THE BLOG

Cooking the Crime Numbers in Honduras?

Honduras' Minister of Security Arturo Corrales' plan to set up "violence observers" in Honduras' 30 most crime-ridden municipalities, including the Central District of Tegucigalpa and Comayagüela, Choluteca, Danlí, El Progreso, La Ceiba, Marcovia, Olanchito, Puerto Cortés, San Pedro Sula, Trujillo, and others, is an attempt to come with a better gauge of the murders and other violenct crimes committed in the country. The National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) maintains a program called the Observatory of Violence, which tracks the murder rate in Honduras, but the Ministry of Security believes the program is not completely accurate.

According to Minister Corrales, "The effort made by the university through the Observatory of Violence should be applauded, but the new model is extremely inclusive, and all the relevant parties such as the investigative police, the Attorney General, forensic medicine, judges, and the media" will participate. He added, "It is a project that will involve organized civil society in preventive actions aimed at reducing the rates of violence and insecurity" in the most violent municipalities.

Mr. Corrales is emphasizing that the new tracking system will not exclude input from the Observatory of Violence, but it seems clear that the Hernández administration is intending to exert some control over the information that is publicized regarding Honduras' homicide rates, particularly as it is reported in the international press. At the very least, the government may be hoping to soften the numbers a bit. The Observatory of Violence currently puts the homicide rate in the country at about 79 murders per 100,000 people, while the Ministry of Security has it at 75. The difference might appear slight, but what the Hernández administration is looking to establish is a trend, a downward one -- in which case, every number counts.

Of course, the problem with the Ministry of Security taking charge of compiling crime and violence data is that there's an obvious conflict of interest. It is not in the interest of the government to have high rates of crime and violence, so there is always going to be a tendency to manipulate figures in its favor. "We will have to see what happens with what they are trying to do," said the Rector of the UNAH, Julieta Castellanos, on Monday. "Without a doubt, it is not the main function of the Minister [of Security] nor of the police to go around installing observatories, as their function is to combat crime... "

Regardless of whatever tracking system the government establishes, the numbers will always be suspect. That's okay, though (to a point), so long as the Observatory of Violence remains independent and free of political pressure to conform to the alternative numbers.