Despite the Department of Health and Human Services’ claims that the unaccompanied alien children flooding the border have left Central America because of increasing levels of violence, the homicide rate in Honduras and Guatemala has dropped significantly during the last couple of years, according to reports from local newspapers. Area experts warn, though, that the situation is far from fixed, and the drops could have been exaggerated.
The Honduran newspaper La Tribuna reported that the country’s homicide rate dropped to 60 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014, down from 84 deaths per 100,000 people in 2012, citing Honduras’s minister of security Arturo Corrales. Another paper, La Prensa, reported that Honduras recorded 611 fewer homicides as of mid June 2014 than it had during the same period from January to mid June 2013.
David Inserra, a research associate on homeland security and cybersecurity at the Heritage Foundation, tells National Review Online he visited Honduras’s capital city last week and saw national police and military on different ends of the block he was staying on.
An InSight Crime analysis agrees that violence has been dropping in the region, though it does note that official crime rates can be manipulated, and questions whether Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez is responsible for driving down the homicide rate, as he’s claimed. The analysis adds Orlando Hernandez’s policies could make long-term reductions in the crime difficult because they fail to address institutional weaknesses and corruption that exists within the country.
Meanwhile, Guatemala has seen a ten-point reduction in its homicide rate since President Otto Pérez Molina took office in 2012, when the murder rate was around 40 deaths per 100,000 people, according to InSight Crime. InSight is more confident that this decline is real and has been going on for a while in Guatemala than the firm is about Honduras’s drop. Pérez Molina has touted the addition of 10,000 Policía Nacional Civil agents as part of an explanation for the declining homicide rate, according to Prensa Libre.
Ana Quintana, a research associate on Latin America for the Heritage Foundation, tells NRO that El Salvador has also seen a drop in its homicide rate, as a result of a truce between rival gangs MS-13 and M-18, brokered a couple of years ago with the help of the national government and the Catholic Church. The government provided kickbacks, Quintana says, in return for a promise that the gangs would end their aggression. But, she says, the government decided to discontinue the effort to keep the truce in place earlier this year and the homicide rate has risen yet again.
“The conditions in their [the Central American] countries, they’re not going to be fixed anytime soon,” she says. “It’s kind of like, okay, we’re totally like in crisis mode dealing with things whenever it really comes to a head.”
Some of the influential gangs in Central America have their roots in the United States. The M-18 gang, also known as the 18th Street gang, traces its roots to a collection of Mexican immigrants in the Rampart section of Los Angeles in the 1960s. The MS-13 gang, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, came from a group of Salvadorans in Los Angeles during the 1980s. Gangs such as MS-13 and M-18 have expanded, and Quintana says they have thrived in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. “We already kind of are seeing the negative effects of these guys,” she says.
— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.