LAST year Hondurans were about 80 times more likely than Western Europeans to be murdered. For men in their 20s, the odds were four times worse again. Poverty and a history of military rule meant that Honduras was never especially safe. But the murder rate has nearly doubled in the past five years. Barring war zones, this makes Honduras by most reckonings the most violent country in the world.
The cocaine trade, which over the past two decades was squeezed first out of the Caribbean and then from Mexico, bears much of the blame. “We are between those who consume drugs and those who produce them. Logically, we are a corridor of traffic,” says Pompeyo Bonilla Reyes, Honduras’s security minister. In 2000 Honduras and the six other small Central American countries, all told, seized less cocaine than Mexico. By last year they captured 12 times more than their northern neighbour.
Mexican traffickers use Honduras’s wild Mosquito Coast as a landing point for drug deliveries, a trend that intensified when police and troops were called to the capital following a coup in 2009. Violence has risen partly because gangs, such as Mexico’s Zetas, have diversified into more disruptive criminal businesses. Antonio Mazzitelli, of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, says the Zetas offer local gangs arms, training and the use of their feared brand, in return for a cut of the revenues from extortion or people-trafficking, and safe passage for cocaine. Gang bosses remain at arm’s length: as of last October, Honduran jails held only one Mexican.
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