Honduran police and Armed Forces cooperate to fight organized crime

By Dialogo
March 28, 2014

Honduran police and military forces are cooperating to capture 150 leaders of criminal gangs and improve public safety, authorities said.
The security forces are working together to follow through on President Juan Orlando Hernández´s pledge of “zero tolerance” for crime.
The Armed Forces and the police are sharing information about the criminal gangs, such as which illegal activities they engage in, which regions they operate in, and who are their leaders, authorities said. Among the gangs the security forces are targeting are Mara Salvatrucha, which is also known as MS-13, Barrio 18, and Los Cachiros.
These gangs engage in domestic drug dealing, homicide, human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, and other criminal enterprises. They also form alliances with transnational criminal organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas. The local gangs help transport drugs for the larger organized crime groups.
Honduran police and military forces are working closely to bring down organized crime groups, primarily by sharing information.

A coordinated strategy

“Both the Army and the police are working hand-in-hand as part of a coordinated intelligence strategy to take down the heads of the Maras, Barrio 18 and Los Cachiros,” said Col. Germán Alfaro Escalante, sub-commander of the Military Police of Public Order (PMOP).
The government has provided additional resources to the PMOP and a group of military police officers which is known as the “Tigers.” Both groups were launched in the fall of 2013. Together, the PMOP and the Tigers have about 10,000 military police officers and soldiers. Many of these officers patrol the streets of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.

Fighting a ‘culture of impunity’

Honduran security forces are fighting a “culture of impunity” that has developed among gangs, said Raúl Pineda Alvarado, a security analyst based in Tegucigalpa.
“We now have more than 33,000 gang members trafficking drugs and people in and out of the country,” said Alvarado. ”This is more than Guatemala and Nicaragua and in many ways they’re getting stronger with yearly profits of over $15 billion (USD).”
Transnational criminal organizations which operate in Honduras transport about 80 percent of their drugs by sea, and the rest through air and land routes, authorities said. Drug trafficking operatives and gang members who work with them are responsible for most of the violence in the country.
Since about 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, and other transnational criminal organizations have used ports in northern Honduras to transport drugs. With the assistance of local gangs, organized crime operatives load the drugs onto ships, which take the drugs to Mexico, the United States, and Europe.

Targeting gang leaders

Honduran security forces have captured several gang leaders and operatives in recent months.
‘For example, on Jan. 15, 2014, police in Tegucigalpa captured six members of The Taliban, a local gang. On Feb. 20, police in San Luis, Comayagua, killed José Jerónimo Espinoza Zuniga, an alleged leader of The Taliban. He was known as “El Chombo.”
The captures and killing of gang leaders are having a positive impact, authorities said.
“Since the launch of the PMOP in October last year, we´ve reduced homicide levels from three to one per day and from early February we´ve dismantled 18 criminal gangs,” Escalante said.
Security forces are placing special emphasis on identifying and capturing or killing gang leaders.
There are 4,000 PMOP troops and 5,300 Tigers who are ready to take down 150 gang leaders throughout the country. “Vetted police have been heavily recruited to boost the Tigers, who have been specially trained in intelligence gathering,” Escalante said.
Security forces are seeking the assistance of the public.
In February 2014, the government offered a reward of 250,000 Lempiras ($13,000 USD) for information leading to the whereabouts of several members of the Espinoza criminal gang. The gang members are suspected of killing more than 30 people, including six police officers in central Honduras.

Using technology to fight organized crime

In addition to gathering information from law-abiding people to track down gang members, security forces must use technology to fight gangs and transnational criminal organizations, according to Alvarado, the security analyst.
Authorities are doing exactly that. In late 2013, former President Porfirio Lobo announced the purchase of $30 million in radars to detect incoming planes carrying drug loads.
"We need to instill a sense of fear in (drug traffickers) so that they find it harder to traffic guns and drugs to Mexico and the U.S,” said Alvarado.
President Hernández told local media: “Here no one can enter the country like it’s no-man's land…this isn’t a land of drug traffickers and this isn’t a country for those seeking impunity…here are decent men and women who wish to live in peace and quiet.”
The Honduran President is seeking increased cooperation with Mexico and the U.S. to fight violence in Central America. Part of that effort involves extraditing organized crime figures who are wanted in Mexico and the U.S.
On Jan. 14, 2014, the Honduran Supreme Court announced it was processing requests to extradite five organized crime suspects to Mexico and the U.S.