Honduras has created an elite force to keep tabs on former police officers purged from the security services for suspected criminal activity, but there are reasons to fear it may be compromised by an alternative agenda.
This force will work together with the country’s police reform commission, set up in 2016 to identify and remove corrupt officers from the police service. The new unit’s purpose will be to follow up on these dismissed officers to ensure they do not turn to organized crime, La Prensa reported.
At the time, President Juan Orlando Hernández hailed the reform commission as the country’s most ambitious attempt at cleaning up its notoriously troubled law enforcement institutions. In the three years since its creation, it has dismissed 5,775 police officers, according to La Prensa.
But a series of scandals and setbacks have compromised the police reform commission. In July 2018, La Prensa reported that dozens of officers remained active in the police despite having been allegedly fired for a range of crimes, including drug trafficking. In October of that year, the Attorney General’s Office exposed a cattle trafficking ring in which active policemen collaborated with former officers who had been dismissed from the ranks.
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It is unclear what the role of the new force will truly be. Will it genuinely be used to monitor former officers to help them stay away from a life of crime? Or will it be used to conduct witch hunts and go after those involved in police protests?
Following up on the activities of dismissed police officers is a positive step for police reform in Honduras, given the frequent problem of corrupt and unemployed former officers turning to crime full-time. But the timing of this move is suspicious, as Hernández has recently clashed with active police officers.
In June 2019, members of Honduras’ special forces went on strike to demand better working conditions. Although some members of the group denied that the strike had broader political motivations, others claimed that it reflected a refusal to participate in repression on behalf of the government. This followed two months of public protests against the government, during which the police force was accused of violently repressing protesters.
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In a counterclaim, officials said the strikes had been organized by dismissed officers with ties to crime after recordings came to light of expelled policeman Aldo Oliva communicating with some of the strikers by telephone. Oliva is allegedly the head of a group known as the Organization of Retired Policemen (Organización de Policías Retirados – OPR), which Honduran intelligence officials claim is responsible for deliberate acts of social and political destabilization.
These accusations are used to delegitimize strikers and threaten them with expulsion for criminal complicity, El Libertador reported.
Separately, this new force marks the continuation of a curious trend. Hernández has now created three specialized police squads, following the launch of an urban transport protection unit in March and a school protection unit in July. The Honduran police now contains 17 separate units, according to El Libertador.
Although the country has had some success in reducing homicides in recent years, it’s worth questioning whether Hernández’s government is creating new police forces as a knee-jerk reaction to social problems, rather than investigating more innovative solutions.