How the Honduran military and police profit from the illegal arms trade
Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Guns are used in 75 per cent of these crimes. An investigation by InSight Crime and Transparency International Honduras (also known as La Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa) has found that many of these guns come from Honduran military and police stockpiles.
Military and police staff can take weapons and ammunition from storage and sell them on the black market, and the military’s arms retailer is able to sell any kind of weapon, in any quantity, to anyone without being held accountable.
They can do so because there is no transparent system to register and track seized or even legally purchased weapons. Additionally, civilians and companies can buy weapons from the military without registering their purchases with the police.
There have been several cases where weapons found at crime scenes or in the possession of criminal gangs have been traced back to the military: 20 per cent of weapons seized in 2014 from the Valle Valle group, one of Honduras’s largest narcotics transporters, had been purchased from La Armeria (The Armory), the military’s arms retailer. Additionally, in 2010, 22 rocket-propelled grenades were stolen from a military base and then resold.
That’s why Transparency International is calling for these reforms:
- The military and police must fully report on their arms purchases, holdings and losses, and the Armory’s sales.
- Civilians and private security companies must register their arms purchases and holdings with the police.
- There must be a publically accessible and up-to-date national arms database.
Without these reforms, the spread of weapons will continue. For example, investigations show that 300 FAL assault rifles and 300,000 bullets disappeared from the police’s Special Forces unit in 2011 and were sold to the Zetas Cartel, one of the most brutal Mexican drug cartels.
The authorities must also crack down on private security companies that act as fronts for criminal organisations. An estimated 1,038 private security companies buy 70 per cent of some types of weapons from the Armory, including assault rifles that the military is actually prohibited from selling.
Recently, the Honduran government has stepped up vigilance for arms trafficking at the country’s borders and introduced proposals to increase the maximum prison term for possession of an illegal weapon to 12 years.
A key step has been to establish The Special Commission for the Restructuring and Purging of the National Police. The commission, which TI Honduras is closely involved with, has ensured that 4,445 corrupt police staff have been removed from the service.
TI Honduras also influenced the government to create the Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity. This anti-corruption body investigates and prosecutes illegal activity in the Honduran government, judiciary and security forces.
Consequently, there are now less police staff selling weapons illegally and less impunity for those who do. But there are still no measures to stop weapons from leaving military and police storage unrecorded. This means that the weapons remain available to criminals and Honduras’ homicide rate is likely to remain over five times higher than that of its neighbour, Nicaragua.
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