The sustained surge in crime and violence in Honduras – including more than 60 politically motivated murders in the past year – is raising doubts about the viability of the government and its institutions. The term “failed state” is often abused, but there’s no doubt that Honduras falls short of the rhetoric about its stability and democracy that the Obama Administration recited when arguing for the country’s readmission to the OAS after the 2009 coup that removed President Mel Zelaya. Indeed, the coup set the country on a downward spiral from being a weak democracy to one struggling for basic credibility. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime says Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate – 91.6 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011.
Undersecretary of State María Otero has spent time and energy trying to establish a policy toward Honduras. During a visit to Tegucigalpa last month, she signed an agreement with Foreign Minister Corrales that “sets the stage for results-oriented action towards our shared objective of a safe Honduras that respects the rule of law and human rights,” and she announced that the United States would provide an additional $1.8 million in aid to help counter gang activity in Honduras. Despite her efforts, the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa have failed to go beyond ready-made programs and put in place a framework for a comprehensive policy. Programs are not policy. The Administration appears reluctant to admit that its Honduras policy, which has failed, needs an overhaul.
Multimillion-dollar programs will not succeed until they take into account that the Honduran “partners” upon which they depend are themselves at the core of the problem. Three years after the coup, the Obama Administration still fails to see that its allies in the struggle against transnational and local gangs, as well as its efforts to build judicial institutions, are the same people who mocked the rule of law, overthrew the previous president, and re-politicized the military and police to serve their own purposes. (The reasons for Washington’s unwillingness to help fund a “Commission for Security Reform” approved by the Honduran Congress are unclear, but this may be a factor.) There are strong suspicions in many sectors of Honduran society that members of the country’s political-economic elite are the sponsors of the sicarios (hired gunmen) who have killed dozens of citizens whose offense was to demand an end to government impunity. Given the challenge that the growing popularity of the country’s new political party, LIBRE, poses to traditional powerbrokers, informed observers expect violence to increase in the run-up to elections next year. Absent public explanation of U.S. policy, it is fair to ask why Washington hasn’t seen these patterns – obvious to Hondurans – and why it hasn’t offered sustained support from the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement to investigate the assassinations and trace them back to the power bosses. It is also fair to ask Assistant Secretary of State Brownfield and others who espouse the militarized approach to dealing with organized crime how this strategy, which has failed elsewhere, will succeed in Honduras. Why hasn’t the Obama Administration supported the sort of U.N.-sanctioned investigative capacity that has proven effective with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala? Why has Washington not even pushed for meaningful implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released last year? If Washington wants to make its rhetoric about Honduras into reality, it needs to do more than just to funnel funds into programs run by questionable partners.