Honduran Armed Forces Act with Transparency and Open Door Policy
By Dialogo June 05, 2013
Interview with General René Osorio Canales, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Armed Forces
It has been a long, arduous struggle, but the Honduran Armed Forces have coordinated their efforts with all institutions in charge of preserving the state of law and order in the country. With cooperation and information exchange between partner nations, they have been deeply devoted to fighting organized crime, gangs and drug trafficking. Even though the light at the end of the tunnel is still small, Honduran Soldiers remain ready to fight.
This and other issues were explained by General Osorio Canales, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Honduran Military, during an interview with Diálogo in Panama City, during the Central American Security Conference (CENTSEC), in April.
Diálogo: What are the current security priorities in Honduras?
General René Osorio Canales: We have set our priorities based on the insecurity that the country is going through. We have focused on the strongest threats, such as drug trafficking, the insecurity generated by organized crime, and common crime.
In Honduras, we are supporting our National Police in prevention tasks and, obviously, in the fight against drug trafficking. In the Caribbean, we have the support of the Naval Force, which is the branch that has made the most seizures in 2011, 2012, and so far this year. The Honduran Air Force is collaborating by intercepting aircraft, and the Army is providing general help in land operations, together with the National Police.
Diálogo: How can the cooperation and intelligence exchange contribute to Honduran forces and the rest of the nations in the region?
Gen. Osorio Canales: At the national level, there is an excellent relationship between judicial institutions. In this case, we are working closely and planning with the National Police’s general director. There is also good communication with the Supreme Court of Justice through national judges and with all prosecutors. It is a team that we have created through the National Defense and Security Council headed by the president, who is our commander in chief. Moreover, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defense, and the Minister of Security are also cooperating with us, as well as the Head of Congress, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the general director of the Police. Therefore, there are good internal relationships.
Through the CFAC (Conference of Central American Armed Forces), our partner nations and neighboring countries are making sound information and intelligence exchanges, not only in the Armed Forces, but also in the Police, where the intelligence community gathers every month in order to exchange information. Within the framework of the CFAC, there is a close relationship between military commanders in the border areas of Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador to counter insecurity generated by gangs that smuggle weapons and drugs, especially in the Guatemalan territory, where cartels make their way towards Mexico, to meet with Los Zetas cartel in Sinaloa, as well as with all the parties involved in drug trafficking.
We have a good relationship with our neighboring countries in order to counter this scourge, as well as with the United States, through the military groups and the defense attaché detached throughout Honduras. We have aerial platforms that send us information of illicit aircraft, which is coordinated with our partners. In spite of budget cuts, the U.S. Defense has provided us training support and a light team.
Diálogo: Some Latin American countries have considered conveying law enforcement powers to the Armed Forces. What is your opinion about this?
Gen. Osorio Canales: Well, Honduras is one of those countries. We support the Preventive Police, because insecurity has gone way over the line. Our president and commander-in-chief, passed an executive order through the council of ministers that empowers us to act as law enforcement officers in order to prevent crime.
We work in the major cities, in some departments; what we do is provide security personnel for prevention, catch criminals red-handed, and then we hand offenders over to the police, so they can continue the procedure through prosecutors with evidence, and obviously through the courts in charge of conducting the legal proceedings.
But if you analyze some Central American countries, such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, they make use of their Armed Forces with different strategies. In Nicaragua, for example, they are deployed in rural areas, unlike in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, which deploy in the main cities, to protect them from organized crime, common crime, and citizen insecurity.
Diálogo: Is it a crime to belong to a gang in Honduras? Has it become a public safety concern?
Gen. Osorio Canales: Well, remember that there are minors within Honduran gang members that are exploited by organized crime, by criminals that are in prisons and take advantage of this situation to recruit minors to perpetrate crimes, while shielding themselves with the laws that protect them for being minors.
In Honduras, gang implementation is driven by organized crime, which uses gangs for murders, with their same ideology and concepts of violence. They have been given a special treatment by law, and what the country is looking for is prevention and a way to reintegrate these young people into society. Both the Catholic and Protestant churches are working hard, as well as certain social ministries; in this case, the CONAVI (National Congress for Life and Social Justice), aimed at developing sport fields and recreational areas, so there can be spaces that help recover these teenagers. Logically, those who commit crimes must be punished. We are working on the law to lower the legal age from 18 to 16, so that those minors who are being used by organized crime and crime in general can be captured. These minors are led by heads that have been involved in this for years and are extremely violent, without any respect for the lives of citizens.
Diálogo: How is Honduras using technology to counter organized crime?
Gen. Osorio Canales: I want to share with you that a State office for investigation and intelligence was set up last year with cutting-edge equipment, including a special system to monitor phone calls, and we have a law that supports it. Coincidentally, a national counter extortion unit was founded, integrated by security members, the National Police, the Armed Forces, judges and prosecutors, all of them certified. They have passed confidence tests, such as voluntary polygraph tests, toxicological screens; their socio-economic situations and assets have also been analyzed, and their personalities have also been examined through a psychometric examination. Fortunately, we have top-notch technology to do this. We are also working on other mobile platforms to be transported throughout the city, in order to trace phone calls. It is only one month old, and it has already yielded positive results. There have been 280 arrests, in addition to bringing down ten criminal gangs in less than a month.
Diálogo: General Osorio, would you like to send a message to our _Diálogo_readers?
Gen. Osorio Canales: I would like to tell all Diálogo readers that the Honduran Armed Forces are doing a great job on prevention, with the support of our president. We subscribe to human rights and we respect the law. I request the Honduran people and all Dialogo readers’ confidence. This is an enormous task. It is a situation of insecurity confronting the country and the region. I ask you to trust the Armed Forces, who are acting legally, and are respectful of the law. Furthermore, our doors are open to any investigation, of any human rights organization, or any mass media source, either radio, print or TV.