Honduras - Intelligence and Security Agencies
Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. The country last held national and local elections in November 2017. Voters elected Juan Orlando Hernandez of the National Party as president for a four-year term beginning January 2018. International observers generally recognized the elections as free but disputed the fairness and transparency of the results.
The Honduran National Police (HNP) maintain internal security and report to the Secretariat of Security. The armed forces, which report to the Secretariat of Defense, are responsible for external security but also exercise some domestic security responsibilities in a supporting role to the HNP and other civilian authorities. Some larger cities have police forces that operate independently of the HNP and report to municipal authorities. The Military Police of Public Order (PMOP) report to military authorities but conduct operations sanctioned by civilian security officials as well as by military leaders. The National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA) coordinates the overlapping responsibilities of the HNP, PMOP, National Intelligence Directorate, Public Ministry, and national court system. Although FUSINA reported to the National Security and Defense Council, it did not have an effective command and control infrastructure. As a result, civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; killings of and threats to media members by criminal elements; criminalization of libel, although no cases were reported; widespread government corruption; and threats and violence against indigenous, Afro-descendent communities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. The government continued to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but a weak judicial system and corruption were major obstacles to gaining convictions.
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. In general the killings took place during law enforcement operations or were linked to other criminal activity by government agents. Civilian authorities investigated and arrested members of the security forces accused of human rights abuses. Impunity, however, remained a serious problem, with significant delays in some prosecutions and sources alleging corruption in judicial proceedings. The Public Ministry reported 307 arbitrary or unlawful killings by security forces during the year 2019, of which 34 cases were dismissed, 103 resulted in convictions, 87 resulted in fines, and 83 were still under investigation at year’s end.
Organized criminal elements, including local and transnational gangs and narcotics traffickers, were significant perpetrators of violent crimes and committed acts of homicide, torture, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking, intimidation, and other threats and violence directed against human rights defenders, judicial authorities, lawyers, the business community, journalists, bloggers, women, and members of vulnerable populations. The government investigated and prosecuted many of these crimes, particularly through the HNP’s Violent Crimes Task Force.
Between approximately 2003 and 2020, multiple drug trafficking organizations in Honduras and elsewhere worked together, and with support from certain prominent public and private individuals, including Honduran politicians and law enforcement officials, to receive multi-ton loads of cocaine sent to Honduras from, among other places, Colombia and Venezuela via air and maritime routes, and to transport the drugs westward in Honduras toward the border with Guatemala and eventually to the United States. For protection from law enforcement interference, and in order to facilitate the safe passage through Honduras of multi-ton loads of cocaine, drug traffickers paid bribes to public officials, including certain presidents, members of the National Congress of Honduras, and personnel from the Honduran National Police.
Honduras is located between North and South America with coasts in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. This strategic geography makes Honduras attractive to organized crime groups wanting to link drug producers with drug consumers using land, air and maritime trafficking routes.
Public Security Force (FUSEP)Honduras returned to a democratic and constitutional state in the early 1980s and by 1997 as part of the transition from separating police forces from military police forces, the Public Security Force (FUSEP) passed to civilian control during the presidency of Carlos Roberto Reina. In 1998, then President Carlos Roberto Flores along with the National Congress of Honduras approved the new organic law that establishes the new Honduras National Police. The Public Security Force (Fuerza de Seguridad Publica — Fusep), the fourth major component of the armed forces, is responsible for maintaining public order and protecting private property. Police units were first created in Honduras in 1882, and a traffic division was established in 1933. When the PLH, led by President Ramon Villeda Morales, came to power in 1957, a Civil Guard was created to assume police functions. The Civil Guard, however, appeared to military leaders to pose a direct threat to their political influence and interests. After the 1963 coup that brought Lopez Arellano to power, the Civil Guard was disbanded and replaced by an army-dominated Special Security Corps, which took over all major police functions. The Special Security Corps was organized into small detachments throughout the country with responsibility for regulating transit, patrolling the border, and investigating criminal activities. Once they had gained control of police functions by absorbing the Civil Guard, the armed forces attempted to restore to police units a certain measure of independence. Although army officers controlled the Special Security Corps and later Fusep, which replaced the Special Security Corps in 1973, political reasons led the armed forces to distance themselves from the police. During the 1970s, military leaders such as Lopez Arellano benefited from the perception among peasants that the armed forces were progressive and bent on implementing land reform.
Although Fusep continued to be controlled by army officers and was formally subordinate to the Ministry of National Defense and Public Security, by the early 1980s it had its own general staff and separate organizational structure. Fusep had regular-line police units and an investigative unit that is now called the National Directorate of Investigation (Directorio de Investigation Nacional - DIN). DIN was formed in 1976 and became heavily involved in the campaign to quell internal subversion and unrest. Fusep came to be viewed by the armed forces as the primary instrument for dealing with internal security problems. However, some military officers felt that Fusep was staffed with unsophisticated and sometimes brutal personnel, and they worried about the effect on their national image of too-close an association with Fusep.
In 1993 Fusep was made up of 5,500 active-duty personnel, making it the second largest service branch after the army. It is organized under a director general with commands for counternarcotics, traffic police, treasury, logistics, and the DIN. The DIN is made up of departments for criminal identification, intelligence and immigration, and a police laboratory. The traffic command is responsible for vehicle registration and inspection, licenses, traffic control, and investigation of accidents. A directorate of operations controls two special services squadrons (El Machen and Casamata); the Morazan signal squadron; police stations; and a technical and tactical police department, which includes an elite counterinsurgency battalion, the Cobras. In addition to their antiguerrilla activities, the Cobras have also been used against labor unions, populist organizations, and student activists. The infamous Battalion 3-16, which was created in the early 1980s to function as a clandestine countersubversive force and which has been linked to the disappearance and extrajudicial execution of hundreds of Honduran civilians, is believed to be under Fusep authority.
National Police / Policia Nacional
Honduras police services, including national security, crime prevention and criminal investigations are the responsibility of the National Security Office (NSO). Headed by the Secretary of State, NSO provides national law enforcement services through the Honduras National Police, called ‘Policia Nacional’.
As President of the Republic, Don Marco Aurelio Soto, an agreement was issued and regulation of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, by means of which the creation of the Police, which became effective to exercise its duties on January 15, 1882. The Police was organized into a commander, a deputy commander, an assistant, four sergeants and five policemen and it was called "Line Police", today it is known in Tegucigalpa as Headquarters Metropolitan No. 1 and in San Pedro Sula as Metropolitan Headquarters No. 2.
During the government of General José María Medina in 1866, the "Rural Police Law" was decreed where there were inspectors who had the powers of the Justices of the Peace and which was later renamed "Gendarmerie Corps". From the year 1930 the "Investigative Police" was created, which was later renamed "Nationalof Criminal Investigation".In 1933 the "Traffic Police" was born and in 1959 the National Police disappeared and in its placeA paramilitary body with police functions called "Civil Guard" was created.
The Honduran National Police was the uniformed body responsible for maintaining order and public safety as well as preserving the application and compliance of the law in Honduras. Being the police institution at the national level, the National Police maintained jurisdiction and presence in the 18 departments of Honduras, currently operating with 18 departmental headquarters and two metropolitan headquarters (Central District and San Pedro Sula). Under these entities operate regional headquarters, municipal headquarters, headquarters of fixed or mobile stations, police posts and posts; creating an infrastructure of some 360 physical facilities around the country.
The Honduran National Police was originally established on January 5, 1888 during the presidency of Marco Aurelio Soto. Over the next 70 years, the National Police grew, expanding its body and new divisions arise such as the creation of the National Directorateof Criminal Investigation in the 1930s. When Honduras entered a military state in the 1950s, the National Police was eliminated and became the Civil Guard, a paramilitary body with police functions.
The failed coup attempt of July 12, 1959, against then-President Ramón Villeda Morales, by Colonel Armando Velasquez, who then had support from the Police and some military. Velásquez's frustrated asson, Villeda Morales created the Civil Guard, a body that from the beginning had frictions with the Army that even led to violent events in which police and military were killed. The enemies of Villeda Morales, who at the end of his term was overthrown on October 3, 1963 by then-Colonel Oswaldo López, used the pejorative name 'Black Army' to refer to the Civil Guard.
The existence of the Civil Guard was also one of the pretexts for the military to overthrow Villeda Morales, once leader of the Liberal Party and who died in 1971. López's de facto regime immediately dissolved the Civil Guard and created the Special Security Corps (CES), which years later became the Public Security Force (Fusep), always under the command of the military, although in 1993 the fearsome National Directorate of Investigation (DNI) was dissolved
The policemen had military doctrine and practices. The transfer of the police to the civil aegis in 1998 was not strong enough to demilitarize the force. The organic law of the police passed and the one that came ten years later, they collected many militaristic remnants, which created a big problem, because the force responsible for citizen security had always been militarized. One of the big challenges is to demilitarize the police,'
Honduras returned to a democratic and constitutional state in the early 1980s and by 1997 as part of the transition for separating police forces from military police forces, the Public Security Force (FUSEP) passed under civilian control during the presidency of Carlos Roberto Reina.
The National Police is a dependency of the Secretary of Security under the superior commandof the Minister of Security and under the general execution of the Director General of the National Police. Currently, the National Police has six divisions within its organization, These are the National Directorate of Preventive Police (DNPP), the National Directorate ofCriminal Investigation (DNIC), the National Directorate of Special Investigation Services(DNSEI), the National Directorate of Transit (DNT), the National Directorate of Services Preventive Specials (DNSEP) and the Police Education System (SEP). These organs are headed by their respective National Director Commissioner.
The Honduran National Police is based in the capital city of the country and is also the fourth largest police force in Central America in terms of employed members (above Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Belize) and is the sixth largest in terms of number of inhabitants by police (per capita); surpassing only Guatemala. In 2010, the Secretariat de Seguridad operated with a budget of Lps 3,129,454,629 (US$165 million), the National Directorate of Preventive Police, the central body with the highest expenditure,reaching Lps. 1,333,687,852 (US$ 70 million).
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) Model Police Precinct (MPP) program emphasizes community engagement and crime prevention using intelligence gathering, targeted investigations, hot spot policing, and community involvement. The primary goal is to achieve a significant reduction in violent crimes, particularly homicides, and to reduce the influence of organized gangs such as MS-13 and Barrio 18 in communities. To promote intelligence-led policing, INL supports the nationwide expansion of the Honduran National Automated Case Management Information System (NACMIS) and other critical communication networks for the Honduran National Police. During 2018, more than 57,500 arrests were made using NACMIS information. INL supported the expansion of NACMIS to 507 terminals located throughout the country including three border crossings. NACMIS is now the primary record management information system supporting Honduras National Police (HNP) operations nationwide.
DEA Special Operations Division Special Agent in Charge Wendy Woolcock and United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman announced 30 April 2020 that Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, aka “El Tigre,” was charged in Manhattan federal court with conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, and related weapons offenses involving the use and possession of machineguns and destructive devices.
“Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares allegedly used his high ranking position to influence those working for him and violently protect the politically connected drug traffickers who would smuggle cocaine destined for the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge Woolcock. “As alleged, this was a blatant and horrific violation of the oath taken by Bonilla Valladares to protect the citizens of Honduras. The filing of these charges is another positive action taken by the United States to bring corrupt officials to justice.”
“Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, the former chief of the Honduran National Police, allegedly abused his positions in Honduran law enforcement to flout the law and play a key role in a violent international drug trafficking conspiracy,” said U.S. Attorney Berman. “As alleged, on behalf of convicted former Honduran congressman Tony Hernandez and his brother the president, Bonilla Valladares oversaw the transshipment of multi-ton loads of cocaine bound for the U.S., used machineguns and other weaponry to accomplish that, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy. Now Bonilla Valladares has been marked as an outlaw and charged with crimes that could send him to a U.S. prison for life.”
Bonilla Valladares was a member of the Honduran National Police between approximately 1985 and approximately 2016. During his tenure, he held high-ranking positions, including regional police chief with authority over locations in western Honduras that were strategically important to drug traffickers, and chief of the Honduran National Police for all of Honduras between approximately 2012 and approximately 2013. Bonilla Valladares corruptly exploited these official positions to facilitate cocaine trafficking, and used violence, including murder, to protect the particular cell of politically connected drug traffickers he aligned with, including Hernandez Alvarado and at least one of Hernandez Alvarado’s brothers, who is a former Honduran congressman and the current president of Honduras.
In or about July 2011, Bonilla Valladares participated in the murder of a rival drug trafficker at the request of Hernandez Alvarado and others because the rival trafficker had attempted to prevent Hernandez Alvarado and other members of the conspiracy from transporting cocaine through a region of western Honduras near the border with Guatemala. Claiming to investigate the murder at the time, Bonilla Valladares reportedly told a member of the media, in substance, that the murder was a well planned surprise attack that had been carried out efficiently and that the perpetrators had cleaned the murder scene thoroughly. Bonilla Valladares reportedly added that the perpetrators of the murder had used 40-millimeter grenade launchers, M-16 assault rifles, and Galil assault rifles. The latter two types of weapons were issued by the Honduran government to some members of the Honduran National Police.
The Honduran government is implementing a well-defined road map to overhaul and professionalize the HNP. Since April 2016, the Special Commission for the Purging and Restructuring of the Honduran National Police (Purge Commission) has recommended the dismissal or provisional suspension of just over 6,000 corrupt, criminal, or otherwise ineffective police officers. The HNP plans to build a force of 26,000 officers by 2022, (its current force numbers approximately 17,500).
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