Like its fellow Northern Triangle countries, El Salvador and Guatemala, Honduras suffers from high crime rates and severe poverty in the wake of its “dirty war” in the 1980s. Street gangs roam unchecked in many urban neighbourhoods while drug traffickers ply the coasts and plague all levels of the state. In addition, contested presidential elections in 2017 spurred a wave of political violence that continues. These chronic socio-economic ills, coupled with poor governance and rampant corruption, are the main drivers of northward migration, which has its own perils for those who venture the journey. Crisis Group studies the roots of the country’s persistent problems and pushes for policy solutions to break the cycle of forced departure and deportation.
COVID-19’s economic devastation will likely make Mexico and the Northern Triangle an even more fertile ground for drug cartels and gangs. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to discourage iron fist policies and instead help design local security strategies.
As president’s brother sentenced for drug trafficking in U.S., top level officials continued to face accusations of supporting long-established drug trafficking network. U.S. court 30 March sentenced president’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernández, to life imprisonment for drug trafficking and ordered over $138mn in his assets to be confiscated. U.S. court 22 March also found Honduran national Geovanny Fuentes Ramírez guilty of drug trafficking. During Fuentes’ trial, Los Cachiros drug cartel’s former head Devis Leonel Rivera Maradiaga 11 March said he had bribed President Hernández when he was head of Congress in 2012 in exchange for protection; also said Los Cachiros bribed current VP Ricardo Álvarez and former President Zelaya in 2012 and 2006 respectively; both immediately denied accusations. U.S. Prosecutor 19 March said Hernández accepted bribes from Fuentes as recently as 2019. Ahead of trial, Hernández 8 March said anti-drug cooperation between Honduras and U.S. would be jeopardised should U.S. authorities believe “false testimonies” and once again denied accusations of partnering with traffickers. Ahead of Nov general elections, primary elections 14 March took place for all political parties despite lack of electoral law, and absence of quick-vote count or results transmission mechanism; roughly 1mn voters (out of 5mn) reportedly unable to cast vote due to incongruencies between old and new voter registries. As of 26 March, preliminary results showed capital Tegucigalpa mayor, Nasry Afura (under investigation for alleged misuse of public funds), in lead position to gain ruling National Party’s nomination; former Minister Yani Rosenthal (who served three years in U.S. prison for laundering drug money) in lead position for opposition Liberal Party; and wife of former President Zelaya, Xiomara Castro, in lead position for opposition Libre Party. Luis Zelaya, losing candidate for Liberal Party, rejected preliminary results, citing “evident signs of fraud”, and 24 March formed electoral coalition with two Libre Party losing candidates and former presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla. As of 25 March, electoral authorities had received 147 challenges to electoral results. Unidentified assailant 22 March shot and killed indigenous and environmental activist Carlos Cerros near San Antonio city in north west.
As the coronavirus rages in Mexico and the northerly Central American countries, criminal outfits have adapted, often enlarging their turf. To fight organised crime more effectively, governments should combine policing with programs to aid the vulnerable and create attractive alternatives to illegal economic activity.
Despite U.S. restrictions on Central American migration, Hondurans are fleeing north in record numbers as the country struggles with polarised government, corruption, poverty and violence. With outside help, Tegucigalpa should revisit its heavy-handed security policies and enact judicial and electoral reforms to avert future upheaval.
Central American gangs are responsible for brutal acts of violence, abuse of women and forced displacement of thousands. Governments must go beyond punitive measures and address the social and economic roots of gang culture, tackle extortion schemes and invest in communities.
Ending bloodshed in this neglected border region requires more than task forces: credible institutions, access to state services and continuing security are also needed.
We are worried about what might be the long-term consequences of the current turmoil [in Honduras], especially in terms of how drug-trafficking groups may expand activities in a period of political crisis.
Violence [in Honduras] is likely to escalate in the upcoming weeks since there is still no clear winner [of the elections] and the opposition its mobilizing its supporters.
As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.
With massive protests, armed clashes and a government-declared state of emergency, Honduras is in social and political chaos after the 26 November general elections. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Northern Triangle Analyst Sofía Martínez explains what has sparked the crisis and its potential effect on armed violence.
The northward flow of undocumented migrants fleeing economic hardship and violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America exposes thousands of vulnerable people to mass victimisation. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to continue to pursue an approach grounded in supporting community violence prevention, institutional reform and poverty alleviation in the countries of origin while supporting transiting countries in managing the flow.
Originally published in El Pulso