Honduras: police chief removed after reporter’s murder

The body of Honduran journalist Angel Alfredo Villatoro Rivera, a reporter and news coordinator for the HRN radio chain, was found in Tegucigalpa on the evening of May 15, six days after he was kidnapped while driving to work. He had been shot twice in the head, according to Security Ministry spokesperson Héctor Iván Mejía; local media reported that the body was dressed in a police uniform. (EFE, May 15 via Univision)

As of May 21 the police had arrested five people in connection with the kidnapping and murder. Two of the suspects were serving prison sentences in Danlí, El Paraíso department, at the time of the murder: Miguel Angel Alvarez Ortez, a former Preventive Police agent convicted of being an accomplice in a murder, and Juan Ramón Fonseca, who was serving time for robbery. According to the authorities they had called Villatorio’s family repeatedly from the prison to demand a ransom payment. Members of the Honduran police have been accused of numerous crimes, including the murder last October of the son of Julieta Castellanos, the rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) and a member of the government’s Truth Commission. (La Tribuna, Tegucigalpa, May 12)

On the night of May 21 President Porfirio (“Pepe”) Lobo Sosa fired National Police chief Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, who was appointed last October in an earlier effort to crack down on crime within the force. His replacement is Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, a graduate of the carabineros police academy in Chile who was accused in 2002 of belonging to “Los Magnificos,” a group of former and active Honduran police agents said to have carried out extrajudicial executions of suspected gang members. He was acquitted when the prosecutor quit the case. During recent assignments in Copán and Olancho departments, he reportedly exposed police agents who were collaborating with drug traffickers, and this may be why he has been chosen to clean up the police department.

In a related move, President Lobo called the National Congress back from its recess to approve several new measures: the elimination of due process guarantees for police agents in dismissal proceedings, the creation of a new Executive Branch Directorate of Investigation and Intelligence, and an anti-doping law allowing drug tests of police agents. (Honduras Culture and Politics blog, May 22, ibid, May 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 27.

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