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GLOBAL | winter 2003


Fighting for Justice in Honduras
Former Police Officer stirs up the force.

Ms. Winter 2003

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When Maria Luisa Borjas became internal affairs director of the Honduran police force, she thought she had finally gotten a chance to root out the corruption and abuse that had long tainted the institution she loves. She didn’t realize the assignment might mark the beginning of the end of her highly acclaimed career in law enforcement.

Policing the police, Borjas investigated officers allegedly responsible for extra-judicial killings, and she got close to what she believes was a cover-up reaching high levels of government. But the minister of security removed her from her post early this year, six months after she had assumed it.

Today this 50-year-old woman, formerly a member of the first class of female police officers in Honduras, is a cop without a beat. She has not been fired, and still collects a drastically reduced salary, but she has no office and no official assignments.

Some think Borjas lost her job because she did it too well.

“Ever since Borjas was removed, you never hear anything about internal affairs. Since she left, the department has yet to present a serious report about the work they are doing,’’ said Andres Pavon, a prominent Honduran human rights activist.

That hasn’t stopped her, however, from continuing her investigations of crooked cops.

At her request, local papers published her phone number in August. Since then, she has received an average of five calls a week from people with complaints or tips about the police. A newly purchased fax machine sits beside an outdated computer in her makeshift living-room office. Covering her own expenses, she travels the country pursuing her investigations.

“The people of Honduras have a thirst for justice,” she says. “They are looking for a place to direct their accusations.”

Borjas’ trouble with the police began when she located weapons she thought tied the former police chief of Honduras’ second largest city, San Pedro Sula, to a high-profile execution and, potentially, to many others. But when she arrived at the armory the day before prosecutors were to seize the evidence, she found security ministry officials and the military’s top arms technician inside the building. Tests later revealed that all identification marks that could have linked the guns to the bullets retrieved from the victims’ bodies had been removed.

Within days after Borjas filed a formal complaint about what she saw that night, she says Security Minister Oscar Alvarez took away her unit’s cars, logistical support and staff. She decided to go to the press.

Soon after, Security Minister Alvarez removed her from her post. He says she committed a “serious infraction” by making public unfounded accusations, including some directed at him.

Borjas says she may have reasons to fear for her safety. She says her neighbors often spot people in cars observing her house and that she is sometimes followed.

Nonetheless, she says she refuses to stop her investigations or the fight to get her post back. She has been speaking out and taking risks since her first days as a cop, when she says she became the first police officer to file a complaint against a superior for attempted rape.

“If I can add my one grain of sand to make the police a more decent institution,’’ she said, “then that is what I am going to do.’