The doctrine of national security imposed by the United States on
Latin America, which fostered the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s,
is making a comeback in Honduras where a new law is combining military
defence of the country with police strategies for maintaining domestic
The law created the National Directorate of Investigation and
Intelligence (DNII), a key agency in the security structure that does
not appear to be accountable to any other body, and does not appear to
be under democratic civilian control.
“This bill unites or fuses military defence and internal security,
which is dangerous, because one of the aims after the Cold War was to
separate these fields, due to the negative effects (their union had) on
systematic violation of human rights” in the region, sociologist Mirna
Flores, an expert on the issue, told IPS.
“We are back again with old national security concepts dating from
the Cold War era in Central America, and the danger is that the former
anti-communist rhetoric may be used against the ‘new threats’, such as
allegedly criminal youth, dissidents against the regime, social protests
or for the imposition of absolute powers,” she said.
The approval of the law on Jan. 14 took human rights organisations,
civil society groups and academic bodies by surprise, because of the
rushed nature of the legislation, the lack of consensus-building and the
skipping of two of the three debates necessary for passing laws in
Sergio Castellanos, a legislator for the leftwing Democratic
Unification Party, was the first to react when the bill was introduced.
He asked for time for a fuller debate, but was overruled by the large
rightwing majority comprising representatives of the governing National
Party and one wing of the Liberal Party.
The law was passed amid a whirlwind of parliamentary activity, along
with constitutional reforms and other laws that have engendered
controversy in the country, such as mining regulations and suspension of
all tax exemptions, pending review.
The Intelligence Law has some loopholes consisting of a lack of
conceptual definitions, included in modern legislation in order not to
allow room for discretionary interpretations or decisions.
Roberto Cajina, a civilian consultant on security, defence and
democratic governance, told IPS that lack of definitions and limits in
the text of the new law could give rise to “temptations” for abuse.
“It must be clearly understood what is meant by investigation,
intelligence, strategic action, privacy protection, national security,
special units, covert operations, special agents, special protection
measures, secret funds and special risks, to cite just the most
important definitions that are lacking in the law,” Cajina said.
Article 28 out of the 33 articles in the law says the DNII may
recruit active members of the armed forces and the national police,
Cajina said. This is “a very delicate matter and should be studied with
care,” he said.
“As it stands, it is a dangerous precedent. One could warn of
possible ‘piracy’ of the DNII toward the armed forces and police. What
kinds of intelligence do each of them carry out?” he asked.
“If this is not clarified, problems and serious contradictions will
arise, and the scenario will change radically. It is necessary to
demarcate the boundaries of the fields of action of each of them,”
Flores, the sociologist, and Cajina concur that another vacuum in the
law is the lack of a chain of command subjecting the DNII to the
control of any civilian institution or authority. It is not clear to
what body it is affiliated.
The law compels private bodies to “cooperate by providing information
required of them in order to support intelligence efforts”.
The experts said there should be a clearer description of the kind of
information that private companies are required to give, because the
current text leaves too much room for discretion. “The DNII director
could, with very little justification, pick any organisation as a
subject of interest which must provide the information (the DNII)
demands,” they said.
“We are alarmed at this law that was tabled without ceremony, but
also without debate, and furthermore, relying on old Cold War concepts,”
activist Bertha Oliva, of the Committee of Relatives of the Detained
and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), told IPS.
Oliva said she was concerned by some aspects of the law, especially
the power it gives the DNII to create “special investigation and
intelligence units” and to cooperate with “other state intelligence
“Does that mean there are more? Which ones? Why do we know nothing
about them? I think there are many loopholes that could lead to abuses,”
In the 1980s, members of the Honduran intelligence corps created the
so-called Batallón de la Muerte (death squad), which was responsible for
the forced disappearance of 187 people for political and ideological
reasons, according to an official report.
This history raises fears that a similar body could be recreated,
since the executive branch is giving the armed forces and police wide
powers to run an intelligence corps which by law was supposed to come
under the rule of the Commission on Public Security Reform, a civilian
body working on structural reform of the police, prosecutors and the
But according to Matías Funes, chair of the Commission on Public
Security Reform, its proposals do not have the ear of the legislative
and executive branches. “It’s as if there were a parallel agenda,” and
the institutional environment and democratisation of the country are not
making progress, he said.
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