This article first appeared in the print edition of the Voice in March 2013. We resuscitate it three years later because of the recently renewed national and international spotlight on police corruption in Honduras. Honduras is in the midst of its second police “purification” campaign in five years. In the article, then chief of the National Police Juan Carlos Bonilla repeats the line we have heard from some talking heads on Honduran TV in recent days that police corruption is a matter of a “few bad apples” (“No nos tiren todos en el mismo saco.”) However, according to recent reporting in the Honduran press and the New York Times, Bonilla as national chief of police in 2012 was given files implicating senior police officials, including two of his predecessors in the job, in contract killings on behalf of drug lords and did nothing about it. We leave it to readers to draw their own inferences from the content below with the benefit of three years’ hindsight.
Honduran National Police Chief Juan Carlos Bonilla (aka El Tigre) promised increased support to fight rising crime on the Bay Islands during a two-day visit to Roatan in February. He also gave out his personal cell phone number (9758-1730) and encouraged citizens to report police malfeasance directly to him.
Bonilla, while acknowledging corruption in the police, asked people not to “throw us all into the same sack.” He said the “culture” in which police seek handouts from the community needed to be changed. But he said, “Our institutions are good. We need to change the people. We need to change attitudes.”
Concretely, Bonilla broke through the bureaucratic logjam and ordered on the spot that 12 tourist police be assigned to the newly restored station house in West End that police vacated last April (see December Voice). Sources confirmed police were back on duty there the next day. Later, at a meeting in Punta Gorda, Bonilla promised eight additional police, including two detectives, for Roatan’s East End. He told the community to keep a close eye on them to assure they produced results were not corrupted by the drug trade.
The Punta Gorda community committed to build a station house for the new police.
Bonilla began his visit, accompanied by Vice Minister of Security Marcela Castañeda, with a meeting at Plaza Mar with Roatan business and community leaders. Roatan Mayor Julio Galindo and Bay Islands Governor Shawn Hyde urged participants to “tell it like it is” to the visitors, who said they were there to listen.
Rosa Danelia Hendrix, president of the Federation of Bay Islands Village Councils (Patronatos), told them the islands were “inundated” with crime and corruption and “spiritually lost.” She called for better pay for police, judges and prosecutors and for police who are committed to and understand the community and who fear and love God.
Raul Mendoza, president of the patronato for Monte Placentero (Los Fuertes), said that his community needed a larger police presence and that the cost of paying for the electricity at the existing station was becoming “impossible to sustain.”
Castañeda said the Ministry of Security was evaluating the needs of the Bay Islands and other tourist areas of the country in an integrated manner, with support from international donors.
Zoila Yolanda Villeda, a city councilwoman from Colonia Policarpo Galindo, asked what needed to be done to get a police station for the La Colonia neighborhood, where a man had been murdered the night before the meeting.
Samir Galindo of the Tourism Chamber (Canatur) said the islands needed more English-speaking police.
Russ Summerell said Roatan Rotary Club had acquired equipment to implement a 911 emergency line on Roatan but needed cooperation from Hondutel.
A judge assigned to Roatan called for better police infrastructure and specifically to construct decent holding facilities on the island for women and for minors.
Judges and prosecutors also said the public needed to collaborate by reporting crimes to the police and noted recent success against some armed robbers that had been terrorizing the East End.
At an evening meeting with the community in Punta Gorda, where people were still mourning the December murder of a popular school teacher, several speakers said crime in the area had grown out of control due to a conspiracy of fear and silence that they vowed to redress. Speakers asserted the community had been peaceful before 2009, when they said eight people were killed in a drug war. Since then the death toll had risen to 15 as the area became engulfed in narcomenudeo (drug dealing).
One woman asked pointedly why police couldn’t stop drug dealing that was happening out in the open for all to see. Bonilla instructed Raul Martinez, commissioner of the National Police on the Bay Islands, who was attending the meeting, to get him an answer to that question.
Other speakers, however, including a cousin of the murdered teacher, applauded Martinez and the police on Roatan for their recent support.
(Lea este articulo en español)