The arrest of a mayor in Honduras on charges of multiple homicide draws attention to the larger regional problem of corruption among local officials, one boosted by the increase in power of these municipal governments.
Jose Adalid Gonzalez, the mayor of Sulaco in north-central Honduras, was detained on October 22 for heading a criminal organization named "Los Banegas," reported El Heraldo.
"Los Banegas" is suspected of a number of crimes including multiple murders between 2010 and 2013, land and cattle theft and the assault of transport vehicles. La Prensa says Honduran authorities have begun exhuming the bodies of their victims to gather evidence against the group.
The mayor himself also stands accused of the murders of Secundino Orellana Romero and Medardo Anselmo Romero Ramos, news reports say. Orellano Romero was killed in June 2013 in an exchange of fire with the mayor and his men, according to investigations. Witnesses claim the mayor had a Mini-Uzi, while his bodyguards were armed with pistols. Romeo Ramos was killed months later in front of dozens of witnesses, reportedly on the mayor's orders.
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Over 200 police agents arrested the mayor after months of investigation. Seven other members of the criminal group were apprehended three months ago.
Gonzalez is the second mayor of the Yoro province in north-central Honduras to be arrested for alleged criminal activity. Arnaldo Urbina Soto, also of the National Party, was captured in July 2014 for heading a gang dedicated to drug trafficking and murder, among other crimes.
InSight Crime Analysis
Latin America has a rising number of crooked local officials participating in -- or even leading -- criminal organizations.
Behind this is a major shift in national power distribution. The growing decentralization of authority in these countries has handed local governors more control over budget and security forces, which has placed the mayoral seat in the sights of illegal groups: mayors are being targeted by illegal groups and co-opted into becoming criminals; or criminals are running for mayor and winning.
This trend was perhaps most brutally exposed recently with the discovery that the mayor of Iguala, Mexico, and his wife were the figureheads of Guerreros Unidos -- a local group accused of carrying out the disappearance and presumed killing of 43 students in September 2014.
In Colombia, the interweaving of crime and local governance was seen only last Sunday in the ironic case of a candidate who was voted in as mayor from behind bars.
But the result of the coveted value of this local seat is not only the criminalization of officials. It has also entailed an increase in violent attacks on mayors. This month alone has seen a Honduran mayor tortured and killed, as well as the murder of mayors in Peru, Guatemala, and Brazil.
While Colombia began the decentralization of its government in the 1980s, in Honduras this process began in the 1990s and continues to receive further momentum, which may only enhance the importance of being mayor.