Honduras’ National Police Evolve to Confront Transnational Organized Crime

Armed Forces of Argentina and Chile Bolster Ties at Bilateral Meeting

Por Dialogo
julho 13, 2015




Last May, General José Leandro Osorio Santos, who has been acting as the National Director of Criminal Investigation, also became the Director of Intelligence for Honduras’ National Police. This nomination“represents a clear sign and a firm commitment by the government to continue pushing for a real process of transformation in the National Police,” said Leonel Sauceda, the spokesman for the country’s Ministry of Security.

To better understand the afore-mentioned statement and to discuss other issues related to the Honduran National Police, Diálogo
spoke with General Osorio when he attended a workshop on the problems faced by Northern Triangle countries, especially transnational organized crime, from June 23-26, 2015 at the United States Southern Command’s Conference Center of the Americas, in Miami, Florida.

Diálogo:
What is the importance of an event like this Central American Workshop held by the Southern Command?

General Osorio:
The importance is to coordinate protocols for action in our countries, since organized crime has no borders, it’s constantly evolving, criminals evolve and, in that sense, to coordinate protocols, coordinate criteria, coordinate policies. That is fundamental for our countries.

Diálogo:
For countries that do not have this specific function in their police, what is the function of the Director of Intelligence and Criminal Investigation?

General Osorio:
The Director of Intelligence and Criminal Investigation coordinates intelligence and investigation, in the sense that intelligence is in charge of collecting all the information at the national level for the different types of crime, and criminal investigation is in charge of working with capital offenses, offenses that are handled as different types of crime, so one collects and the other is in charge of execution, of dealing with it concretely. Intelligence is a new modality that we are bringing to Honduras. The head, the Director of Intelligence, handles intelligence and criminal investigation, coordinating both at the same time.

Diálogo:
And what are your primary goals as the director of this organization?

General Osorio:
One of the goals is to lower the crime rate in the various branches of crime. In fact, we’re achieving this. Honduras has been considered the most violent country in Central America and one of the most violent in the world. Now we have dropped; we’re not among the five most violent countries in America, we’ve been taken off that list of five countries that were leaders in crime. Our country used to have 67 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.

Diálogo:
And what has changed to produce this drop in the number of homicides in Honduras?

General Osorio:
I believe it’s due to the policies of the President, Juan Orlando Hernández, who has entered fully into [fighting] organized crime. We have extradited seven drug traffickers to the United States, for a total of 10, and I understand that there are more arrest warrants for people who have committed different types of crimes who will be extradited to that country. The president has been very emphatic and very direct against maras and gangs. Just last year we filed charges against more than 300 leaders of maras and gangs, and halfway through this year we’ve arrested almost 300 leaders of maras and gangs.

Diálogo:
General, at the time of Pablo Escobar’s extradition in Colombia, the issue of extradition was highly debated. He even turned himself in to the police when the Colombian National Congress terminated the process of extraditing prisoners to the United States. Have you experienced any type of pressure from criminals? In other words, “stop extradition and we’ll reduce the violence,” or something similar?

General Osorio:
No, that has not happened. On the contrary, we have been more head-on against crime. We are constantly capturing organized syndicates, we are capturing leaders, we are facing these drug traffickers’ criminal structures head-on. In fact, the dealers who were leading drug trafficking in our country are in the United States and the rest are fleeing Honduras. This means that the State, the structure of both the Police and the Armed Forces, we are a single block against these drug traffickers who have done the country so much harm.

Diálogo:
Have you or your family been threatened at all?

General Osorio:
I have received several threats from maras and gangs from correctional facilities. These are risks I run as a police officer. Every police officer runs risks; however, I try to do my work with the greatest dedication and in the most professional manner possible; I have sacrificed my family, my children, my parents have been threatened, these are very complicated situations. I don’t have a private life; I have to make safety a top priority.

Diálogo:
The armed forces in the Central American countries are participating more and more in the fight against drug trafficking and transnational crime. How does this interoperability work between the Honduran National Police and the Honduran Armed Forces?

General Osorio:
The president designed a different outline, where he coordinated police work with the work of the armed forces in a program called FUSINA (Fuerza de Seguridad Institucional, Interagency National Security Force), where the operators of justice are the Public Ministry, the Judicial Branch, the National Police, the Armed Forces, COPECO (the Permanent Contingency Commission) and also Interpol and other institutions where we all form a bloc together. FUSINA uses interagency direction against organized crime and regular crime, and that has given us good results because we work in a bloc. However, it has not been easy, but on the journey we’ve been working out the problems and I believe that now we coordinate better.

Diálogo:
Aside from FUSINA, have smaller task forces been created for specific tasks, as in the case of El Salvador?

General Osorio:
Actually, we’re touching on the crime of money laundering, touching on criminal structures, the logistics of these criminal structures of drug traffickers that have divided the country. I believe that with the president’s policy of forming FUSINA where, as I told you, we are integrated in a bloc against these criminals. Because these criminals have penetrated State institutions, the National Police and other institutions, and also other factors that we have seen penetrated by these criminal structures. The work has been difficult because our institutions have been contaminated by them and we’re working there also, doing the job of getting the bad apples out of the police force.

Diálogo:
Then, when you say “penetrated,” there were people on the side of the criminals who were actually wearing the uniform, acting officially as police officers or servicemen?

General Osorio:
Yes. They had penetrated the State institutions. I believe – this is my humble opinion – there was a closed season on organized crime for several years. Organized crime structures were not touched. The doors were opened to enroll civilians in police units. I’m going to speak for the Police. The doors were opened with no control over who would enter and with a training period of three or four months. For a police officer to be trained, he should have a minimum of one year of training and another year on the street.

Diálogo:
And that happened because of the need to have more police officers in less time?

General Osorio:
Yes. To have more police on the street, yes. The consequence was that we didn’t have a screening process, anyone could enter, and we were penetrated by maras and gangs, by all the organized crime structures. The result was that the police force almost, almost hit bottom. We are working to lead certification processes for our police officers with a tough policy. Tough but flexible, like they say about bamboo. It hasn’t been easy, it isn’t easy, because the laws in our country are indulgent in that sense, and removing a police officer… Well, it’s easier to remove an official or a minister than to remove a police officer because countless actions against the State have to be taken. Right now we find it impossible to remove countless officers, recently it was said that 800 would be removed.

Diálogo:
You are going to expel them from the force?

General Osorio:
We are looking for a way to remove them. There are almost 200 officials at all levels. It is difficult. Now we have begun to lead this process of getting rid of the bad apples, but it is so difficult because the laws don’t coordinate with the idea that we have. We have some very protective laws, a First World Code of Criminal Procedure that does not match our reality, a protective code of procedure that makes it difficult for us to get the bad apples out of the police force. However, we are making every effort. The president is supporting us. It’s difficult, but we have to do it.

Diálogo:
Regarding transnational crime and specifically Guatemala and El Salvador, do you exchange intelligence with those two countries?

General Osorio:
Yes. We exchange with El Salvador and with Guatemala, because we have the same problem, the same maras and gangs that operate in our country also operate in El Salvador; the modus
operandi
of these gangs, when they take any action against the people they flee to our country, or vice versa. We have found mareros (members of maras, gang members) from El Salvador who come to train the maras in our country in new, sophisticated techniques. We had a modus
operandi
that appeared in El Salvador but didn’t appear in Honduras, but later it started appearing in Honduras, like burning buses, burning taxi drivers, burning taxis. Now we have that type of thing in our country. In our country, we have detained mareros from El Salvador, from Mara 18 and MS13 training Honduran mareros, training them in how to communicate outside the country using their own alphabet, using signs, using their own writing; there is a relationship between these maras from El Salvador in our country. When something happens in El Salvador, a criminal situation, soon it will happen in Honduras; we have found them in the border region of the Lempira sector, the Amatillo sector, near Nicaragua and also near Guatemala. We have these structures of maras and gangs that have the same modus
operandi
and have a way to communicate with each other too, since they have webpages, their own form of communication, and through there they make their criminal policies known. The other situation is that they operate from the correctional facilities, because even when they are imprisoned, they keep giving instructions to the outside world. We have the same problem El Salvador has.

Diálogo:
Do the Police of Honduras carry out joint actions with the United States? What is your opinion on that?

General Osorio:
The support we have had from the US has been fundamental; it is permanent and without that support we could not be like we are now, where the trend, as I told you before, toward organized crime has dropped substantially. In fact, we have an education and training program with the United States to resist gangs called G.R.E.A.T [ Gang Resistance Education and Training
], which is a phenomenal permanent program. We are training and educating people through the length and width of the country and the United States has led this program. It is a wonderful support, tremendous backing of our country. However, we still haven’t had this program spread throughout the entire national territory.
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