Almost $3 million has been spent on police reform in Honduras in the past two years, a sum that has brought few results, as highlighted by a recent drug money smuggling case pointing to police complicity.
Honduras has submitted 4,349 police to confidence tests — including polygraphs, drug tests and psychological assessments — reported La Prensa. (See La Prensa’s graphic illustration below) The results of these tests are disputed. Security Minister Arturo Corrales recently claimed 400 police have been removed from their posts. The newspaper says official statistics show only seven police have been dismissed.
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Meanwhile, Honduras’ Attorney General Oscar Fernando Chinchilla has ordered a complete investigation and restructuring of the country’s Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DLCN). The order came in response to a recent seizure of $7.2 million in drug cash by Panamanian authorities, which was flown into the country from the Toncontin airport in Tegucigalpa. Honduran police and airport staff were thought to have been complicit in the case.
Ruben Martel, the head of the investigation unit of Honduras’ National Police, also announced the suspension of 25 agents from the country’s border police who were working at the Tegucigalpa airport, bringing the total number of suspended personnel in the case to 32 — including two anti-narcotics agents, reported La Prensa.
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In addition to the continued failure to fire Honduran police agents who have failed confidence tests, cases like that in Panama serve as a clear indication that the millions of dollars pumped into police reform have not been used effectively.
The latest overhaul announced by the attorney general indicates some effort is being made to address the kind of weaknesses that allowed such a large quantity of illicit cash to leave the country. If Chinchilla follows through on his promise, it could help weed out corruption in an important unit of Honduras’ police force.
It remains to be seen, though, what will happen under the incoming administration. Juan Orlando Hernandez, who will step into office on January 27, has promised to adopt a “mano dura” (iron fist) approach to crime, which is likely to favor the increasing militarization of security. However, this is not a sustainable solution to the problem of a rampantly corrupt and ineffective police force, and Hernandez will likely have to confront the reform issue head on.
Yet with the reform effort becoming highly politicized and witnessing pushback from police themselves, there is little room for optimism it will achieve all that is needed.