I am going to attempt to discuss why the gang culture that exists in Honduras is so prevalent – however this is a hugely complex topic which is quite controversial and open to a lot of debate, but I will try my best. One of the reasons I started my blog was to raise awareness of the problems in Honduras, and the region of Central America, and the reasons behind these problems are important and not often understood. I’m sorry if you find it really boring but I find it super interesting and hope you will read 🙂
Why are drugs and gangs so prevalent in Honduras today?
Most countries have some sort of gang culture, and like most, Honduras’ gangs were existent but didn’t cause too many problems 30 years ago – however the situation changed dramatically in the 1980s. Civil conflicts hit the region at this time and Honduras became very unstable. In fear of their lives many Hondurans, and people from other Central American countries, fled to the United States – many went to LA due to its proximity and the promise of work. However, the gang culture was already strong in LA at this point and due to insecurity many Central Americans either joined gangs or created their own. It was at this time that the two largest Central American gangs were created – the 18th street (M-18) and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangs. M-18 was created by Mexicans in LA and MS-13 was created by an El Salvadoran youth in LA1; therefore neither of these gangs originated from Honduras, or Honduran people. However today, it is arguable that it is Honduras that suffers the most from their creation. The gangs found it easy to recruit in LA as illegal immigrants arrived and had no where to sleep, no money and no friends and so they were desperate. The gangs were even known to recruit from as young as 9 years old and train these young people to kill.
Despite LA’s already prevalent gang culture, the US decided that these new gangs were making the situation worse in the UK and therefore they felt able to justify the deportation of tens of thousands of Latin Americans. It seems that, unable to kick US citizen gang members out of the country, it was easier to deport those who they were legally able to. These deportations occurred in the 2000s. Between 2001 and 2010, it is estimated that almost 130,000 convicted criminals were deported to Central America; Honduras received 44,042 criminals2. The population of Honduras today is around 7,700,000 people, the population of the UK is 62,000,000 people. Therefore, relatively, it would be like having 400,000 criminal gang members thrown into the UK (yes, I did the maths!). So this was a big problem for Honduras to deal with. Due to many of the people that were being deported being youths, and therefore in many cases had spent their whole lives in the US, they often did not know how to speak Spanish or have any connections in the new country. Therefore the gangs again fed on this desperation and were able to quickly develop and became more organised. I have also read that the Central American countries that received deportees had no information about why the criminals had been deported and what the crimes they had committed were3 and so they could not detain them and they were free to carry on with their crimes. The emergence of these new, and deadly, gangs can’t be fully blamed on the US and it’s strict deportation approach – however I believe it has been a huge influence. When the gangs were in the US they had strict prison systems, a functioning government and a reliable police force to limit the activities of the gangs. But when they were sent to Central America, the gangs no longer had these limitations and began to expand their crimes in hope of more money and more power with little resistance from the government.
One of the easiest, and most lucrative, ways for Central American gangs to earn money was drug trafficking. As the Mexican government became stricter in its control over Mexican gangs, the official routes used moved to Central America – and central to the region sits Honduras. It has also been easy for gangs to use the country as a passage from South America to the US due to its shockingly corrupt government that allows the crime to continue in exchange for huge amount of money. Honduras is said to receive a shocking 79% of of the drug flights that leave their South American neighbours4.. The drug trafficking situation in Honduras, and the gangs that control it, has become almost untouchable. The government is corrupt and therefore is easily paid off. Those who do speak out against the violence are often silenced – a shocking number of journalists have been murdered in the last 5 years. At least 20 have died since the 2009 coup5. There is even a Wikipedia page listing the number of victims. In 2009 the anti-drug trafficking force, Julian Aristides Gonzalez, was shot 11 times as he dropped his daughter at school6. These murders are barely investigated and very rarely solved and so drug gangs face impunity, paving the way for them to continue silencing anyone who may affect their operations in Honduras. Over the past decade the number of murders in Honduras has grown rapidly, now reaching around 86 per 100,000 and shows no sign of slowing down. In one article I read while researching this topic I came across an article by an American journalist living in America. He talks about one night where he joined a police patrol in San Pedro Sula (the largest and most dangerous city in Honduras), in one night he saw ‘the bodies of two bus drivers who had been killed for refusing to pay a cut to gangs, a police officer executed on a highway with a single shot to the head, and three people shot dead in a pool hall for what was described as “a settling of accounts”’7. This was just one city, one police patrol… in one night. The more control these gangs have upon Honduras, the more the violence is spreading to those who have not chosen a life of crime, but have fought against it or simply just got in the way. I’m not sure what the future holds for Honduras but unless the government can make big changes, the future does not look hopeful for the people here.