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Latin America Blog

Dim forecast for security in Honduras in 2012

Despite Honduran efforts to promote police reform and check organized crime, the country has become a major transit point for cocaine, and the future of its democratic institutions looks bleak.

By Geoffrey RamseyGuest blogger / January 4, 2012

Journalists demonstrate during a protest against the murders of their counterparts outside the Presidential house in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, December 9, 2011. 17 journalists have been shot dead in Honduras since 2010, making the small Central American nation one of the world's most dangerous places for reporters, according human rights groups.

Danny Ramirez/Reuters

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Every New Year’s Eve, many Hondurans publicly burn “año viejo” figures made of papier maché and cardboard, which are commonly made to look like the evils of the past year. In an indication of just how much the population has been affected by the recent surge in crime, El Heraldo reports that this past Dec. 31 saw an unusually large number of organized crime-related figures being burned in the streets of Tegucigalpa. Because “año viejo” figures are often meant to convey some kind of commentary on current events, many of them resembled police officers, a reflection of the widespread corruption within the Honduran police force.

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Unfortunately, this symbolic act was tempered by another, equally revealing sign of Honduras’s deteriorating democracy. According to La Prensa, several of these figures were confiscated by police before they could be set ablaze. Despite a call by the director of the National Police for officers to respect citizens’ right to free speech, many seized año viejo figures they deemed particularly offensive, telling their creators that they were an affront to the police force as an institution.

Such incidents are perfectly in keeping with the reputation of Honduran police. In addition to having been accused of cooperating with drug trafficking organizations in some cases, the Honduran National police claim to have “lost” thousands of confiscated weapons, many of which have ended up on the black market.

In response to the widespread police corruption, President Porfirio Lobo has vowed to clean up the institution. In the meantime he has succeeded in convincing Congress to allow the military to take on policing responsibilities. But while the Honduran armed forces have a cleaner reputation than the police, they have baggage of their own. According to a US diplomatic cable leaked last spring by WikiLeaks, members of the military sold light anti-tank weapons to criminal organizations in Mexico and Colombia.

What’s more, it isn’t clear whether Lobo’s commitment to systematically rooting out corrupt police amounts to more than lip service. The Lobo administration framed the November arrest of 176 police officers on charges of connections to kidnapping plots and drug trafficking as part of a national crackdown on police corruption, when, in fact, they were all assigned to the same police station in Tegucigalpa. This is the station where police are suspected of having murdered two university students, meaning that their arrest was likely more related to the case than part of a nationwide purge of the country’s 11,000 police officers.

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