Honduras has experienced more massacres so far in 2015 than in all of last year, suggesting violence related to organized crime remains rampant despite a significant drop in the country’s murder rate.
The Violence Observatory at Honduras’ National Autonomous University (UNAH) has registered 95 massacres in 2015, resulting in 352 deaths, according to the AFP. A massacre is defined as any homicide case in which three or more victims were killed.
Migdonia Ayestas, director of the Violence Observatory, told AFP that the rise in massacres is due to confrontations between street gangs and drug trafficking groups, inter-gang battles for control of extortion revenues, personal clashes and land disputes.
The increasing number of massacres runs contrary to an overall decrease in homicides. Honduras’ national homicide rate fell from over 90 per 100,000 residents in 2011 — the highest in the world at the time — to 66 per 100,000 in 2014. Ayestas projects that the country’s homicide rate will continue to drop in 2015, to 62 per 100,000 by the end of the year.
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The simultaneous rise in massacres and drop in homicides suggests organized crime is responsible for an increasing portion of the murders being committed in Honduras. As Ayestas noted, multiple homicide cases are closely associated with drug trafficking and gang related violence. To highlight just one example, authorities say a recent massacre that left seven people dead was the result of gangs fighting over drug sales in Honduras’ Central District.
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Shifts in Honduras’ criminal dynamics support this hypothesis. The underworld is in turmoil, due to the dismantling of several powerful narco-clans that had controlled large swaths of drug trafficking routes in Honduras. This power vacuum may be causing an increase in drug violence as new criminal groups try to wrest control from what remains of the older organizations. Spasms of violence resulting from underworld upheaval have previously been seen in various other parts of Latin America, such as Guatemala and Mexico.
Nevertheless, obtaining reliable and accurate crime statistics from Honduras is a near impossible task, and without more concrete data it is difficult to draw too many conclusions as to why the country’s homicide patterns are changing. This is compounded by Honduras’ incredibly low conviction rate for homicides, which means the circumstances under which most murders occur remain shrouded in mystery.