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Honduras: Joke's on the Police

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The so-called "Security Tax" that the Honduran Congress passed in 2011 was meant to raise money specifically for, well... better security. The understanding was that the new money, garnered from business transactions made through banks, would be used to pay for materials, equipment and supplies for the National Police that would allow them to better perform their duties, including patrol the streets and investigate crimes. The lack of funding within the police force was so severe that, often, there was no money to buy uniforms or gasoline for police vehicles. It would also go toward raising wages for police officers and training new officers to take the place of those who were found to be corrupt and with ties to organized crime or accused of murdering someone.

So... the tax was levied, and revenue from it has been collected for many months now. The problem is that very little of the money -- if any -- has gone for what it was initially intended. That was precisely the primary objection of the business community when it came out in opposition to the tax -- the extreme likelihood (based on history) that the money would either be stolen, mismanaged, or diverted. Why indeed would anyone expect new tax funds charged by a corrupt or dysfunctional government to go toward its intended purposes, notably for salaries of public employees or social programs to help the people?

Last month, police officers in Tegucigalpa went on strike because of a new order from the top brass insisting that they work three out of four weekends a month, instead of the normal two. Not only were the officers being told they must work additional days (meaning they would have less time to spend with their families), they were also being denied the pay raises they'd been promised since January. Of course, they struck. Who would be so asinine as to continue wishing to be treated as slaves?

One of the consistent questions asked by striking officers is, "So where's our money?" It turns out that the money has been diverted by Congress to pay for general operations of the government. Without notifying anyone, Congress quietly modified (via Decree 166-2011) on October 1, 2011 the language of the security tax legislation (which became law in July 2011) to allow President Porfirio Lobo to use the money in whatever manner he deems necessary. Obviously, with Honduras' severe fiscal problems, President Lobo, with the support of the president of the Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández, must have determined somewhere along the way that the cash was more urgently needed simply to keep the government running.

Very sneaky. Worse, very disingenuous... because now the Lobo administration and Congressman Hernández are blaming the police for striking (insinuating that they are being unreasonable, perhaps even unpatriotic), and have suspended the Attorney General and his assistants for not having made more progress in investigating crimes and reforming the police (suggesting they are incompetent). The police and the attorneys have been turned into scapegoats. Bad form, guys. Shame on you.