Honduras Drop in Homicides One Part of Complex Security Situation

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A new report has found that a sustained reduction in homicides in Honduras has led to a decrease in the impunity rate, but despite this progress, insecurity remains a prevalent problem in the Central American nation.

The 47 percent drop in homicides in Honduras between 2013 and 2017 has had a direct impact on the country’s impunity rate, which fell from 96 percent in 2013 to 87 percent in 2017, according to a June report on homicides and impunity published by the Association for a More Just Society (Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa – ASJ).

SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles

To come to this conclusion, the report’s authors analyzed information from judicial statistics, citizen surveys on security, past impunity and prosecution rates, as well as prosecutions of homicides at the departmental and national levels.

Since the homicide rate peaked at 86.5 per 100,000 citizens in 2011, a steady downward trend saw this rate fall to just 43.6 in 2017 and then 40 per 100,000 citizens in 2018.

(Evolution of Honduras’ homicide rate c/o ASJ report)

Throughout the first quarter of 2019, authorities in Honduras have recorded 777 homicides, accounting for just under nine homicides per day, according to a recent Security Ministry report, Tiempo Digital reported. This is down from the more than 12 homicides committed per day during the first three months of 2017, and the nearly 11 homicides recorded per day during the same time in 2018.

But despite the reduction in the number of homicides and the positive impact this has had on impunity and prosecuting crime in Honduras, the report notes that a climate of insecurity and a lack of peace still persists.

InSight Crime Analysis

Declining impunity and homicide rates in Honduras are indeed a positive sign. For years, the Northern Triangle nation has been among the most violent countries in Latin America. That said, several other factors suggest that insecurity continues to be widespread.

Indeed, while around 70 percent of the population in Honduras felt insecure in 2016, that number jumped to just under 90 percent in 2018 despite a gradual drop in homicides in recent years, according to a 2018 poll on citizen perceptions of insecurity and victimization from the Institute of Democracy, Peace and Security at Honduras’ National Autonomous University.

In addition, there has been a shocking uptick in massacres (three or more murders) in 2019. In the first six months of the year, nearly 120 Hondurans have been killed in at least 34 massacres — or one massacre every five days. In 2018, the country recorded a total of 39 massacres. If this year’s trend continues, authorities are on pace to potentially record nearly 70 massacres, almost double last year’s tally.

However, lethal violence isn’t the only way that criminal actors can terrorize the local population. As InSight Crime detailed in a joint investigation with Global Initiative, powerful street gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 extort citizens to the tune of some $200 million per year.

SEE ALSO: Extortion in Central America Special Investigation

The Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the country’s second largest city, for example, are overrun by the MS13 and Barrio 18, which “control entire neighborhoods within the city, and rely on extortion as one of their key criminal economies,” the report found.

What’s more, the recent arrests of local gang leaders in the country’s two largest cities appears to have had unforeseen consequences. Authorities are working to combat the expansion of gang “cliques,” or cells, into at least 30 “historically peaceful” municipalities in the departments of Santa Bárbara, El Paraíso, Choluteca, Atlantida and Comayagua, where officials say gang members are increasingly engaging in petty drug dealing, extortion and hired killings, La Tribuna reported.

But beyond the negative impact that gangs have on security, pervasive political corruption from the local level on up also has consequences.

To be sure, President Juan Orlando Hernández’s brother, former congressman Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, is alleged to have been a “large-scale drug trafficker.” Testimony he gave to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also suggests that the president himself was likely aware of his brother’s alleged ties to the drug trade.

Outside of the Hernández family’s potentially dubious dealings, members of President Hernández’s administration have also been directly tied to outright criminal activity, in addition to a number of other local government officials and powerful political families.

A former congressman who served in the National Congress under President Hernández before he became president in 2014 was indicted on drug charges last year. The president’s former investment minister and another former minister to the presidency — both members of the influential Rosenthal family — were also implicated in laundering drug proceeds for the once-feared Cachiros, one of Honduras’ most notorious criminal organizations.

All of this is to say that, while a drop in homicides and the country’s impunity rate is indeed one part of measuring Honduras’ security situation, the nation-wide presence of the country’s gangs, continued corruption within security forces, and a lack of faith in elected officials with criminal ties and accused of corruption suggest that the situation is much more complex.

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