Monday, August 13, 2012

Honduran Scholars on Militarizing Policing

Was a letter from Honduran and international scholars the inspiration for the US to place tighter controls (or suspend) some funding for Honduran police agencies?

No one can really say.

What we can demonstrate is that Honduran scholars have been unstinting in their critical analyses of what is happening in their country. Unfortunately, those voices do not get a hearing in the English language press. They should.

Consider an interview with Leticia Salomón, noted Honduran sociologist and scholar of policing. 

Headlined "Soldiers in the streets are a grave menace for citizenship", the interview includes Salomón's pointed comments on the proposed "elite" Tigres unit that, we have noted, is immune to the limitations on US funding sparked by the admission that the Chief of Police has a suspected history of extra-judicial killing.

Salomón expresses grave reservations about the participation of the military in civilian policing:
Notice that each time we are seeing with more frequency the military undertaking tasks of civilian security, which means that the soldiers in the streets, like the police, prosecutors and judges are converted into a grave menace to citizenship, and more serious yet because they carry arms and are prepared to shoot those who they consider their enemies.

It is this, fundamentally, that the US State Department needs to face: with US aid, the Honduran government has undermined the constitutional separation of civilian and military security, creating a situation in which the military can classify the people as the enemy.

The proposal to create an elite unit that deliberately blurs those lines even more preoccupies Salomón. In response to the question, "What do you think about the possible creation of the Tigres?", she responded
It is a dangerous return to the past, it signifies reaffirmation by the State of the linking of the military with public security. It is forming intelligence troops with operational units. Intelligence is thinking about, analyzing, and sensing tendencies, data, possible threats and what capacity of response we have, whereas the operational is going out into the street for which the information from intelligence serves to get results, in this proposal they want to do these two things at the same time, this is very dangerous.

Salomón is calling for a separation of intelligence gathering and analysis from operations-- a division she argues lowers the risk of intelligence being distorted by operational aims. She goes on to talk about the Honduran government's interests in creating this new ambiguous unit:
They are thinking of confronting society that dares to dissent, to question and to demand that the State satisfy its basic needs more immediately. This is evidence of a political decision totally removed from the major challenges that are presumed now to face security forces.

Salomón, like other Honduran intellectuals, sees the State turning against the people since the 2009 coup. She is most pessimistic about the institutions responsible for justice in Honduras:
We are talking in the first place of the police, but also the prosecutors and the judges whose instances are not at the level of the dimension of the insecurity that the country is living through, presenting serious signals of institutional deterioration, of involvement in criminal acts and of high levels of corruption...that is, now the delinquents are not just in the streets, they are also in the police, they are in the Public Prosecutor's office, and in the Judicial Branch, it is terrible for a society that still trusts in the order inherent in the State of Law.

It would be easy, from the US, to reduce what is happening with security in Honduras to US interests.

Salomón, in this interview, says she doesn't begrudge the US the pursuit of its own interests; but she does fault the Honduran government for its willingness to make concessions for US interests. What she and other Honduran scholars are calling for, here and in the letter they signed to appeal to the US government, is help in ensuring that the Honduran government puts Honduran interests-- in security in the exercise of civil rights, above all-- first.

The interview with Leticia Salomón, dated August 3, 2012, was published in A Mecate Corto, a product of the Jesuit Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación, ERIC-SJ, who also broadcast on Radio Progeso, one of Honduras' most remarkable independent broadcasters.

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