Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Honduras, threat analysis just before the change of political leadership

I visited Honduras in March 2009, just before the change of political leadership in the country. New elections are expected in November. The U.S. won’t recognize a scheduled November election in Honduras without a resolution to the political crisis that began with a coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in June. On Sept. 27, the de facto government led by interim President Roberto Micheletti banned protests and suspended other civil rights for 45 days and denied entry to an Organization of American States delegation seeking to negotiate an end to the three-month standoff in the Central American nation.
The aim of this post is not to focus on the actual political impasse of the country but to provide a threat analysis prepared just before the crisis. I will closely follow the development of the situation from the pages of this blog providing elements and details regarding possible future new political scenarios and balance of power.

Safety and Security – overview:
The main concern remains the general crime situation which is endemic. Almost all subjects interviewed during this assessment have been involved in or has assisted to common crime actions (robberies, assaults, etc).

The threat from common criminal elements is considered HIGH in certain areas; violent crime is a serious and growing problem, especially in zones of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, and to a less degree throughout the country. Pickpockets and purse -snatchers are prevalent in major cities, especially in parts of Comayag├╝ela and the central market surroundings of Tegucigalpa. Movements after dark should be avoided. Highway, road and street robberies, carjacking and assault of pedestrians by armed thieves are still high. Roadblocks and demonstrations on the main highways have decreased. With a total of 3,855 murders in 2007 and a population of approximately 7.3 million people, Honduras has one of the world’s highest per capita murder rates. Two-man teams on medium-size motorcycles often target pedestrians for robbery. There have also been reports of armed robbers traveling in private cars targeting pedestrians on isolated streets.

Organized crime:
There are criminal organizations which are mainly devoted to the drug smuggling/transportation from the southern bordering country Nicaragua to El Salvador and Guatemala, towards the Mexican/US border. In the La Mosquitia area and along the Caribbean coast their activities are carried out with little obstacle posed by law enforcement agencies. Recently has been approved a law which considers the use of soldiers in support of police force. Still the general perception is that the Government has not done enough to reduce criminality and organized crime activities. Results of these activities are homicides, violent actions and revenges among criminal groups to control the drug traffic.
The “Maras” phenomenon, juvenile criminal gangs, is present and affecting peripheral locations. Often it is involved in the protection of drug trafficking routes along the Atlantic coast and in certain internal area.
The direct threat posed from the above described actions can be considered high.

Police – Security Forces:
The Honduran government conducts occasional joint police/military patrols in major cities in an effort to reduce crime. Problems with the judicial process include corruption and an acute shortage of trained personnel, equipment, staff, and financial resources. The Honduran law enforcement authorities' ability to prevent, respond to, and investigate criminal incidents and prosecute criminals remains limited. The Government of Honduras has a very limited presence in Northern Olancho, Colon and Gracias a Dios Departments, which are well known for lumber and narcotics smuggling and violence. While the support of the police to eventually escort official vehicles in at-risk areas is relatively easy to get in the field locations, in Tegucigalpa, due to a scarcity of policemen, it is difficult to obtain.

Natural Disaster:
The most common natural threat to Honduras is posed by frequent but slight earthquakes, mainly in the Southern and Central regions of the country. Hurricanes as well can be dangerous and harmful, producing flooding along the Caribbean coast, according with the season. The towns of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula are particularly weak to flooding due to the lack of properly build infrastructure and a proper urban housing plan. Peripheral towns and villages can face landslides during flooding.
The risk posed by natural disaster is assessed as high.

Social threats:
Protests can arise due to the current socio-economic conditions. This may lead to road blocking though lately this phenomenon is decreasing. Common delinquency is endemic and is becoming a social case too. Organized young gangs and drug criminal group, including immigrants trafficking, are largely affecting the population changing their social behavior and attitudes.

Road Conditions:
The road conditions are generally decent where the roads are paved. Some of the most dangerous stretches for road travel include: Tegucigalpa to Choluteca, because of dangerous mountain curves; El Progreso to La Ceiba, because of animal crossings and the poor condition of bridges from flooding; Route 39 through northern Olancho Department between Gualaco and San Esteban; and Limones to La Union, Olancho (route 41) via Salama and northward to Saba. Hondurans also refer to this latter stretch of road as the “Corridor of Death” because of frequent incidents of highway robbery.
Roads are generally unpaved and/or poorly maintained roads. The traffic in the Capital is totally unregulated and the few traffic police hardly manage it.
The threat of being involved in a car accident is high.

Medical care in Honduras varies greatly in quality and availability. Outside Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, medical care is inadequate to address complex situations. Support staff facilities and necessary equipment and supplies are not up to international standards anywhere in Honduras. Facilities for advanced surgical procedures are not available. Wide areas of the country do not have a general surgery hospital. Ambulance services are limited in major cities and almost non-existent elsewhere.
The risk of not receiving adequate medical cares is assessed as medium.

Honduras is a great country. The high level of crime and the drug related activities unfortunately affect dramatically the everyday life of citizens, visitors and tourists. There is a general lack of trust in the law enforcement agencies as well as in the political and judicial authorities. Impunity is a major unresolved problem in the country.
I will deepen several aspects of the above analysis in my next posts as well as I will mention about interesting field locations.

Navigating the lagoon facing Gracias a Dios (Caribbean Sea)

Vehicle stock in the mud in the proximity of Puerto Lempira

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