Honduras police commander Juan Carlos Bonilla, "El Tigre"

A revealing interview with Honduras' police chief has illustrated the bind the United States finds itself in when fighting the drug trade in collaboration with Latin American governments and institutions, where corruption is endemic.

Juan Carlos "El Tigre" Bonilla, who is accused of running death squads ten years ago, today runs a force accused of similar crimes, and is so feared within Honduras that "few dare speak his name above a whisper," reports the Associated Press.

However, in an eight-hour interview with the AP, Bonilla spoke repeatedly of his close relationship with the US diplomats working in the country. The US government is his "best ally and support," he said. The notion that US aid money only went to Honduran police units not under Bonilla's direct command, as claimed by US Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield last March, was dismissed by the police chief, who said there were no units beyond his supervision.

Off the record, a US aide to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who led efforts to attach human rights conditions to US aid, said diplomats had to talk to a lot of people they did not like: "As far as his saying the US is his biggest ally in counter drug operations, our ally is Honduras, not the chief of police."

InSight Crime Analysis

Perhaps most revealing in the AP piece is a comment from Arabeska Sanchez, founder of Honduras’ University Institute for Peace and Security who taught a younger Bonilla as a professor at the National Police Academy. When Honduran authorities were deciding who to appoint as police chief in 2012, Bonilla “was the only top police commander without known links to organized crime,” said Sanchez.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Police Reform

Indeed, the two police chiefs who predated him were both fired after being accused of overseeing murder within seven months of each other. Crime and corruption are rife within the force and attempts at reform have floundered. This is to be expected in a country where institutions are notoriously weak and the profits available from the drug trade so high.

The reality is that if the United States wants to conduct and assist counternarcotics efforts in Latin America it has no option but to work with at best partially compromised security institutions. It is, as the Bonilla case illustrates, often a choice among the least worst option. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.