Violence in Honduras

Even before the death of Natalie, many of you have been asking me about the violence in Honduras.   The Washington Post recently ran an article, claiming that Honduras was the murder capital of the world, with a homicide rate of 82.1 per 100,000 (Mexico is 18.1 and the US is 5.0). In addition, the U.S. Peace Corps has decided to withdraw from Honduras for the protection of its volunteers.

The news and statistics are frightening, as is the loss of someone in our community. But, in reality, much of the violence occurs only within certain barrios of the two big cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, or in the drug-infested jungles of eastern Honduras.  Most communities are safe in the daytime.  The countryside is  more safe than the city. Copan Ruinas, where I am, is extremely safe both  in the day and night.
crime in Honduras
International Homicide Rates
Source: Washington Post

Most Hondurans at-
tend to their business without concern during the day. However, at night,  people agree that it is safer to remain home or in the lighted, populated parts of town. Also, as a precaution, very few people drive at night outside the city.

The visitor to Hon-duras will immediately notice the abundance of men with guns. Everywhere armed guards watch, outside of banks (as one might expect), but also supermarkets and even toy stores. 

Also, private homes are built like fortresses, surrounded by great walls and barbed wire.   Windows are protected with bars against any night-time intruder.   The extremely wealthy have a man with a gun to stand watch; those on a budget have a man with a machete,  and those on an extreme budget have a dog.  

While the police may provide protection, they are generally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of crime; or worse, they are corrupt themselves. In effect, the government has failed to protect its people, and security has become privatized.

Crime in Honduras is the result of three primary factors: 

1.  The high poverty level in the country means a high number of desperate  people.  According the Honduran newspaper, La Prensa, 58.5% of the urban  and 65.2% of the rural population are living in poverty.  Of course, being poor doesn't necessarily make a person turn to crime, but a certain percentage do, which increases proportionately with the poverty rate.

2.  The drug cartels, against whom Mexican government currently is fighting,  are moving their bases out of Mexico and into the northern triangle of Central America, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. These countries have become the new staging areas for transporting drugs from South America to the United States.  The cartels hire local personnel from gangs, criminals and even the police, whose job is to move the contraband north to the streets of the U.S. Needless to say, disputes are settled with guns, often at the expense innocent bystanders, who are caught in the crossfire. 

3. Corruption in the police force.  In the Oct 23, 2011, two Honduran students, were murdered. One was the son of a National Autonomy University of Honduras (UNAH) director, Julieta Castellanos, and the other his friend. When Dr. Castellanos brought pressure against the police, it was discovered that the students were shot by the police themselves, who, in turn, proceeded to cover up the incident. But as the facts slowly emerged, the country became outraged, prompting an intensive investigation of the national police service.  So far, more than a hundred police have been suspended. The internal review has also revealed that the cartels have infiltrated the police, who in many instances, have committed murder, vehicle theft, demanded protection money and  sold drugs.  Whether this shake-up is a serious restructuring of the police for the better or just window dressing is yet to be seen.  Many Hondurans despair that the corruption is so endemic here, that even if the police forces were reformed and all responsible brought to justice, in a few years it would be business as usual again. 


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