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Lobo: Seized Drug Cash Should Fund Honduras Security Forces

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said more of the cash seized from drug traffickers should be distributed more quickly among the security and defense departments.

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A revised law allowing the Honduras government to better seize criminal assets was passed just over a year ago, and authorities are still having trouble implementing it efficiently.

Lobo told La Tribuna that there should be a policy allowing for the separation of cash assets from material ones like houses, guns, and other luxury items. The forfeited cash could then be distributed far more quickly to security agencies, to spend in their campaign against organized crime.

According to a law introduced in July 2010 and approved by Congress in November, three government ministries would each receive 26 percent of the forfeited criminal assets: the State Security Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the Public Ministry. Another 10 percent is intended to be used as "bonus" salaries for police and firemen, and the remaining 10 percent is earmarked for drug rehabilitation programs.

But the distribution of these seized assets to the security forces has faced layers of red tape. Last year security forces seized three properties worth tens of millions of dollars, believed to have been built with drug money. By December, the government had distributed a reported 0 million to the security forces, but this was only made possible through an emergency decree that sped up the process.·

In September, the government announced they may create a new office intended to make implementing the law easier. Honduras is seeking new sources of funds for the fight against organized crime, and even briefly considered levying a significant security tax.

Allowing the Honduran security forces to more efficiently access the cash seized from drug traffickers could provide a serious financial boost. As the U.S. State Department points out, Honduras is a transhipment hub for bulk cash shipments smuggled from the U.S. back to Central and South America. In 2009, Honduran security forces seized cash shipments valued at $7.1 million, with another $9 million seized in 2010.

But little of that money is going into the hands of the security forces. The government has reportedly only distributed $2 million and 35 million lempiras (about $1.8 million) worth of seized cash to state insitutions between 2003 and 2011.

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