Honduras: Arrests Reduce Organized Crime Activities
By René Novoa/Diálogo September 13, 2016In 1903, the 26th U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt, said: "No man is above the law, and no man is below it", a statement that is starting to become less of a utopian fantasy in Honduras. The National Inter-Institutional Security Force (FUSINA), which is made up of the Honduran Armed Forces, the National Police, and other law enforcement officials, has broken up 39 organized crime gangs in 2016. They also confiscated property belonging to high-profile individuals, including businessmen and politicians connected to money laundering, reported Military Justice Lieutenant Colonel Santos Nolasco, spokesperson for FUSINA. In 2015, 176 criminal gangs were broken up. "After months of intense investigation work, FUSINA conducted a series of raids to break up these gangs, which are involved in drug trafficking, money laundering, extortion, murder, automobile theft, arms trafficking, among other things," said Lt. Col. Nolasco. He noted that Operations Jaula, Cacique, and Fantasma (Cage, Chief, and Ghost in English) were conducted in the seven departments with the highest crime rates: Francisco Morazán, Cortés, Comayagua, Atlántida, El Paraíso, Choluteca, and Olancho. The Armed Forces carried out these operations with the help of the Public Ministry, the Special Prosecutor's Office Against Organized Crime (FESCCO), the Counter Narcotics Directorate (DLCN), and the Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation. Successful Operations The goal of Operation Jaula is to bring those with outstanding arrest warrants before a court of justice. So far this year, 1,810 suspected criminals have been arrested. While in 2015, there were 3,399 arrests. Operation Cacique seeks to capture gangs that engage in drug trafficking, which as of July 17th of this year, has resulted in the arrest of 641 individuals. There were 881 such arrests in 2015. Meanwhile, the goal of Operation Fantasma is to combat money laundering and to pursue high-profile individuals tied to various crimes, as well as to confiscate assets and property belonging to people connected with organized crime, Lt. Col. Nolasco said. So far this year, FUSINA authorities have recorded 334 asset seizures, while there were 483 in 2015. A unique characteristic of this operation is that businessmen and politicians have been arrested. Between January 1st, 2015, and July 17th, 2016, six mayors and four businessmen have been apprehended throughout the country. The most recent case occurred this past June 24th, when FUSINA agents of the DLCN and FESCCO secured eight residences, two stores, a school, and 23 plots of land belonging to individuals tied to organized crime. The action took place in the northern areas of Choloma, Villanueva, and Cofradía, and in the department of Cortés. Rafael Abujieres Paz, owner of the company Maquilas y Más, was arrested during these raids for the crime of laundering assets from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. "With these actions, the Honduran Government has the goal of eradicating criminal behavior and the flow of drug trafficking, without making political or social class distinctions. It is only interested in making sure the rule of law predominates," Lt. Col. Nolasco asserted. Still, he added that in order to conduct these operations, authorities receive assistance from the United States. "The operations are financed with State resources that come from the Population Security Tariff. Nevertheless, we should recognize the technical assistance given to us by the U.S. Government, a powerful ally that we count on in the fight against organized crime," said Lt. Col. Nolasco. Special investigation Wilfredo Méndez, a Honduran security analyst and executive director of the Center of the Investigation and Promotion of Human Rights (CIPRODEH for its Spanish acronym), applauded FUSINA's efforts in combatting crime. "At CIPRODEH, we maintain that the previous governments did not demonstrate the political will to combat money laundering, which sent criminals a message of impunity. And, it was almost verging on silent complicity," Méndez said. "Nevertheless, these arrests and the breaking up of criminal organizations show that the authorities are committed to national security." The Special Law Against Money Laundering took effect in the Central American country in 2014. It provides for penalties of six to 20 years for those convicted of this crime. Méndez noted that the arrest of mayors and businessmen sends a positive message to the population. "In the past, there may have been indictments against businessmen or officials, but the cases never went to trial. Now, Hondurans are beginning to believe that the State is applying the law to everyone equally, and that is why they have lost their fear of bringing complaints," he said. To obtain better results, Méndez recommended constant training for the investigative staff. "Honduras is on the right track, but there is a lack of specialized investigation that can generate hard evidence against the criminals," he said, recommending cooperative alliances with friendly countries. "The authorities should promote international cooperation agreements so that officers, prosecutors, and other justice officials receive constant training and are up to date with new investigative technologies."