The Honduran government has launched the National Integral Plan against Extortion and Related Crimes, declaring a state of emergency and announcing the deployment of security forces to combat crime, extortion, and narcotrafficking carried out by gangs and other criminal organizations.
“This measure is necessary and timely to detain crime perpetrators or participants, applying the principles of necessity and proportionality, without violating human rights,” José Alfredo Ponce, criminologist and former deputy commissioner of the Honduran National Police (PNH), told Diálogo on December 12, 2022. “Likewise, it should be geared toward the re-education, rehabilitation, and social reinsertion of the subject.”
“The National Police has my full support […] to fight crime, extortion, narcotrafficking, and dismantle criminal organizations until the white-collar leaders are identified and captured. We are going to eradicate extortion in every corner of our country,” Honduran President Xiomara Castro said November 24 as she announced the measure. “The police must recover in the shortest time possible the public spaces assaulted and controlled by organized crime and its gangs.”
The PNH reported that the measure went into effect on December 6 in the populous municipalities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, where security forces will control 89 and 73 neighborhoods respectively, Honduran newspaper La Tribuna reported.
“People don’t denounce out of fear, but without a complaint it’s difficult for the police to proceed, and what happens when they arrest these people, is that there is no one to testify, so they come in through one door and leave through another,” Gonzalo Sánchez, Honduran criminologist and former head of the now defunct National Criminal Investigation Directorate, told Honduran newspaper El Heraldo. “They are training and preparing specialized personnel to confront these groups. Remember that they [criminal groups] have weapons, money, and logistics. So a specialized force is needed to control extortion.”
According to the decree, the government is suspending some constitutional guarantees for people linked to criminal groups. The Police will be able to detain persons they determine to be responsible for associating with, carrying out, or being linked to crimes and offenses.
The plan came about to counter the pressure that the Mara Salvatrucha MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs impose on business owners, transport companies, residents, and nongovernmental organizations to pay extortion money, reported InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
On December 7, the PNH deployed 600 additional troops. The operation involves 20,000 police officers in rotating shifts, including members of the Military Police of Public Order, with battalions sent to the borders with Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, France 24 news network reported.
“Free movement in all these sectors is not affected at all, nor is freedom of association affected. If someone leaves work at 8 p.m. from a factory, they can move normally to go home; if someone needs to get up at 4 a.m. to take public transportation to go to a factory, they can do so without any problem,” Commissioner Gustavo Sánchez, PNH director, said. “This decree is aimed at specific targets who are members of the criminal groups previously identified.”
The Anti-Maras and Gangs Police Directorate Against Organized Crime (DIPAMPCO), reported on December 7 one of the first blows to criminal groups, as authorities dismantled a drug distribution center allegedly operated by the Mara Salvatrucha in the municipality of Copán.
“This criminal phenomenon was gaining strength to the point of exercising territorial control of the communities. Other criminal groups dedicated to narcotrafficking are taking advantage of this to distribute the drugs that stay in our country,” Ponce said. “This has also led other criminal groups to engage in kidnapping and extortion, which is why it has become a monster with a thousand heads, involving people from different occupations not necessarily linked to gangs.”
Crime in Honduras is one of the main problems plaguing the country these days. Drug traffickers and gang members are responsible for a homicide rate of 40 per 100,000 inhabitants, which, Argentine digital news site Infobae reported, is more than four times the world average.