In Honduras, military takes over with US blessing

Source: Miami Herald

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 voted for 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.

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