FUSINA Boosts Security on Public Transportation
By René Novoa/Diálogo August 12, 2016Passengers on Honduras’s public transport system had been under constant threat from street gangs and other groups attempting to extort a so-called “war tax.” That is, until Operation “Tornado” began last year. The National Inter-Institutional Force (FUSINA) assigned additional personnel and more logistical and technological resources to break up these criminal groups. FUSINA comprises the country’s Armed Forces, National Police, Attorney General’s office, justice system officials, and intelligence services. “In carrying out this operation, we have put together an interagency team led by the Armed Forces and the National Anti-Extortion Force (FNA, for its Spanish acronym) to fight this crime that has caused the Honduran family such pain and suffering,” FUSINA spokesman Military Justice Lieutenant Colonel Santos Nolasco, told Diálogo. Operation “Tornado” is taking place in the country's principal cities. Refusal to pay extortion demands has resulted in the murder of 63 public transport owners and drivers between January and June of this year, according to Migdonia Ayestas, director of the Violence Observatory and the University Institute on Democracy, Peace, and Security (IUDPAS, for its Spanish acronym). In 2015, IUDPAS tallied 126 crimes linked to the transportation sector. In response to this problem, Lt. Col. Nolasco noted that the operation includes experts in combating extortion and related activities, as well as technology that allows effective prevention and intelligence operations. Results show that the government is a step ahead and winning the battle. Through July 15th, 340 individuals have been arrested for the crime of extortion. This has translated into 170 prosecutions, according to FNA Communications Officer Norma Moreno. In 2015, 669 extortionists were arrested, resulting in 380 prosecutions, she added. These actions have deprived the groups dedicated to these illicit activities of 30.4 million lempiras (US$1.3 million) in 2016 and 46 million lempiras (US$2 million) in 2015, Lt. Col. Nolasco noted. Teamwork: The Key to Success These results would not have been possible without coordination between the institutions that make up FUSINA and the public transport sector, Lt. Col. Nolasco added. “It's important to highlight the permanent coordination that exists with the owners and operators of the transport sector, which has ensured the success of the security measures we've implemented,” Lt. Col. Nolasco said. “Among our strategies, we assigned technological resources or active measures such as motorized and foot patrols as well as maintaining a permanent presence along the most conflictive routes.” Other measures, he added, include saturating terminals and stations and constantly executing searches on transport vehicles, which gives confidence to passengers, operators, and owners. “This measure is very good because we feel secure when we have military troops accompanying us all day on our route. I hope we can soon return to moving around peacefully, like we did before there were so many extortionists,” said Douglas Varela, a 52-year-old microbus driver in the nation’s capital. Susana Rodríguez, a 35-year-old user of public transport, added, “The Army presence on the buses was very necessary, given how many persons have been assassinated for not paying the ‘war tax’ [extortion]. But you feel more relaxed now that you see soldiers on the bus or boarding the bus to search the passengers to make sure none of those criminals are on board.” Anti-Extortion Courts Lt. Col. Nolasco acknowledged the complexity of the current situation, but said the authorities will not rest until calm is restored to public transport operators and users. “Hondurans can be completely confident that we are working arduously to improve security for those using public transport and, moreover, soon there will be new laws in effect to fulfill this goal,” he said. The new transport law contemplates the use of wireless connections, real-time video monitoring, and panic buttons. The Supreme Court of Justice has appointed a commission to identify the ideal personnel to run special national courts that will deal with matters involving extortion, Lt. Col. Nolasco explained. Initially, those courts will be set up in the cities of Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba, he said. Citizen participation is vital, Lt. Col. Nolasco said, because citizens can aid victims and take part in undercover operations to catch suspicious persons in the act of committing the crime. Those being threatened by extortionist groups can report the threat to the Honduran authorities on toll-free phone lines that have been set up: 911 for FUSINA and 143 for the FNA.