‘Law of Rewards’ will help Honduran security forces capture ‘most wanted” suspects

The Congress of approved a law designed to combat gangs and help security forces capture criminals, including operatives who work for transnational criminal organizations.Honduras has
Julieta Pelcastre | 4 August 2014

The Congress of approved a law designed to combat gangs and help security forces capture criminals, including operatives who work for transnational criminal organizations.Honduras has

The Congress passed the so-called “Law of Rewards” in April of this year. The law empowers the Ministry of Security to make a list of “most wanted” criminal suspects. The ministry is to obtain the names of the suspects from different security agencies. The law empowers the ministry to provide monetary rewards to people who provide information that leads to the capture of a “most wanted” suspect.

The Secretary of Security will be responsible for the “most wanted” program. Fighting local gangs and transnational criminal organizations that operate in the country are two key goals of the program. Authorities have allocated $28,000 (USD) for the reward program.

Honduran government in the fight against common crime and organized crime.

President Juan Orlando Hernández must sign the law before it is enacted.

Using rewards to fight crime

The concept of using rewards to capture criminals is now new in Honduras.

"We have already paid some rewards in the captures of high-impact criminals who have committed serious crimes against Honduran society,” Ramon Pineda Sabillón, director of the National Police, told Proceso on May 16.

A reward system established by the Honduran president helped National Police agents capture homicide suspect Hector Rios Orlando Cruz. He is also known as “La Pantera.” Police captured him Feb. 7 in El Progreso, in the department of Yoro. La Pantera is suspected of killing a security guard named Jonathan Rivera Perdomo, El Heraldo reported.

Police also captured eight alleged members of a bank-robbing gang led by La Pantera, authorities said.

La Pantera allegedly shot and killed Perdomo Rivera on Feb. 1 inside a bank where the security guard worked, in the town of Choloma, located in the department of Cortés.

An investigation by National Police agents identified La Pantera as the killer, authorities said.

The Honduran government paid $12,000 (USD) to the police agents who captured La Pantera.

Reward for information about the Espinoza gang

In February, 2014, Honduran authorities offered a reward of $12,000 (USD) for information leading to the capture of seeral members of the Espinoza gang, which operates in central Honduras. The gang is commonly known as Los Espinozas.

The Espinoza gang engages in extortion, theft, kidnapping and murder. Authorities suspect the gang collaborates with transnational criminal organizations, such as the Sinaloa Cartel, to traffic drugs. The Espinoza gang uses narcocorridos – songs which romanticize drug trafficking – to recruit children and teenagers, authorities have said. The gang is commonly known as Los Espinozas.

Authorities suspect the gang has killed more than 40 people in recent years, including eight police officers.

The most wanted members of Los Espinozas are:

• Walter Alexander Espinoza Zuniga, who is also known as “M;”

• Darwin Zuniga Rafael Espinosa, who is also known as “El Cholo;”

• Isabel Santos Baire Espinoza, who is also known as “Chabelo.”

Los Espinozas denounced by the community

Many people in the San Luis region have denounced the criminal activities of Los Espinozas, Primera Hora reported on March 3. Members of the gang have committed kidnappings and were training juveniles to use high-powered AK-47 rifles, the villagers alleged.

The new “Law of Rewards” will make the use of rewards systemic and help improve security, said Eugenio Sosa, a security analyst at the Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH).

To date, the authorities have allocated U.S. $ 28,000 (600,000 Lempiras) rewards program. "The reward system has been used in the past. Honduras had no legal framework,” Sosa said. “This (law) is a measure that will strengthen the process of security in the country.”

The new law aims to promote the participation of civilians in the fight against crime and violence. Hondurans who provide useful information about criminals to security forces will be eligible for monetary rewards.

The Ministry of Security will determine the amount of each reward.

In determining the amount of a reward, authorities will take into account such factors as the complexity of the case, the danger posed by the suspect or suspects, and the level of harm they allegedly inflicted on society.

Rewards will be paid by bank deposit.

Authorities will promote the “most wanted” list by providing TV stations, newspapers, and news websites with photos of the suspects on the list.

Members of security forces will not be eligible for these rewards.

Strengthening law enforcement

The new Law of Rewards will help National Police agents in their battle against organized crime, according to Sosa.

“For the law to have no limits, the authorities should strengthen their investigations strategy, which is regarded as the central element to locate and capture the masterminds of great crimes,,” Sosa said.

The new law will force organized crime leaders to spend more money to evade capture, Sosa said.

In 2013, Honduras had a homicide rate of 79 killings per 100,000 residents, according to the Observatory of Violence.

The Sinaloa Cartel, MS-13, and 18th Street

Violence in Honduras has increased dramatically since 2009, when Mexican drug cartels began to increase their operations in the country. Honduran drug routes have become increasingly important for the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas.

The Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas often form alliances with street gangs which operate in Honduras, including Mara Salvatrucha, which is also known as MS-13, and 18th Street, which is also known as Barrio 18 and M-18. Mexican drug cartels also form partnerships with Los Cachiros, a drug trafficking group which operates in Honduras.

Mara Salvatrucha, 18th Street, and Los Cachiros engage in micro-trafficking, homicide, kidnapping, extortion, and other criminal enterprises.

There are about 36,000 gang members in Honduras, according to studies conducted by the Universidad Centroamericana Jose Simeon Cañas (UCA). Most gang members are between the ages of 11 and 18.

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