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Honduras: Oh Hell... Extortion

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The problem of drug trafficking in Honduras appears to be on the decline, at least if you take the word of Arturo Corrales, the country's so-called "Super-Minister" of Defense and security -- a kind of a Czarish post created a few months ago to bring under one roof responsibilities formerly under the purview of the Minister of Defense (military) and Minister of Security (police). According to Minister Corrales, drug shipments into Honduras via small Cessna-like aircraft known as narcoavionetas have dramatically declined this year. He noted that during the first six months of 2012, approximately 100 narcoavionetas landed in Honduras -- the same number as in the first half of 2011.

By comparison, during January-June of this year, a total of only 40 of these drug-laden aircraft were detected. Mr. Corrales attributes the significant drop in drug flights to expanded ground and sea radar operations by both Honduran and U.S. military forces along Honduras' northeastern regions. A deterrent effect which is encouraging drug cartels to look for alternative routes.

The recent decline in illegal drugs passing through Honduras and into Guatemala, however, has meant that crime groups such as gangs and cartels which have grown to rely on income from the shipment and sale of drugs have had to look for other sources of revenue to make up for the shortfalls, namely extortion (in addition to prostitution and human trafficking).

Mr. Corrales estimates that 68 out of every 100 homicides in Honduras are directly related to drug trafficking. If it's true that drug shipments are on a downward trend, then this figure may go down as well. By the same token, though, homicides related to extortion may go up. This should be a huge concern for the Honduran government and society as a whole, because it means that violence in Honduras may be morphing into a broader phenomenon that is increasingly affecting average citizens, as opposed to mostly those involved in or who have the misfortune of living in the vicinity of the drug trade.