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Honduran Police Protest Crackdown on Corruption

TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 12 2012 (IPS) - Police officers in Honduras are protesting regulatory measures and aptitude tests implemented as part of reforms aimed at purging the police force of corruption and growing links to organised crime.

The rebellious police officers say they do not oppose the clean-up of the force, and insist that they are loyal. But they are complaining about the four new exams: drug tests; lie detector tests; studies to verify their personal and family assets; and psychometric tests to determine their aptitude as police officers and their ability to control their emotions.

The protests broke out after a number of officers failed the tests, which began seven months ago. The authorities are considering dismissing them from the force.

Other officers are to be relieved of their posts because of seniority or other labour-related reasons.

The situation has led to a bitter dispute within the police force, especially against the new police chief, Juan Carlos “El Tigre” (The Tiger) Bonilla, whom many of the purged officers do not recognise as their superior because he is less senior than they are. They also accuse him of being linked with human rights abuses in the past.

Eduardo Villanueva, head of the office of investigation and evaluation of the police (DIECP), told IPS that the tests “are one of several instruments to purge the institution. At present we are investigating the family assets of 150 officers, and no doubt this is causing resentment,” he said.

By law, DIECP is responsible for enforcing controls and testing in the police force and taking action based on the results. It is an autonomous body that does not depend on the security ministry, and its work has drawn on Mexican, Colombian, Chilean and U.S. experts.

Villanueva said the agency he heads is “getting to the bottom of the barrel in the police force, and the reactions against the process merely indicate that we are on the right track.”

One of the leaders of the police rebellion is Aldo Oliva, former head of the National Penitentiary, who publicly challenged the authority of President Porfirio Lobo, calling on him to “be more careful” in reviewing the purging process.

In late October, Oliva and another 150 officers went to court to challenge the constitutionality of the tests, claiming they violated human rights.

When Lobo refused to meet with him, Oliva hinted that in the coming months there would be “a revelation of irregularities of such magnitude that he will have to listen.” But he did not provide details.

Lobo confirmed the tests would continue, as would the purge. “If (the police) feel hard done by, they can go to the courts, but the clean-up process we have started is irreversible,” he said.

Along with Oliva, two other former police chiefs, José Luis Muñoz who was suspended from his post in October 2011, and José Ramírez del Cid, suspended in May 2012, have also expressed discontent.

Muñoz and Ramírez del Cid have been identified as part of a group of officers who are trying to destabilise the administration of Bonilla, a hard-line police officer who enjoys the full confidence of the government of the right-wing Lobo, in spite of doubts expressed about him by human rights defenders and the families of victims of violence.

“At least Bonilla gets things done; he seems to be diligent and willing to clean up the police force, although we still give him a margin of doubt,” Julieta Castellanos, the president of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, whose son was murdered by police officers a year ago and who is now one of the leaders of the movement to reform the police force, told IPS.

“We are living in a time of a police counter-reform. This will not be an easy process, because organised crime mafias have been operating within the force, and they are feeling the effects,” political analyst Víctor Meza, coordinator of the Public Security Reform Commission (CRSP), which includes the attorney general’s office and the judicial branch, told IPS.

In late October Meza presented a package of six bills to the legislature, including a new comprehensive law on the police. All of this, analysts say, is causing jitters among corrupt police structures.

Edmundo Orellana, a former attorney-general, told IPS, “difficult times are coming; they are fighting among themselves, and seeking external allies to put the brakes on the reform.”

The Honduran police force has faced an unprecedented crisis in the past year, with revelations of its links to organised crime, extortion rackets, kidnapping and assault gangs compelling President Lobo to sack a number of police chiefs.

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