Friday, June 10, 2016

Honduran police purification commission removes 106 officers in two months (June 10, 2016)

The Special Commission for the Re-Structuring and Transformation of the National Police in Honduras has removed 106 police officials since it began work April 12, El Tiempo reports. The dismissed officers, who represent 40% of 272 individuals evaluated, include five generals, 27 commissioners, 36 sub-commissionars, and 38 inspectors, according to the Asociación para Una Sociedad Más Justa.

The commission was appointed by President Juan Orlando Hernandez in early April in response to a release of documents by Honduran newspaper El Heraldo and later the New York Times, documents that suggested high-level police officers were behind the 2009 assassinations of two top anti-drug officials. According to the recently-formed commission, between 2012 and 2015 at least 222 million lempiras ($9.8 million) was designated for same purpose -- purifying the police force -- but the money disappeared and no serious effort was made to clean up the police, El Heraldo reports.

The United States Embassy has expressed its support for the new effort, providing a list of police officers being investigated by the U.S. for organized crime and narco-trafficking, reports El Heraldo in a separate article. Last week the commission announced the removal of thirty-some sub-commissioners; it is currently evaluating another 158 officers of the same rank. On Monday the commission launched a digital platform called "Honduras Denuncia," where citizens can anonymously denounce members of the police, La Tribuna reports. Commission member Omar Rivera stressed that all police officers can be denounced, including those who recently passed the purification process and were "re-ratified" as officers.  

While the commission has received messages of support from human rights groups and civil society, its members have also faced threats since beginning work two months ago, according to El Proceso.The Alianza por la Paz y la Justicia. Transparencia Internacional, the US Embassy, and the European Union have denounced the threats reported by members of the commission, according to Asociación para una Sociedad Mas Justa.  

News Briefs
  • The World Health Organization has released new guidelines on Zika, recommending that people living in areas where the virus is circulating should consider delaying pregnancy, the New York Times reports. The advice is in line with recommendations from health officials in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, Jamaica and El Salvador, who earlier this year asked women in their countries to avoid getting pregnant, though these recommendations have been sharply criticized by reproductive rights groups, who point out that abortion is illegal in many of these countries and it's tough for women to get birth control. However, the WHO's new guidelines acknowledge that with no vaccine currently available and mosquito eradication efforts failing to stem the spread of infection, delaying pregnancy may be the best way that women in affected areas can avoid having children with birth defects.
  • Brazil's suspended president Dilma Rousseff is joining calls for a national referendum on whether to hold early elections if she survives impeachment, Reuters reports. Analysts say Rousseff is seeking to convince undecided senators not to vote for her ouster. At a time in which politicians across the spectrum have lost legitimacy, the proposal for early elections could be a way out of Brazil's political crisis, the article reports.
  • A new report by UNICEF and the United Nations-backed CICIG provides details on Guatemala's sophisticated sex-trafficking industry, InSight Crime reports. The joint report looks at the diverse set of actors involved in sex-trafficking operations in Guatemala, and the different points at which organized crime (MS-13, the Zetas, other groups) and sexual exploitation intersect. The study estimates that nearly 60 percent of the 50,000 victims of sex trafficking in Guatemala are children, and the industry is worth $1.6 billion a year, Reuters reports. 
  • The Center for Political Studies at Caracas-based Andrés Bello Catholic University published a detailed report analyzing efforts to spur a referendum to recall Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and responses from the National Electoral Council. The report criticizes the Council for creating unnecessary and unlawful regulations, slowing down the process, and generally failing to "honor the principles provided for in the Constitution and facilitate the political participation of the people."       
  • Brazil plans to deploy 85,000 soldiers and police to guard the Olympics, reports the Washington Post in a feature describing a worrisome crime wave in Rio state in recent years. In 2008, Rio launched a controversial "pacification" program in which police bases were set up in metal shipping containers in favelas -- confrontations between police and residents mounted, along with complaints of human rights abuses. While officials attribute a major reduction in violent crime to the pacification project, data for 2013-2015 shows crime rates rising again, casting doubt on the efficacy of the iron fist tactics. 
  • Former Economist Americas editor Michael Reid -- who currently writes the Bello column -- analyzes the prospects of the apparent victor in Peru's presidential election, liberal economist Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. The new president plans to stimulate the economy with tax cuts and public investment, running a fiscal deficit of up to 3% of GDP, a plan some think will be easily financed, while others think is risky. He will need to strike a deal with opponent Keiko Fujimori's party, which has a strong majority in Congress; to sweeten collaboration, he might seek to pardon Fujimori's father, who ruled as an autocrat from 1990-2000, and is in prison for corruption and complicity in human rights abuses. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Council has a piece on what Kucynski should focus on during his first 100 days in office. 
  • I wrote a short piece in this week's Economist about the latest CICIG arrests (see June 5 briefing), which reached top echelons of Guatemalan society and proved that corruption is even more widespread than previously thought. CICIG and newly-emboldened Guatemalan prosecutors are ushering in a era of hope and trust in the Guatemalan justice system; however, as the article states, while "foreigners have proven indispensable in bringing corrupt politicians to book...only Guatemalans can find some honest ones to replace them."
  • An investigation by El Nuevo Herald found that the Cuban government used the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca to create a string of companies in offshore financial havens that allowed it to sidestep the U.S. embargo in its commercial dealings. The newspaper identified at least 25 companies linked to Cuba in the Panama Papers, including one tied to family members of Raul Castro. According to the investigation, companies like Lebanon-based BB Energy used offshore companies in Panama to do business with Cuba and avoid jeopardizing their ability to forge simultaneous deals in the U.S. 
  • Pablo Escobar's lead hit man from 1985-1992 is remaking himself as a YouTube star, New York Magazine reports. John Jairo Velásquez personally killed "at least 250 people, maybe 300," and ordered thousands more murdered, but he walked away from the cartel when he turned 30, served time in prison, and set up a Youtube channel after he was released in 2014. It grew to 100,000 subscribers in nine months. Velásquez's alias was "Popeye" when he worked as a sicario; on YouTube, where he makes videos meant to discourage violence, he goes by "Popeye Arrepentido."
  • The Wall Street Journal has a hilarious feature on the Brazilian ice hockey team, formed in 2014 without sponsors, a home rink, or any ice-skating experience. The novices are nonetheless competing in the Pan-American Hockey Tournament in Mexico City. "They all really struggle," said their American coach. "Turning left, turning right. And stopping is obviously the biggest thing." 

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