With a population of a little more than eight million, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. The coast of Honduras provides a key cocaine smuggling route linking drug cartels to the United States. Street gangs, particularly the Maras 13 and 18 are responsible for much of the urban violence. These street gangs are comprised of deportees from Los Angeles, California. The brutal gangs run an extensive extortion racket. Those who don’t pay are killed. These gangs learned many of their techniques from the crime-ridden streets of Los Angeles. The Honduran government has admitted that they have nothing to offer that could entice gang members to give up lives of crime. The country is too poor, the drug trade too embedded, the violence too entrenched. Even since a gang-initiated “ceasefire” in May 2013, hundreds more innocent Hondurans have died. An average of 20 people are killed there every day, more per capita than anyplace else on the planet.
Street gangs are complemented by an even larger number of equally violent drug traffickers. The State Department estimates “that 79 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America” for America “first land in Honduras.” With murderous gang and drug-trafficking thugs working almost everywhere in the country, for years the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has ranked Honduras as the country with the highest murder rate in the world, with at least 82 killings per 100,000 inhabitants.
Adding to the threat that general urban public faces from street gangs and drug cartels, is the added threat of violence from the police and the military in rural communities. A stunning example of the violence perpetrated by the military is the murder of Tomas Garcia and has been documented by the organization, School of the Americas Watch. He was a father of seven who would have turned 50 this December. He was a husband, father, brother, and community leader, serving on his community’s Indigenous Council. On Monday, July 15, 2013 he was murdered by the Honduran military when a soldier shot and killed him at close range in broad daylight in front of 200-300 people. He had no weapons and hurt no one. His crime was that he opposed the construction of a hydroelectric dam being illegally constructed in his Indigenous Lenca community’s territory against their will. Why was Tomas killed as opposed to someone else? He happened to be one of the first to arrive, leading the delegation that had come to deliver a message to the companies constructing the dam at their installations in Rio Blanco. A soldier fired at him at least three times from only 6 or so feet away, according to eyewitnesses.
Despite a long list of human rights abuses by the Honduran military, the United States continues sending millions and millions in military aid in Honduras. Some of this aid probably found its way to the unit that used one of its M-16s to murder Tomas and terrorize the Lenca people for standing up for their rights. It is also no accident that the military enforces the turning over of Honduras’ natural resources to multinational corporations. The Honduran people suffer at the hands of the street gangs, the drug cartels, the police and the military.
According to Joel Brinkley of Tribune Media Services many people may not realize that the United States virtually created Honduras and plays an important role in maintaining Honduras as a failed state. Beginning in the late 19th century, two American companies, United Fruit and Standard Fruit (now Dole) owned huge banana plantations and essentially ruled the nation for more than 50 years. In 1980 Honduras held its first popular elections, but then the United States drew Honduras into the war in neighboring Nicaragua. Central Intelligence Agency operatives stationed there backed a Honduran death-squad campaign of extrajudicial killings of supposed Marxist-Leninist militia members allied with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
Washington is starting to look at the mess it helped create and American politicians are bringing attention to issue of human rights violations in Honduras. In June of this year, 21 senators wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, demanding a report on whether the Honduran government is protecting citizens’ rights and investigating reported “violence and impunity linked to state entities,” adding: “There are also recent reports of death squads working with the police” who “kill gang members even after they surrender.”
Honduras remains reliant on the United States for so many things and the United States has been actively involved in Honduras for well over a 100 years. With this level of presence in Honduras, the United States has a responsibility to offer assistance, but not the ever-present military assistance. The United States has helped train the Honduran military, much like the soldier who murdered Tomas Garcia. With the drug trade and it’s ensuing violence, street gangs and violence against innocent civilians by a United States trained military, the Honduran people are suffering. The United States cannot continue to pour money into the Honduran military while ignoring human rights abuses