An upcoming election in Honduras has called into question the future of a reform commission that has taken important steps toward cleaning up the country's police force.
President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is running for re-election in the November 26 race, has championed the police reform commission's work as part of a number of factors that have contributed to recent improvements to the security situation in Honduras.
But several other presidential candidates have indicated that they would not continue to back the commission, and might reinstate officers who have already been purged.
On November 14, Salvador Nasralla, a presidential candidate from the Opposition Alliance (Alianza de la Oposición) party, announced that he would revisit the cases of police officers recently removed by the commission, La Prensa reported.
"Many of the police officers and soldiers who have been purged by the commission should be subjected to due process," Nasralla said, explaining that he believes some purged police officers may have been removed in retaliation for investigating ties between high-level Honduran politicians and organized crime.
Henry Osorto, a recently dismissed former police commissioner and congressional candidate for the Innovation and Unity Party (Partido Innovación y Unidad), has also criticized the commission and promised to help reinstate removed officers.
The special commission denounced the politicians' statements in an open letter on November 14, extolling the progress they have made and urging Honduran civil society groups to speak out against proposed efforts to backtrack on police reform.
InSight Crime Analysis
Recent polls have shown Hernández as the front-runner in the upcoming election, but the comments of other candidates suggest the future of the police reform commission remains somewhat uncertain. The candidates' open questioning of the reform's work is a sign that the political will to continue cleaning up the force may be flagging in certain segments of the political elite.
At a November 2 event hosted by the Wilson Center in Washington DC, members of the commission reiterated that the process of purging and reforming Honduras' security institutions will take a long time and will rely heavily on continued political will, as well as ongoing support from civil society groups and the international community.
In this respect, the United States could prove a crucial actor in pushing for continued support of the commission, including by linking aid funding to that issue. Throughout the special commission's 18-month mandate, members have met on multiple occasions with US officials to foster support for their reform efforts, including during their recent visit to Capitol Hill.
Although this latest police reform effort has been more successful than previous attempts, observers have pointed out that authorities have struggled to prosecute officers removed for alleged criminal activity. And as InSight Crime has previously reported, the goal set by Honduran authorities to double the current size of the police force to 26,000 officers by 2022 will be constrained by limited resources and persistent weaknesses in the country's institutions.
Commission member Omar Rivera emphasized at the Wilson Center event that although some progress has been made, a sustained long-term approach will be needed to continue making headway.
"What has broken down over the course of 20 years will not be fixed in 18 months. Assuming so would be naïve. The seed for this process has only just been planted and we hope it will be sustained and have positive impacts for the population," he said.