Criminal gangs pose an existential threat to state and society in Honduras. For many, the only option is to flee.
One of most violent countries in the world
Honduras has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2011-2012, there were 86 homicides per 100,000 people. That amounted to 7,172 murders a year in a country of some 9 million people. In 2018, the homicide rate fell to 40 per 100,000 people, according to government statistics. In comparison, in 2015 there were some 5,000 homicides in the EU, where the population is 500 million.
There are as many as 40,000 gang members in Honduras. Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio-18 (members pictured here) are the two main criminal groups engaging in turf wars over drug and human trafficking, extortion and other criminal enterprises.
Pushing people out
The wave of violence, gang control and erosion of state authority has pushed tens of thousands of people out of neighborhoods where funeral processions are all too common. Many families fear that their children will be recruited into gangs as early as the age of 11. Many of those who can often try to make the dangerous and hard journey through Mexico to the United States.
Gang-fueled violence and criminality have torn apart Honduran society and the authority of the state. According to a report by the US National Defense University, MS-13 has become a “criminal-economic-military-political power that poses an existential threat” to the state of Honduras. The group has infiltrated key state institutions, including the police, military, judiciary, and political system.
In Honduras, MS-13 has been known to corrupt and infiltrate local police. The group has expanded with the aid of police forces who have reportedly targeted and cleared neighborhoods controlled by rival groups. Police and security forces sacked for corruption are said to join gangs or train gang members.
The corrupt and dysfunctional criminal system fuels more violence. Around 80 percent of homicides are not investigated and 96 percent are not adjudicated.
Thousands of Hondurans have tried to make the hard journey north. Many are innocent civilians seeking a better and safer life. However, US authorities say some gang members are trying to infiltrate the United States. At the same time, an influx of gang members being deported from the United States is strengthening gang numbers in Honduras as they are incorporated into structures there.