A homicide scene in Honduras

Authorities in the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras and Guatemala have announced drops in their homicide rates of over 20 and 10 points, respectively. What has been responsible for these reported reductions in violence, and are they sustainable?

According to Honduran Security Minister Arturo Corrales, homicides dropped from 84 per 100,000 residents in 2012 -- a rate the United Nations pegged at an even higher 90.4 per 100,000 -- to 60 per 100,000 by June 2014, reported La Tribuna. Numbers from Honduran violence reduction force Fusina show 2,634 murders between January and mid-June this year, compared to 3,245 in the same period last year, reported La Prensa.

A geographical breakdown of homicides by the Security Ministry found 75 percent of murders were concentrated in just 30 Honduran municipalities (see InSight Crime map below), reported El Heraldo. Authorities plan to install Citizen Security Observatories to analyze homicide reduction strategies in these cities.

Meanwhile, the president of neighboring Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, announced the country has seen an approximately 10 point reduction in its murder rate since he took office in 2012, when the murder rate was around 40 per 100,000,. According to EFE, 2,343 murders occurred between January and May this year, compared to 2,612 in the same period in 2013. 

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InSight Crime Analysis

Guatemala and Honduras, together with El Salvador, form Central America's so-called "Northern Triangle," a region plagued by drug and gang violence. Honduras has seen especially high rates of violence, with already rising homicides shooting up after a 2009 coup that plunged the country into political and social turmoil, making room for organized crime to flourish. 

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

While the apparent drops in homicides are promising signs, there are often discrepancies between official and independent murder counts. Murder reductions are good publicity, and the heads of state are thus likely to highlight the most favorable statistics available.

Regardless of the extent to which murders have actually dropped, questions remain as to whether or not the security policies of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and his Guatemalan counterpart have been responsible for the decreases. A February article from Plaza Publica noted that homicides began falling in Guatemala three years before Perez Molina took office, and that subsequent drops could have as much to do with population growth as crime reduction strategies. 

There is also the issue of sustainability. Since entering office in late January, Hernandez has undertaken a hard-line campaign to battle violent crime, placing members of the new military police (PMOP) on the streets of national capital Tegucigalpa and violence capital San Pedro Sula and cutting cell phone signals in prisons to target extortion. Nonetheless, his detractors have criticized his so-called "iron fist" policies as short-sighted -- failing to address underlying institutional weakness and corruption -- and potentially damaging in the long-run.