The Militarization of Policing in Honduras

Source: Honduras Culture and Politics

Late December 5, the Honduran Cabinet, in a session without the participation of Porfirio Lobo Sosa, approved a decree declaring an emergency of public security for 90 days, enabling the Honduran military to officially assume police powers as soon as La Gaceta publishes the decree.

The initial 90 day period can be extended.

Ana Pineda, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, argued against the 90 day period, urging that the public security emergency last no more than 30 days. Pineda stated that the measure might have repercussions for Honduras in the international community. She expressed concern that the military still have no actual training on policing or human rights.

In response to Pineda, the Security Minister, Pompeyo Bonilla, said:

“We live in reality; we need the presence of the armed forces in the streets if we think about the human rights of the most poor of Honduras….the first thing we give a soldier who is going onto the streets is a brochure (cartilla) on human rights.”

And what if the soldier cannot read the booklet, as many are functionally illiterate?

Lobo Sosa did not participated in the Cabinet meeting, because he was in Mexico, but he approved of the outcome.

He also approved of the new wiretapping law, stating December 6 that

“We want to explain that the law is totally constitutional.”

and that the new law

“will be a powerful instrument against organized crime.”

He also pointed out that there were already people in the country with wiretapping capabilities (not legal ones) and argued that the new law will strengthen sanctions against them.

In a meeting the same morning called by Juan Orlando Hernandez, president of Congress, that most notably did not include the Minister of Justice and Human Rights Ana Pineda, he reported that participants unanimously thought the wiretapping law was a good idea. Pineda, of course, came out against the specific revisions to the law as potential human rights violations, but she was ignored yet again.

International news coverage, in a predictable repetition of their failure to understand the context for everything happening in Honduras, publicized the militarization of policing as an essentially positive move. The BBC wrote that “opinion polls suggest people feel safer with soldiers on patrol”, ignoring the human rights issues raised.

The only voice mentioned against the move was UD member of Congress Sergio Castellanos, not identified by role or title, who said

We have serious doubts about the implications of sending the army to do police work… They are not prepared to deal with civilians and this will only strengthen their position in society after the coup.

As the Eurasia Review explains in an analysis published December 11, the coup is the context not just for this surge in involvement by the military in domestic affairs: it also has led to a drop in Hondurans’ support for democracy as a political system. They note that the population in places like Honduras seems “willing to overlook an administration’s democratic lapses to achieve domestic security.”

Eurasia Review cited a Latinobarómetro poll discussed in The Economist in late October that found that the number of Hondurans who agree that democracy is the preferable form of government fell from 57% in 2001 to 43% today, falling a full 10 points just from last year’s proportion of 53%. Explicit support for authoritarian government rose from just 8% in 2001 to 16% in 2010, and is now at 27%.

None of this context seems to make it into the mainstream English-language media. Public opinion in Honduras should be treated as a sign of the erosion of a free society– not an acceptable mandate for militarization.