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20 Jul 2009

Honduras: Beneath the Coup

A young girl at a Honduran soup kitchen/Nathan T. Baker/flickr
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Honduran girl faces poverty, insecurity

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has presented an ultimatum that keeps the Central American country in the headlines, but mainstream media’s coverage should go deeper than high politics, Samuel Logan comments for ISN Security Watch.

By Samuel Logan for ISN

As signs pointed toward a coup d’état in Honduras in late June, mainstream media quickly shined a light on this all but forgotten Central American country. Weeks later, as we closely follow miniature power moves between ousted president Manuel Zelaya, his replacement Roberto Micheletti, the Organization of American States (OAS), and other minor actors, much more important issues have managed to escape the focus of the investigation.

Beneath the surface of the coup in Honduras, we find a country dangerously close to losing its grip on public security, and it doesn’t matter who the president is now or will be tomorrow. Neither man is capable of rescuing Honduras without continued support from neighbors, such as Mexico and Colombia, and from the international community.

In the first five months of 2009, Honduran authorities seized over 6.5 metric tons of cocaine, yet many analysts agree that this amount is probably less than one-third to one-fourth the total amount passing though any given point at any given time.

With a more conservative, back-of-the-envelope estimate, the calculation tops five metric tons of cocaine flowing through Honduras every month, which may, in part, explain a spate of recent killings. Early in the second week of June, Honduran police reported 13 homicides in less than 24 hours. There is no indication that even one murderer has been bought to justice.

Intelligence reports out of Central America indicate that members of organized criminal groups operating in Honduras have opened an assassination school. Former military soldiers and policemen serve as training officers, and graduates would certainly have no trouble finding work in Central America, or Mexico, where assassinations are a daily reality of the drug trade.

Compounding the certainty of Honduras’ newly flourishing role as a transit country in Central America’s drug trade, the Honduran National Register of Persons disclosed in June that documentation trafficking is running rampant. Officials believe that personnel within the agency are responsible for falsifying birth certificates and national identity documents. 

Relaxation on visa requirements for visitors from China, Russia, Cuba and the Dominican Republic - all serious players in global black markets - has likely catalyzed this business of documentation falsification.

Meanwhile, due to a lack of stable, well-paying jobs, Hondurans continue to depend heavily on remittances sent from family members and friends working in the US. Yet remittances have seen a steady decline since last year, according to the Inter American Development Bank, leaving many Hondurans without an important source of income.

By 30 March, the US had deported some 10,000 Hondurans in 2009, with a monthly average of 3,330.

Continued deportation from the US will further exacerbate political instability, as many deportees find themselves in a country they chose to leave, where there is no legitimate work and little incentive to start a new life. Temptation to pick up a job in the lucrative drug trade or even start taking classes at the assassination school is strong.

We are certain to follow the fate of Zelaya and the Honduran government’s status well into the next few weeks. But as we do so, it is important to look beneath the surface tension and beyond the street protests to understand the complete picture.

Honduras is no longer a Banana Republic. It is an independent democracy plagued by very serious public security problems. Zelaya’s fate is important to cover, but is just one of this country’s many problems.

Samuel Logan is an investigative journalist, and author. He is the director of Southern Pulse | Networked Intelligence, a decentralized, field-based security consultancy, and has reported on security, energy, politics, economics, organized crime, terrorism and black markets in Latin America since 1999.

Editor's note:

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).


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