Two men were recently tied up, shot, and killed down the street from my friend’s house in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. When my friend happened upon the scene at around 9 p.m., a forensic investigator commented to him that these were the fourth and fifth cadavers he had personally dealt with that evening and that the number typically doubled by the end of the night. The investigator also insinuated that responsibility for these two lay with the security organs of the state; recounting the story, my friend guiltily confessed his momentary approval of the idea that the Honduran police force had swiftly eliminated persons who otherwise might have eliminated him.
The moral precariousness of popular consent in matters of extrajudicial treatment of hypothetically dangerous human beings has recently been underscored in the much-publicized case of the shooting deaths by police of seven presumed gang members in the neighborhood of Ciudad Planeta in the northwestern Honduran city of La Lima last month. Though the police have advertised the deaths as the result of a shootout between themselves and la mara 18 (Gang 18), family members of the deceased deny that there was any armed confrontation and argue that the corpses were merely decorated with weapons afterward.
The incident attracted the attention of Sandra Ponce, head of the Human Rights Unit of the Attorney General’s Office in Honduras, who demanded an immediate police report complete with names of the police officers involved. This elicited the accusation from Honduran vice minister of Security Armando Calidonio that human rights officials are “encouraging delinquents”.
According to Calidonio, Ponce had failed to understand that the delinquents in this particular encounter “were not throwing popcorn, candy, or rice at the police, as happens at weddings”. As for Ponce’s assessment of the seriousness of the matter and the fact that “we are talking about the lives of seven people here”, other typical arguments in favor of the police include that gang members are not human beings anyway.
The Honduran National Directorate of Criminal Investigation (DNIC) has meanwhile obediently turned up photographs of members of la mara 18 holding what is described as a gun belonging to a police official killed in April, although the DNIC has declined to elaborate on the origins of the images. Especially given the obscene level of weapons proliferation in Honduras—such that patrons of certain shops and eateries are encouraged to check their guns at the door—it is not clear how it has been determined that this exact gun is featured in the photographs, or why the photos would legitimize the extrajudicial extermination of 7 persons, only some of whom are said to appear in them.
Speaking on the subject of the historically sacrificial role of the Honduran police force, Calidonio has stated that the police
are now training in order to efficiently respond both to enemies of democracy that go around with AK 47s and enemies of democracy that go around with pens trying to discredit the police, who [themselves] put their lives in the line of fire every day so that the honest citizenry can enjoy peace and tranquility”.
In other words, Honduran human rights officials would best start throwing popcorn as well.