In early May, the Honduran government inaugurated a training center for the Government Special Response Security Unit (TIGRES, in Spanish), an elite unit of the Honduran National Police. A $3 million donation from U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) financed the new center, located about 42 kilometers west of Tegucigalpa in Lepaterique, department of Francisco Morazán.
The complex, officially opened on May 2nd, is home to about 200 TIGRES elements and serves as a deployment base for tactical operations as well as a training center for future members of the elite police force. The center was built in 18 months.
“SOUTHCOM made a significant investment, not only for the National Police, but also for the country, when it created these new, modern facilities,” Deputy Commissioner Javier Díaz Herrera, director of the Honduran National Police Special Forces, told Diálogo. “[They are] equipped to a high standard [and] will be used to host our police officers and provide training.”
The modern complex was built in a 4-hectare field and contains five administrative offices, two classrooms, 10 dorms, a gym, a nurse's station, and a dining room. In addition, the premises have outdoor training areas and three shooting ranges.
As of May, the base prepares future TIGRES with rigorous training, including theoretical instruction and physical conditioning. Students start their routine at 4:30 a.m. with physical activities.
“In the beginning of the 12-week TIGRES course, only for active members of the National Police, students start with moderate training that progressively gets harder as the course progresses,” Deputy Commissioner Díaz said. “Then, tactic defense classes [start], so as to move forward with the TIGRES commando syllabus.”
During the three-month course, police students specialize in human rights and the legal use of force to meet the main goal of the TIGRES force: to fight against organized crime. Future TIGRES are trained in raid operations, urban and rural patrolling, interdiction, mountain survival and rescue, and close combat operations.
Additionally, the courses include training for riverine, maritime, and airborne operations and firearm instruction. Future TIGRES also receive first-aid training, something unprecedented in Honduran Police training.
“It’s an innovative concept for [Honduran] police to know first aid,” Honduran National Police Commissioner José Alejandro Ramos Escobar told Diálogo. “An injured person might not survive if they are not assisted in due time. We’ve had confrontations with criminals, where police officers or citizens were seriously hurt, and our own [TIGRES] assisted with first aid, saving their lives.”
Aside from the new training base in Lepaterique, the TIGRES force has an operational deployment base in El Progreso, Yoro department, dedicated to planning and developing operations in the northern and Atlantic region of the country. The base was financed with the same SOUTHCOM donation and opened in April 2018. The police also has facilities for TIGRES in San Pedro Sula, Cortés department.
The TIGRES elite force (whose acronym in Spanish spells tiger), counts with some 500 elements nationwide. The unit was created in June 2013 with the support of the U.S. and Colombian governments to fight against organized crime and narcotrafficking. U.S. Army members and elements of the Jungla Commando, a special operations unit of the Colombian National Police, trained the first TIGRES cohort in early 2014.
“Every elite unit gets a moniker,” Deputy Commissioner Díaz said. “In police jargon, it [tiger] refers to a remarkable individual who does things well, so it fits this unit like a glove.”
Since its creation, the TIGRES commando has been among the leading structures responsible for capturing drug lords and disrupting criminal organizations. TIGRES also takes part in joint operations, such as with the Honduran National Interinstitutional Security Force (FUSINA, in Spanish).
“In the operations or raids we carry out at the national level against drug trafficking, organized crime, gangs, or high-impact operations benefitting from military-police training, the participation of TIGRES, which can easily adapt due to its training, is always crucial,” Honduran Army First Lieutenant José Antonio Coello, FUSINA spokesperson, told Diálogo. According to 1st Lt. Coello, FUSINA dismantled 23 criminal gangs in joint operations with TIGRES, so far in 2018.
According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, Honduras is a main transit country for illegal drug trafficking and chemicals used in the production of narcotics. The report, however, indicates the Honduran government’s improvements in the fight against drug trafficking—and stresses on continuous support from the U.S.—thanks to special counter-narcotic units, such as the National Police’s TIGRES force.
“SOUTHCOM’s essential support, the training and preparation of this personnel [TIGRES], the headquarters of Lepaterique, and the implementation of filters for admission and purging mechanisms in law enforcement agencies, as well as the support of land, air, and maritime defense, allows for direct combat against organized crime and drug trafficking,” 1st Lt. Coello said. “This is reflected at the international level, because Honduras is no longer one of the most violent countries in the world.”