Mr. Rick Craig:
There are three aspects to my presentation, just a little bit of an update on what we are doing in focusing on Honduras. We're really working in the northern triangle, but I'm going to just comment on Honduras, talk about some of the issues we see, and then give a bit more detail on a couple of those issues. That's what I thought I would do by way of a presentation.
We've been working in Central America in the northern triangle since 2000, so it's been quite a long journey. It's been over 15 years. We started in Guatemala. Obviously, we're starting with the whole work that's been going on in the region, which is the transition from the old inquisitorial system to the adversarial system, and trying to work with them on capacity building to get functioning justice systems. That's been our mandate.
We thought when we started that things were going to get a little easier because the wars were over, and this was all part of the peace process. But little did we know that, of course, then, you had the explosion of the gangs and all the issues around the narco trafficking. Combine that with the issues around corruption, and it's been quite a journey.
We started to include Honduras in our work in a small way in about 2004 only because we said that, if we're going to do this work with Guatemala, we should at least open the door to El Salvador and Honduras. We did that, but we really didn't start in any more serious level of programming until about 2009. At that point we did have funding from CIDA to do some of the work we were doing in Honduras. Strangely enough or coincidentally enough, we ended up trying to do that work, initiating it, during the time when the coup happened. We actually had staff in the building of the Ministerio Publico on the day the coup happened, so we sort of understand that period of the journey a little bit.
Currently we're working on a $2.1-million project, which is for the three countries. It's for two years. It's funded by the anti-crime capacity-building program of GAC, and it has several components. The first component is programming, distinct programming that's going on each of the three countries. We've been trying to build their capacity to do effective investigations and actually address some of these cases of impunity. We've been working in very targeted ways doing that differently in each country, because each country is in a different state of development and there are different issues affecting them. In doing so, we've had a program for Honduras, and I'll tell you about that in a second.
We also have a second component where we started to move towards some regional programming. Some of the things we are doing are trying to actually go beyond the work within each country and deal with some regional sharing of evidence. That's been particularly important in the area of fingerprint evidence, especially because one of the issues in the region is a lot of killings, and of course there are a lot of unidentified bodies. There's a lot of migration of people. There are a lot of issues around that, and so we are trying to get these northern triangle countries to begin to share evidence so that we can start getting some resolution to some of these unidentified bodies and help advance some of these cases.
We're doing the same thing around ballistics. There are probably about 18,000 murders a year in the three countries—it's very violent—and 80% of them are committed with firearms. One of our agendas is getting their capacity to be able to do proper ballistic analysis of evidence and getting them to share that between the countries, because a lot of it, especially the gang work, is transnational. In doing so, we've been working with Interpol, and we've also been working with the Americans, with the ATF and with the INL, which are two American programs.
In terms of Honduras, our focus has been primarily on supporting ATIC, Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal. ATIC is the new criminal investigation agency that was created by the prosecutor service, the Ministerio Publico. In many ways we see so many parallels in Honduras to what we saw in Guatemala 10 years ago. There is talk about Honduras potentially evolving to become a narco state if they're not careful. That was certainly the issue in discussions in Guatemala 10 years ago. Now Guatemala has pulled back from the brink. In Honduras we're at a different stage, and hopefully they'll be able to do so, too.
ATIC is a new agency. It started just a little over a year ago. It has about 400 people. There are about 80 investigators. Now that's a small amount, given the volume of work. Probably in the police alone there are about 2,000 investigators in the country.
The reason we focused on them is that they needed the most sophisticated organizations that can start to do the kind of proper investigation required to deal with organized crime and the gangs. They have created this unit within ATIC. It is a totally new unit. It is vetted, and it is all new people. They are young people. We have been working with them to help establish their functionality. That means we have been helping them with some of the crime scene examination training, major case management, and the whole creation of a criminal intelligence analysis unit. The work with the Ministerio Publico continues around forensic video analysis, ballistics, and surveillance. These are some of the areas.
Because it is a new area, the question has been as to how the work is going to be divided. ATIC has been given the mandate to take on the high-profile cases, the cases of important significance. All cases are important, but there are high-profile cases, delicate cases. ATIC has been stepping into that piece of the puzzle.
For example, around the Berta Cáceres case, it is ATIC that has been doing the investigation. ATIC has also been doing a number of other major investigations, one of them around the major police corruption cases that are on, which are very serious.
One of the cases we were dealing with, which we are very happy about.... This is the first evidence of their ability to actually start to tackle some of the gang and organized crime work in a more holistic way. They have done that in one particular case, called Operation Avalanche, where they actually brought down a whole clique, MS- 13 or Mara Salvatrucha 13, a subgroup that was involved in all kinds of drug dealing and money laundering. They brought the whole group down. This is really the first time they have done that. We have been monitoring that. It led to 19 arrests, including a mayor, an evangelical priest, a police officer, and gang members. In the past, a lot of these cases have been done just one on one. They have not even had the capacity to actually do the structural analysis required.
What we are seeing, at least with the development of the work with ATIC, is encouraging. We are seeing that work as well in the Berta Cáceres case, which of course is the killing of the environmentalist that has caused an international uproar.
In that sense, our focus has been primarily on them. We have been communicating a lot with them about how things are going and the issues they are dealing with, and trying to assess how they are evolving. In addition, we have done some work with the national police around the investigative unit because, in the division of labour in Honduras, ATIC is quite limited in its capacity. The whole issue of the ongoing processing of the murders, which are substantial—we can be dealing with 5,000 to 6,000 a year—is in the hands of the police. We have been trying to help them a little in that capacity with some of the training we have been doing.
Honduras is a country that has a public security crisis. The whole northern triangle is in trouble. It has been in trouble for a long time, and it is getting worse. It has been getting worse in Honduras, and certainly in El Salvador. I think, in some ways, it has been getting better in Guatemala, but they still have a major battle.
From our point of view, we have tried to be very strategic with the Canadian assistance. We have identified, even within the situation of Honduras.... It is complicated, because when you get these kinds of crises, you sometimes get multi-faceted, uncoordinated responses that happen, where maybe political actions are being taken, and the actions are leading to an attempt just to try to show some progress.
We have been monitoring five areas of development in Honduras. One of them, of course, is the work of ATIC, where we are working very closely in trying to support them. There is the work of what we call the police investigation unit, the DPI. They are doing the murder investigations. Then, of course, there is the new work that is starting with the OAS group MACCIH, which is the new organization that has been set up to deal with corruption and impunity. We have been talking to them. I know a lot of their senior people quite well, because we got to know them when they were working.... A lot of them were working with CICIG, which was the group created in Guatemala.
We have done work with CICIG over the years, so we know quite a number of them, and we are talking to them about how we can support their work going forward.
There are two other groups that we're also trying to monitor. One is a special task force that has been created to deal with extortion, FNA. The bread and butter of the gangs is extortion, so of course it's a major area. We have some concerns that there's going to be a lack of coordination between these groups. Certainly at the heart of it all is the work of the Ministerio Publico, which is the prosecution service.
The last group we've been monitoring in terms of the work is a group called FUSINA, which is a national task force that has been created. This is the one that involves the military and the use of the military police, which has been a concern to a lot of people around the increasing use of the military police within the security framework environment in Honduras.
In our talking to people, the population is quite divided. There are those who think they need security, and if the military police can help provide it, then they welcome it. There are others who say, okay, but what are the terms and for how long, and is this going to become the future? There are concerns on that point.
We have some sense of how that is playing out, and obviously, we don't work with them directly. Our training does not involve them, but there is an overlap that's happening as they're getting more into the general security agenda in terms of trying to respond to the criminality.
Mr. Rick Craig:
The problem with an independent approach is that you're bringing in people from outside. You're bringing them into a context they don't necessarily know. They don't have the kind of connection. There are a lot of challenges in doing that.
When CICIG set up in Guatemala, it took it a number of years to get the capacity to do the kinds of investigations that it was doing in parallel with the Ministerio Publico. It wasn't that they weren't competent. They were great people. It's just that you have to know the context. You have to be able to navigate the realities you're dealing with. It's not easy to do that. Then of course you have to have the confidence that somehow creates the competence to do that.
To me I think what's been helpful about this process right now is the international outrage. It puts pressure on the Hondurans. At the end of the day, what happens when you bring in an international group is that it leaves. My biggest concern is that it doesn't help the society to have foreigners come in and somehow deal with its issues and then leave, and it hasn't built the capacity itself to manage and deal with it in the future.
To me, the whole capacity-building agenda is critical. What we need to do is to hold them accountable, be in a position to do oversight and provide assistance as they need it, but try to help them to get the functionality to prove to themselves and to their people that they can start to take control of their own agenda. That's what I believe is the best approach.
I do think the pressure is really important. I think it provides opportunities because right now in the Berta Cáceres case, they have to demonstrate that they're doing a competent investigation and that they're checking all of the avenues and they're getting the evidence. They're going to be under very clear scrutiny, and I think that's good. At the same time, I want them to build that capacity, because part of the problem in these countries is a lack of confidence in themselves.
In Guatemala, when we started, they were dealing with a resolution of 2% of murders. If you only can resolve 2% of your murders, how do you ever feel confident about your ability as a society to manage? You have to take control. That's part of the issue that we have to support.
In terms of the development agenda, I've been arguing this. I feel that, with the mergers as GAC is evolving, one of the big issues is how you combine the government's agenda and the security agendas with the development agendas. In the past, they were viewed very separately, but we know that doesn't work. We know that you can't have development without dealing with the security issues and impunity. You just can't have it. People want to leave the country. They're throwing their money out of the country. It just doesn't work.
What we have to do is to refocus and then do them hand in hand. I know there's a current consultation going on with GAC. That's the message we want to pass to them because our problem we find is that, even in the kind of work we do, ACCBP, the anti-crime capacity-building program, does fabulous work, but it doesn't have a lot of money. It's a small program. On the development side, a lot of the development people are excellent people, but they don't understand the government side. These are issues that I think we have to get our heads around.