Monday, February 20, 2017

Police Corruption Abounds in Honduras

A criminal gang of Police in Honduras have continued to serve since 2003 when they're names became known in an investigation about a group running guns to the FARC in Colombia.  Several are now or have been high ranking Police executives.

On July 6, 2003, then Congress person Armando Avila Panchamé was arrested while fleeing the crash of a drug trafficking airplane in Olancho.  The plane had landed on the ranch of Ramon Matta, son of the Honduran drug lord with the same name who was arrested and extradited illegally to the US in 1998.  Panchamé was arrested along with 10 others.  The vehicle he was driving had attracted police interest because it had been seen a few months earlier near Arenal, Yoro, at the scene of another drug plane crash.  After his arrest, Panchamé waived his immunity, and was tried and convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.  He was shot to death by another prisoner in prison less than a year later.

Panchamé was the second National Party Congressperson in a month to be arrested for drug trafficking that year.

Also in 2003, Police officer Exequial Antonio Estrada Izaguirre sent a report to the head of the Police Investigative unit, Coralia Rivera de Coca, detailing the misbehavior of a number of his fellow officers in Monjaras, Choluteca.  It seems Inspector Leonel Enrique Matute Chavez was stopped along the road there and his vehicle was found to contain more than a hundred weapons of various calibers to be sent to Rodrigo José Londono, in Colombia, to pass into the control of the FARC.  The arms were being sent by Panchamé to a drug plane that was to land in Choluteca to exchange them for money.

This report listed their high level contacts in the police used by Panchamé:  Ramirez del Cid, Napoleon Nazar, somebody Sauceda, somebody Sabillon, all of whom were present when the drug plane landed in Choluteca, so that nothing would go wrong if the Honduran police or DEA found out. These names should be familiar to you from previous posts about police involved in crime organizations.  All of them have multiple accusations of criminal involvement in known cases in Honduras, yet all of them have continued to rise in the Police ranks.

A confidential US State Department memo at the time concludes that Avila Panchamé was "offered up" as a sacrificial lamb "in an effort to demonstrate to the US the GOH's commitment to combating drug trafficking and corruption at the highest levels" much as the Valle Valle and Rivera Maradiaga were for the current government.

The police investigation has remained open and there are entries in the file through 2016, but it remained buried in police files until this year, along with evidence that someone tried to have the files expunged during the last few years.  Three of them became the Police Commissioners before retiring. Ten have been either removed through the Police cleanup process or suspended.  Two more were caught in criminal situations and removed.  But 15 of them remain active in the police.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

UN Concerned New Criminal Code Violates Human Rights

President Juan Hernandez is urging the Honduran Congress to pass his package of reforms to the penal code, saying that opposition to them is just politics.  Among those are changes to the law so that the Police and Military have immunity from being prosecuted for the use of force, and another change that criminalizes protests as terrorism.  Needless to say the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR)  has grave concerns about three of the changes.

First the OHCHR is concerned about changes to the definition of terrorism in Article 335 of the Codigo Penal.  The changes adds to the paragraph on terrorism:
"Apply the penalties from the preceding article to those who as individuals or as part of a criminal organization of any type, that seeks to assume the powers that belong to the State such as taking territorial control, the monopoly on the legitimate exercise of the use of force by the different institutions of criminal justice, causing fear, putting in grave risk, or systematically and indiscriminately affecting the fundamental rights of the population, or any part of it, the internal security of the State or the economic stability of the country."

For those who haven't been paying attention, every Honduran government since the coup has asserted that protests such as the Torchlight Marches were violating the fundamental rights of the population because protesters blocked the streets.  The change in the law criminalizes as terrorism protests against the government.  The OHCHR agrees, and suggests that the law make a more narrow definition of terrorism:
"The UN has shown over and over the necessity for the States to limit the application of anti-terrorism measures to the field of acts of authentic terrorism, as specified in the Doctrine, comparing practices in laws, and the Special Relator of the UN for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental liberties in the struggle against terrorism in 2010."

The OHCHR also has concerns about the changes to Article 222 of the Penal Code referring to extortion.  They point out the new law, as written, strengthens the penalty to 20 years to life in prison.  This ignores the Honduran Supreme Court guidance that calls for a penalty that is proportional to the harm caused called for in their review of the proposed law.  The Honduran Supreme Court also indicated in their review of this proposed change that it felt that increasing the penalty would not significantly serve as a deterrent to lower the incidence of extortion.  Furthermore, the law defines extortion as terrorism, which for the OHCHR is just wrong.  Extortion is never, per se, automatically an act of terrorism.  Such an equation breaks the spirit and international norms in the struggle against terrorism. It significantly restricts the processual and penal guarantees violating the principles of necessity and proportionality through the way it restricts the rights of the accused and prisoners, the OHCHR concluded.

Finally the OHCHR suggests that changing the law to create impunity for law enforcement officials who use use their weapon in the line of duty need to be reconciled with a respect for human rights.  As article 25 is modified to read, law enforcement officials would have immunity from prosecution any time they fired their weapon in the line of duty.  The OHCHR points out that this creates a situation of impunity for officials who resort to the arbitrary excessive use of force, perform extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearance, and so on.  The OHCHR goes on to point out that if they approve this reform, they will be in violation of international treaties and norms to which the government of Honduras is signatory.

So naturally, the National Party is all for said reforms.  PAC, PINU and Libre have come out opposing the reforms, and elements of the Liberal Party are split on supporting the package of reforms, with a final vote set for Tuesday.

Indigenous Leader Murdered

An Indigenous leader and pre-school teacher of the Tolupan in Honduras was murdered yesterday by five unnamed attackers in his home in the Montaña de la Flor community of La Ceiba.  José de los Santos Sevilla was a son of recently deceased leader Tomas Sevilla.

Sevilla was active in the community in bringing electricity and a hospital to Orica, and in maintaining the Tolupan beliefs.  The Mayor of Orica, Rosy Alexander Rodgrigues, said that the La Ceiba band was the most advanced [modernized] of the Tolupan bands of the Montaña de la Flor.

Jose de los Santos Sevilla is the first Tolupan leader from Montaña de la Flor to be murdered according Rodriguez.

The Public Prosecutor's office dispatched a team to investigate the murder.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Drug Runners Vouch for the Corrupt in Honduras

Its a case of those linked to the drug trade vouching for those linked to corruption.  Today Security Minister Julian Pacheco Tinoco said that he would keep Police Commander Felix Villanueva in his post as head of the Honduran civilian police force.

Pacheco Tinoco has been linked by a DEA informant's testimony in a trial of Colombian drug runners to the drug trade.  The informant identified Pacheco Tinoco as the person he talked to to assure the safe transhipment of a cargo of narcotics ultimately headed to the United States.  Speaking about keeping Villanueva in his post as Police Commissioner, Pacheco Tinoco said:

"This was never in doubt.  He's always been at 100 percent.  We have 100 percent confidence in him; we believe in him."

This is not completely a surprise however.  When Villanueva presented his personnel file for review, he used three lawyers who advise the Minister of Security as his personal references.

Felix Villanueva, on the other hand, based on an investigation by the Direccion de Investigación y Evaluación de la Carrera Policial (DIECP), has an amassed wealth that he cannot explain.  They accuse him of illegal enrichment in a report.  In fact, they accuse 29 police officers of having amassed wealth they cannot account for.  Three of the high level officials alone, including Villanueva, amassed 27.7 million lempiras ( about $1.35 million ) that they cannot account for.  The report, DECC-EP-92-2012, states that Villanueva alone has 2.3 million lempiras ( about $115,000 ) that he cannot account for.  That report dates from 2012, five years ago. This report was submitted to the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas, which has never acted on it.

Several of the officers identified as having amassed wealth they could not account for have been fired from the Police, but not Villanueva, who was allowed to continue as Police Commissioner even after it was revealed that Villanueva himself ordered that police personnel files be cleansed of all accusations of abuse or corruption, including his own personnel file.  This came to light because though he filed paperwork stating he had no complaints, the Public Minister's Investigation Police force (DPI in Spanish) still had records of such complaints and produced them.  This is another case that languishes in the Public Prosecutor's office.  It has not been investigated.  Villanueva has not been asked to make a statement.

So the drug runners are now vouching for the corrupt in the Honduran government of Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Seventh Arrest in Murder of Bertha Cáceres

Honduran Police from the Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal (ATIC) announced that they have arrested a seventh person in connection with the murder of environmentalist Bertha Cáceres in Honduras last March.  Henry Javier Hernandez Rodriguez, a former member of the Honduran military, was traced to Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, where he was working in a barber shop.  We first learned his name last May, when the Public Prosecutor met with representatives of the Consejo Cívico de Organizacion Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH).  At that time he was identified as having participated in the murder of Cáceres, but had not yet been located.  Hernandez Rodgriguez is currently being held by Mexican police, but is expected to be sent back to Honduras as early as tomorrow.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Honduran Security Minister implicated in US Drug Trafficking Trial

Honduran Security Minister, retired General Julian Pacheco Tinoco, was implicated as being part of a Honduran government drug trafficking ring by a DEA informant according to testimony provided by US Federal Prosecutors at the trial of Efrain Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas.

Efrain Campo Flores and Franqui Francisco Flores de Freitas are the nephews of Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores.  They have been charged in federal court with conspiring (i) "to import five or more kilograms of cocaine into the United States from a foreign country", and (ii) "to manufacture or distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine knowing and intending that it would be imported into the United States."

The two defendants who were arrested in Haiti had sought to suppress some of their post arrest statements to the DEA and prosecutors.  Some of that evidence was about an October, 2015 meeting between a DEA informant, now deceased, identified as CW-1, and one of the nephews to discuss bringing planes with drugs into Honduras from Venezuela.  A DEA Special Agent, Sandalio Gonzalez, testified that CW-1 was unable to record the meeting, but provided photos showing the two Venezuelan nephews meeting with CW-1 and others.  Agent Gonzalez gave recording devices to two more DEA informants in Honduras, identified as CS-1 and CS-2 and urged them to travel to Venezuela to talk with the nephews and "to record all conversations, negotiations, and discussions of drug trafficking or money laundering".  CS-1 and CS-2 met with the nephews in Caracas, Venezuela, 4 times during October 2015.  A 3rd informant, CS-3 met with them in Honduras in November 2015 to discuss flight logistics and recorded that meeting.

Informant CW-1, known as "El Sentado" because he was confined to a wheel chair, was killed in Honduras in December 2015, shortly after the nephews were arrested.   Informant CS-1, José Santos Peña,  is known as "The Mexican" because he was posing as a representative of the Sinaloa Cartel.  Their co-defendant, Roberto Jesus Soto Garcia, a Honduran, was recorded negotiating the logistics of handling plane loads of cocaine in Honduras. 

Informant CS-1 is José Santos Peña, a Mexican drug trafficker who used to work for the Sinaloa cartel.  Informant CS-2 is his son.  In 2000 Santos Peña was arrested by Mexican authorities and turned over to the DEA, where he turned informant and was working from 2003 to 2016 for the DEA.  During the trial of Campo Flores and Flores de Freitas, Santos Peña testified that he had received around $750,000 from the DEA, and a further $300,000 from other agencies.  At one point, Informant CS-1 was asked during the trial about Julian Pacheco Tinoco:

Prosecutor:  In your work as a DEA informant did you meet with with someone called Julian Pacheco Tinoco?
CS-1:  Yes sir
Prosecutor: In what country did you know Mr. Pacheco Tinoco?
CS-1: In Honduras.
Prosecutor:  Do you know if he has a position in the Honduran Government?
CS-1: Yes sir
Prosecutor: What is that position?
CS-1:  Minister of Defense of Honduras
Prosecutor:  How did you know him?
[At this point the defense lawyer Randal Jackson objected, but the judge denied the objection]
Prosecutor:  How did you know him?
CS-1:  I knew him through the son of the ex president of Honduras, Fabio Lobo.
Prosecutor:  Were you meeting with Mr. Lobo as part of your work as a DEA informant?
CS-1:  Yes sir.
Prosecutor:  What was your meeting with Mr. Pacheco about?
CS-1: It was so that he could give me help to receive shipments from Colombia to Honduras.  He was in charge of a part of the security in Honduras.
Prosecutor:  What type of shipments?
CS-1:  Cocaine.

The Prosecution presented evidence that Campo Flores had deleted a chat session and contact information on his Samsung phone with Pacheco Tinoco. Informant CS-1 also admitted on the stand to lying to the DEA, not telling them about visits to prostitutes and continuing to traffic in cocaine for himself, for which he and his son were sentenced to life imprisonment.

On November 21, 2016, the two nephews were found guilty.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Incompetent Design, Failed Implementation

Another multi-million dollar project funded by international agencies has failed in Honduras, the Trans-450 high speed bus service for Tegucigalpa.  This project, funded by Interamerican Development Bank (BID in Spanish) and the Central American Bank of Economic Integraion (BCIE in Spanish) was supposed to create high speed buses along major avenues in Tegucigalpa.  Originally it was to be completed and in service by 2015.  Today the promise is maybe 2018, if the major obstacles can be overcome.  In reality the multi-million dollar project is all but abandoned.

In 2011 the Honduran Congress passed Decreto 77-2011, a bill that said it would make Tegucigalpa a city with a world-class high speed bus system. At the time only 33  world cities had such a high speed bus service.  The project was to be financed by a BID loan approved in December 2010.  This loan only financed the first of the 3 phase development/deployment plan.  The project oversight committee, established in the enabling legislation was supposed to seek other outside funds to supplement the BID money to finish the project.

The Trans-450 was a high-speed bus project similar to the high speed buses in Mexico City.  These long, articulated buses would run in lanes only they could use along major avenues in the city, and would reportedly remove hundreds of buses from regular traffic.  The project was expected to server 117,000 riders daily.  Ricardo Alverez (National Party) was its chief proponent.

 In early April 2014 Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo Alvarez inaugurated the first phase of the project promising residents that by June of that year they would be able to ride the first articulated bus in Honduras.  He said that about half of the money available through BID had been spent on the project so far.  (Inversiones Multiples de Transporte (INVERMUT), the newly formed company created to operate the system, to whom the Honduran Congress granted an 18 year exclusive contract, said that the 21 buses needed to operate the system would arrive in mid April of that same year.
All of that was a lie.  Nothing happened for the next year and a half.  Why?  Supposedly they lacked the funding to continue, which in itself is weird because in 2013 the BCIE had granted a $10 million loan to the government of Honduras for phase 3 of the project.  Alvarez had noted at the inauguration of Phase 1 that only half the BID funding had been spent to date.  BCIE also mentions in their English language page on the funding that the project was also partially funded by the OPEC Fund for International Development, never mentioned in the Honduran press coverage.

Despite the failure of the buses to materialize, or service to begin on the phase 1 part of the project  inaugurated in April, 2014, the City council of Tegucigalpa none-the-less signed an 18 year exclusive concession with INVERMUT that October that among other things, guaranteed INVERMUT a certain level of income, to be made up with Public funds if the ridership was below a certain level..

The buses never started running on Phase 1 of the project because the finalization of that part of the project, the building of access bridges to the stations, the purchase of the buses, etc. couldn't be done until other technical problems were solved.

Phase 3 construction started in 2015, when phase 2 construction was also underway, but phase 1 was never actually finished, or put into service as intended.  Technical issues prevented the construction of a bus parking area, or central terminal.  No bridges had been installed for pedestrians to get to the bus stops located in the center of busy avenues.  No plan had been done for handicapped access, and hence no ramps or elevators had been contemplated.  No one had planned to plant new trees for those that were being removed in the Trans 450 right of way.  The list goes on.

Its the end of 2016, well past the promise date for the extended end of construction.  BID says all their money has been spent.  Yet the system is not yet finished.  Major parts of the technical plan remain, such as a central bus terminal, and bus parking area.  INVERMUT sstill doesn't have the buses.  In late November, 2016, the Mayor of Tegucigalpa said it would be 2018 before the project was open to the public.  The municipal committee given oversight of the project voted 6 to 5 to keep the project going.  The city of Tegucigalpa itself has put a further $3 million into the project.

BID interim representative Rafael Mayen told the Honduran press that:
"In the bank its making us sad and it hasn't pleased us, that which is happening with the Trans 450"

Mayen also took the opportunity to reject any attempt to change the project to a monorail since the space was not designed for a monorail.  He noted the buses are built at the factory, but cannot be brought to Honduras because there's literally nowhere to park them.  The project never imagined or built a parking lot for the buses for when they're not in service!

Meanwhile, Honduras will be paying interest on those $33 million the BID invested in this project beginning in 2018.