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Who will be the next president in the world's murder capital?

November 23, 2013|By Sandra Hernandez
  • Forensic investigators in Honduras carry the body of a man who was killed in a shootout with police on a residential street in Tegucigalpa this month. Candidates running for president in an election Sunday have been promising to control violence.
Forensic investigators in Honduras carry the body of a man who was killed… (Moises Castillo/Associated…)

When voters in Honduras head to the polls Sunday to elect a new president, they will undoubtedly ask themselves one question: Who can restore security and justice to a nation beset by violence?

It's an important question given that Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, with more than 91 people killed for every 100,000 inhabitants, according to a 2011 United Nations report. The global average of homicides per 100,000 is about eight, according to the Washington Office on Latin America.

Corruption and impunity are rampant, with fewer than 3% of all criminal cases ending in a conviction. And drug cartels operate freely in large swaths of the country.

So far, the two leading candidates out of a field of nine have denounced the bloodletting. But neither has really engaged in a serious debate about what steps should be undertaken to improve public safety.

The ruling National Party’s candidate, Juan Orlando Hernandez, is promising to put a soldier on every street corner. That pledge worries Amnesty International and other groups that say state security forces, including police, were involved in humans rights abuses following the 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

The other front-runner is Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of the ex-president. She is the candidate of the newly created Liberty and Refoundation Party, known as LIBRE, which represents a broad coalition of groups, including trade groups, human rights organizations and indigenous and campesino leaders. Her candidancy marks the first time that a third party has a viable chance of winning an election in a country dominated by a two-party system.

She has vowed to usher in sweeping constitutional reforms and help retrain gang members, many of whom were deported from the United States. But she has said little else about how to reduce the extreme levels of violence that plague the country.

Some may ask why Americans should care about Sunday’s elections. One very good reason is the U.S. is pouring tens of millions into the country as part of a regional counter-narcotics effort.

In February, the Associated Press reported that in 2012, the “U.S. Defense Department spent a record $67.4 million on military contracts in Honduras, triple the 2002 defense contracts there and well above the $45.6 million spent in neighboring Guatemala in 2012. The U.S. also spent about $2 million training more than 300 Honduran military personnel in 2011, and $89 million in annual spending to maintain Joint Task Force Bravo, a 600-member U.S. unit based at Soto Cano Air Base.”

Another reason is immigration. National Public Radio reported in June that asylum claims filed in the U.S. by Honduran nationals have climbed, and three times as many Honduran nationals were caught at the border trying to enter illegally as in the previous year.

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