THE BLOG

Honduras: Impending Military Police State?

While the correlation between the dramatic escalation in organized crime and homicides in Honduras and the growth of drug trafficking and the expanding presence of foreign drug cartels in the country is now commonly accepted by Hondurans, it has also become evident that extortion by organized gangs is a growing plague that is roughly equally to blame for the bloodshed and violence.

Average citizens and business owners in Honduras are commonly forced to pay the so-called "war tax" by gangs or be killed, and the police and soldiers patrolling those areas are powerless to do anything about it. Soldiers patrol mostly during the day, while the gangs come out to do their dirty work largely at night. The idea of having the military patrol is a joke, because it's clear that the soldiers are mainly out to give the impression of security; they've not established control anywhere, and the gangs are unintimidated and undeterred by them.

The presence of the military on Honduran streets is effectively a show. There is no strategy for securing neighborhoods -- partly because there are simply not enough Honduran soldiers to do the job, partly because they are not trained to do the job, and partly because there is no strategy to do the job. As one reader commented on an article in El Heraldo newspaper titled "In the day, there are soldiers; by night, gangs", "having the military out without any planning or strategy is like having them go for a nice stroll through the streets... If they do not divide the zones into quadrants, plan out their patrols, and establish true control, then it's just throwing money away; the delinquents go unchecked".

Nationalist presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández said there will be "dramatic changes" in the fight against extortion if he is elected. "In the first 100 days of my government, you will see dramatic changes in the battle against extortionists," said Mr. Hernández. "We will send them to prison, where they should be. That is why I need for the National Congress to approve the military police."

Mr. Hernández's proposal for a new 5,000-member military police force is controversial. It will be expensive, and the government is already broke and unable to pay its employees fully or on time, and it is having difficulty repaying its loans from domestic banks and international lenders. Of greater concern is the downside of having a militarized police force trained more for warfare than neighborhood policing. The question is, "Will Hondurans really be safer with thousands of military police walking around armed to the teeth?"

Given the history of the military in Honduras and other Latin American countries, it is right to be worried about the answer.