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.
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.
Amid protests over food shortages, govt faced allegations of corruption in management of COVID-19 crisis. Govt late March and early April took steps to alleviate economic hardship caused by COVID-19, and President Hernández 12 April declared production of food national priority, but measures failed to prevent protests over lack of food, particularly in capital Tegucigalpa and northern department of Cortés with near-daily demonstrations and roadblocks. Reports of misuse of funds to tackle virus emerged, including 13 April allegation by businessman that govt inflated prices of protective equipment in attempt to embezzle funds. In report released 27 April, govt agency National Anticorruption Council identified $2.3mn overpricing in govt purchase of face masks. Criminal groups remained active despite reduction of extortion opportunities due to COVID-19 restrictions; in Tegucigalpa, police 7 April arrested two Barrio 18 members who had reportedly stolen ambulance to smuggle drugs into capital and 10 April arrested two MS-13 members allegedly trafficking narcotics disguised as engineers. Sentencing of President Hernández’s brother, found guilty in U.S. of drug smuggling in Oct, was delayed until 29 June; U.S. prosecutors 30 April charged former national police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares with trafficking drugs into U.S. and related weapons offenses, claiming Bonilla worked on behalf of president Hernández and his brother. U.S. and Mexico continued to deport migrants to Honduras despite COVID-19 pandemic; U.S. Sec State Pompeo 13 April said migratory flow from Central America dropped by 76% since May 2019 and announced restoral of some aid – cut in 2019 – to help country further tackle migration.
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.
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
Originally published in Los Angeles Times