In Honduras, military takes over with U.S. blessing



It’s widely known that the Honduran police are corrupt, thoroughly enmeshed in organized crime, drug trafficking, and extrajudicial killings. But rather than clean them up, the current government of President Porfirio Lobo — itself the product of an illegitimate election after the military coup that deposed President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009 — has now, ominously, sent in the military to take over policing on a massive scale.

The United States, meanwhile, is pouring funds into both Honduran security forces, countenancing a militarization of the Honduran police that has long been illegal here at home, while dismissing Congressional pushback about human rights issues in Honduras.

The Honduran police are, indeed, corrupt almost beyond belief. According to a top Honduran government commission, only 30 percent of the police are currently “rescuable.” In Octber 2011, police killed the son of the rector of the nation’s largest university, and one of his friends. The national director of police, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, is an alleged death squad leader from 1998-2002, and the Associated Press has recently documented ongoing death squad-style killings.

President Lobo and the Honduran Congress clearly lack the political will to clean up the police, in large part because top political figures, including judges, prosecutors, and congressmembers, are themselves allegedly interlaced with organized crime, drug traffickers, and those accused of extrajudicial killings.

Now the government’s answer is to send in the military. In direct violation of the Honduran constitution, which explicitly forbids military participation in policing, over the past three years Lobo has gradually extended “temporary” militarization of law enforcement. Military personnel now routinely and randomly patrol neighborhoods in the large cities, much to residents’ alarm, and control the country’s prisons. Most alarmingly, on August 22, the Congress created a new “hybrid” military police force which will immediately contract 5,000 new officers that it promises to have on the streets by early October.

The dangers of this militarization are clear. Soldiers are trained to track and kill a hostile enemy. Successful policing, by contrast, depends on,respect for local communities and citizens’ legal rights, careful handling of evidence, and the use of minimal force. In the United States, military involvement in policing has been banned since 1878.

In Honduras, military involvement in law enforcement has already proven deadly. On May 26, 2012, soldiers chased down, shot and killed a 15-year old boy who had passed through a checkpoint, and their officer ordered a high-level coverup. On July 15, the military shot and killed Tomás García, a nonviolent indigenous activist at a peaceful protest.

A driving force behind this militarization is Juan Orlando Hernández, the ruling party candidate for president in Honduras’ upcoming presidential election on November 24, who has promised to protect Hondurans with “a soldier on every corner.” Yet he himself supported the military coup that deposed President Zelaya, and this past December, while he was president of Congress, led the so-called “technical coup,” in which the Congress illegally deposed four members of the Supreme Court and named their replacements the very next day.

In the polls, though, Hernández is far behind the front runner, Xiomara Castro Zelaya, the wife of deposed President Zelaya and the leader of a new opposition party, LIBRE, that arose out of massive popular opposition to the coup.

As Honduras hurtles toward its elections, the State Department has yet to denounce the military takeover of policing. U.S. funding for the Honduran police and military has in fact increased every year since the coup. The U.S. Embassy has yet to speak publicly about the killing of at 16 LIBRE activists and candidates since June 2012, or the concerted pattern of repression of the political opposition since the coup.

Nor has the State Department denounced the military takeover of policing. U.S. funding for the Honduran police and military has in fact increased every year since the coup.

A year ago, under Congressional pressure, the State Department did withhold funds to National Director of Police Bonilla under the Leahy Act, which bans U.S. funding of security forces that have committed human rights abuses. But it has not otherwise implemented the Leahy Act, and the U.S. Embassy now admits that it continues to work closely with Bonilla, although in March Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield announced it had “no contact” with him.

Congressional opposition to U.S. support for the Lobo government, however, continues to mount. In June, 21 senators, including top leadership, sent a letter to Secretary of State Kerry expressing alarm over human rights abuses by U.S.-funded police and military. In July, the House of Representatives held a bipartisan hearing to investigate human rights abuses in Honduras.

The Obama administration should heed the voices in Congress and stop funding Honduran state security forces immediately. It should denounce the militarization of the Honduran police, distance itself from the corrupt Honduran government that has promoted it, and do everything it can to ensure a free and fair election in November.

Dana Frank is a professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    RPOF’s deliberate strategy to twist the truth

    As a lifelong Republican and a legislator for many years, I have seen a disturbing change in the Republican Party of Florida, its policies and its tone. I’m particularly troubled by the willingness, if not deliberate strategy, to twist the truth.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">CIVIL RIGHTS:</span> Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the State Highway Patrol after arriving in Missouri on Wednesday to look into the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the ensuing protests.


    State leaders strangely silent on events in Ferguson

    The silence scares me.



    Unequal access, unequal results at Miami-Dade County Schools

    The research is clear that teachers are the most significant in-school factor affecting student achievement. Yet, across the country, we see a persistent and shameful pattern, whereby low-income students of color are far more likely to have the least experienced and least effective teachers.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category