5 Factors Contributing to Violence in Honduras

by Elizabeth Perkins, WFP Honduras Team

In October Witness for Peace New England hosted a speaker’s tour for Father Ismael Moreno Coto (Father Melo), a Jesuit priest and human rights advocate from Honduras. Father Melo spoke with a variety of people throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire about why his country has gained the title of most violent in the world. 20 people are murdered every day in this small country the size of the state of Tennessee. Father Melo used 5 factors to help explain why Honduras is more violent than anywhere else on the planet.

1. Weapons. Honduras is the most armed country in Central America.

When peace accords were signed in the 1990’s in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua guerrillas agreed to destroy their weapons. Most of those weapons were not destroyed, but rather they were sold to Honduran military officials who trafficked them. They sold these weapons to drug traffickers, to businessmen and large landowners for private security forces, and to gang leaders that were beginning to grow in strength and numbers.

2. Narcotrafficking. According to a 2013 State Department report, 80% of cocaine destined for the U.S. goes through Central America. 87% of drug shipments land in Honduras. Drug traffickers have enormous power in the country as a result, with enormous influence in every aspect of Honduran life.

For example, Narcotrafficking is the largest employer in the country. There are entire towns with infrastructure built and maintained by narcotrafficking groups. Some residents even prefer it to the rest of Honduras because there’s no common crime. When crime does occur it is resolved with bullets. Back in the 1960’s when Colombian drug bosses began to gain power, their first allies were with Honduran military officials. After the Bush administration tightened control over US coasts and borders in the 1990s it was much more difficult for drug shipments to arrive directly into the country. Drug traffickers had to change their strategy. They took advantage of their alliances in Honduras and began to use Honduran coasts to get drugs further north by sea or air and then move the shipments from there into neighboring Guatemala or El Salvador, then into Mexico and on into the United States.

3. Weak State institutions. Over the past three years in Honduras 32 journalists have been killed.

Running both Radio Progeso and ERIC-SJ, Father Melo together with his team has to make difficult decisions about what can and cannot be published to keep their journalists safe. State actors (police, judges, attorneys, military officials, mayors, etc) have few choices facing the enormous power of drug traffickers. What can a judge faced with charging a narcotrafficker do? If they’re brought to trial and found guilty, the next day the judge will be dead. This is a regular occurrence in Honduras. So what choices are left? Leaving the country, leaving their position, or complying with the drug trafficker. This is the same for other public officials. Many lawyers have been killed in Honduras. Journalists self-censor and avoid publishing news about drug traffickers because to do so would be a death sentence.

4. Socioeconomic inequality. In Honduras there is an extremely unequal distribution of wealth and resources. 0.004% of the population has the majority of the country’s wealth and continues to get richer.

In 2012 there were 205 individuals with an average net worth of $132 million. In 2013 that number went up (link in Spanish) to 215 people each with fortune of $139 million. At the same time, of 4 million inhabitants (roughly half of the population) of the age to work and be active in the economy, 2 million are unemployed, mostly young people under the age of 30. Just 5% of the national budget is dedicated to rural areas. Young people who grow up in rural communities more often than not leave to find work. They head to urban centers, where unemployment is rampant. Not finding work, what are their choices? They migrate. 500 Hondurans leave the country every day with the goal of reaching the U.S. Of those, 420 fail to cross the border and return, 20 mutilated and severely injured, and 5 as cadavers.

Those who make it across (there are currently about 1 million Hondurans living outside of the country) begin to send remittances, the number one source of income in Honduras. The families of immigrants receive this money directly. With it they buy food at the supermarket, building materials for their homes, school supplies for their children. However, the owners of those stores and those factories that put these items into the economy are those same 215 people. If they put the money in the bank, the bank will lend it not to the poor, but back into the hands of these 215 people. Those who don’t migrate look for work wherever they can find it. Often what they turn to is common crime and/or gangs, organized crime (for example groups of hitmen, which is becoming extremely common in Honduras), or narcotrafficking.

5. The U.S. government. The U.S. continues to understand Honduras primarily through the lens of its own security interests and to support militarization in the country.

When Father Melo was in D.C. two years ago, a high level State Dept official told him that the U.S. was committed to ensuring that there not be another coup d’etat in Honduras. To prevent this from happening again, he explained, the U.S. government would focus on the professionalization of the Honduran military and police. Just like they did in Colombia. Father Melo was informed that the U.S. government devotes an unofficial budget of $3 billion to this end.

The internal state actors that the U.S. government works with are the same allies it had in the 1980s. They are those same military officials and businessmen who allied themselves with narcotraffickers and who continue to do so. Does the U.S. know that its allies are compromised? That the same people who it works with to fight the “War on Drugs” are at the same time working with drug traffickers? With the amount of information to which it has access, we can assume that the answer is, yes. Best case scenario, the U.S. doesn’t know how to create new allies in Honduras. Worst case? The War on Drugs isn’t about drugs at all. If it were, logistically it would put as much effort into the demand at home (most of the cocaine in the world is consumed in the U.S.) as it does into stopping the supply. Logically, as long as there is demand and money to be made, there will exist a supply to meet the demand. So what else might be the reasoning behind this War on Drugs? Military strategy. Honduras is strategically placed in Latin America. It is in the Caribbean in the middle of Central America and just north of South America.

So, facing all this, what is the path to change? Father Melo’s answer is the organized community. Hondurans have united across movements – LGBTI groups, campesino movements, indigenous and ethnic organizations and youth movements. All are groups which share common goals and join together together in solidarity with one another not only to denounce human rights abuses and demand change, but also to promote proposals for an alternate reality in Honduras. A reality that doesn’t subscribe to the law of the strongest, but one in which human rights are respected and the people have their say.

What about those of us in the United States? Support these movements in Honduras by demanding the U.S. government cease funding the Honduran police and military. By sending money to these institutions, the U.S. government only adds to violence in the country. It continues sending money directly to its allies who are the same allies of narcotraffickers. People in the U.S. can affect change by writing to their Congressional representatives and spreading the word about what their tax dollars do in Honduras. Imagine what $3 billion could do if it were directed towards education, healthcare, and recreation instead of aiding the police and military. It’s a question of preventing violence through creating opportunities and quality of life instead of fighting violence with more violence.


5 Factores que contribuyen a la violencia en Honduras por Elizabeth Perkins, APP Equipo Honduras

En Octubre Witness for Peace New England invitó a Padre Ismael Moreno Coto (Padre Melo) para hacer una gira educativa en la región de Nueva Inglaterra. Padre Melo es un sacerdote Jesuita y defensor de los derechos humanos en Honduras. Padre Melo habló con una variedad de personas por todo Rhode Island, Massachusetts, y New Hampshire sobre el asunto de las cifras altas de violencia en su país. 20 personas son asesinadas diariamente en este país pequeño que es el tamaño del estado de Tennessee. Padre Melo articulo 5 factores que ayudan a explicar porque Honduras es el país más violento del mundo entero.

1. Las armas. Honduras el país más armado de todo Centroamérica.

Cuando firmaron los acuerdos de paz en los años 90 en Guatemala, El Salvador, y Nicaragua, un punto de los acuerdos fue que las guerrillas quemaran sus armas. La mayoría de las armas no fueron quemadas pero vendidas a los oficiales del ejército hondureño que luego comenzó a traficarlas. Estas armas se vendieron a narcotraficantes, a empresarios y terratenientes para sus fuerzas privadas y a líderes de las pandillas que en ese momento comenzaban a crecer y fortalecerse.

2. Narcotráfico. Según un informe del Departamento de Estado de este año, 80% de la cocaína destinada por los EEUU pasa por Centroamérica. 87% de los embarques de dogas aterrizan en Honduras. Como resultado, narcotraficantes tienen un poder enorme en el país, con mucha influencia en cada aspecto de la vida hondureña.

Por ejemplo, el narcotráfico es el empleador más grande del país. Hay pueblos enteros con infraestructura construida y mantenida por grupos de narcotráfico. Algunos residentes hasta prefieren vivir en estas regiones de narcotráfico porque no hay delincuencia común. Cuando ocurre violencia se resuelve a balazos. En la década de los 60 cuando