Thursday, January 19, 2012

Violence in Honduras

A lot is being made of the violence in Honduras. San Pedro Sula is being proclaimed the most violent city in the world, worse than Ciudad Juarez. Honduras is noted as having the highest per capita percentage of homicides in the world. The Peace Corps suspended it presence because of security concerns, though one Guatemalan Peace Corps volunteer seems to dispute the actions of the Peace Corps in a Los Angeles Times' Op-Ed piece.

It sounds like Honduras is hell on earth.

The reports and videos (especially in InSight, Christian Science Monitor, and CNN), as well as the tabloids (er, “respected” newspapers) here in Honduras, seem to delight in a type of violent porn. A CNN video is particularly repulsive.

Yes there is violence – largely in the major cities (Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula) and the north coast where the drug trade flourishes. In other parts of the country there is violence, but domestic violence and inter-family vengeance are what one mostly encounters.

But what bothers me is that the reports provide no context for the violence, except drug trafficking and gangs. But what is missing is a real analysis.

I would suggest that much of the increase in violence is due to corruption and impunity – which are closely connected with the rule of economic and political elites and not unconnected with the 2009 coup.

The articles often fail to mention the coup which led to a real breakdown of order in the country. Some people suggest that during the reign of de facto president Micheletti , the lack of foreign aid left a vacuum and some government agencies or authorities began to work closer with drug traffickers.

But impunity is what lets this continue. The police usually don’t investigate and even if they investigate follow-up in the courts is almost non-existent. Crimes seem to have no consequences – not necessarily because of poor laws or a lack of available weaponry.

Why don’t the police investigate? This might partly be due to lack of financial resources, but I wonder if they really don’t care. In addition, the corruption within the National Police is significant. Furthermore, in several cases, including the case of a priest in our diocese, the police are responsible for beating civilians and other crimes, including the sale and use of drugs.

One way out that politicians offer is giving the military police powers, which is what is happening in many parts of the country. In addition, the US is offering help in dealing with citizen insecurity.

Both these suggestions, I fear, are missing the point, offering militaristic and violent “solutions” to violence. 

If you want an alternative view on responses to violence in poor countries, look at this article on Nicaragua, where violence is not half as bad as in its northern neighbors. Why? The suggestion is that in Nicaragua community policing and greater social cohesion have helped to cut down violent crime.

Yes, there is violence here. But I have lived in New York City in the early 1980s. I have lived for short periods in El Salvador during the war.

Violence is not inevitable. But the solution is seeking a healthy life and economy for all people, especially the poor, and building up structures of social cohesion.

That’s what Honduras needs – not more weapons, not a militarized police, not a heavy hand.


Mike said...

Well said. I imagine that the international media talk to Honduran police, elected officials, and local media. Not necessarily the best source of unbiased news.

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

The CNN video was accompanying police on an investigation. At one point the video has the people saying no to a question about whether killings happen often in their neighborhood. But the English voice over talks about people denying they know anything about what happened.
It's very possible that the people denied knowing anything, out of fear. But the video makes it appear that their "no" is a response to such a question when it really is a response to a totally different question.
So much for journalistic truth-telling and credibility.