June 23, 2014

The Observatorio will continue publishing crime reports

Julieta Castellanos

UNAH Rector Julieta Castellanos announced today that despite the difficulties, the Observatorio de la Violencia would continue to provide crime bulletins utilizing "other sources". Minister of Security Arturo Corrales has still not responded to her latest request for access to the data. He's probably circling the wagons now to put a lock on her other sources. President Hernández has had no comment on the lack of transparency.

"The style of Arturo Corrales is this: close the information. This is where one sees that the state doesn't feel compelled to render accounts," said Castellanos. She lamented that this shows a lack of democracy.

The Observatorio will be looking to establish strategic alliances with civil society and local government to control and prevent the violence phenomenen in Honduras. OV currently has local Observatorios in seven of the larger more violent towns and has plans to open others in Olanchito, Santa Rosa de Copán, and the Aguán Valley.

Failed Police Purification

Police purification was our big hope in Honduras for a year or so until even the most optimistic had to give up. The police still go on with the pretense but nothing is happening. All the international experts who were assisting, including the US, gave up and left long ago.

I ran across an March article on the UNAH newspaper site about this so I should give you an update. Julieta Castellanos reported that 90% of the police who failed the confidence tests (drug and lie detector tests and financial audits) are still working for the police department. She commented that there is incoherence and lack of coordination and investigation in the institutions responsible for the process.

Castellanos went on to say that the Minister of Security, the authorities of the Ministerio Público (attorney general), and the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas (general accounting office) seem to have a resistence to investigate the higher level officers for fear that they will investigate them.

Josué Murillo, coordinator of the Alianza por la Paz y la Justicia (Alliance for Peace and Justice) (APJ) questioned that instead of firing police who didn't pass the confidence tests as the new law allows, an agreement was reached to allow several high level officials to retire honorably complete with benefits. He lamented that there are still police involved in illicit acts. Carlos Hernández, member of Association for a Just Society (ASJ in Spanish) said that only 29 police have been fired and the lack of action results in bad morale for the agents who agree with police purification. (Both of these are great organizations that do an incredible job of exposing corruption and occasionally even getting the government to work with them to make improvements.) Ironically, the photo above is of newly inaugurated President Hernández signing a transparency agreement with Transparency International and ASJ (who is the local TI representative organization).

Here we are approximately 2 1/2 years from the time we were told that the police would be "purified" in six months. Press conferences told us over and over again that 100 police were 'suspended' here, 100 there (that magic meaningless word 'suspended'), yet we would later find out that these police had only been transferred to other duties or at best were on paid leave. Even police who had outstanding arrest warrants (including for bank robbery and murder!) or who were tried or awaiting trial for kidnapping, robbery, or extorsion were still on the payroll. If you think I'm exaggerating, take a look at this sample of old articles in which I documented newpaper reports of police crimes for a couple of months:

From the 'too odd to believed' criminal cops files
Continuing police crime, November 25

By the way, in most of places in which I mention police agents being suspended or fired in those articles, that was deliberate misleading of the media by the police.

A corrupt – and I mean corrupt – police agent

When we talk about corrupt police in Honduras, we aren't talking about minor things like taking a bribe for not issuing a traffic ticket. One of the worst examples is Santos Arnulfo Padilla Rodriguez.

In 2010, police agent Santos Padilla was charged with the kidnapping of a North American couple and the theft of their vehicle. He was tried but released because the victims were too afraid to testify in court — Padilla had threatened their lives. He had also been investigated along with his partner, Wilfredo Figueroa Velásquez,  for robberies, extortion, and paid assassination. He was known as "Trigger Happy" by other police in his unit for his propensity to shoot out tires of anyone who didn't stop at a road block or to even kill and 'disappear' them. According to another police agent, Padilla would shoot suspects, gang members, or anyone who caught him in a bad mood. Amazingly, none of this affected his job with the police department at all.

He was one of the four police who killed Julieta Castellanos' 22-year-old son and his friend in October 2011. Initially police tried to cover up the evidence but due to public outrage, the four officers were taken into custody. Incredibly, these suspects were given "the weekend off" by their superior and told to report again on Monday. They, of course, disappeared with not much effort on the part of the police to find them. Padilla turned himself in a year later. He and the others were ultimately convicted in December 2013. He was ordered to serve 87 years in prison. Four other police were involved but were never arrested or tried, including a higher level officer who allegedly gave the okay to "get rid of the problem".

In June 2014, Padilla was convicted of killing another four young men in September 2011 and condemned to an additional 66 years in prison. Padilla was a mass murderer on the police payroll, wearing a uniform and carrying a gun and the police knew he was trouble for at least a year before any of these murders occurred. If the police had taken action against him in 2010, six (or more) young men might be alive today. There is really no telling how many crimes he was actually involved in that were not investigated or how many more like him are still on the police force.

Another strike out on the Victim Registry

I looked up another 2013 murder victim today on the Honduran police website, Isiaha Alexis Perez Reyes. He was the 18-year-old brother of a friend of ours. Isiaha was severely tortured, then murdered by gunshots, and then his body was thrown in the Rio Cangrejal. Police recovered his body a day or so later. He was identified by the family and autopsied. There was no question of not knowing his name or whether or not it was a case of murder, yet his name was not listed on La Ceiba's register, as was the case with every victim I've looked up so far. Just to be sure his name wasn't mangled, I searched by his first name and both last names each separately. Nada.

I again found duplicate victim listings on the register: a duplicate Perez and a duplicate Reyes.

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