Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández launched a new investigative body on Tuesday in an effort to reduce violent crime and impunity in the world’s most violent country. The Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal (Technical Criminal Investigation Agency—ATIC) is a new branch of the Public Ministry of Honduras charged with “investigating serious crimes with strong social impact.”
Creation of the new, 60 million lempiras ($2.8 million) investigative branch was approved in January 2014 by the National Congress as part of reforms to the Law of the Public Ministry. ATIC graduated the first 97 agents specialized in criminal investigations on Monday, and hopes to have 250 agents by the end of 2015. The investigative unit will operate from two of the largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula.
ATIC is a hybrid technical-military police force whose primary task is investigations and prosecutions, not arrests. “[We told the agents,] your main weapon is not a rifle or pistol but your mind and knowledge,” said Attorney General Óscar Fernando Chinchilla.
The ATIC agents—39 women and 58 men—underwent three months of intensive instruction in law, criminology, forensic sciences, and investigative techniques, as well as physical and tactical training. The investigative body is divided into four units: crimes against life and sexual liberty, organized crime, public administration, and a technical-scientific department.
According to the Alliance for Peace and Justice in Honduras, 96 percent of homicide cases between 2010 and 2013 remained unsolved.
A UN report that was released on Thursday criticizes the United States for a poor performance on 25 human rights issues, ranging from torture and National Security Agency spying, to life sentences for juvenile offenders and the death penalty.
The report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was critical of the U.S. policy both at home and abroad. The report cited the use of torture by the U.S. armed forces and other government agents and called on the U.S. to “take all feasible measures to ensure the protection of civilians” in drone strikes. It also said that the U.S. must close its detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. President Barack Obama has made it a goal to shut down the detention facility by the end of his term, but 154 detainees remain imprisoned there.
At home, the report argued that the U.S. must reduce racial disparities in the prison system and end racial profiling, solitary confinement and the death penalty. It also expresses concerns about the deportation of undocumented immigrants “without regard to…the seriousness of crimes and misdemeanors committed, the length of lawful stay in the U.S., health status, family ties…or the humanitarian situation in the country of destination.”
However, the report also praised the U.S. in some areas, such as executive orders to ensure “lawful interrogations,” review detention policy options, and eventually close Guantánamo Bay, as well as support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
José Luis Díaz, the Amnesty International representative at the UN, said that the U.S. must implement the recommendations of the Human Rights Committee “without delay.” The country has one year to provide information on how it is implementing several key recommendations, and until 2019 to provide specific information on all the recommendations made in the report. The last such report was published in 2006.
Two regrettable constants throughout the Caribbean region are that insecurity threatens human development and that crime and violence stymie economic prosperity. Research has upheld the latter; violence discourages tourism, foreign direct investment and business expansion. Crime has negative impacts on people’s livelihoods, mental wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and political freedom.
In 2010, the Caribbean had an intentional homicide rate of 21 percent per 100,000 people, a three-percentage-point increase from 2004. Barbados and Suriname have shown relatively low homicide rates over a 20-year timeframe, from 1990 to 2010. The World Bank reported in 2007 that crime is so costly, that if it were to be controlled in Jamaica alone, Jamaica’s gross domestic product would increase by 5.4 percent annually.
The UN Development Program (UNDP) is doing a commendable job of highlighting these devastating effects, in part through its recent publication of “Caribbean Human Development Report 2012: Human Development and the Shift to Better Citizen Security.” This is the UNDP’s first-ever Caribbean-specific report on human development, and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark visited Trinidad & Tobago earlier this month to launch it. The report provides an assessment on the state of crime in Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Suriname, and Trinidad & Tobago—and gives space to the national and regional policies and programs that these countries are enacting to address it. It ultimately states: “the Caribbean cannot achieve sustainable well-being and enjoy the fruits of its efforts toward progress unless its people can be secure in their daily lives.”
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said on Saturday that the surge of police and military personnel in cities highly affected by drug-related violence—part of a mission known as Operación Relámpago (Operation Lightning)—has been successful in reducing crime.
According to the president’s remarks on national television and radio, the operation, which began on November 1, has lowered the rate of violence by 90 percent in Tegucigalpa and 50 percent in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ two largest cities. Lobo added, “From the results that have been obtained in a few days, we are confident that as time passes by the entire population will restore its confidence in returning to the streets without having fear of being victims of criminals.”
Operation Lightning was launched to combat a spiraling wave of violence in Honduras, which has claimed 20 lives every day and earned the Central American nation the highest homicide rate in the world—82.1 murders per 100,000 people—according to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, which was published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Lobo has pledged a zero-tolerance attitude toward crime and corruption. He fired his top police chiefs in the end of October.
What a difference a decade makes. The successful operation on Friday by Colombian armed forces that killed Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla kingpin Guillermo León Sáenz—known by his nom de guerre Alfonso Cano—represents another in a series of victories for President Juan Manuel Santos and his counterinsurgency strategy. Santos’s security policy, built on his predecessors’ Andrés Pastrana and Álvaro Uribe, has put the defeat of the FARC in sight—after the 1990s when the region’s longest running civil war appeared to have reached stalemate.
While Marxist-inspired guerrilla movements from Guatemala to Argentina put down their arms in the 1980s and 1990s—the result of peace negotiations and democratic transitions—the FARC rebels and the National Liberation Army (ELN), have plagued Colombia for nearly five decades. Both forces claim to represent Colombia’s peasants and at times have managed to control large swaths of territory in Colombia’s rugged rural areas. Though they continue to wrap themselves in the rhetoric of class struggle, both of the groups long ago became little more than armed criminal syndicates bankrolled by the drug trade in cocaine and other illicit narcotics, illicit commerce in gems, extortion, and kidnapping.
But the assassination of Cano, 63, referred to by Santos as “el número uno,” calls into question the long-term viability of the FARC. Shortly after it had happened, Santos’s press office released a statement vowing that the FARC had reached a “breaking point.”
Cano had assumed operational control of the FARC in March 2008 after one of its founders—Manuel Marulanda, also known as Tirofijo (Sure Shot)—died of natural causes. That same month, Colombian troops killed Raul Reyes, the chief FARC spokesman and member of its seven-person Secretariat. Then in July of that year, the Colombian army launched a successful mission that rescued Íngrid Betancourt, a senator and presidential candidate at the time of her capture in 2002, and 14 other hostages.
These successive events illustrated the army’s increasing infiltration into FARC operations. They were the result of Plan Colombia, the U.S.-backed program of financial aid, military training and intelligence cooperation.
In efforts to combat an ongoing wave of narcotics-related violence, police forces in Honduras yesterday moved in on cities and neighborhoods dominated by criminal gangs. The mission, endorsed by President Porfirio Lobo and referred to as Operation Lightning, began in the large population centers of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Lobo pledged to “do everything possible within the law to reduce the impunity that makes us all indignant.”
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Honduras “has become a main transit route for South American cocaine” bound for the United States, and that Honduran authorities—in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other partners—only intercept about 5 percent of the cargo.
According to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, commissioned by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and released last month, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world last year: 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people. El Salvador, Honduras’ neighbor in the Northern Triangle, registered the second-highest homicide rate: 66 per 100,000 people.
Further, earlier this week Lobo fired his top police commanders in a measure to tackle corruption; four Honduran officers serving prison sentences for murder had been released from jail, inflaming public discontent.
On the day that the United States reflected over the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Guatemala went to the polls to elect its next president. The contest pitted three leading candidates against each other: Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, of Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party, or PP); Manuel Baldizón, business tycoon, of Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom, or LIDER); and academic Eduardo Suger, of Compromiso, Renovación y Orden (Commitment, Renewal and Order, or CREO).
Pérez Molina had a comfortable lead in the polls in the lead-up to the election; if he had earned more than half the vote he would have made history by being the first national candidate since the 1980s to avoid a runoff vote. But, having secured only 35 percent of votes from more than 7 million tallies, he won the first round but not by enough to avoid a second round. Meeting him in the runoff, scheduled for November 6, is Baldizón, who received 23 percent of votes. Suger finished a distant third with 16 percent.
"Several sectors of the dominant [Guatemalan] forces expected Otto Pérez Molina to win in the first round to save costs,” said Álvaro Velásquez, 42, professor of social sciences and political analyst at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Guatemala City. “Now the people have spoken to contradict this. That's good news for the power of the vote.”
But Pérez Molina can still make history in November; given his extensive military background and Guatemala’s history under decades of military rule, he can be the first ex-soldier to be democratically elected in Guatemala. Baldizón, a successful businessman with alleged ties to narcotraffickers, hails from the northern region of Péten—a department that borders Mexico.
No longer can policymakers ignore the grim reality of the level of violence in the seven countries that comprise the Central American isthmus. The situation today evoke comparisons of the homicide rates that many countries experienced at the height of their armed conflicts—a time of violence that all had hoped would remain in the past.
The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Central America’s homicide rate tops 33 murders per 100,000 people, making it the most violent area of not just Latin America, but also the world. In fact, the region’s homicide rate is more than four times the global average. The situation is particularly troubling when it comes to the region’s youth; 39 of every 100,000 young people age 15 to 24 years old will fall victim to murder each year.
Increasing international attention and assistance to the region is certainly a very welcome development. Last week, Central America's heads of state along with the presidents of Mexico and Colombia and other international observers decamped to Guatemala City for the International Conference in Support of the Central American Security Strategy organized by the Central American Integration System (SICA). In a region where divisions often bubble to the surface, the leaders’ resolve to jointly tackle insecurity was perhaps one of the conference’s biggest achievements.
El Salvador is a nation with more cell phones than inhabitants. In fact, according to the Superintendencia General de Electricidad y Telecomunicaciones, there are 7,445,736 mobile telephone lines for a country of 5.74 million people. Of these mobile connections, 6,286,967 are pay-as-you-go and only 663,736 are based on a fixed payment contract.
These numbers speak for themselves. As can be reported from almost any other developing nation it’s difficult not to encounter someone with a cell phone even in the most remote regions of the country. The penetration of mobile telecommunications has brought incalculable benefits to the economy. This is especially for small and micro enterprises that can monitor prices and sell their goods by contacting suppliers and wholesalers. A cell phone, could be argued, has given them a sense of formality since now they can be contacted more easily.
However, there´s been an unforeseen consequence of cell phone penetration in
In the next ten years, Rio de Janeiro is going to host both the finals of the World Cup of soccer and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Can the city that coined the word favela (and with it all the connotations of desperation and lawlessness) and the reputation as one of the most crime-ridden cities in the world pull off these massive international events? Certainly, Rio state authorities are doing everything they can to allay international fears and address concerns.
This week I toured a once-infamous Rio favela, Dona Marta, with a representative of the governor of Rio de Janeiro’s cabinet. My impression of the favela that I visited is that there certainly has been progress. We visited one of three police precincts that had been recently established to pacify the informal neighborhood. The one we visited had seven video cameras posted throughout the favela, friendly beat police walking the narrow, twisting stairs that threaded their way among the houses, and a sense of peace, even civility. A success by any standards in what many consider to be the quintessential den of crime and lawlessness.
Unfortunately, it’s only one of over 300 favelas in Rio de Janeiro. The plan is to take each one, one at a time, with a combination of rooting out local drug lords and criminal networks and establishing a system of community policing, providing basic services (such as electricity and social services) to these informal settlements perched on cliffs overlooking the city or islands within the city. By all accounts, including that of former New York City Commissioner Bill Bratton, this is the only way to do it.