Gimmickry Over Policy

  • Written by  Marco Cáceres

In a more perfect world, the number one issue in Honduras would be poverty. No, not the World Cup. More than two-thirds of the country's estimated 8.5 million people live on US$3 or less per day. That's 5.6 million individuals who have to survive on the price of a Café Mocha at Starbucks. Note that's a Tall (small in normal language) Café Mocha. The Grande (medium) and the Venti (large) are priced at US$3.55 and US$3.85 respectively. Approximately half of those 5.6 million Hondurans are "dirt poor", otherwise known as indigent, impecunious, destitute, penniless. You get the idea. Honduras is the third poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti and Guyana are worse off. The socialist Sandinistas have done a better job with Nicaragua, which used to be poorer than Honduras up until a few years ago.

Alas, poverty alleviation and sustainable human development are not the number one priority in Honduras. Security (or the lack thereof) is. With more than 90 homicides per 100,000 people, Honduras is a very violent country, and there's just no way to sugarcoat it. The numbers speak for themselves. The causes of the murders, kidnappings, extortions, and other crimes are constantly debated, and depending where you fall on the political spectrum you will choose to give more weight to the growth of drug trafficking, drug cartels, and gangs in Honduras versus the coup that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya in 2009. The truth is probably somewhere in the messy middle. 

 

Unfortunately, way too much time has been wasted during the past four years arguing over the causes, and not enough time coming up with thoughtful strategies to reduce the homicides and the overall crime rate. While the Lobo administration deserves a tremendous amount of credit for guiding Honduras through the delicate post-coup period in 2010 and finding ways to calm the outrage over Mr. Zelaya's ousting, its record with regard to providing security for the Honduran people has been abysmal. After four years, the Lobo administration has done precious little to cleanse and re-train a National Police that has been infiltrated and corrupted by organized crime. It has also done next to nothing to revamp and strengthen its court system and protect its judges and prosecuting attorneys. It has done slightly less than that to regain control of its prisons from the inmates housed there... more as guests than felons.

 

Rather than address the core causes of the murders and other violent crimes committed in Honduras daily, what the Lobo administration has done is apply a topical disinfectant cream and a band-aid to the problem. It has deployed the Army by the thousands to help the police patrol the streets, and most recently it has taken about 1,000 of those soldiers, given them a little additional training, better weapons, spiffier uniforms, and more vehicles and communications equipment, and given them a neat name, complete with its own acronym -- the Military Police for Public Order (PMOP). That, ladies and gentlemen, is the Lobo government's security strategy for Honduras... and it is being touted as an "achievement" by Mr. Lobo, but particularly by National Party presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández.

 

Deploying troops onto the streets to do the job of police officers is not a crime-fighting strategy. It is a tactic. One that can be used as part of a broader, comprehensive and integrated strategy that certainly responds to the symptoms of the problem of insecurity in the short-term, but also -- more importantly -- deals with the root causes of the problem and  those things that help fuel it, make it even worse. But you don't hear much of an intelligent discussion about this in Honduras. What you hear is lots of slogans about protecting the Honduran people, punishing the bad guys, and... the Military Police, the Military Police, the Military Police. It's like listening to Ted Cruz go on and on about Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi.

 

Almost nowhere within the government or among the presidential candidates do you hear talk about how to re-integrate into society the roughly 65,000 gang members in Honduras, or how to care for the roughly 20,000 children (many of them future gang members) living on the streets, or how to re-integrate the roughly 60,000 Hondurans (many of them convicted of crimes) being deported back to Honduras from the United States and Mexico each year. To his credit, Liberal Party presidential candidate Mauricio Villeda did recently spend time with deportees at the airport in San Pedro Sula and promised to come up with a program to help them transition back into society. But you have to wonder, "What is the government waiting for?"

 

Few political leaders are talking about this because it's hard work to come up with a brilliant plan to educate, train, house, feed, employ, and care for tens of thousands of people who have themselves suffered from neglect and(or) violent abuse. Contrary to the whole "original sin" doctrine, people are not born evil. You actually have to engage with these individuals and get your hands dirty (in the metaphoric sense), and come up with serious money to fund the effort. It's a lot easier, simpler, and cheaper to deploy soldiers, claim victory, get elected, and move on to something else.

 

Hello, hello... if you're listening... there is  no military solution to the insecurity in Honduras, just like there is no military solution to terrorism, despite the trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of soldiers the US government keeps mindlessly throwing at it. Brute force is no substitute for intelligent and creative thinking. Neither are slogans. (11/21/13) (photo courtesy Internet)

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Note: The author is the editor and cofounder of Honduras Weekly. He is an aerospace market analyst by profession. He was born in Tegucigalpa. He is the author of "The Good Coup: The Overthrow of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras"

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