sent to the capital for treatment and later escaped.

The operativo was supposedly unilaterally ordered by José Francisco Murillo López, then commissioner of DNIC (criminal investigation), who was initially suspended and investigated for the suspicious anti-drug operative. He was returned to duty in November 2009. He said that he had only sent the sent the agents to gather information, not perform an operativo, and he produced a memorandum to that effect, some believe after the fact.

Julián Arístides González, now deceased director of the DLCN, described the entire situation as totally irregular and said it was evidence that the DNIC was infiltrated by narcotraffickers.

At their initial hearing, they were ordered to prison pending trial. That decision was confirmed by the appeals court in May 2010, and the Supreme Court in February 2011. This was celebrated as one of the few times that the justice system seemed to work against corrupt cops.

The case seemed pretty clear, but alas, in March 2011 the La Ceiba sentencing court chose to believe option b) and not only absolved the suspects from any wrongdoing, but ordered them back to police duty. Police authorities were able to hide from the public the fact that these agents have been back at work since May 2011.

This may have been around the same time that former Minister Oscar Alvarez became more vocal, but still vague, about police corruption and judges forcing the department to reinstate bad cops. In September, he proposed a law which would allow the Minister the discretion to fire police officers. He was asked to resign shortly after that. Both President Lobo and Minister Bonilla are blaming him for the poor administration within the department.

From the President

Times of horror, HondurasMeanwhile, President Pepe Lobo tells the public that the police will be purified within six months and that we'll all be living in peace and tranquility in nine months. In somewhat of a contradiction, Lobo stated to media directors in a meeting on Friday that "We stand practically in zero on the police investigations; we don't have the capacity to investigate".

Cartoon titled "Times of horror", by Dario Banegas, La Prensa.

November 24, 2011

Continuing police crime, November 25

velatorio of a 8-year-old boy
Funeral of 8-year-old Tony Jafet Rodriguez
Photo: La Prensa, Honduras


"My son was playing on his bicycle in the middle of a gun fight. There was nothing I could do to save his life!" cried the grieving father at the funeral of 8-year-old gun shot victim Tony Jafet Rodríguez Espinoza. He said that his son was in the street when three vehicles suddenly pulled up, surrounding the child, and began shooting. He ran out among the bullets to rescue his child but it was too late.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In La Ceiba, a Tuesday afternoon shoot-out between police and 10 suspects, some dressed as police left four suspected gang members dead. Also killed during the crossfire were an innocent 16-year-old and 8-year-old Tony. Local TV news reported that a 4-year-old was run over, but that was not confirmed in later reports. At least one other civilian and a police agent were injured. Several auto accidents resulted from the police chase from near the port road on to the east boulevard through several colonias, including Lempira, Sierra Pina, Alvarado, Bella Vista, and Carmen Elena and on south to the highway. In Carmen Elena, muros of several houses were marked by bullet holes. Suspects abandoned their vehicle and stole another near the Texaco station on the highway near the Saopin bridge, where the highway was blocked and another shoot-out occurred. Two other gang members were captured in a house where police discovered police vests, explosives, and the body of another gang member.

One of the suspect victims had been detained for several weeks after being involved in another police-gang shoot out lasting about 6 hours in colonia Miramar — but he had been recently released. Police appear to be planning to close many open cases by claiming this group of La Ceiba gang members were responsible for everything from attacking police stations in San Pedro Sula to bank robberies, murders, pawn shop robberies, assaulting other businesses, auto thefts, etc. Tidy.

Diario Tiempo reports that Operación Relámpago has not commenced in La Ceiba, which has the highest murder rate in the country and an average of three business robberies per day. Police road blocks, however, are a daily occurence so at least we can feel secure that everyone is driving with a current driver's license.

There has not been one hint of police accepting responsibility for the innocent lives lost, injuries, or property damange as a result of reckless and irresponsible police actions. A few days later, four police were seriously injured in another reckless chase through the streets of La Ceiba.

Continuing the police-involved incidents since last week

In Saba, a vehicle in which three young people were returning from a baby shower was chased and then shot at by police agents Odis Sabio y Roberto Ferman Paisano. At least three bullets passed through the vehicle and a 25-year-old woman passenger was shot in the back. The agents, along with subinspector José Muñoz and agents Junior Vallecillo, José Herrera, and Javier Tercero, initially refused to transport the injured victim to a hospital but later relented. Friends and family arriving at the hospital were indignant and demanded action against the police. Sabio and Ferman were charged and the other four are being held. A family member who wouldn't give his name for fear of repisals said, "Here we have more fear of the police than the criminals".

Police agent Wilmer Alexander Zavala was presented to the court for the October murder of a 16-year-old in the capital. Judges ordered a "judicial detention" pending the initial hearing scheduled for November 28. Zavala confronted two minors in the street, grabbed one by the neck and shot him causing instant death. The other boy fled. The police report gives no motive for the murder.

Twenty armed men, at least two of whom were dressed as police, assaulted a house in El Mogote, Yoro, in what police called a dispute over territory between two criminal bands. The shootout lastest for more than an hour beginning at 5:15 am on November 22. Four people died and two others were injured. A survivor said that the confrontation was a result of a 21-year feud between families. The witnesses said that the authorities are involved with the other family and that even a helicopter was flying over their house.

Miguel Ángel Perdomo Pineda, a soldier in the Honduran armed forces, was arrested for a 2006 murder in La Campera, Lempira, on an arrest order that was issued in November 2006. It is not known how he was able to enlist in the army with an outstanding murder warrant.

Salvadoran trucks drivers have denounced that they are extorted by police
El Jicarito, Choluteca, and Santa Ana, Francisco Morazán, and required to pay up to US $100 to police continue transporting goods through Honduras. A businessman in the area also confirmed that Salvadoran tourists often complain about being extorted by the police for bribes.

Police sub-official José Lázaro Herrera Portillo with 18 years service was assassinated in La Paz. Ex-DNIC agent Josué Herminio Medina was assassinated and then his body was burned inside a vehicle left in an area of Santa Barbara known for dumping bodies.

Diario Tiempo reports that police have a report showing that Comisario Fredesbindo Bonilla Bustillo, who was kidnapped and assassinated in August, had only hours previously denounced the corruption and band of criminals within La Granja police station. On September 1, authorities previously accused gang members of the crime.

US police captured Honduran ex-subcomisario Jairo López Méndez who was wanted for a 2008 L. 7 million bank robbery in Gracias, Lempira. López is thought to have been the leader of a band of robbers, to whom he provided police uniforms. In October 2008, police decommissioned several vehicles registered in his name and indicated that he was being investigated for several crimes including paid assassination. According to US authorities, López also has connections with the criminal group Los Zetas of Mexico. Another police agent along with 10 civilians were already serving time for the bank robbery. In an interesting note, the unit in which López served in San Pedro was temporarily closed down and all the agents were investigated and reassigned to "purify" the police in 2008. At that time, as now, police assured the public that there was not the least intention to tolerate any illegal act from the highest commissioner to the lowest level of police.

Three police assigned to Operación Xatruch in Bajo Aguan were detained for drinking alcohol during work hours. Their weapons were decommissioned but there was no mention of charges being filed.

Stopped for speeding, a solider, Pedro Gabriel Mejía Carías, assigned to the honor guard of the President in Tegucigalpa, was detained in the middle of the night in San Pedro Sula with a M-16 and a 9 mm gun, both property of the state for which he had no documentation. Authorities were investigating what he was doing in the north of the country. He was released the next day by prosecutors after military officials presented the weapon documentation. Interestingly, a government email clarification was sent out in which the Honor Guard denounces the actions of the police, particularly the chief in San Pedro, for reporting this to the media, stating that Mejía was on official duty in San Pedro, an assignment to protect an unnamed dignitary. Odd.

Interpol agent Allan Benítez Valle, who was suspected of assisting a Colombian in exporting US $200,000 via the San Pedro airport, was released by judges for lack of evidence in the initial hearing of the charge of money laundering.

Antonio Alvarez Izaguirre, member of the Cobra unit, was accused of pawning his police weapon. The agent was released by the court after the initial hearing whereupon he angrily threatened to come looking for the news photographer if his photo was published in the newspaper.

Tegucigalpa police agent Luis Henrique Pineda Castillo, assigned to Los Dolores, along with two civilian, was captured in the act of extorting a citizen. The case has been sent to the prosecutors.

La Kennedy, another pus-filled police station

La Tribuna published an exposé of the Kennedy police station in Tegucigalpa in which a criminal "mafia" of police agents is run by a police authority known as El Diablo (the devil). After publishing the original story about El Diablo, Tribuna has received dozens of citizens complaints and information about police extortion of "impuesto de guerra" (war tax), outright robbery of residents' money and cellphones, involvement with gangs and drug houses, auto thefts, and up to murders and disappearances of young people who have been "captured" by the police, only to show up dead later.

Residents of the area claim that they have witnessed murders and recognized police as the assassins. In one case, several witnesses watched as a local police removed a weapon and other evidence from a dead body before DNIC investigators arrived. In another case, police stole a victim's car and the following day, he received a call saying he could have it back if he paid L. 80,000. Witnesses even report cases of the police killing other police agents who didn't cooperate. Human rights groups have denounced the Kennedy police post but no investigations have occurred. One resident who did go to complain to the chief in charge that day was told to get out there if he didn't want to disappear. Residents feel defenseless and impotent.

As much as authorities would like us to believe that there are "only a few bad apples" within only a few police stations, that is obviously not the case. A "bad apple" might be careless in his duties or ask for bribe at a transit stop. Murderers, extortionists, auto thieves, drug dealers, and kidnappers are not "bad apples"; they are criminals.

The latest from authorities

Authorities have announced the suspension of 32 police agents, including two comisarios and one sub-commissioner for supposed illicit acts. No names or duty locations were given to reporters. Similarly no information was given as to whether these were civil or criminal acts, or whether they were related to the 100 or so Belén and La Granja agents who refused to report to the Cobras or related to older cases. For that matter, the public does not even know what exactly is meant by 'suspension' since in other cases that only meant that the agents were transferred to another duty assignment and are still wearing uniforms and carrying guns. This is not fair to the public who has a genuine fear of the police. They have a right to know and the government has a moral responsibility to let the public know. This is not transparency.

Former police spokesman Silvio Inestroza told Diario El Tiempo that two of the arrested murder suspects, Santos Arnulfo Padilla Rodríguez and Wilfredo Figueroa Velásquez have been investigated for hired assasination, kidnapping extortion, vehicle theft, and other organized crime activities — yet they continued to wear the uniform and carry guns, which they used to murder two university students.

Hundreds of police agents are "stampeding" from the department, some because they are embarrassed about what is happening and others because they fear being caught. This is primarily in the metropolitan areas where so much corruption and scandal has been exposed. The police were already short-handed because of so many agents under investigation.

National Director of the Police, Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, made the incredible comment that they are transferring agents from one location to another to purify the police. Police spokesman Héctor Iván Mejía said that the police organization is infiltrated by criminals, but went on to say that purification should be gradual. But nothing shows the hopelessness of the situation quite like this interview with Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla.

Repeating what they have always done in the past shows that authorities don't even understand the definition of the word 'purification', much less have any idea of how to go about it. What they actually are doing is systematically contaminating other areas by assigning dirty cops to them, not to mention putting lives and property of the public knowingly at risk — all because the collective government ego cannot admit just how out of control the police are.

Juan Arnaldo Hernandez, member of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) committee studying the police corruption issue, reiterated yesterday, "The police are the most dangerous criminal group in the country". The UNAH committee is proposing international intervention, saying that the police are incapable of investigating and purifying themselves.

Why report this depressing stuff?

I think it is important to compile and document how serious, invasive, and continuing the problem of police corruption is in Honduras. Hondurans needs international help; it's not going to be solved from within the same corrupt police department. Local online news includes articles almost every day of new incidents — I can't keep up! — but coverage in English has been slim and inaccurate. The fact that so many incidents are still occurring, at a time when the police are under the microscope, and at a time when Operación Relámpago is in full swing, shows that bad police have no fear of punishment and that empty threats of purification have not slowed them down. Criminal police acts are not only occurring in the "Cartels" of Belén and La Granja as authorities would like us to believe, but all over the country.

I know that I promised to show you that criminal police and police corruption is nothing new. I will do that, but other things have come up in the meantime. I should never say, "in the next article"!

Related articles:

Shake up in Honduras police
The two murders that brought this scandal to the forefront: Two university students

And for more on the out-of-control crime situation in Honduras: crime

Threats against the media

La Prensa's unpopular headlines
Some of the headlines the president doesn't want us to see


La Tribuna published a public denunciation of police intimidation and threats:

On November 20, a member of La Tribuna's investigative team driving a motorcycle was followed by a vehicle from which two shots were fired at him in Tegucigalpa. He accelerated and was able to flee from his pursuers.

On November 18, a reporter received a call at the office from someone who identified himself as a police agent from the colonia Kennedy station and asked the name of the reporter who covers crime, because, he said, they had just captured someone and wanted the Tribuna to cover it (something which the police had never done before). The agent would not give his name but insisted in knowing the name of the crime reporter. The agent finally hung up when the reporter refused to give the name.

On November 22, a Tribuna photographer was threatened by Cobra agent Mario Antonio Alvarez Izaguirre, accused of losing (or pawning as this article reports) his police weapon. The agent was released by the court after a 3-hour initial hearing. When the photographer tried to take his photo, Alvarez threatened, "Remember that I am free. If you publish my photo, tomorrow I will look for you...."

Also, a Tribuna editor was detained in front of the Las Brisas station on the nights of November 9 and 11. When questions led to him identifying himself as an Tribuna employee, the police became hostile, made him exit his vehicle, to search for weapons. They held him for hours, supposedly to make telephone consultations before they let him leave. Later, the editor was followed to work and again in the afternoon. He was also followed on various other occasions.

La Tribuna stated that they will hold government authorities responsible for any harm suffered by their employees.

Two San Pedro radio journalists who have been exposing police corruption have also reported receiving telephone death threats.

Reporters and editors of El Heraldo, Televicentro, Radio Globo and Globo TV have also reported being the objects of intimidation and physical and death threats in the past few days. A Heraldo editor was also followed by two people, one of them dressed as police. The license plate of the vehicle was found to be registered to a different car, which was decommissioned by police in an organized crime raid. Twenty journalists have been murdered in the past two years.

The Human Rights prosecutor, Sandra Ponce, will be opening an investigation. Commissioner of Human Rights (CONADEH) Ramón Custodio has denounced threats and acts of intimidation against reporters and editors to international jouralist orgranizations.

The following day, La Tribuna's November 24 editoral implied that it is likely that their complaint will be archived into the same circular file as all of the other citizens' complaints. The editorial pointed out the the Tribuna manager had suffered an attempt on his life a few months ago in which nine bullets were fired at his car — and to date, the case remains pending, unsolved, uninvestigated, with no clues and nobody knows anything.

No word has been issued yet about President Lobo's meeting this afternoon with national media directors.

November 22, 2011

Red Alert! - meddling with the Honduran media?

Porfirio Lobo, President of Honduras

Proceso Digital announced today that Honduran President Pepe Lobo has summoned all directors of the major Honduran media to come to a meeting on Friday to talk about those "national themes that have caused controversy in the country".

If Lobo was going to congratulate the media on their excellent and thorough coverage of the criminal police scandals and the important role they have played in impelling exposure which will hopefully result in the purification of the rottenly corrupt and deadly police department, he likely would have done that in a press conference.

More likely he is going to suggest a gag order among the media, possibly telling them that they are threatening national security or trying to destabilize the government (favorite claims of authoritarian administrations). Maybe he'll just ask them to "give him some time" and he'll take care of everything personally thereby buying time until the media goes on to the next scandal and the exhausted public forgets about this one. Maybe there will be implied threats of possible charges of interfering with investigations or defamation, which is a criminal offense in Honduras for which "the truth" is not a legal defense, and for which other corrupt government officials have sued reporters and newspapers for millions of dollars in the past. Maybe there will be carrots dangled in the form of government advertising contracts. Will we ever know? I hope so.

The public is told weekly by various government leaders, up to and frequently including President Lobo himself, that other individuals and organizations within and outside the government are corrupt. Presidents, congressmen, judges, prosecutors, police, ministers, directors, generals, heads of La ENEE and Hondutel, government 'oversight committees', businessmen, attorneys, unions, teachers, NGOs, and "the rich" in general are all regularly smeared with the muddy brush of corruption directly from government officials' own lips in press conferences. (If I've left out any group, it was inadvertent. No one in Honduras escapes from these vague claims.) These same officials, including President Lobo, never ever get around to naming names or filing official denuncias about this corruption of which they always claim to have concrete information and should have a moral duty to report.

So the odd thing is, the main difference between the "demonizing" that the media has been doing and the "demonizing" that the administration has been doing is that the media has presented facts and figures to back up what they say whereas the administration only tries to make themselves look better by claiming everyone else is worse.

I see the Honduran media as the only possible hope of getting some resolution to the police corruption scandal — which the government is obviously trying to downplay — though of course, the media gets its own accusations of corruption and financial influence as well.

The government is a major advertiser in the Honduran media, probably the biggest after the cell phone companies, and it has often been reported that many journalists accept payment for covering or not covering news or for putting a preferred slant on it. Channel 10 news is currently showing an incredible number of lengthy government commercials, more than I've ever seen in the past, including during the "Cuarta Urna" media blast of Mel Zelaya in 2009.

The national congress, Secretary of Health, La ENEE (government owned electric monopoly), Hondutel (government owned telephone company), Secretary of Tourism, and the "Government of Unity" are all major advertisers, who use tens of millions of taxpayer money to buy commercials to tell us what a wonderful job they are doing, while the majority of the population lives in poverty and malnutrition, without electricity, running water, or any kind of decent health care, missing half or more of the school year, and with no hope of finding a job much less taking a vacation to Roatan from it.

All of this is in addition to not one, but two, dedicated government TV channels in which one-sided propaganda and political campaigning is blasted to public for 16-24 hours a day. These channels are even blatantly used for unfair political campaigning and demonizing political opponents and those who don't agree with whatever current actions the President and his minions in Congress are trying to take. Equal time for opposing opinions? Open debate of the issues? Forget about it! No, Lobo is using the government station in the same offensive way that Zelaya did, to manipulate the public.

On top of all that advertising and dedicated propaganda channels, both President Lobo and full time presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández (who happens to also be President of the Congress in his spare time) abusively take over the airwaves of all television and radio stations in incessant, vapid, and patronizing cadenas in which we are told that crime is already reduced by 90% or 60% or 50% or "to almost zero" in one area or another, that "el pueblo already feels so much safer than we did before because of Operación Relámpago", how we must not be naughty by demonizing the police because of a few bad apples, and that the rights of bad cops must be respected.

During the meeting of ministers in which the media meeting was announced, Lobo also announced that his government will start a campaign and an international forum where they will "expound on the defense of freedom of expression versus the defense of economic interests" — whatever that means.

We'll see what happens on Friday. I have faith that the Honduran media won't be intimidated.

November 20, 2011

Honduras police corruption continues, November 21

Honduras police purification
Honduras police purification
Cartoon by Dario Banegas, La Prensa, Honduras


Exposure of criminal cops and other police scandal continues in the news — at least for now — despite efforts by President Lobo to downplay the seriousness of the situation by chastising the public to not "demonize the police" and by vastly overstated claims about the effectiveness of Operación Relámpago [English].

[Note: all links are in Spanish unless otherwise noted.]

Police crimes in the news

Various individuals dressed as police abducted two young people from their home in El Hato, Tegucigalpa.

Witnesses state that two brothers, ages 15 and 17, were taken by suspects dressed as police and driving a police vehicle in La Lima, Cortés. Hours later their bodies were discovered in a sugar cane field, murdered by several shots to the head.

Two suspects dressed as police stopped a young driver claiming that his vehicle was stolen. They were later joined by two more suspects dressed as police. After police confiscated his belongings and prepared to steal the car, the victim yelled that it was an assault. One of the uniformed police told the others "kill that son of a bitch ..." so the young man launched himself into a ditch and then ran away. The thieves took the car but abandoned it before a road block. Hours later it was recovered by the robbery unit of the DNIC.

A policeman was detained in Danlí driving a vehicle reported stolen in Guatemala. Oris Medina Urbina said that he bought the car and can produce papers to prove that.

Subinspector José Manuel Lagos Luna was detained when driving a Toyota Prado reported as stolen in El Salvador. Luna stated that the vehicle belonged to an official assigned in Tegucigalpa. Police are giving no further information.

Two police agents were fired for asking for payment from citizens before attending to a police matter. No details about the circumstances were given and no explanation as to why they were able to fire these agents when generally police authorities claim that "bad cops" cannot be fired unless and until they are convicted. The cases were not sent to MP for prosecution.

Shortly after the detention of a Colombian attempting to transport a suitcase containing US $609,000 in cash to Panamá at the San Pedro airport, Alan Benítez Valle, a subcommissioner of Interpol, was detained under the suspicion that he had allowed another person to pass through with a suitcase containing US $200,000. During the decommission of the money, a prosecutor threatened reporters and photographers that he would take their cameras and break them.

The above sampling shows that bad cops have no fear, despite authorities claims to be purifying the police department and despite the claims that Operation Relampágo is reducing crime significantly.

US Border Patrol agents are working in operativos with Honduran border police in Trujillo, Sabá, San Pedro Sula, La Lima, and El Progreso, none of which are "border" towns of Honduras or the USA.

Finally, La Tribuna reported that 114 agents (of the original 176 reported to be under investigation) [English] removed from the "Cartels" of Belén and La Granja (police stations) are undergoing retraining and receiving motivational chats. The agents will be reassigned to other locations when the chief decides they are ready. Authorities are being very closed mouth about this. Neither this nor any other news reports give any mention of investigations or results and no clue as to what happened to the other 62 agents. Police authorities have issued no further information. Poof! In an instant we've gone from deeply imbedded criminal cop rings, to 114 born again clean cops. If only it were that easy.

More unsolved high profile murders

The body of police agent José Efraín Claros Benítez, assigned to the Belén unit, was identified after 8 days in the morgue. The article does not give a cause of death or indicate whether he was one of the original Belén officers or one of the recent replacements.

Ex-Cobra agent José Paulo Hernández was assassinated in San Pedro by three suspects in a pickup who fled the scene. He was not robbed.

No arrests have been made in the November 7 drive-by assasination of noted attorney Judith Aleman, her driver, and secretary. Reports of video from nearby security cameras may have provided some clues but the police have issued no official statements as to the status of the investigation. Attorney Aleman was reported to have denounced corrupt judges in the past.

In the courts

Santos Arnulfo Padilla Rodríguez, one of the escaped police agents, along with two other policemen, were previously tried in December 2010 for the kidnapping of a North American and his wife and the theft of their vehicle. The case was dismissed and all three suspects were released because the victims did not show up at court to testify — because they had received death threats from the accused. Amazingly, Padilla was still working for the police in October 2011 when he alledgedly was involved in the police abduction and killing of the two university students [English].

Víctor Manuel Zelaya Suazo, accused of pawning police weapons in his custody, was ordered to be held in prison and suspended from his police job, but Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla states that only one witness appeared and that Zelaya could be let free in days if the others don't appear to give their testimony. No mention was made whether the witnesses were receiving any sort of protection or whether they committed any irregularities by pawning the stolen weapons.

A Tegucigalpa police officer is currently on trial for the 2010 attempted murder of a bus driver. The bus apparently grazed a police vehicle and kept going. Police agent Luis Enrique Pineda chased the bus and alledgedly shot the driver.

Magistrate Jacobo Calix says that 26 judges were removed during 2009-2010. Some were dismissed for being denounced for acts of corruption or for granting substitute measures (release on bail)rather than incarceration pending trial , which is prohibited by law in organized crime cases. About a year ago, the Congress emitted a decree that only the President of the Supreme Court had the power to name or remove judges rather than the full 15-member court. Since that time, Calix says there have been irregularities in the appointment and removal of judges, including a judge who should have been removed but was arbitrarily given a suspension of 3 months. Some of those appointed to the judiciary failed to pass the selection process involving a competency examination but were appointed anyway and have been allowed another opportunity to retake the test. He reported that the Civil Court in Tegucigalpa includes at least three judges who failed the examination but are still presiding and that two of them are the most denounced judges in the system.

In what La Tribuna calls "a slap in the face for freedom of the press", a tribunal of three judges, one of them a former DNIC agent, aquitted three DNIC agents of abuse of power and illegal detention of a La Tribuna reporter who was taken into custody in February 2009 because police agents were annoyed that he was photographing an accident scene. The reporter was intimidated by holding a gun to his head, assaulted, and thrown into the back of a police vehicle then continued to be illegally detained at the police station even after the prosecutor ordered his release. The judges noted in their decision that the reporter was exercising his journalistic activities wearing socks and sandals. (Bad dress is justification for police assault?)

Within the upper police ranks

The MP (prosecutor's office) has subpoenaed the top police authorities to determine whether there were irregularities which could result in criminal responsibility in the release of the four suspects or other irregular aspects of the investigation of the murders of two university students. Unfortunately, the Human Rights Fiscal seems to be focusing on the premature release of their names rather than the physical release of the police agents. Since the agents were in custody of the police, releasing the names did not tip them off to flee.

Honduran police guarding top copCommissioner of the National Police José Ramírez del Cid arrived to give his formal declaracion accompanied by more than 20 armed police and an attorney. Were they there to guard him or to intimidate the prosecutors?

After only two months in that position, official police spokesman Silvio Inestroza was replaced with Héctor Iván Mejía, who had previously served as spokesperson. Inestroza was rotated to Inspector General of the special investigation services unit (DNSEI). El Heraldo predicts that there will be other changes in the police leadership, even though it has only been 15 days since the last shakeup. EH reports that there was dissastisfaction within the National Internal Security Commission (CONASIN) with the recent nominations. Sources state that the Minister of Security has submitted a list of five commissioners to the MP (prosecutors) to confirm whether or not there are any criminal investigations against them.

Nothing new

As shocking as all of this and my previous article show the situation is, individual and organized criminal acts committed by police are nothing new. In fact an exposé of criminal cops in the very same "Cartel de Belén" police unit was reported at least as far back as 2007 and was allowed by authorities to continue until 2011. In the next article, I'll show that the authorities have known and done virtually nothing for many years as police scandal after scandal have been reported and later swept under the rug with a complete lack of transparency from the government as to the danger in which the public had been placed.

For more on crime and police scandal in Honduras, click the "crime" topic below.

November 19, 2011

Weapons, weapons, who's got the weapons?

weapons in custody
Weapons in police custody
Photo: El Heraldo, Honduras


"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.]

guard your silenceEl 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.

Julieta CastellanosCastellanos 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.

Coralia RiveraEven 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.

Tight lips

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?

gag order from the chief
Gag order

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
But one simple fact to remember is that if the police don't know how many weapons they have, they can't possibly know how many have been stolen. Another is that we can not assume that the media has been able to dig out every case of stolen weapons in government custody. Most of these cases have only been confirmed by authorities after exposure in the news.

Conclusion:

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.

November 11, 2011

Police crime and corruption

Poll: How much credibility do the police have for you?
None, 85%; Little, 13%; Much, 2%
Images: Diario El Tiempo, Honduras


[All links are in Spanish unless otherwise noted]

Last Friday, police spokesman Silvio Inestroza said that he was confident that many of the 100 or so police agents missing from La Granja police station had not reported to the command of Cobra unit for investigation and special retraining because they are sick, on their days off, or on vacation. Half of those who did report were currently off for the weekend. The chief of the Cobras stated that is normal because they are not in a condition of detention and are entitled to their salaries and days off. Director Carlos Aguilera Mendoza stated that the high authorities weren't sure whether the agents will return on Monday.

Interestingly, no mention was made in the news this week about whether or not the missing officers reported to the Cobra unit on Monday. These are part of the 176 police agents erroneously reported by international media as having been "arrested".

The "Cartels" de Belén and La Granja

El Heraldo's investigative unit has exposed another putrid police district which they call the "Cartel de Belén". Belén is one of the largest police districts in Tegucigalpa and covers an area with many illegal drug, weapons, and sex businesses as well as 'chop shops' where stolen cars are dismantled. In order to avoid problems with the police, both illegal and legal businesses such as taxi stands pay an impuesto de guerra to police.

Through access to intelligence reports, El Heraldo connects the murder on Tuesday of police agent Juan Carlos García Flores with his "violation of the police code". García is said to have reported by name an intermediate police official in La Granja who pays L.100,000 per month (about US $5,200) to a higher authority within the police in order to keep his job. It's an exorbitant amount considering that base pay for an entry-level police agent is about US $320 per month, but easily accumulated through the "war tax" and by getting cuts of extortions and other illegal activities. Additional, El Heraldo reports that there is an established fee for returning confiscated weapons to criminals rather than officially reporting them.

One report indicated that patrol vehicles were followed and police agents were observed unable to even stand up after leaving known drug houses. The report establishes that corrupt Belén agents have to pay L.180,000 (about US $9,500) to a higher official to maintain their jobs due to that area being more lucrative than La Granja.

Police have not found the four missing police agents accused of being involved with the murder of the two university students [in English]. One of missing, Wilfredo Figueroa Velásquez, was accused by his brother of killing his own father. It has been revealed that there were other 'unresolved' investigations in Internal Affairs against these same agents.

Missing weapons

After police weapons were found in Tegucigalpa pawn shops, Minister Bonilla has ordered an inventory of all police issued and confiscated weapons, including makes, models, and serial numbers. [What a novel concept!] La Tribuna has confirmed through pawn contracts that the weapons were pawned by the officer in charge of the Belén bodega, Víctor Zelaya Suazo. One of the pawn shop owners stated that the officer would say that he was pawning the guns at the order of his captain. Zelaya Suazo was indicted on Friday and ordered to be held in prison pending trial.

But in another exposé, El Heraldo reported that no one in the police or prosecutor's office can answer where are the 3,000 prohibited weapons (many of them AK-47s) confiscated during former President Ricardo Maduro's 2003 campaign to register legal guns and remove illegal guns from circulation. Credible sources within the police say the weapons are missing. [summary in English] The policeman in charge of the Cobra bodega has disappeared and a denuncia has been filed that he was murdered to prevent him from testifying which functionary had ordered the removal of the weapons.

The murder of a DNIC inspector in La Lima is also suspected to have been a result of his investigation of robbery of arms. Other missing guns have also been reported in the news, 40 from the police academy and 32 from the prosecutor's office. No one has ever been held responsible in any of these or other cases of missing weapons. The Minister of Security has named a commision to investigate all of the missing weapons.

Unresolved Internal Affairs investigations

La Prensa revealed a long standing Internal Affairs investigation of sub-commissioner Jorge Alberto Barralaga, currently being considered for criminal charges for the release of the four murder suspects. Barralaga was accused of commandeering 80 police from other divisions for 16 hours for the inauguration of a municipal building in Copán, possibly this narco mayor's White House look-alike [in English]. He falsely claimed that he was acting on orders from his superior and later paid each of the officers L.1,000 in cash. Commissioner Juan Carlos ("the tiger") Bonilla submitted the report to higher authorities in March 2011. No action was taken. Barralaga was later transferred from Copán to La Granja in Tegucigalpa in October and Bonilla was castigated for "disrespecting superior officers" by submitting the report. La Prensa indicated that this is not the only Internal Affairs investigation of Barralaga not acted upon.

Other police "complications"

Former district commissioner over La Granja, Einer Moncada Martínez, has been reassigned to the Statistics Unit pending investigation by the Fiscal of his possible involvement with organized crime. Unofficially, La Tribuna was told that Moncada had fled, but this was denied by a police spokesman.

No mas impunidadCommissioner Danilo Orellana admitted that it was uniformed officers who assaulted a congressman and stripped him of his belongings, including a luxury vehicle, and that police officials did not take action on the complaint at the time. Previously, officials had denied any police involvement in this case on national television.

Three police agents from El Progreso were released on substitute measures yesterday after one of them "accidentally" shot a citizen on Tuesday and the other two attempted to cover up the action.

Two police agents were "put at the disposition of the prosecutor" for what was vaguely reported as "bad procedures" related to the arrest of four taxi thieves.

On Friday, a 15-year-old tortilla vendor bravely denouced being assaulted and robbed of L.550 (about US $29) while being detained by three police agents, whom he identified at the police station. The agents were indicted and are supposed to be translated to Tamara prison pending trial. The three police agents were assigned to the purified Belén station mentioned above.

Another police killing

The May 2011 drive-by assassination of Raúl Reyes Carbajal, coordinator of prosecutors in Puerto Cortés, has been connected to DNIC (criminal investigation) police agent Walter Zepeda Ramos. Fiscal Reyes was investigating certain police who were being paid up to L.30,000 for permitting crimes. Zepeda had previously been accused of murder in February 2009 but was released on "substitute measures" and apparently was able to continue with the police department until 2010. Zepeda supposedly abandoned the police and fled in August 2010 with his badge and weapon after an unexecuted order of capture was finally issued for the 2009 homicide. The day following Reyes' murder, Zepeda, using his police badge, questioned neighbors in the area of the crime as to whether they had seen anything. A few weeks later Zepeda was said to have been murdered because the victim's body was found to be carrying his badge and regulation weapon. However, an investigation accessed by La Prensa establishes that the agent is still alive and active within the police department. Failure of Puerto Cortés authorities to advance in the investigation resulted in personnel from Tegucigalpa being assigned to the case.

Phantom operativos

Honduran police operativosBy order of Commissioner of the National Police, Tegucigalpa authorities have designed a plan to avoid unauthorized "phantom operativos" such as the one in which the two university students were murdered. All road stops will be supervised by an official and will include a minimum of eight agents. Police will be identified by yellow vests and police traffic cones. Tegucigalpa citizens were asked to denounce suspicious road stops by calling Subcommissioner Rony Flores Díaz on his cellphone at 9910-8953. (Later two additional numbers were added, 2222-SEGU for cell phones and 800-2222-SEGU for land lines, but media have reported and demonstrated on television that there is no answer at these numbers.)

Flores says that it has been the custom of police agents to execute operativos without authorization. In the past, individual police posts or agents have performed illegal road stops in order to extort drivers for trumped up charges which they then offer to overlook for a price. These measures will later be implemented at a national level

Honest forces within the police and justice system appear to be leaking very damaging reports to the media. It appears that long-pending investigations are coming to light after months and years of inaction by the government.
Newer posts Older posts
Home

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...