“Social cleansing” in Honduras

The recently created Honduran anti-delinquency task force Operaci贸n Trueno [Operation Thunder] proved critics fears on October 12, when a member of the force shot and killed an innocent citizen Henry Esa煤 Garc铆a Fuentes, 25 years old. Fuentes ran away from soldiers who were demanding to talk to him and was shot twice in the back. The soldier who shot Fuentes, against police orders, was identified only by the last name Palma Aguilar in the warrant for his discipline. The mother of the victim, Bertilia Fuentes, requested better military training for force members: “I know that nobody will give my son’s life back to me, I can only tell the competent authorities that they must educate the personnel that they send on these operations, that they can’t send inexperienced people because what they are going to do is take innocent lives. They need to educate people because, in the same way my son died, many innocent people have died, and if they continue this way, it’s going to keep happening.”

Operaci贸n Trueno was initiated on August 30, 2006, by President Manuel Zelaya Rosales to fight delinquency by stepping up police, military and private security force presence in Honduran cities. In the first days of action in September, the Operac铆on made the headlines for night operatives in which forces detained more than one hundred “delinquents” in a single night. In Honduras, gang violence has caused over 1,500 crime related fatalities in the first half of this year, a 5% rise from last year, as well as 18 kidnappings, 600% of last year’s rate. The Operaci贸n Trueno program will add 30,000 to 60,000 “often untrained and mainly unregulated private security . . . to bolster 10,000 experienced and usually better-trained Honduran armed service personnel as well as 8,000 police officers who are now thinly spread across the country,” writes Eytan Starkman for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Oversights in the organization of the Operaci贸n leaves little room for success and more room for human rights violations. Starkman cites widespread corruption within the existing police force (including involvement in organized crime, assassination and robbery) which have resulted in negative perception of police forces, as well as the lack of training of private forces and a disturbing incentive program which rewards vigilante-like hunts for suspected delinquents, mimicking recent “social cleansing” operations which have carried out wide-scale assassination of suspected delinquents.

April Howard for Upside Down World, Oct. 16

See our last posts on Central America and “social cleansing” operations.