Honduras: Military Intelligence Behind Assassinations, Tortures, and Forced Disappearances


A demonstrators carries a sign reading “JOH, our dead are on your conscience” during the Honduran women’s day march in central Tegucigalpa, Jan. 25, 2017. Source: Heather Gies

As a complement to the important reporting from the AP about the involvement of highest-level Honduran police tied to Juan Orlando Hernández in drug trafficking, here is my translation of an interview from Radio Progreso from a few days ago, Inteligencia militar está detrás de asesinatos, torturas y desapariciones, dice excapitán de las Fuerzas Armadas:

The ex-captain of the Armed Forces, Santos Orellana Rodríguez, says that active intelligence and counterintelligence units are currently receiving direct orders from President Juan Orlando Hernández.

He confirms the open secret that the institution has its own group that carries out the dirty work of eliminating people, and creating chaos in this country. “If at this moment you were to interview the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he would tell you the opposite, he’ll say I’m a liar, that I am angry at the institution, but I tell you the truth about what has taken place within the institution,” Rodríguez asserted.

Captain Orellana Rodríguez was dishonorably discharged [AQP added link] from the military for having mentioned publicly that the president’s brother, Congressmember Antonio “Tony” Hernández, was being investigated by the DEA for drug trafficking, and denounced that Congressmember under investigation had used official airplanes to transport drugs.

In an interview with Radio Progreso (RP), Captain Santos Orellana Rodríguez (SOR) spoke of the actions of the Armed Forces during the current political crisis and the role they have played in the JOH [Juan Orlando Hernández] government.

RP: Do the Armed Forces participate in acts of vandalism and repression or not?

SOR: Each act of vandalism, each act of repression is planned by the Armed Forces. Remember that the Armed Forces is an institution with its own hierarchy and planning strategy; they know when they will attack and then know when they will provoke. I am not at all surprised, and I can assure you that every act of vandalism, everything that has taken place, buildings being burned and all that, has been provoked by counterintelligence in the Armed Forces.

RP: How does military intelligence operate?

SOR: The Armed Forces are in charge of intelligence in Honduras. They created an intelligence agency of the State but the Armed Forces themselves operate it. Coronel Germán Alfaro is the national director of intelligence, he has been investigated for drug trafficking, he has been investigated for abuse of authority and human rights abuses. The gringos were investigating him for the death of a boy in Tocoa.

RP: What is your opinion of the Armed Forces that you belonged to?

SOR: The Armed Forces are a noble institution that serves society, but at the present moment our Armed Forces are not serving the people. Anyone would be justified in asking why we have Armed Forces- to carry out repression, to terrorize people in the streets, to teargas people, to create chaos, because all of this is planned by military intelligence and counterintelligence. In all the protests there are 30 or 40 intelligence agents marching alongside protestors, and they are the ones provoking confrontations with the police.

RP: Who is making decisions in the Armed Forces?

SOR: The problem is that the commanders of the Armed Forces lack the necessary character, they don’t have the will to come out with the people and serve the people. What the commanders are doing is serving the president. That’s why I insist that as long as the Armed Forces answer to the executive branch they will continue to be corrupt. For example, who’s facing a crisis now? The president. Who is chief of the Armed Forces? The president. Who is the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff going to take orders from? The president of the republic.

RP: Selective repression, assassinations, kidnappings, tortures–how do they happen?

SOR: The planning process within the Armed Forces has its own goals, and they know perfectly what they are, and if they are listening to this interview they know the truth. They pick their targets, the majority of [assassination] cases that have happened in the country have been carried out by the Armed Forces.

Demonstrators carry crosses with the names of the victims killed in the political crisis, mostly at the hands of state forces, during a protest against military brutality, Comayagüela, Dec. 20, 2017. Source: Heather Gies

RP: Which ones, for example?

SOR: There are a bunch of examples, like what happened in the Marriott, and what happened on the coast- I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it had been planned by the armed forced because they want to make it look like it is the Alliance that is hurting the country, not the government. Situations like this have happened, where people who were disappeared show up dead. We can’t blame drug trafficking or gangs anymore. What is happening in this country–the problems of poverty, the lack of education, the lack of medicine, the insecurity, they blame gangs and drug trafficking.

RP: Are there paramilitary groups within the intelligence agency that are dedicated to carrying out targeted assassinations, kidnapping and torturing?

SOR: We expect this to happen, and within the institution all these groups exist. You understand that in all of this is the “dirty work” of intelligence and counterintelligence.

RP: What do you mean by “dirty work”?

SOR: It’s no secret. It’s an open secret that the institution has its group that carries out the work of eliminating people, of creating chaos, of doing this and that, it’s planned and carried out by the Armed Forces. If in this moment you were to interview the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he will say it’s not true, he’ll say I’m a liar, that I’m angry at the institution, but I tell you the truth about what has taken place within the institution.”

RP: And does the chief of intelligence know this?

SOR: Yes, they are in charge, they control those groups, they’ll say they don’t exist, but they control them.

RP: How do they control them, do they give the orders directly?

SOR: They give the orders directly, who else could be in charge of a group dedicated to such things?

RP: How do they operate?

SOR: The way they operate is that they pick their targets. For example in my case they have wanted to get me, but unfortunately for them I am not afraid of the Armed Forces, I know how they operate. I am not afraid of gangs because I never got caught up with them and I’m not afraid of drug traffickers because I never took their money. So the only institution that would go after me is the Armed Forces.

RP: How do they pick a target?

SOR: Okay so they say let’s eliminate this leader because [s/]he’s creating problems for us, and once we get rid of that sort of person the others will be afraid, scared, intimidated, all that. It’s a delicate theme – there needs to be a thorough investigation and that will never happen in a government like this one. Honestly I tell you this even though it pains me to say it- the Armed Forces will not be audited or investigated for their role in everything that has happened in this country, the disasters that have taken place, the murders that the Armed Forces have committed, none of this will be investigated by this government. Tell me who they answer to: they answer to the government, they answer to the president of the Republic, they are his arms, he is the one who controls them.

RP: What do you propose?

SOR: The Armed Forces and the police should not be beholden to the executive branch of power; they should pertain to the legislative branch. One of the issues being negotiated at this moment is that the noble institutions of the Armed Forces and national police should not be beholden to a politician, but rather should answer to the legislative branch, and there will be plenty of opinions about this.

RP: How do you explain the campaign to disparage social leaders?

SOR: That is the work of the Armed Forces intelligence group. I was within the institution for 23 years and I feel proud of having been part of it, and I am ashamed, honestly, of what the government is using it for now.

RP: What do they hope to achieve with this?

SOR: They are trying to disparage and discredit the people, the alliance, the people who are fighting for this nation, that is what they hope to do – single them out as the ones who are creating terror in Honduras.

RP: Is it possible to become a millionaire in the Armed Forces?

SOR: There is one thing I can tell you for certain: all of the officers who are millionaires, it is because they are mixed up in drug trafficking or another kind of illicit business. All of those who go to the military Academy, at least 95% of us come from families with few economic resources and we enter the military academy because we don’t didn’t have another option, to go to the university or to earn money to survive.

RP: And with regard to sabotage, how does that work?

SOR: We are trained. We study sabotage. What can we make happen, what can we harm, where is the Achilles’ heel of the people where we can harm them, sabotaging media stations that in fact belong to the people. What happened with Radio Progreso, that is part of the work of the Armed Forces, the Armed Forces did that, no one can tell me they didn’t, that it was the politicians, because the ones who studied how to do that are those of us in the military.

RP: Which countries provide support to military intelligence?

SOR: There are frequent trainings from Colombia and the United States. Colombia went through its drug trafficking problem, and the government problems, the saying that has happened here in Honduras. They implement their intelligence and counter intelligence, and so we copy them. The problem is that we copy what they tell us to do.

RP: What is the relationship between the presidency and military intelligence?

SOR: It’s a pawn of the president. All of the orders have to be carried out because they come from the president. Right now the president can call the chief of intelligence, he can call a battalion commander, he can color Lieutenant, he can collect soldier directly. He doesn’t have to go through anyone Else in the chain of command because he is the commander of the Armed Forces. As long as this doesn’t change, the country won’t improve. The repression will continue, and the cycle of violation of human rights and death will continue. These are the secrets of state that we all know about.

Translation by Adrienne Pine.

Reprinted with permission.