Honduras calls in the police - from Chile

Lauded as among the best police institutions in Latin America, Chile's Los Carabineros are helping Honduras, one of the most troubled countries in the region right now.

A version of this post appeared on the blog jbriski.wordpress.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

A delegation of three Carabineros de Chile – Inspector General Samuel Cabezas, Colonel Juan Carlos Castro, and Lieutenant Colonel Sergio Alarcón – arrived in Honduras on Sunday. They will remain in Honduras for a week, visiting training centers and consulting with top officials of the Honduran national police force, members of Parliament, and Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.

La Prensa reports that the Congress of Honduras has proposed an initiative to create a similar police unit (in Spanish), la Policía de Carabineros de Honduras. While los Carabineros de Honduras would not replace the current police force, it could help strengthen the fight against crime in the murder capital of the world.

Upon their return to Chile, the delegation will prepare a report for President Lobo, detailing their observations and providing policy recommendations. This is an important step in the on-going process of cleaning up the Honduran police force as part of a more comprehensive plan to help promote security and stability, which is discussed more thoroughly by Christopher Looft at InSight Crime.

Of all of the national police forces in Latin America, los Carabineros de Chile are probably the best choice for this mission. They aren’t perfect (what group comprised of human beings is?), but los Carabineros are well known for beating the stereotypes of Latin America. Many people from Chile consider los Carabineros to be incorruptibles, or impossible to corrupt, because los Carabineros are adamant about enforcing the rule of law.

For instance, bribing los Carabineros is almost unheard of in Chile, in part because the general perception is that you would be arrested immediately. A 2008 report by AmericasBarometer Insights at Vanderbilt University, “Corruption Victimization by the Police”, indicated Chile had the lowest level of police corruption in Latin America.

A more recent report by the Vanderbilt team, "The Political Culture of Democracy in Chile, 2010″ (in Spanish), states that, at the time of the study, los Carabineros were one of the most trusted institutions in Chile.

In contrast, Elyssa Pachico reports for InSight Crime on popular perception of police corruption in Honduras. "According to one poll by the Central American University, over two-thirds of Hondurans believe the police are corrupt, and 77 percent percent blame President Porfirio Lobo for the current crisis," Pachico writes.

It’s worth noting that los Carabineros de Chile have been criticized recently for several incidents of police brutality related to the various popular protests. They have lost a measure of public trust and respect for their use of force in shutting down protesters – including the death of a protester in August 2011.

While police brutality (defined here as undue or unprovoked violence toward citizens) is never justifiable, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Edward Fox explains the unique dynamics that define the Honduran challenge.

"In both Brazil and Honduras, the police are deeply embedded in the very criminal structures they are tasked with dismantling," Mr. Fox writes. "But while Brazil has taken on a hugely ambitious (and to some degree, successful) project at police reform, Honduras is smaller, poorer, more politically troubled, and far more important as a transit country for the shipment of cocaine. All this will make police reform in Honduras a far more difficult task."

The specific areas in which los Carabineros de Chile will be advising President Lobo include drug trafficking, organized crime, extortion, killings, kidnappings, and car theft. Despite the previously mentioned critiques, los Carabineros de Chile are a good choice to help Honduras in these areas.

Because at this point, police handling of popular protests would probably be the least of Honduras’ worries.

--- Jackie Briski is a Latin Americanist and author of the blog cuando asi no sea.

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