Honduras' lame duck president has announced the removal of controversial national police commander Juan Carlos "El Tigre" Bonilla, raising the question: why now?
Outgoing president Porfirio Lobo named Ramon Antonio Sabillon, who had been serving as the inspector general of the national police, as Bonilla's replacement, 17 months after his controversial appointment in May 2012. According to the Miami Herald, the move occurred after Lobo consulted with president-elect Juan Orlando Hernandez, who will take office on January 27, but no reasons were given.
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The president also named a recently promoted major general, Fredy Diaz, to replace General Rene Osorio as head of the armed forces. Osorio will finish his two year term in the post in January. These changes were accompanied by other modifications to the army and police leadership, reported La Prensa.
In addition to the leadership changes, the government recently announced it had purchased three high technology radars from Israel worth $30 million, aimed at combatting drug trafficking, reported El Faro.
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While Osorio's term was up, the timing of President Lobo's choice to name a new police chief seems odd, considering that Hernandez will soon take the reins.
According to the Miami Herald, it is normal for these kinds of changes to occur as the administration changes. However, it is also possible the decision is linked to Bonilla's shady human rights record and a desire to hand a cleaner slate to the incoming president, a member of Lobo's conservative National Party and the current president of Congress.
Although many considered Bonilla the man most capable of cleaning up Honduras' notoriously corrupt police force, he had also been accused of participating in a death squad and presiding over others, and was charged with an extrajudicial killing in 2002, before later being acquitted. Sabillon has not been implicated in any such scandals, according to the Miami Herald.
Despite high hopes, little progress has been made in implementing police reform during Bonilla's time in office, with many police who have failed confidence tests remaining in their posts. Additionally, Bonilla's record has caused a major strain on Honduras' relationship with the United States, an important security partner for the country.
The radar purchase could represent another attempt to provide Hernandez with the tools to effectively implement the hardline security strategy he has promised.