Authorities in Honduras have suspended two former national police directors as well as 25 officers for their alleged involvement in the murder of the country’s anti-drug czar in an investigation that threatens to expose the extent of state collusion with organized crime.
In an April 21 press release, a special commission set up to purge corrupt officers from Honduras’ National Police ordered the suspension of two former police directors, Ricardo Ramírez del Cid and Ramón Sabillón, while they are investigated for the 2009 assassination of General Julián Arístides González, who at the time was the country’s top anti-drug official.
That same day, current National Police Director Félix Villanueva informed the special commission that 25 officers implicated in the scandal had also been suspended, reported La Prensa.
The suspensions follow a report last week by the New York Times, which was based on documents from Honduras’ Inspector General’s Office of the Security Ministry that named top ranking police officials allegedly involved in the murder. According to the documents obtained by the Times, Ramírez del Cid and another ex-police director, José Luis Muñoz Licona, organized the killing of Arístides González in 2009 and González’s one-time adviser Alfredo Landaverde two years later.
The police directors, as well as the 25 officers who were recently suspended, are being investigated for allegedly working for a criminal organization known as the Atlantic Cartel. The cartel was allegedly led by a man named Wilter Blanco. Investigators believe Blanco ordered the assassination of Arístides González as payback for thwarting an attempt by the drug trafficker to have police steal a cocaine shipment some five months earlier.
Following the Times report, both Ramírez del Cid and Muñoz Licona denied involvement in the murders.
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Although the investigation has already reached into the upper echelons of the Honduran police, it is unlikely to stop there. As the New York Times points out, the official documents suggest a systematic cover-up that transpired over the course of several years and included government officials outside the police ranks.
“There was a type of pact of silence,” Honduran journalist Thelma Mejía told the Times. “These files passed through various police chiefs and they did nothing. They were known by various security ministers and they did nothing.”
A potential wildcard in the ongoing investigations are the Honduran drug traffickers currently in US custody. Several Honduran drug capos have either been extradited or have handed themselves over to US authorities in the last few years, and they could be providing information on corrupt officials.
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Among those in US custody are the heads of the Cachiros drug trafficking organization, who were known to have contacts in the military and police prior to their arrests. These individuals may be a particularly illuminating source of information for US officials with regards to the current case — a Honduran law enforcement official told InSight Crime that Winter Blanco was believed to have been working for the Cachiros at the time of Arístides González’s murder. The official added that Blanco is thought to be operating in the Mosquitia region on Honduras‘ remote northeastern coast, an area once controlled by the Cachiros.
At the request of the special commission on police reform, the US Embassy in Honduras recently shared information it has gathered on corruption and human rights abuses within the police ranks and any further intelligence obtained by US authorities may well also be passed on to their Honduran counterparts.