Incredulous sights, wary views and opinions, and significant despair show the uncertainty of many of the people of Honduras in their government's ability to provide urgently needed security and safety from violent crime, which has resulted in a massive death toll through apparent unstoppable violence.
An iron-fisted grip by transnational organized criminals remains Hondurans’ greatest challenge, especially with the approach of their next presidential elections on November 24.
Honduras possesses the highest rate of intentional homicide in the world, “significantly higher than the rate in El Salvador” that has the second highest rate, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
These organized criminals operate across borders for the clear purpose of obtaining power and influence by illegal means , through a pattern of corruption, violence and death for large financial gain. They act conspiratorially with a myriad of rogue brokers of transgression and evildoers that share a mutual propensity to commit illegal acts for these massive profits.
Hondurans face much more in their dilemma than other nations in the northern cone of Central America and Mexico face, with respect to how to police their homeland, enforce the rule of law, and protect citizens from this barbaric carnage.
Hondurans are torn as to their trust of the military, their government, the police, the U.S., or other offers of assistance to bring relief or justice to their suffering. There have been reports of death squad activity against the organized criminals by police, as well as the insinuation that the U.S. could be culpable due to its funding of the police. These attacks against the violent insurgents and local gangs have been described as “dispatching summary justice to gang members in a policy of ‘social cleansing’ with complete impunity” (Al Jazeera English, June 4, 2013).
The irony is that in addition to accusations of police killing the bad guys, the Honduran police are also accused of “organized crime ties.” Around 1,400 police officials were recently suspended pending polygraph tests to attempt to determine organized crime ties.
One interesting theory is whether much of this violence is directed against the government to protest the possible extradition of criminal Honduran nationals to the U.S. Colombia faced this in the 1980s, during the reign of crime lord Pablo Escobar. Escobar orchestrated a war of blood, carnage and kidnapping in Colombia against police, government officials, judges and others in retaliation. Colombia subsequently outlawed extradition, in 1991, which was reinstated in 1997, a couple of years after Escobar was killed.
Much of the organized gang activity in Honduras, mainly by the Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13 and 18), has been violent, with large numbers of kidnappings and acts of extortion. MS gangs have also been known to shoot up public transportation vehicles. The MS gangs originated through Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and continued to assimilate in U.S. prisons along with Mexican gangs. Thousands were released after arrest, and once the sentences of those convicted were completed in the U.S. many were deported to Central America, although many returned illegally and moved into US cities.
The true numbers of transnational organized criminals throughout Mexico and the northern cone of Central America is not known. However, Honduras is the world's most violent country with 85 to 91 killings per 100,000 people. With a population of eight million, Honduras also has 80 percent of the cocaine destined for the U.S. passing through its territory. Too, Honduras is perceived to be a relative safe haven from prosecution and the reach of U.S. prosecutors.
Facing the facts about “policing” is indeed sobering. Police in Honduras, Mexico and other nation’s were never created or designed to face such military-style armaments and tactical strategies as those used by many of the insurgents. In addition, the criminals are now engaged in much more than drug trafficking. The so-called war on drugs is now primarily a war against violent organized crime, and kidnapping and extortion for ransom, robbery, murder for hire, human and sex trafficking, oil thefts, and related violent crimes by the perpetrators continue to escalate.
Transnational crime requires a transnational enforcement response. Hondurans can’t sit and wait for the government to purge corruption from its ranks. They need to enforce the rule of law aggressively. Will the military also be their alternative at this point?
The corruptive power of these insurgents must be disrupted. It won’t happen with “gang truces.” There is no wealth for the criminals with a truce – they would have to find other jobs or trades for much lower compensation, as well as lose power status. You must break their economic power and enabling networks.
The answers for success require international and multilateral support to all of the nations in harm’s way. This is not a time to continue to bury heads in the sand.
**Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia. His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.