Thursday, May 30, 2013

Gang truce in Honduras - second thoughts

I wrote yesterday on this blog about the truce between the two major gangs in Honduras.

I still hope that this will be a major step in controlling one aspect of the violence in Honduras.

Yet it is important to recognize that gang-on-gang violence is not the major source of violence in this country. It accounts for between 2% and 30% of the killings here, depending on what source you read.

Very significant are the revenge killings related to drug-trafficking, probably more than 23%. Drug cartels operate here – some very openly, some with the assistance of politicians, all with the consent and assistance of at least some of the police.

There are also concerns, expressed by the leaders of the gangs in their press conferences as well as by human rights organizations, of killings carried out by police and other government officials.

Some of these deaths are related to the land-struggles in the Aguan region of northeast Honduras and other areas.

There are also the killings of journalists and human rights advocates. The numbers may not be high proportionately but Honduras is a country where journalism and human rights advocacy carry risks of being killed.

But there are also the revenge killings, which I hear about more often than I would like.

Some are related to land.

I recently heard of the death of a woman by someone who was contesting a road on the woman’s property. The perpetrator was denounced and arrested. However, persons associated with the perpetrator threatened to kill all the family if they testified when the case went to court. All pulled back, except for one man. They offered him 5000 lempiras (abut $250) to shut up. He refused and was shot and killed a few days ago by three hooded men.

There are also cases when someone is killed and the family members kill the perpetrator because they see no way that he will be arrested and convicted.

These cases point to three of the most serious problems related to violence here.

First of all, there is the culture of revenge and the lack of cultural responses to conflict that don’t escalate into violence. Here there is a great need of work on developing a consciousness of alternatives to violence and transformative responses to conflict.

Secondly, people are reluctant to speak up in the face of injustice, in fear of suffering recrimination from the perpetrators.

But there is also, more seriously, the lack of a police and judicial system that deals with killings and violations of law. There is an investigative branch of the police, but very few cases of violence are investigated and even fewer result in prosecution. Impunity is rampant. People have very little confidence in the courts and the police.

In fact, some people fear the police as themselves perpetrators of violence. And the idea of militarizing the police could, I believe, cause even greater problems.

And so, the truce between the gangs is a tiny step in dealing with the violence here.

Where do we go from here?

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