There were 600 fewer homicides in Honduras as compared to the same period last year, President Juan Orlando Hernández announced on Monday. In the first semester of 2014, there were 2,893 murders in the small Central American country, which is home to 8.2 million inhabitants.
Honduras averaged about 19 murders a day in 2013, but President Hernández remained hopeful that the drop in the rate would become a pattern for the embattled country. He blamed the complexities of organized crime and security issues for the elevated number of homicides, and emphasized that patterns and trends will not become apparent to the general populace for several years, as was the case in Colombia and Guatemala. An International Crisis Group report released in June identified the 2009 coup d’état that deposed former President Manuela Zelaya as a primary cause in the increase in drug-related crime in the country.
The high rates of violence contributed to Honduras’ low score in the 2014 Social Inclusion Index where it ranked sixteenth out of 17 countries, behind El Salvador and Paraguay. Social exclusion and the lack of citizen security have been highlighted as two of the primary drivers in the unaccompanied minor crisis at the border.
At least ten people—including women and children—were killed in a shootout between rival drug gangs in northeastern Honduras on Tuesday. The total death toll in the rural La Mosquita region on Honduras’ Atlantic coast could be as high as 16 according to local authorities, adding to the over 3,000 homicides reported in the first six months of 2013.
Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011. Part of Central America’s Northern Triangle region, the country has seen an increase in violence tied to drug trafficking—specifically cocaine smuggled from South America to the United States. Along with increased narcotrafficking, a combination of high crime rates—which increased substantially since the 2009 coup that ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya—along with an underfunded and overworked police force have contributed to the country’s violence.
But the violence also correlates with very low levels of social inclusion. The recently released 2013 AQ Social Inclusion Index found Honduras to have the second lowest level of social inclusion among the 16 Western Hemisphere countries ranked in the Index. At the same time, its homicide rate was worse than any other country ranked. Poverty levels are high and access to formal jobs is limited, but the Index concluded that “Hondurans feel more personally empowered than many in the region.”
El Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal, organización civil radicada en México, dio a conocer recientemente los resultados de su investigación “Las 50 Ciudades más Peligrosas del Mundo." El estudio calcula el promedio de homicidios entre la población total de cada ciudad, y persigue un fin mucho más que académico. De acuerdo con el Consejo Ciudadano, “lo que perseguimos es contribuir al reclamo que los diferentes pueblos del mundo hacen a sus gobernantes para que cumplan con su obligación de proteger los derechos de los individuos a la vida, la propiedad y la libertad.” Los resultados del estudio no deberían sorprendernos. Sin embargo, arrojan indicios de variables que hasta el momento, al menos en Centroamérica, no se daban a conocer.
Dentro de las 50 ciudades más violentas del mundo figuran 39 ciudades latinoamericanas—sin contar el Caribe. El resto se encuentra en Sudáfrica o Estados Unidos. San Pedro Sula, Honduras ocupa el primer lugar, llevándose el indecoroso reconocimiento como la ciudad más peligrosa del mundo. En cuarto lugar figura Tegucigalpa, Honduras, seguida de Ciudad de Guatemala, en doceavo lugar, y San Salvador en el puesto 44 detrás de ciudades como Baltimore, Nueva Orleans, Oakland y Detroit en los Estados Unidos.
Pero, ¿de qué sirven los rankings de este tipo? Los centroamericanos conocen de primera mano los retos a la seguridad ciudadana que afrontamos, pero información como ésta aporta lecciones valiosas que no podemos ignorar.
Government officials in El Salvador and Guatemala speculate that there are approximately 15,000 gang members in each country. Meanwhile police officials attribute the majority of homicides, extortions and kidnappings to these groups, which are mainly comprised of young males between 13 and 26 years of age.
This means that mara (a regional term for gangs) membership is low when looking at overall youth demographics; in El Salvador, for example, there are over 1 million young men and women. Most young people are either going to school or working, not engaging in criminal activity. But there’s a flipside: these countries represent ample breeding ground for mara recruitment.
These 15,000 gang members also represent a complex problem. How is it possible that so few individuals have entire countries on their knees? Why haven’t governments and civil society been able to retaliate with police force and effective crime prevention programs? And certainly, how are judicial systems maintaining the interest of the majority and not that of young criminals?