Police Scandal in Honduras Could Lead to Even More Militarized Policing

Police Scandal in Honduras Could Lead to Even More Militarized Policing
Military police outside of a juvenile detention center where clashes broke out, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Jan. 15, 2015 (AP photo by Fernando Antonio).

Documents recently released by Honduran newspaper El Heraldo revealed what many Hondurans had long suspected: the presence of a hit squad within the police tasked with carrying out assassinations of law enforcement officials.

In December 2009, Honduras’ anti-drug chief, Gen. Julian Aristides Gonzalez, was killed in his car in front of his daughter’s school in the capital, Tegucigalpa. His assassination came just days after he revealed the discovery of clandestine airstrips in Olancho, the country’s largest department and a hub for drug trafficking. His associate and former head of the anti-narcotics commission, Gustavo Alfredo Landaverde, was killed two years later after he accused the police of being infiltrated by criminal elements. The documents produced by El Heraldo, followed by a report in The New York Times, implicated high-ranking police officials in their murders—a fact known to police investigators within weeks of Gonzalez’s murder. The documents also exposed a major cover-up perpetrated by high-ranking police officials.

Multiple security ministers and police chiefs—including one notorious chief, Juan Carlos Bonilla, who was accused by the police’s internal affairs unit in 2002 of working with the Los Magnificos death squad—reportedly received the investigation files and actively suppressed them. Another former police chief, Ramon Sabillon Pineda, claimed that some of the leaked documents had been faked and some individuals framed, and that the real details of the scandal would implicate military officers and politicians as well. Last Friday, the government announced that more than two dozen police officers had been fired in a purge. Sabillon, who was replaced shortly after dismantling the powerful Valle Valle cartel, was suspended.

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