Thursday, March 22, 2012

Permanent Policing by the Military?

On Tuesday at the weekly cabinet meeting, the Honduran government voted to extend the state of emergency declaration that allows the Honduran military to exercise most police functions.

Now Porfirio Lobo Sosa is talking about making it permanent.

The role of the Honduran military is spelled out in the constitution, in article 272:
The Armed Forces of Honduras, is a permanent national institution, essentially professional, apolitical, obedient and not deliberative.

They were instituted to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic, preserve peace, the rule of the Constitution, the principles of free elections and alternation in office of President of the Republic.

They will cooperate with the National Police in maintaining public order in order to guarantee the free exercise of suffrage, custody, transportation and supervision of election materials and other safety aspects of the process, the President of the Republic shall make available the Armed Forces for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal from one month (1) before the election, until they are decided.

This is the mission as defined in the constitution, but over the years the military has gained control of other budgets and other institutions, so that today it controls many of the strategic sectors of Honduras.

These include the merchant marine, immigration, intelligence, civil aviation, and most recently, forestry. The military also has a strategic partner in communications, where retired General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez was appointed head of HONDUTEL.

Only during the days of military dictatorship that preceded the 1982 constitution has the Armed Forces had a hand in more parts of the government. We've commented previously on this mission creep (here, here, and here).

And now, Porfirio Lobo Sosa would like to make their policing function permanent.
Clearly,there are new challenges that we have, new realities too. I am going to arrange in my government that the military participate in giving security to the people; this will be my fight. Its doesn't matter to me if that requires constitutional reforms.

With timing that could not have been anticipated, Paul Stockton, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs, in a Congressional hearing today called for Latin American countries to carefully evaluate the use of their military to control organized crime and drug trafficking, because there always exists the possibility of human rights violations.

And it wasn't just Stockton.

In the same hearings, Carmen Lomelin, United States Ambassador to the OAS told Congress:
I can understand the frustration of the president (of Guatemala, Otto) Perez Molino and others, but I believe that this decision (to use the military) needs to be taken with much care, because of the past history. For obvious reasons you need to observe the history of the Americas and their relation with the military.

Stockton added:
The challenges in citizen security are better confronted by the institutions charged with citizen security.

In Honduras, it is the police who are constitutionally supposed to be in charge of citizen security.

Stockton pointed to Colombia under Uribe as an example of what can go wrong when you employ the military as police. There, among other things, the military showed off "rebels" it had caught and killed. Except they turned out to be Colombian citizens murdered by the military, some after being kidnapped, others killed during operations.

Stockton said:
If the military violates human rights they lose popular support, which makes it harder to reach the final objective.

He called Colombia under Uribe a good example of how human rights violations take root. He acknowledged that under Santos Colombia has begun to prosecute human rights violations.

And it is not just foreigners that think permanently militarizing policing is a bad idea. Retired General Mario Hung Pacheco, former commander of the Honduran Army, said
That's a tough topic and you have to handle it well. but it is not within the possibilities for reforming the role of the armed forces; they have their specific missions specified in the constitution of the Republic and one of those is to support the Police when there is a national or regional state of emergency.

General Rene Osorio Canales, the current head of the Honduran Armed Forces also spoke against the idea:
We need to do a detailed study before giving more public security powers to the Armed Forces.

But Tiempo reports Lobo Sosa replied:
This will cause deep debate...but we should have it and in some way make the constitutional changes necessary so that the Armed Forces participate in giving security to the people.

Give the man credit for sticking to his guns; in this case, all too literally. But maybe it would be worth noticing that even the military doesn't want to continue on this path.

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