President Porfirio Lobo fired Honduras’ Five-star General, Juan Carlos Bonilla, the country’s national police chief on Thursday. Bonilla has faced accusations for years of running death squads, civil cleansings and has been the target of frequent abuse claims.
Present day Honduras and the world has heard claims of Bonilla overseeing a department specifically believed to beat, kill and lose “disappearing” detainees. He is the top cop in the country that serves as a way station for most South American cocaine bound for the United States and beyond.
Bonilla runs all policing in Honduras. His responsibilities encompass everything from planning to investigations. He also is responsible for approving travel for training and vehicle repairs. He also oversees the police force – a force that is not at all consistent in that some officers show up, some don’t, some are corrupt and the force is believed to be somewhere between 8,000 to 15,000 officers.
For one man to oversee that much, trouble must be amiss. There is no way one person can handle that much responsibility. Bonilla told The Associated Press he denied he once led a social cleansing campaign, that his police force is as criminal as those it arrests, or that he is in any way responsible for a rash of gang members who disappeared after being arrested.
“I can’t be on top of everything. Sometimes things will escape me. I’m human,” Bonilla said.
His police force is routinely accused of civil rights abuses, the AP reported at least five cases of alleged gang members missing or killed after being taken into police custody in a wave of social cleansing of criminals.
Bonilla said he is aware of the charges and insisted that every complaint is being investigated. Excesses “happen, yes. We investigate them and act,” he said. “You cannot use a word like ‘death squads,’ because there is no chain of command or an order by me, never, under any circumstances, to act illegally.”
He defended the institution where “I’ve spent my whole life. I am loyal to it.”
Among his personal books, Bonilla keeps a leather-bound copy of the indictment against him. “It’s very painful as a human being for your family, your children, your children’s schoolmates, your father, your friends or a woman you just met to ask you if you are a murderer,” he said.
Bonilla “was the only high-ranking official without known ties to organized crime,” said Arabeska Sanchez, who is an investigator with the University Institute of Peace and Security and a teacher at the country’s Police Academy. “He remains under suspicion because it is impossible to know if he is implicated in state policies of human rights violations that have occurred close to him.”
His replacement will be Commissioner Ramon Sabillon, who said that he expects to talk to Bonilla about the job and the state of security in Honduras.
Hondurans are no doubt happy to see him go – they exist in a literal war zone and hide in their homes at dusk due to the violence and gunfire. They wake to discarded bodies. Honduras has one of the world’s worst homicide rates.