05/08/2013 09:23 am ET Updated Jul 08, 2013

Soldiers for Good Cops: Not a Bad Deal for Honduras

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It's hard to nail down the exact figure, but there are somewhere between 12,000 and 14,500 police officers in Honduras, and their monthly salary is somewhere between US $150 and US $400. The Lobo administration wants to eventually have a police force of 20,000 men and women. It's also difficult to find an authoritative figure for the number of soldiers in the country, but it is somewhere between 12,000 and 20,000, depending on actual soldiers or total military personnel. Most Honduran soldiers receive the minimum wage, which is about US $350 per month.

At least, that is what they're supposed to get. Let's assume we're talking about a total of 34,500 police officers and military personnel. If we assume that they're receiving an average monthly wage of US $350, then the Honduran government has to come up with slightly over US $12 million a month to pay these people.

That's nearly US $145 million a year, not counting those two extra "bonus months" they've cleverly devised in Honduras. The government's total annual budget for security and defense is approximately US $290 million (about US $183 million for security and roughly US $107 million for defense). This means that half of the money Honduras allocates for security and defense goes to pay for salaries -- and fairly miserable ones, at that. There's only about US $145 million per year left over to spend on equipment, materials, supplies, facilities, maintenance & repairs, and training. Which means... there is never anywhere close to enough.

Costa Rica has between 14,000 and 15,000 police officers, who earn at least US $700 per month. That's twice the salary of a Honduran police officer or soldier. The Costa Rican police force isn't perfect, but it is far better trained, equipped and paid than the Honduran police. Costa Rica has no military, so it relies on perhaps the most professional police force in all of Latin America. This is the model that Honduras must emulate.

Honduras doesn't need a military. Never really has. No country poses a serious military threat to Honduras. More than 80 percent of the country is mountainous, and the roads stink. God save anyone stupid enough to try and invade. The threats to Honduras have always been domestic -- namely corruption, administrative disorder, poverty, and a disastrous education system. Any border issues that occasionally surface between Honduras and its immediate neighbors -- El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua -- can be dealt with by the Organization of American States (OAS) or the United Nations (UN). Or the United States can get involved and strong-arm the countries to behave.

What Honduras does require is a thoroughly professional, mobile, and well-equipped and -supplied police force -- one that is nearly twice the size of Costa Rica's, given that Costa Rica has about half the population and half the land mass of Honduras. This could mean some 25,000 police officers. Well-paid officers earning at least US $700 per month -- double what they currently earn (for starters). Total estimated cost: US $17.5 million per month, or US $210 million per annum.

That figure amounts to US $65 million more per year than what is currently spent on salaries for the police and military, but it still comes in at US $80 million less than Honduras now spends annually for security and defense combined. That US $80 million falls short (by US $65 million) of the US $145 million now spent on equipment, materials, supplies, facilities, maintenance & repairs, and training for the police and military, but remember that without a dedicated army, navy, and air force you wouldn't need a lot of the expensive military hardware and supplies (like artillery, fighter aircraft and jet fuel) and base facilities. The $80 million could be used more efficiently for all those things an effective police force needs, notably training and... yeah, gasoline and tires for the cars, trucks and motorcycles.

You could pad that amount with another US $6.4 million per year that the Honduran government would save by reducing the number of members of Congress from 128 to 64, as presidential candidate Romeo Vásquez of the Patriotic Alliance Party suggested Wednesday, and an additional US $1.7 million the government would save each year by saying goodbye to the Central American Parliament (Parlacen).

Honduras would never miss its military, its 64 members of Congress, and Parlacen. Not one bit. What it gets in return is a substantially larger, well-trained and -equipped National Police with a high morale that might stand a chance of dealing with the existential threat posed by organized crime syndicates, foreign drug cartels, and more than 36,000 gangbangers.