contributor perspectives

Jun 19, 2019 | 10:30 GMT

4 mins read

Crime in Honduras: A Product of Geography

Board of Contributors
Lino Miani
Board of Contributors
A military police checkpoint in November 2017 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The underlying condition that enables the extreme violence of the country's homicide highways is the region's geography.
(ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Highlights
  • The geography of Central America forms a chokepoint for drugs and violence traveling from sources in South America to markets in the north.
  • In Honduras, northward movement is limited to two corridors; the lack of any logistically significant alternative routes north concentrates opportunities as well as crime on these corridors.
  • Knowing where and when to increase defensive measures is the best way to stay out of trouble in Honduras.

Editor's Note: ­This security-focused assessment is one of many such analyses found at Stratfor Threat Lens, a unique protective intelligence product designed with corporate security leaders in mind. Threat Lens enables industry professionals and organizations to anticipate, identify, measure and mitigate emerging threats to people, assets and intellectual property the world over. Threat Lens is the only unified solution that analyzes and forecasts security risk from a holistic perspective, bringing all the most relevant global insights into a single, interactive threat dashboard.

San Pedro Sula is ground zero for violent homicides in Honduras. An undeniable outcome of the drug trade, the violence there is high even by Central American standards. The average homicide rate for the municipality of San Pedro Sula has been an astonishing 111 per 100,000 residents over the past five years. When compared with the homicide rate in neighboring El Salvador — 82 per 100,000 — it begins to look as if the real "murder capital of the world" is in Honduras. The intensity of the violence is the result of complex dynamics involving gang activity and the flow of narcotics, but the underlying condition that enables it is the historical and physical geography of the region. San Pedro Sula is, and has always been, the gateway for transportation north through Central America.

Geographic Chokepoints

The geography of Central America forms a chokepoint for drugs and violence traveling from sources in South America to markets in the north. This is especially true in the northern-tier countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where restrictive terrain, poorly developed road networks and a lack of significant airports and seaports constrains traffic. In Honduras, movement northward is limited to two corridors. The so-called Logistics Corridor passes through Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula north to Puerto Cortes, while the Occidental (aka Western) Corridor follows the Guatemalan border south through El Florido and on to Guatemala City. The lack of any logistically significant alternative routes to the north concentrates opportunities as well as crime on these corridors.

A map showing homicide rates in Honduras from 2013-2018 along the country's two main transit corridors

Recognizing the economic potential, the president of Honduras instituted an aggressive program of infrastructure and industrial development focused — in part — on the 22 municipalities that border the route. There are many challenges. Much of the Occidental Corridor, which leads to the only significant border crossing into Guatemala, was still a dirt road as recently as October 2018. The country's main airport, located at the southern end of the Logistics Corridor, is one of the most dangerous in the world and requires special training before a pilot can be certified to land there. And the seaport of Puerto Amapala is on an island, and is little more than a ferry terminal with scant material-handling equipment. Aside from the challenges of underdeveloped infrastructure, gang-related violence remains the biggest inhibitor of opportunity in Honduras.

A Terrifying Homicide Rate

The terrifying homicide rate in San Pedro Sula is more or less reflected in all 22 municipalities along the Logistics and Occidental corridors, but it is not consistent across locations and times. The danger increases with proximity to San Pedro Sula, with the highest rates just outside the city along the Occidental Corridor in Quimistan and Macuelizo. Since these are sparsely populated municipalities, there are few economic reasons to travel there. 

For tourists and businesspeople, the bigger threats are in the more densely populated areas: Tegucigalpa, Comayagua, Siguatepeque, Potrerillos, Pimienta, Villanueva, Choloma, Puerto Cortes and, of course, San Pedro Sula. Infrequent transit through those areas is relatively safe, but anyone doing business there or planning extended stays should consider active security measures. With 70.5 percent of homicides carried out by people using firearms, armored cars are recommended, at a minimum. The most dangerous months are April and May, when 18.8 percent of all homicides along the corridors occur. Fully 21.4 percent occur on Sundays and 22.2 percent occur in the three hours between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Knowing where and when to increase defensive measures is the best way to stay out of trouble in Honduras.

Lino Miani is CEO of Navisio Global LLC and author of The Sulu Arms Market, an authoritative look inside the shadowy world of illegal firearms trafficking in Southeast Asia. He is a graduate of the Program for Emerging Leaders at the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction at the National Defense University in Washington, an Olmsted Foundation scholar and president of the Combat Diver Foundation.

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