Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Curious Case of General Leandro Osorio

Is the Honduran Police Cleanup Commission suspending the wrong people?  Today it announced it would suspend two of the current police Generals:  Jose Ricardo Ramirez del Cid and Ramon Sabillón Pineda,  Ramirez del Cid stands accused of having been one of the conspirators in the murder of drug czar Aristides Gonzalez.  Ramon Sabillón stands accused of covering police participation in that crime up.

The Commission announced it had reviewed, and would continue to employ Generals Felix Villanueva, Quintin Antonio Juarez, and Hector Ivan Mejia.

The Commission also announced the (forced) retirement of Generals Elder Madrid Guerra, Javer Leopoldo Flores and Jose Leandro Osorio.  These three, it said in its press release, were simply no longer needed since their positions were being eliminated in the restructuring of the National Police.

Leandro Osorio has no accusations against him.  In Osorio's case they're forcing him into retirement after 32 years of service claiming they have no place for him in the new proposed structure of the National Police.  Osorio told the press in Honduras that he has felt "professionally pursecuted" ever since he arrested the Colombian Reuben Dario Pinella in La Iguala in July of 2013 (see our previous post for more details).  General Ramon Sabillón also referred to that case in statements to the public, saying that one of the Valle Valle family told him that President Hernandez's brother, Jose Antonio Hernandez Alvarado, was the link between Alexander Ardon and his El Paraiso, Copan based transportista drug cartel, and their funding of the National Party election campaign in 2013.  Tony Hernandez's law office defended the Colombian, who was released by the judge in the case at the first hearing, and a later investigation showed that some $150,000 in bribes had been paid out to cause that release.

In January of this year, Osorio was stripped of his command of the police on the north coast of Honduras and reassigned to a diplomatic posting outside of Honduras.  Osorio told the Honduran press:
"I was notified of the change because the criminal structures didn't want me here, structures that have been strengthening that don't want me there."

On April 14 of this year, when it appeared as if all of the 32 officers commanding the National Police would be forced into retirement, Osorio told El Tiempo :
"There is no institution of the State that is vaccinated against corruption in Honduras; we all need to be cleaned up....those that are connected will stay, those that aren't will leave the National Police, that is to say those that don't have godfathers will leave."
Clearly Osorio wasn't connected as he's now out of a job.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Brother of The Man

We've written about this before, but the story has today come back to life with new details, new accusations.  Ramon Sabilllon Pineda, who as head of the National Police helped dismantle the Valle Valle Cartel in Honduras, says that at least one of the Valle Valle family members told him that there were 15 currently serving politicians whose campaigns were funded by the drug traffickers in Honduras.  Sabillón indicated both the Liberal and National Parties political campaigns were funded by the narco-cartels.  Sabillón stated that the National Party contact for drug funding was Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernandez Alvarado, a.k.a. "el hermano de El Hombre", the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado.  Sabillón also ties Tony Hernandez to the ex-mayor of El Paraiso Alexander Ardon, a competitor with the Valle Valle family for control of the drug trade in western Honduras.

Sabillon provided the following transcript to Globo TV during an on-camera interview two days ago:

Drug Trafficker:  This arrest, its it because of politics?
Sabillón: What are you referring to?  The arrest warrant was carried out quickly. 
Drug Trafficker: Yes, General, I finance the Liberal Party and I'm pursued because I'm a Liberal. 
Sabillón: Finance what?  Finance political campaigns?  give t-shirts?  What do you finance?
Drug Trafficker: Yes, political campaigns, General.  But why do you not do anything with the Cartel of the National Party, or the Cartel of the Conservatives (cachurecos)? 
Sabillón: Tell me a name.
Drug Trafficker: The Mayor of El Paraiso, Copan, Chagel Ardon and the brother who works with him.
Sabillón: Whose brother?
Drug Trafficker: The brother of The Man
Sabillón: Which man?
Drug Trafficker: You already know the Man I'm talking about.

We know now, two days later, that the "Drug Trafficker" was one of the Valle Valle family, captured by Sabillon's police and later extradited to the US.  We also know now that the drug cartels are financing the political campaigns of both the Liberal and National parties in Honduras.  All of the Honduran cartel's closed down in the last two years were those that were financing the Liberal party:  the Valle Valle, Chepe Handal, and the Rivera Maradiaga cartels.

The "brother of The Man", Tony Hernandez, was elected to Congress in the same year his brother was elected President, the election of 2013.  Tony is a lawyer, and as such defended two Colombians who were caught, twice, growing opium poppies, marijuana, and with a lab for processing cocaine and heroin in La Iguala, Lempira, in 2013, during the election campaign.  The Colombians, Reuben Dario Pinilla and Freddy Roland Jiménez, were captured for the second time on July 25, 2013 in La Iguala.  They had entered Honduras illegally, and had false identification papers.  They were both captured on the property that housed a drug lab, and had four greenhouses with opium poppy seedlings growing in them.  Fields with opium poppies and marijuana plants were found on the property as well.  With the law office of Tony Hernandez representing them, the Colombians were released by the judge hearing the case at the initial hearing, before any evidence had been heard.  After they were released, the Colombians fled the country.  A later investigation which went no where, none-the-less found that several people, including the judge, had split about $150,000 in bribes. 

In addition to his legal office, Tony Hernandez is a National Party member, a Congress person for the Department of Lempira, elected in 2013.  He serves as the head of the Congressional Commission on Development and Social Protections.  Along with his sister Hilda Hernandez , he owns the Hotel Posada de Don Juan in Gracias, Lempira.  Hilda Hernandez is the Minister of Communications for her other brother, the President, Juan Orlando Hernandez.

Alexander Ardon  and his brother Alfredo are the leaders of the "AA Brothers Cartel", as Honduran Intelligence named it.  They were rivals of the Valle Valle cartel, and controlled the drug trade in much of the Departments of Copan and Ocotepeque for the Sinaloa Cartel.  Alfredo was well connected in the National Party.  He helped run the party's campaign in 2013 in Western Honduras, and after the election was re-appointed to the commission that allocates funding to road building ("Fondo Vial") before disappearing in 2014.  His brother Alexander also disappeared in 2014, just before the raids on the Valle Valle family.  In 2015 there were rumors that the AA brothers had negotiated with the DEA to turn themselves in, but the rumors turned out to be false.

The allegation that Tony Hernandez is the National Party's connection to drug money for financing campaigns is not new.  Its been discussed in some of the Honduran press since the Colombian's captured in-flagrante were released without a real hearing.  Sabillón is the first high government official to give voice to the claim, for which he is now suspended from the police.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Enacting Impunity

Oscar Alvarez Guerrero, current head of the National Party but previously the Security Minister for Porfirio Lobo Sosa and enactor of the "mano dura" approach to gangs may not mean to, but is enacting impunity.

For the last month Honduras has been coping with leak after leak about corruption within the National Police, culminating in the El Heraldo and New York Times stories naming the police who organized and murdered two high government officials, drug czar Julian Aristides Gonzalez and consultant to the polivce investigating drug trafficking, Alfredo Landaverde.

Among those who have been publicly named is Oscar Alvarez.  The Public Prosecutor's office has been, and continues to be slow to act on this information, preferring to "investigate the veracity of the leaked documents" instead of taking action to talk to those implicated.  But today, the Public Prosecutor's office had cited Oscar Alvarez to appear to make a statement and answer questions.

Alvarez sent his lawyer, Jaime Banegas, to tell the Public Prosecutor that "because he was a high government official, they should take his testimony at his home, at the day and hour he chooses." Alvarez told the press:
"I can't be cited because I don't have anything to do with the case."

The message is clear.  "I'm too important, and too busy running the National Party and being a Congress person to be interviewed by a bunch of lawyers investigating murder;" emphasis on "important".  That's not only arrogant, but basically tells everyone that impunity is alive and well with the political elite in Honduras. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Violating the Constitution with Impunity

Violating the Honduran constitution is just another day's work for the Juan Orlando Hernandez administration.  Yesterday the President named a 3 person panel that has the authority to carry out the re-organization of the National Police with the goal of firing those who are corrupt.  Among those named was Pastor Alberto Solorzano, head of the major Evangelical Churches Federation in Honduras, and chief pastor in the Centro Cristiano Internacional (CCI), an evangelical church headquartered in Maryland, or maybe Florida depending on which website you visit, in addition to various regional centers scattered across central and south America.

President Hernandez himself announced the commission yesterday; naming Omar Rivera, Vilma Morales, and Alberto Solorzano to the commission.   Rivera is one to two people Hernandez turns to when he needs any semblance of public involvement.  Morales is an ex-Supreme Court justice currently serving as head of the bank oversight commission.  She was intimately involved in the coup government.  Pastor Solorzano is president of the Confraternidad Evangelica, the group to which you must belong to be a legal evangelical church in Honduras, and is the head pastor of the CCI evangelical Church branch in Tegucigalpa.

Here's the problem with naming an active pastor to this position.  Its a violation of article 77 of the Honduran constitution, which reads in part:
The ministers of the different religions may not hold public office ("cargos públicos")....

Further, immediately after the announcement, Edmundo Orellana pointed out that there was a problem with the naming of Solorzano in that it violated the constitution.  Today the government responded to Orellana, saying through its mouthpiece, Reinaldo Sanchez, that "we should be optimistic its not even been 24 hours since these citizens were sworn in..."  Sanchez went on to argue that the church has always played a role in resolving political crises in Honduras, and "in his case [Solorzano's], we need to recognize his active participation and struggle on distinct themes".  Sanchez went on to say:
"We cannot put aside the participation of people like Solorzano, as president of the Confraternidad Evangelica he will provide an important accompaniment to the Commission"

Sanchez continued, by calling all those who see Solorzano's participation as invalid to instead by positive about his appointment since he raises his daily prayers that his work that they are doing to clean up the police, is done in the best manor, and all Hondurans should be united in this task.

Notice how Sanchez deflected the comment by totally failing to deal with the fact that Solorzano is an active minister in a church by citing his role as President of the Confraternidad Evangelica as if that was the only job Solorzano has.

Hernandez did the same thing when he spoke to defend appointing Solorzano.  Hernandez said:
"The image I've accumulated through many years of  the Confraternidad Evangelica and Pastor Alberto Solorzano is of determined people contributing with their actions, to build a different Honduras."

Hernandez deliberately avoided mentioning the constitutional objections to Solorzano's appointment, and even went on to suggest the Catholic Church in Honduras would be appointing its own representative to the commission.

The appointment of Alberto Solorzano to the public commission to clean up the National Police is a violation of the Honduran constitution.  The Hernandez government doesn't care about the constitution, and as of now, it has a Supreme Court that will authorize anything that it does.   And the US government wholeheartedly supports him.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Naming The One Not Named

Rene Maradiaga Panchamé is the name I think you're looking for, the one omitted from the press reports from Honduras about a Honduran National Police commander who carried out the hit on the Honduran Drug Czar.

Yesterday the Honduran paper, El Heraldo, released a story and photos of an investigative report internal to the National Police in Honduras that names "El Señor Director de Servicios Especiales de Investigacion, Commissionado General " as the organizer of the assassination plot that killed then Honduran Drug Czar General Julián Arístides González Irias on the 8th of December, 2009.  Then security Minister Oscar Alvarez claims to have never seen this investigative report.  The then head of the National Police, Jose Luis Muñoz Licona, made a similar claim.  The last date stamped on the report itself is 2010 when it was received by the Inspector General of the National Police.

That blanked out name appears to belong to René Maradiaga Panchamé, who was listed in multiple contemporary press reports as the Director of Special Investigations of the Police (here, here, for example) in late 2009.

This is not entirely a surprise.

René Maradiaga Panchamé was a former member of Battalion 316, the notorious intelligence group that disppeared more than 300 Hondurans in the 1980s.  Battalion 316 was founded in 1979 by General Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, himself trained at the School of the Americas and in Argentina.

The Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a report in 2002 called "Los Hechos hablan por si mismos:  informe preliminar sobre los desaparacidos en Honduras 1980-1993".  In it, on page 474, a declassified Honduran military document from the Commander of the Armed Forces, announces the appointment of the command structure for Battalion 316 for 1987.  Maradiaga Panchame was appointed to the battalion with the title "Jefe de Equipo Movil No. I".

This was the time of Iran-Contra scandal during the Regan presidency, when the CIA was funneling arms to the Contras to fight the Sandanistas and using cocaine and other illegal trade to fund the operations.  Maradiaga Panchame was joined at this time, by Napoleon Nazar Herrera, who was named "Jefe, Secretaria de Apoyo y Servicio" of the unit, whose name appears in the same list naming Maradiaga Panchame a member.  Here he would have become familiar with, and maybe involved in the drug trade between Nicaragua and Honduras which originated from the CIA program to finance and arm the Contras in Honduras.

In December, 2009, after the coup, he was appointed by coup leader Roberto Micheletti Bain, along with many of his Battalion 316 co-workers to command positions within the National Police. 

In October of 2012, Panchame Maradiaga, and Salomon Escoto Salinas were two of the more than 99 high ranking police commanders who were put on leave, paid but with no assignment.  They failed one or more of the confidence tests being used to weed out corrupt officers.  Others, like Luis Muñoz Licona and Ricardo Ramon del Cid were suspended.  These last two were in charge of the police when Alfredo Landaverde was murdered in Tegucigalpa in December 2011, and recent news accounts in Honduras suggest they organized his murder.  They were also in charge when the University Rector, Julietta Castellanos's son and another university student were murdered by the National Police.  The same two commanders were suspended because they protected the perpetrators of the murder and allowed them to escape from custody.

We know that by 2012 Maradiaga Panchamé was publicly reported as leader of Los Magnificos, a drug operation bringing drugs through Honduras from Nicaragua while still a member of the National Police.  We believe that today Los Magnificos would be operating as part of the Zetas cartel.  His drug trafficking contact was "Chepe" Luna (Jose Natividad Luna Pereira), a well known trafficker who worked the southern Honduran drug routes across Choluteca, with whom Maradiaga Panchamé was good friends. Luna ran Los Perrones, a transportista drug gang in El Salvador.
In 2013 the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas found that Maradiaga Panchamé had wealth that he could not account for.  It made a similar finding for his fellow Police Commander and former Battalion 316 member Napoleon Nazar Herrera.

2014 is an interesting year.   In January, Maradiaga Panchamé was one of many of the high ranking police commanders who resigned unexpectedly, and before they had completed the normal 35 years of service.  In May it appeared as if he had been arrested and released, but he told the Honduran press that he'd just been in Police headquarters doing business as part of the Police Hospital program.  On June 25, 2014 Chepe Luna was assassinated in Comayaguela.

So this is the name you're not allowed to know in Honduras, René Maradiaga Panchamé, because it might endanger the non-existent investigation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

FBI Confirms Cáceres Murder Scene Modified

The FBI, the Honduran Public Prosecutor's office, and the Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal (ATIC) all agree that the crime scene where Berta Cáceres was murdered has been altered to eliminate physical evidence, but you won't find that in any Honduran print media.  The sole report of this remarkable finding is Noti Bomba, a digital newspaper which promises to deliver uncensored news from Honduras.

Among their findings:  Cáceres's body was moved from where she was shot, in her bedroom, to the bathroom, and the body staged; bloody footprints were erased; blood was scattered about the house, on walls, tables, and other places, but failed to appear in the photographs gathered by the Intibuca police who "investigated" the crime scene first.  The shoe prints also fail to appear. 

Luminol, the chemical that detects traces of hemoglobin and glows in its presence, showed that blood evidence had been cleaned up in several places where there used to exist bloody shoe prints, and the luminol revealed recognizable patterns for the soles of those shoes.

The evidence, as reported, confirms the public letter of the sole witness to the crime, Gustavo Castro, who wrote that the crime scene had been altered.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sole Witness To Cáceres Murder Condems Honduran Government Investigation.

The Mexican indigenous rights activist, Gustavo Castro Soto, who was with Berta Cáceres when she was murdered is being held against his will by the Honduran government.  He is the sole eye-witness to her murder and was shot and wounded himself by Cáceres's attackers.

Late Monday afternoon, the following letter allegedly from him began to appear in Honduran social media and was picked up and reported even by the pro-government press in Honduras.  Among its many allegations are that the crime scene has been modified, and that even though he's been subjected to hours of looking at photos, no one has shown him photos of the hit men known to be associated with either of the dam companies, that the sole line of questioning was which member of COPINH did it.  The complete letter is provided below in a hurried translated below:

Dear friends, family, comrades in the struggle,

From the lands that saw the birth and death of our dear friend Berta Cáceres, beloved, supportive, and friend and exceptional woman, I'd like to thank you for all the support that little by little, in the moments that I can receive messages, I see the story of all that is out there moving.  Its not easy, the alarm here, but neither is it easy when one has to make thousands of declarations to the government.

Here the waters are turbulent.  The assassins that murdered Berta and who tried to murder me continue in impunity while the government tries to undermine the memory of Berta, the honor and the magnificent struggle that COPINH has made for so many years in the defense of the lives, the territories and human rights.

I saw Berta die in my arms, but also how her heart planted in every struggle that COPINH has realized in the many people that we knew.

There is no rain that resembles all the tears shed for her death, but there is no force that resembles the Lenca struggle that they face every day, hand in hand, in territorial disputes with the large transnationals.  They maintain an unbreakable struggle with more than 40 hydroelectric projects, dozens of mines, and a struggle to recover their lands in more than 50 locations in their ancestral region.  COPINH marches, walks, protests, recuperates, and extends its hand in solidarity with these movements.

That also was Berta.

The murder of Berta could signify for many companies and interests, the opportunity to advance on their territories.  But COPINH is stronger than ever and will need the support of all to join in the struggle with solidarity and with the memory of Berta in our hands.

The murderers already know that I did not die, and I'm sure they're wanting to finish their work.  Even though the Mexican consulate came immediately to my help and has not left me, in spite of the patrols and police, this does not mean that my life is out of danger, and that's something the Honduran government doesn't want to see.  They tried through today to retain me to control the information of my testimony.  They've denied me copies of my testimony.  They threatened that if I leave Tegucigalpa for my security, they've issued orders for my preventative arrest.  If I leave without their consent there will be no security and will be on our responsibility.  I declare that I committed no crime, and their legal questioning could be answered from my country.

It pains me enormously to be locked up alone in this city while thousands gather on the streets to say goodbye to our beloved Berta.  But I want to tell you that I am with you there, crying a sea of tears for lost Berta, but also thanking her for the life I know that has inspired me so much.  But I know that I have to leave and the government continues to prepare its sophistry to present to the public opinion that the murder of Berta was due to internal conflicts, when there's already complaints filed against those that have threatened to murder her, people associated with the hydroelectric company protected by the government.  They only want to investigate COPINH, to fragment it, and put an end to one of the principal and most emblematic struggles in the last 20 years in Honduras.

And my testimony is an obstacle for them to put who they want in prison.  I didn't hear cars arrive, nor leave, during the murder;  the crime scene has been modified and altered; the blood evidence and others left blank lines that later can be altered.  They've ordered a majority of COPINH to testify and not any of the suspects from earlier times that threatened to murder Berta.

Until today I was under official medical attention for my wounds with a supporting family and a supporting doctor.  It was all day yesterday and well into the night before I could change my bloody clothes; but the government continues to hold my luggage without giving it back to me.  I remained hungry and it was not until the afternoon that they offered me something to eat;  I did not taste food until today, replying to questions, taking tests and the many things that were happening.  It appears that they forgot that I'm a victim and for 48 hours I was not allowed to close my eyes, no rest, attending to their things.  The sweetest thing was having COPINH outside, in the room at whatever moment, accompanying my security, silent, attentive, marvellous.  One senses the human warmth and tremendous support.  One feels more secure with them than with a thousand police.

After leaving the Public Prosecutor's office last night to go to the court to give protected witness testimony, dressed in a black robe to my fingernails, and a black hood, I came back to more tests and questions;  Finally they gave me a chance to change and brought me my suitcase, but later took it away again.  The Counsel found me a hotel as hundreds on hundreds were arriving in the city to say goodbye to Berta.  Finally at dawn we arrived at a room in a hotel and I finally could rest for a few hours because I was supposed to leave Tegucigalpa in a few hours.  But they came to the hotel with photos and videos for me to identify the murderers that I saw face to face, but unfortunately all of the photos and videos were of marches of COPINH, and they wanted me to indicate which of them did it.
But they never showed me the faces of the owners of the companies, or their paid assassins  In place of two hours, it was four hours of questions and photos.

They came when we were about to get into the armored car that the Counsel had to go to Tegucigalpa when the high officials of the Prosecutor's murder office, and the Agencia Tecnica de Investigaciones Criminales arrived and asked me to stay to help them reconstruct the crime.  I consulted and found it convenient to stay with the condition that they let me go to the wake for Berta, with the people.  They agreed.  During the two hours of the reconstruction I drank coffee because I wanted to help reconstruct the murder.

I thought this would be the last that the government asked of me, because when I wasn't, they were tempted to place me in preventative custody because I am the only eye witness. But confusion reigned not only in our crushed hearts because we had to bury Berta before her time, but also reigned in the same Public Prosecutor, and in his offices the same reigned.  Well, I agreed to help them in this difficult test of reconstructing the events.  For Berta, for COPINH, so that some day justice would be done and those who promulgate death and destruction would be expelled from the land.

Thanks to so many people for their support, for the waiting of this valued people.  Thanks, really thanks, I was moved to tears and more, that my friends and so many people, had been so concerned that they condemned this situation.

Gustavo Castro Soto.