Is Honduras Faking its Falling Homicide Rates?

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Officials say homicides in Honduras have dropped over 15 percent in 2014 compared to the same period the previous year, but it is unclear whether this represents a real reduction in violent crime or is due to manipulation of statistics.

On August 11, Honduras’ Security Ministry released a preliminary report stating that murders totaled 3,367 from January to July 2014, compared to 3,990 over the same period in 2013, representing a 15.6 percent decline, reported EFE. The daily average number of murders dropped to 15.2 from 16.9, and January was the most violent month, according to the report.

La Prensa reported that authorities did not provide any indication of the possible causes of this reduction.

InSight Crime Analysis

Honduras is ranked as the most violent country in the world, outside of war zones. Foreign and local drug trafficking groups and street gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Barrio 18 contribute to the violence. These gangs have become more sophisticated as the presence of transnational drug trafficking organizations has grown, following the 2009 coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya and pitched the country into turmoil.

Since coming into office, Honduras’ current President Juan Orlando Hernandez has pushed through a number of hard-line security measures, including the deployment of military police, aimed at reducing violent crime.

While it is difficult to determine whether Hernandez’s measures have had an impact on the murder rate, there is another factor that likely has: a change in the way Honduras’ murders are counted.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Homicides

Until mid-2013, the country’s homicides were monitored by the Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) — a joint initiative by police, forensic medicine personnel, university staff and the Attorney General’s Office. However, last year Security Minister Arturo Corrales created a separate violence observatory managed by the National Police.

The discrepancies in figures produced by these two observatories became evident by the end of 2013: UNAH reported a year-end homicide rate of 83 per 100,000, while police reported that murders had dropped to a rate of 75.1 per 100,000. The difference was reportedly due to the National Police not recording 700 apparent homicides in which no autopsy was performed on the corpse.

Corrales’ strategy may well be to present crime statistics in a positive light in order to boost the government’s popularity. Other governments in the region, such as Venezuela, face similar accusations of manipulating homicide figures to fit their political aims. 

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