January 23, 2012

Corruption in the upper echelons of the Honduran police

Police announce promotions, Honduras
Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla announces promotions, November 1, 2011

Frances Robles of the Miami Herald wrote an article in the long list of those entitled "Honduras named murder capital of the world". I almost didn't read it because there have been dozens with similar titles, all saying the same thing. However, a friend sent me the link pointing out that this one was different. This one was hot. The Herald has since changed the title to a more descriptive "Graft, greed, mayhem turn Honduras into murder capital of world".

The subtitle of the article is: "An unholy alliance of cops, crooks, prisoners and politicians has turned the nation into a shooting gallery." The article relates some of what everyone in Honduras is afraid to say — that some of the officials promoted and transferred to the upper echelons of the police department on November 1 by Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla and approved by President Pepe Lobo are suspected to be among the most corrupt and are rumored to have narcotrafficking connections.

"But Herald sources say those tapped to head the department have some of the worst reputations in Honduran law enforcement and are notorious for taking bribes, ordering hits and offering protection to drug traffickers."

The article includes some specific examples of how police investigations are sabotaged by higher level officials. My comments are in italics in brackets:

"One intelligence agent recalled being on a stakeout of a clandestine drug landing strip when he was called by a colonel and redirected to a location three hours away to check out a tip that turned out to be bogus. When he returned, the drug plane had come and gone. [Though narcoplanes and drugs have been captured many times in Honduras, to my knowledge, no narcotraffickers have ever been captured in these raids.]

“You write a report, give it to your boss and then realize it was him who was committing the crimes,” a military intelligence investigator told The Herald. “I have friends who are criminals and hit men. It’s the police, the army, the security ministry — it’s not just police or armed forces. It’s even prosecutors.” ["Friends?" Is this part of the problem? ]

Maria Luisa Borjas"That was the case with María Luisa Borja [photo], the former head of police internal affairs who was sidelined eight years ago after repeatedly denouncing high-ranking police brass.

“The minister of security took away my gas budget so the cars couldn’t move. I started paying my own gas,” she said. “So he took my car.”

"Eventually her office was stripped of files and she was suspended for leaking information. The people she accused of murder and evidence-tampering were promoted, one of them to vice minister of security."

Coralia Rivera[Coralia Rivera (photo), now second in command in the police department, 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 the murderers remain in impunity.]

"Another ranking police investigator told The Herald he discovered that his supervisor allowed members of the special forces squad to double as bodyguards for drug traffickers. That supervisor is now a commissioner, the highest rank in the police department.

“Maybe the ratio of honest to corrupt in the police is 10 to 1. But it doesn’t help that nine are clean if the one who is dirty is in charge,” the investigator said. “In this country, bosses are named to specific posts with the purpose of facilitating the entry and exit of drugs.” [Some say the ratio of 'good cops' is more like 6 out of 10, but in my opinion, a cop who covers up for a dirty cop is just as guilty.]

The Miami Herald names more names:

Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, National Director of Honduran police"The most controversial name in law enforcement is Commissioner José Ricardo Ramírez del Cid [photo], the newly named director of the National Police."

[As I reported previously, Honduras' Iron Lady, Julieta Castellanos, whose son was murdered by police, made some damning comments about Ramírez del Cid including, "If something happens to me it is the fault of the police, primarily señor Ramírez del Cid, because there is no one more interested in something happening to me.... and no one more knowledgeable about corruption in the police since he was the former head of Intelligence."]

Honduran police guarding top cop[You may remember that Ramirez del Cid was also the police official who, when summoned for questioning about the release of police officers accused of murdering two university students, showed up at the Prosecutor's office with 20 armed police lining the hallways, in what appeared to be an effort to intimidate the prosecutors.]

"The head of the police department’s internal affairs unit said there are at least four cases and multiple boxes of reports against Ramírez, involving allegations such as abuse of authority that have never been probed.

“I was surprised when he was named, because I saw people of higher rank who were passed over and I thought, ‘why weren’t those people named? What’s happening here?’ ” said internal affairs commissioner Santos Simeon Flores. “We are going to reactivate those cases. We really shouldn’t have cases up in the air like that.” [Internal Affairs no longer exists and has been replaced by a new separate civilian organization [Dirección de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial — DIECP] which will have it's own budget and investigators. It remains to be seen whether this organization will be as incompetent, underfunded, and sabotaged as Internal Affairs was previously. Indications so far are not good. Under Santos Flores, the internal affairs organization failed to complete the majority of investigations for years on end, submitted only a small percentage of its cases for prosecution, and produced almost no results, certainly none among mid- to higher level police.]

The prison system is part of the corruption:

"In Honduras, managing prisons is one of the most lucrative jobs in the hierarchy of the National Police. Inmates pay bribes for everything from phones to freedom and are let out to commit more crimes at the behest of their captors, people familiar with the practice say." [In some cases, the practice of letting prisoners out to commit other crimes has been proven to be true when the inmate is killed or captured while committing a crime outside the prison walls. Other than that, there is no way to determine how frequently this happens. There have been recent cases in which we are told that the inmate (from the maximum security prison no less) had a "pass" signed by a judge and prison officials would have "violated the law" if they had not abided by the judge's orders, though they mentioned the possibility that the release orders may have been falsified. We were promised a thorough investigation. No further mention was made in the media and apparently the judges in question had no comment.]

Danilo Orellana"Prisons director Danilo Orellana [photo] insisted he has cleaned up the jails and that escapes, murders and crime are all on the decline, despite widespread overcrowding and a lack of resources. He said he had heard rumors that Pinot was sometimes let out, but denied that prisoners regularly go on drug runs." [More on Pinot in the next article. About once a month we read of raids within the prison and see photos of confiscated weapons, cell phones, and drugs which could could only be entering the prison grounds with the collusion or incompetence of prison guards.]

“I can tell you that during my term, it isn’t happening. The jails have changed a lot,” Orellana said. “I put my hand on the fire for myself. I do my things correctly.” [More on that in the next article.]

Now that this information has been published, the Honduran newspapers are reprinting the article, mostly without editorial comment so far. There have been no responses from police or government officials yet.

Please read my next article about the murder of one prisoner:

Celin Pinot, murdered to cover up criminal police activity?

Read the entire Miami Herald article here:

Graft, greed, mayhem turn Honduras into murder capital of world

The article is also available in Spanish here:

La corrupción de las autoridades ahoga a Honduras

Please also read this background story about Miami Herald reporter Frances Robles' trip to Honduras after one of her sources was killed.

The dangers of being a Honduran whistleblower
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