Honduras: top prosecutor suspended amid violence

Citing frustration with mounting criminal violence, the National Congress of Honduras on April 16 moved to suspend prosecutor general Luis Alberto RubĂ­  and his assistant, replacing them with a temporary oversight committee. The five-member commission, made up of leaders of the country’s political parties, will have 60 days to analyze why the prosecutor’s office, the FiscalĂ­a General de la RepĂşblica, has made little headway on numerous criminal cases, and draft a plan to reform the institution. With a homicide rate of 90 per 100,000 residents, Honduras is often called the world’s most violent country. Prosecutors solve only about 20% of homicide cases, on average. The National Congress estimates 20,644 homicides have gone uninvestigated in the 28 months of the current administration. (InfoSurHoy, La Prensa, Tegucigalpa, April 18; AP, NYT, April 17; La Prensa, April 16)

The chief of the Public Ministry, which oversees the FiscalĂ­a, is also seeing a change, with Pompeyo Bonilla Reyes to be replaced by current Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales—who said the government is on the verge of declaring an “emergency.” However, the administration of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa is resisting pressure to remove the controversial National Police commander Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares (no relation). El Tiempo newspaper reported that both Bonilla Reyes and Bonilla Valladres are under invesitgation in conneciton with the murder of the son of former National Police director Ricardo RamĂ­rez Del Cid. (InfoSurHoy, April 18; HonduDiario, April 14; El Tiempo, San Pedro Sula, Feb. 24)

In the latest grisly incident, five people were fatally shot April 15 in the western outskirts of the capital of Tegucigalpa—a local businessman and his bodyguard,  who may have been the intended targets, but also 17-year-old girl, a 31-year-old woman who was selling fruit, and one of the gunmen who was chased down in a van by police. (InfoSurHoy, April 16)

The US Treasury on April 10 froze the assets of one of Honduras’ prominent politicians, accusing him of being the leader of a drug-trafficking ring. JosĂ© Miguel Handal Perez, AKA “Chepe Handal” was cited under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act for allegedly smuggling cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela to Mexico. “Handal invests in and co-ordinates the receipt of drug-laden aircraft departing from Apure, Venezuela into Honduras via clandestine airstrips,” says the US Treasury statement. “He also facilities the movement of these drug shipments out of Honduras by land to Guatemala, where members of Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel take possession.” Handal, who denied the accusations, is running for the National Congress in November’s general elections for the Liberal United Front (FUL Toro). The Handal family owns several companies in the industrial city of San Pedro Sula. (BBC News, April 10)