Honduras Transforms Unit to Counter Maras and Gangs
By Iris Amador/Diálogo September 20, 2018
Authorities have more legal power to counter crime.
The National Anti-extortion Force, created in 2013, became the National Anti-mara and Gang Force (FNAMP, in Spanish) widening its field of action to allow for a frontal fight against crime in Honduras. The new unit officially began operations July 12, 2018, yet is still in development. With this new designation, the force has more authority and legal capacity to combat all criminal activities maras and gangs carry out.
“The change was made to leverage capabilities and address the issue as a whole,” Honduran Army Lieutenant Colonel Amílcar Hernández, FNAMP director, told Diálogo. “Our mission is to counter every crime these groups perpetrate. In addition to extortion, maras and gangs are involved in narcotrafficking, money laundering, and other related crimes, such as murder, vehicle theft, weapons trafficking, and even terrorism.”
The transformation entails an increase in military personnel, logistics resources, and training. Authorities expect to integrate the new elements in September 2018. FNAMP will also receive more logistics support, from vehicles to new technological equipment. According to Lt. Col. Hernández, Honduras will arrange for future training with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Amidst these changes, the new force is already getting results. “In the first month [July], we’re talking about seizures, secured housing, recovered vehicles, and savings of $330,000 that weren’t paid for extortion,” Norma Moreno, FNAMP spokesperson, told Diálogo. “In addition, authorities seized 50 packages of drugs, 32 firearms, and detained 122 people.”
The new force has teams specialized in different areas. Some elements focus on research and analysis. Other units conduct follow-ups or investigations, while a third team operates from within, infiltrated in gangs.
“The [first FNAMP] operation was conducted simultaneously in the five regions where FNAMP operates: Tegucigalpa in the center, San Pedro Sula in the northwest, and the towns of La Ceiba, Choluteca, and Comayagua, where there’s a larger gang presence,” Moreno said. According to FNAMP, these five areas register the highest criminal activity on account of being large population centers.
To inaugurate its creation, FNAMP displayed 20 captured gang members to the public, including former police officer Sergio Tercero, alias El Patrón, leader of the Combo Que No Se Deja criminal organization. Tercero was on the country’s list of the 20 most wanted criminals. His group is one of several that operate in Honduras. Others include the Mara Salvatrucha 13, Benjamines, Chirizos, Barrio 18, Olanchanos, Copanecos, Cholos, Banda del Comandante, and Escarfas—from the English Scarface.
According to Moreno, the Escarfas are 95 percent dismantled. With the new arrests of August 2018, FNAMP totaled 30 captured leaders of different criminal groups. “In September, operations with different security agents will intensify to liberate communities threatened by maras and gangs, which have many citizens on their knees,” Moreno said.
Credibility and trust
“About 6,000 people are members of these organizations that used to operate more easily. Now there are obstacles that didn’t exist before,” said Lt. Col. Hernández. “Their structures were weakened; we are liberating areas and saving them from maras and gangs’ criminal acts.”
In Honduras, members of criminal groups now face more severe charges. The Criminal Code, modified in September 2017, states that unlawful association carries a 20-to-30-year prison sentence. The time can be extended by two thirds for gang leaders. The new law punishes terrorists with a 50-year sentence and considers million-dollar fines for narcotrafficking. A kidnapper who kills their victim faces a life sentence.
The new joint interagency body consists of 500 members of the National Directorate of Investigation and Intelligence, the Armed Forces, the National Police, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office. “Our interinstitutional integration generates more trust among people,” Lt. Col. Hernández said.
Coordinated work transcends Honduras. In the border areas, national authorities are in constant communication with counterparts in neighboring countries to prevent gang members from crossing borders and avoid being captured.
“A real way to gain credibility and trust is through results. When people see positive results, citizens appreciate it and help us by providing information. There’s no other way,” Lt. Col. Hernández concluded.