In These Times

January 18, 2012

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS – People living in Honduras are more likely to be killed by violence than residents of any other country on earth. This small, Central American coffee and textile exporter is plagued by a murder rate of 82 per 100,000–more than double that of Europe during the worst years of the Dark Ages. Drug-money-fueled gang wars, targeted political assassinations, and bloody land conflicts have so destabilized the nation that the Honduran Congress voted on November 29 to grant sweeping policing powers to the historically repressive Honduran military.

The new measures–dubbed “Operacion Relámpago,” or Operation Lightning–allow the military to stop, search and detain anyone, and enter private residences without a warrant. Checkpoints manned by troops armed with U.S.-produced machine guns and led by U.S.-trained officers are once again a common sight in the streets.

“The [Honduran] Constitution had to be gutted and emasculated to accomplish this tragic act,” says Congressman Sergio Castellanos of the Democratic Unification Party, who was one of only 18 representatives (out of 128 total legislators) who voted against Operation Lightning. “People are so desperate now that they will do anything–tolerate anything–in the name of ending the slaughter,” he says. “Our country has become the butcher shop of Latin America.”

Alex Main, senior associate for international policy with the Washington D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, says Honduras is experiencing a complete breakdown of democracy and the rule of law. “It’s difficult to say who is in control–or if anyone is in control. … People have less faith in democracy when they’re living through institutional breakdown,” Main says, citing a late October poll by The Economist indicating that a majority of Hondurans no longer see democracy as the best form of government. Twenty-seven percent of Honduras’ 8 million people are now in favor of an authoritarian system of government, if that’s required to quell the violence. “What we’re talking about here,” says Main, “is a failed state.”

Violence in Honduras has not leveled off since the nation’s soldiers began playing sheriff. Within days of Operation Lightning’s launch, a prominent security advisor to the government and a well-known journalist were gunned down in separate incidents, and ensuing protest marches were met by soldiers wielding batons and shooting tear gas. A week later, the country’s police director declared that his own officers were conspiring to kill him.

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