On the third anniversary of its creation in January 2014, the National Interagency Security Force of Honduras (FUSINA, per its Spanish acronym), conducted simultaneous operations throughout the country. This mission was part of Operation Morazán, an ongoing effort to fight and dismantle the criminal gangs that operate in the nation.
The operations on January 27th commenced at 6:00 AM throughout the country. FUSINA agents raided 24 targets in the capital city of Tegucigalpa alone. They arrested several suspects and seized drugs, ammunition, and cash linked to drug dealing.
“This operation was the result of several months of investigation and planning,” First Lieutenant Mario Rivera, a military police spokesman, told Diálogo. “We had been investigating all of those locations well in advance of that day’s operations.”
“We arrested people who already had outstanding arrest warrants, and we also seized firearms, marijuana, and money from drug deals,” said 1st Lt. Rivera. “In 24 hours, we arrested 65 people, 45 of whom had outstanding arrest warrants. We seized 45 firearms, ammunition, three vehicles, six motorcycles, [and approximately] $100, 000,” he detailed.
This interagency force keeps many of the areas where these operations were conducted under continuous surveillance. “FUSINA has permanent agents in 170 high-crime districts and neighborhoods in the departments of Francisco Morazán, Comayagua, Lempira, Cortés, and Atlántida,” 1st Lt. Rivera explained.
Participating in the mission were the Military Police for Public Order, the National Anti-Extortion Task Force, the National Anti-Drug Trafficking Bureau, the National Investigation and Intelligence Bureau, and the Office of the Attorney General. Three years of coordinated work involving all of these agencies have yielded positive results.
“The number of arrests has increased and the homicide rate has dropped,” Lieutenant Colonel Santos Nolasco, spokesman for FUSINA, told Diálogo.
In 2014, FUSINA made nearly 13,000 arrests for various crimes. The following year, it arrested 10,640 people, and in 2016, arrests topped 12,000. As of mid-February, around 37,500 people had been arrested.
Considered one of the most violent countries in the world in 2012, with a violent death rate of 86 per 100,000 people, Honduras ended 2016 with a homicide rate of 59 per 100,000.
“We still have more work to do to keep lowering that figure, but we’re not going to let down our guard,” Lt. Col. Nolasco said.
To date, FUSINA has extradited more than 13 people on drug-related charges. It has seized more than 15,000 kilos of cocaine, almost 700 kilos of cocaine base paste, and more than 59,540 kilos of marijuana. It has also destroyed 10 drug labs and approximately 144 clandestine airstrips.
“We’ve seized fewer kilos of cocaine than in previous years, but this means that the work we’re doing — our security measures — have been more effective in keeping drugs from entering our country,” Lt. Col. Nolasco explained.
FUSINA also seized 8,837 firearms and 85,853 rounds of ammunition of different calibers. It also recovered nearly 2,000 stolen vehicles, seized approximately $17 million, and dismantled 363 criminal gangs.
Goal: Reduce extortion
“Without neglecting other fronts in the fight against organized crime, this year we want to focus our efforts on reducing extortion, which is currently the scourge the people feel the most,” Lt. Col. Nolasco said.
In Honduras, owners of small businesses like auto repair shops, small grocery stores, as well as transportation workers are targets for criminal groups who demand large sums of money each week or month for permission to continue working. Refusing to pay or not meeting their demands can cost them their lives.
Norma Moreno, spokesperson for the National Anti-Extortion Task Force (FNA, per its Spanish acronym), told Diálogo that progress has been made. “Since the FNA began to operate in 2013, it has spared extortion victims from paying more than $8 million. In 2017 alone, the FNA has already prevented $304,000 in payments.”
More and more people are going to the FNA when someone tries to extort them. “We feel that people have more trust in the anti-extortion force because they are seeing results. We will see even better results once the changes to the penal code go into effect because it will be easier to arrest people who try to extort others,” Moreno said.
Lt. Col. Nolasco said that punitive measures are only part of the solution. “Our work is complemented by social projects. Lighting is being installed on dark streets, roads are being built, and soccer fields are being opened. Parks have been built to give children safe places to play. We believe our communities will be transformed at every level as a result.”
Officials are calling on citizens to cooperate with the authorities if they notice suspicious activities in their surroundings or if they themselves receive threats. “We have gradually begun seeing a more proactive response in terms of reporting crimes to the police and coming forward with information,” Lt. Col. Nolasco added. “The situation in this country is complex. We are relentless in our work to protect the population from both ordinary and organized crime. We have a plan and it is definitely being carried out.”