Private security in Central America

Criminal groups in Honduras are allegedly taking advantage of the proliferation of private security firms by setting up their own companies as a cover for their illicit activities.

There are currently over 70,000 armed private security guards in Honduras compared to 14,000 armed police, reported La Prensa. Some of the guards work for the country's 709 registered security companies, of which 307 are registered as non-profits, meaning they do not pay state taxes.

However, the majority of security companies in the country are not registered and operate without state regulation, according to Hector Ivan Mejia, a former National Police spokesperson who now heads the Transport Police.

It has become a common practice for criminal organizations to set up security companies to mask activities such as the purchase and transport of weapons, according to Raul Pineda Alvarado, a security analyst and advisor to the Honduras prosecutor's office.

InSight Crime Analysis

The proliferation of private security companies is a predictable result of the endemic institutional weakness of Honduras' state security forces, which have failed to stem the deterioration in security that has seen Honduras become the world's most dangerous country.

In Honduras, violence is often fuelled by the security forces, which suffer from high levels of corruption and infiltration by criminal groups. This has fed the breakdown of trust between security institutions and the public, further increasing the likelihood of people turning to private security companies.

Many of these groups in Honduras were set up by former security forces agents, and in some parts of the country they work closely with the police. In the Bajo Aguan region, private security companies were accused of waging a violent campaign against activists and farmers in conjunction with the police.

The expanse of private security firms has been seen elsewhere in Latin America. According to a 2012 AFP report, the crime-ravaged Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras now have the largest concentration of private security firms in the region. In Colombia, security companies have often been used as a front by paramilitary groups, who use them to disguise their criminal activities and to launder profits. Meanwhile, in El Salvador, companies have been linked to the illegal arms trade and accused of reselling their weapons on the blackmarket.