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Honduras Could Lay off 4,000 Police Officers With Suspected Links to Cartels and Organized Crime

"What we are looking to do is clean up the institution and give it credibility again so that the population can have confidence in the National Police."

A police officer fires tear gas at supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya in Paraiso, Honduras. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Honduras Congressman Augusto Cruz Asensio announced yesterday that more than 4,000 police officers in Honduras will be fired because of their "illicit activities" and alleged ties to organized crime, drug cartels or Mexican gangs, Honduras Weekly reports.

"What we are looking to do is clean up the institution and give it credibility again so that the population can have confidence in the National Police," Cruz said.

Cruz said the funds allotted for the 4,000 police officers would be used to hire and train replacement officers, according to Honduras Weekly.

The mass firings would be a dramatic step to combat police corruption by the Honduran government. It could also be a possible indicator of just how deeply some institutions have been infiltrated by drug cartels and organized crime groups.

Honduras has been plagued for some time by multiple corruption scandals at various levels of their government.

Last week Honduras' police chief, Ricardo Ramirez del Cid, was fired after just six months on the job over possible police involvement in the killing of a well-known Honduran journalist, Alfredo Villatoro, according to The Associated Press.

Ramirez was appointed during a previous scandal where the National Police were suspected of being involved in the killing of the son of the head of Honduras' National Autonomous University.

Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares, also known as "El Tigre" or "The Tiger," is the newest police chief. The Honduras Weekly report does not specify whether he had any part in the firings. However, Bonilla has some baggage of his own.

According to a 2007 U.S. State Department report on human rights, Bonilla was suspected but never charged in a series of killings while serving as Honduras' jails inspector, The AP reports.

Additionally, the move could mean an expanded role for the country's military force. The Honduras Weekly report explains the implications of the diminished police force:

The National Police currently employs a total of 14,087 members, including 846 officials, 11,897 regular police, and 1,344 auxiliary police -- meaning that if the planned firings are carried out, the institution will lose 28 percent of it current force. This suggests that, during the interim period in which the government is hiring and training new officers, Honduras will continue to rely heavily on its armed forces for many policing functions.

Over the past few months, Honduran soldiers have increasingly been performing activities normally assigned to police officers. This new role for the military was seen as a temporary measure designed to provide additional security, given the rising wave of crime in the country. It now appears that the military's presence on Honduran streets could be extended indefinitely... at least until the National Police is back to full strength. This may take months, if not longer.

Honduras is not only battling police corruption, the country also holds the title of murder capital of the world. Some experts believe the two problems to be directly connected. According to this AFP report, the country's per-capita murder rate in 2010 – 82.1 murders per 100,000 inhabitants – is ten times the national average:

One last thing…
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