funding for the Honduran police and military has in fact increased
every year since the coup
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.
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 push back about human rights issues in Honduras.
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 October 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
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 congress members, are themselves
allegedly interlaced with organized crime, drug traffickers, and
those accused of extrajudicial killings.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frank is a professor of history at the University of California,