Two Honduran former police officers have been gunned down in Tegucigalpa, in a crime variously attributed to gang disputes or to a cover-up of corruption in the force.
The two ex-policemen were reportedly shot dead by six men driving a pickup truck on Wednesday in Tegucigalpa. Their bodies were found in another pickup truck, without license plates, that had more than 50 bullet holes.
According to La Tribuna, the victims, Inspector Rossel Armando Najera Hernandez and Deputy Commissioner Dorian Martir Sobalvarro Bueso, were sacked in November 2011 in a purge spurred by the October killing of two university students.
Najera was stationed in La Granja, a neighborhood in the south of the capital, which was the focus of controversy when police based there were accused of murdering the students. An El Heraldo investigation revealed that officers in the area had formed a criminal network dealing drugs, carrying out contract killings, and selling stolen cars, which it called the "Cartel de la Granja." Najera and Sobalvarro both held leadership positions in districts linked to the network.
In 2010, Najera was accused of having taken part in an express kidnapping along with two other police officers from La Granja. Sobalvarro, who survived an attempt on his life in late December 2011, was under investigation for illicit enrichment.
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The motive for the killing of the former officers remains unclear. Investigators told La Prensa that the men may have been murdered for "knowing too much" -- this could mean that there is a cover-up of the criminal activities of the La Granja police. On the other hand, a "credible source" told La Tribuna that in police circles it is suspected the officials were killed in a gang dispute.
Either way, the case serves to underline the problem of police corruption in Honduras, where up to 40 percent of police are suspected of ties to organized crime, according to the Congress vice president. If the men were killed to stop them speaking out about police crimes, this could point to a broader cover-up to stop the facts emerging. The gang dispute hypothesis, meanwhile, highlights one of the challenges facing the country as it seeks to clean up its police. When corrupt officers are dismissed, they can continue to operate in lucrative illicit markets, using their police and criminal contacts.
Honduras has deployed its military in a policing role as a temporary solution to spiraling violence -- its national murder rate has climbed to 86 per 100,000, the world's highest -- while an independent commission conducts a top-down review of the police.