Honduras Police Skirting US Aid Restrictions

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Despite conditions that say otherwise, US aid may still be supporting police units supervised by Honduras’ controversial police chief, who has been accused of multiple extrajudicial killings.

In August 2012, US Congress froze security aid to Honduras because of concerns over allegations of extrajudicial killings and the appointment of Juan Carlos Bonilla, known as “El Tigre,” as chief of police.

Most of that funding was later restored after the US and Honduras agreed to a range of conditions and restrictions over who would receive the money. While Bonilla is not mentioned by name in that agreement, the US Congress has stated none of the money would go to units operating under his command.

However, all police units are legally required to be directly supervised by the police chief — something which happens in practice as well as in theory, according to the officials and experts consulted by the AP.

When the AP asked the director of one of the programs funded by US money if he answered to Bonilla, the official replied, “I only report to the director general [Bonilla]. All of the programs of the Honduran police are directed personally by him. He has a personal and intense closeness to all projects of international cooperation, especially because of his good relationship with the US Embassy.”

The government official in charge of negotiating the aid program with the United States, Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, denied the claims, saying that all security programs carried out with the United States fall under the control of the defense and securities ministries.

Bonilla has been accused of three extra-judicial killings and implicated in 11 more deaths and disappearances. He was tried and acquitted for one of the murders.

InSight Crime Analysis

Under US law, the State Department is required to vet security forces for human rights abuses before they can receive funding. The US Secretary of State is also required to provide evidence to Congress that the recipient country protects freedom of expression and investigates and prosecutes all military and police personnel accused of human rights violations.

As many of the countries with serious security problems are often plagued by institutional weakness and corruption, this has sometimes led to complex aid agreements with a string of conditions designed to ensure the money does not end up in the hands of corrupt or abusive units.

However, as the case in Honduras shows, laying down the conditions for aid is not enough. It is also the responsibility of the United States to monitor the situation on the ground and to ensure restrictions are genuinely observed, especially in a country like Honduras where a corrupt police force is one of the country’s most pressing security problems.

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