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Honduras on Pace for 10.7 Percent Decline in Homicide Rate

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Preliminary homicide figures for Honduras are out. According to a report released by the country's Ministry of Security on August 11, a total of 3,367 murders were committed from January to July, compared to 3,990 during the first seven months of 2013. If confirmed, the new number would represent a 15.6 percent drop in homicides. Based on Honduras' estimated population of 8.6 million and the current average of 481 murders per month, the country is on pace for a homicide rate of 67.1 per 100,000 in 2014.

A 67.1 rate would represent a significant decline from last year's 75.1 -- 10.7 percent, to be precise. That's news that both President Juan Orlando Hernández and Minister of Security Arturo Corrales can take to the bank.

Note that the Honduran government's figures are always going to be much lower than those provided by the National Autonomous University of Honduras' Observatory of Violence program, which monitors homicides in the country. For example, while the government counted 6,427 homicides in 2013 to get its 75.1 rate, the Observatory of Violence counted just over 7,000 homicides to come up with a rate of 83. Both were low compared to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's 90.4 rate.

Everyone seems to have their own system for coming up with what classifies as a murder. As would be expected, the government's would be the most stringent, because it is in the government's interest to keep the numbers down. Thus, the government requires an autopsy (among other things) for a case to be classified as a homicide.

Minister Corrales has argued that the Observatory of Violence has failed to follow all the procedures for properly classifying the deaths as homicides -- procedures set forth under a mechanism called the "Standard Indicators for Citizen Coexistence and Security." His view is that the Observatory does not always have the complete information on murders, and so in some cases the killings cannot be registered as "homicides," but instead should be classified as "cases that need to be investigated as possible homicides."

Of course, the problem is that in an impoverished, corrupt, and badly administered country like Honduras, which has such a horrendous healthcare system, it's not always possible to perform autopsies and make sure that all the required paperwork is properly filled out. So, under the government's system, inevitably the homicide figures are going to be low-balled. And that doesn't even take into consideration the likelihood that subtle political pressure may be applied to occasionally discourage autopsies.

The bottom line? Be at least a little skeptical of what the Honduran government will try to sell you with regard to Honduras' homicide rate this year. You can bet that the figure will come in lower than last year's. A 67.1 rate would smell fishy to me, given the daily headlines in Honduran newspapers. But yeah, it's infinitely more plausible than the 35 Mr. Corrales had the cheek to promise back in January.