Bonilla’s New Role Raises Questions for U.S.-Funded Police Trainings in Honduras

Source: Security Assistance Monitor

Honduras’ former police chief, who was dismissed amidst allegations of involvement in death squads, has been working as the country’s police attaché in Colombia, raising questions about his potential role in U.S.-funded trainings for security forces in Honduras.

According to Honduran media, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla was named to the post four days after being removed as head of Honduras’ National Police last December by former President Porfirio Lobo. Although President Lobo never disclosed the reasons behind Bonilla’s removal, many speculate it was linked to international indignation over reports Bonilla had participated in death squads and presided over other extrajudicial killings. He had been charged with an extrajudicial murder in 2002, but was later acquitted.

As Honduras’ police attaché to Colombia, Bonilla could support Colombian efforts to train Honduran security forces, which is being funded by the United States. In recent years, the United States has ramped up public and financial support for Colombia security forces to export their “know-how” throughout the region, particularly to Central America and Mexico.

These trainings touch on everything from asset forfeiture to intelligence to drug interdiction. Honduras has been one of the most eager participants in the program, with 1,737 police and military personnel trained in 2013, second only to Mexico for that year.

In March of 2013, Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said the United States would not offer “neither a dollar nor a cent” to Bonilla over human rights concerns. He also claimed the United States would not work with officials reporting to Bonilla directly or those two levels below his post. Bonilla later dismissed Secretary Brownfield’s claims in an interview with the Associated Press, saying that all Honduran police units were under his command and that the United States was his “best ally and support” at the time.

Although it is unclear exactly what Bonilla’s involvement could be in Colombia’s trainings, it would be concerning if he was involved in crafting curriculum and helping select Honduran students for Colombia’s trainings. It appears the State Department does not oversee or even approve the curriculum Colombian security forces use in their trainings to other Latin American countries.

Given the charges made against Bonilla and the United States’ reluctance to work with him during his tenure as head of one of the region’s most corrupt police forces, Bonilla’s potential part in Colombian’s trainings to Honduras merits further investigation.