Bad Cop, No Dollar

June 13, 2013

Yet another investigative report from the Associated Press’ Alberto Arce reveals more details on the extent of corruption within the Honduran police. Arce describes how a recent U.S.-funded program aimed at cleaning up the Honduran National Police ended in dismal failure:

One by one, hundreds of police officers were called to a hotel in the capital and subjected to polygraph tests administered by Colombian technicians funded by the U.S. government. “Have you received money from organized crime?” they were asked in a series of questions about wrongdoing. “Have you been involved in serious crimes?”

Nearly four of every 10 officers failed the test in the first five months it was administered, some giving answers that indicated that they had tortured suspects, accepted bribes and taken drugs, according to a U.S. document provided to The Associated Press.

Then, despite the clear indications of serious wrongdoing, the police cleanup effort went nowhere.

By April of this year, the Honduran government said it had dismissed a mere seven officers from the more-than-11,000-member force, a vivid illustration of the lack of progress in a year-old effort aided by the U.S. to reform police in a country that’s swamped with U.S.-bound cocaine and wracked by one of the world’s highest homicide rates.

Some of the seven officers have since been reinstated, the minister of public security told congress.

Arce notes that recent efforts to purge the police forces of dirty cops were opposed by “dozens of officers [who] simply refused to accept a mass polygraph exam, seizing a police building until the government backed down” after 1,400 of them were suspended last week and told to take the test.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has apparently suspended support for the program, with AP citing State Department officials as saying the suspension happened in March.

Arce’s report is complemented by a National Public Radio update from correspondent Carrie Kahn who notes that

Most agencies collude with organized crime or use the institutions for their own political power and wealth, a situation many say has increasingly worsened since the 2009 coup that ousted the left-of-center president.

Last year, the U.S. Congress held up funding to Honduras over concerns of alleged human rights abuses and corruption, particularly in the Honduran police force. Part of the funds are still on hold.

As AP revealed, and we blogged earlier this year, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield seems to have misled Congress regarding this support, suggesting that somehow U.S. funds are going to “vetted” police units outside of the control of Police Director Juan Carlos “El Tigre” Bonilla, himself suspected of death squad activity a decade ago. But as AP noted, Honduran officials say that naturally, as National Police Director, all police officers are under Bonilla’s command.

A New York Post article yesterday suggests that it is also Brownfield who was responsible for preventing a U.S. State Department investigation into a joint DEA-Honduran police counternarcotics operation in Ahuas, Honduras over a year ago that resulted in four villagers – including a pregnant woman and a 14-year-old boy – being shot to death, and several others wounded. Survivors and witnesses say the State Department-titled helicopters used in the operation opened fire on the victims’ boat. The surviving victims and family members still await a U.S. investigation and any sort of apology or compensation from the U.S. government.

Citing a State Department document leaked to the Post by “State Department inspector general investigator [turned] whistleblower” Aurelia Fedenisn, the Post reports, “The memo says an agent interviewed William Brownfield, the assistant secretary for international narcotics and law-enforcement affairs, ‘who reportedly was not forthcoming and gave the impression’ that State ‘should not pursue the investigation.’”

It remains to be seen whether Brownfield himself might become the subject of an investigation for the lack of the Ahuas probe, and for misleading Congress about U.S. support for death squads in Central America.

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