Honduras: home to the most violent city in the hemisphere?
Amid rising crime, the Peace Corps pulled out of in Honduras this week.
Reports that San Pedro Sula, Honduras, has taken the place of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as the most violent city in the hemisphere are a result of shifts in trafficking patterns that are putting Central America at the heart of the drug trade.Skip to next paragraph
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According to a new report by Mexico’s Civic Council on Public Security and Criminal Justice, San Pedro Sula saw 159 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, topping the nonprofit organization’s list of the most violent cities in the hemisphere. Ciudad Juarez has topped the list for the past three years.
This shift in ranking reflects major changes that have occurred within the regional drug trade over the past decade, in which Mexican drug traffickers have deepened their influence in Central America. There they have established connections to local crime bosses, known as “transportistas,” who facilitate drug shipments between South America and Mexico. The rise of these transportistas has been accompanied by a surge of violence in the region, which is exacerbated by a growing local market for drugs, weak state institutions, and government corruption.
By contrast, Mexico has seen some success in its own struggle with organized crime, apprehending or killing several top drug traffickers in recent years. And while recently released government statistics show that homicides linked to organized crime increased 11 percent in 2011, the 2010 figure was 70 percent higher than in 2009, suggesting that the wave of violence in the country may be abating. It should also be noted that although Mexico's violence dominates headlines in the US, it pales by comparison to the situation in Central America. According to the United Nations’ 2011 Global Study on Homicide, the average homicide rate in the six biggest countries of Central America is 43 per 100,000, which is more than twice that of Mexico.
Honduras leads the UN list with 82.1 homicides per 100,000, making it the most dangerous country in the world in terms of murders. This prompted the US to pull its Peace Corps volunteers from the country due to safety concerns. As InSight Crime has reported, Honduras has been particularly affected by the growth of transnational drug trafficking in Central America. In September 2011, Honduran Defense Minister Marlon Pascua claimed that 87 percent of cocaine which is sent from South America to the United States passes through Honduras. If this is accurate, then, taken with the United Nations’ latest estimates of the size of the US cocaine market, it suggests that an incredible 143.55 tons of the drug pass through Honduras annually.
But despite Honduras’ status as a major drug transit nation, relatively little is known about the major criminal players in the country. According to security analyst James Bosworth, the process is mostly overseen by three of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico: the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Gulf Cartel. In a December 2010 working paper on crime in Honduras for the Wilson Center, he claimed that US drug-enforcement officials believe “a large portion of the management” of these drug trafficking networks are Mexican, and are mostly affiliated with one of these three major groups.