Friday, December 11, 2015

Gangs of Honduras (Dec. 11, 2015)

A new report by InSight Crime and the Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa traces how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence and extortion.

The piece reviews how over the past 20 years Honduras has been at the mercy of increasing gang membership, crime and violence -- to the point where its cities are now some of the most violent places on earth.

The report examines the history, geographic presence, structure and modus operandi of the country's two main gangs, and also  analyzes how the gangs may be developing into more sophisticated criminal organizations. It shows examples of how some elements of these two gangs are winning the support of the local communities in which they operate and looks at some of the other street gangs operating in Honduras.

Major findings include that both gangs are smaller operations than previously believed, and that while the gangs are nominally hierarchical, their operations tend to run on a more horizontal structure. But they are not the same, while Barrio 18 remains dependent on extortion -- which has the effect of alienating local populations, MS13 rejects local extortion, giving it a more benevolent image. Instead, that gang relies on drug peddling revenue. Authorities believe fights over sales territories are driving much of the violence in areas where they operate. And the fact that all major gangs in Honduras rely on extortion revenue from the public transport sector.

There is no statistical difference in the number of homicides in the areas of Tegucigalpa controlled by one or the other, and there is also little evidence that Barrio 18 is close to developing deeper relationships with transnational drug trafficking organizations, according to the report.

"Many authorities say the MS13 leadership in both El Salvador and Honduras are moving towards becoming a transnational criminal organization, deepening their involvement in the wholesale drug trade and possibly becoming international traffickers. Cases in Honduras illustrating this tendency, however, remain scant, notwithstanding the US Treasury Department's recent designation of the group as a transnational criminal organization."

Also out this week, the first first in a collaborative series looking at gang operations in Honduras by InSight Crime, El Faro, and Revistazo.

The piece looks at the neighborhood of Rivera Hernandez in San Pedro Sula, where six gangs fight for control of one of the poorest sectors of Honduras' industrial capital. "This is the story of that neighborhood. This is the story of the people who live here, who fall like dominos, one after another, in an endless battle."

News Briefs

  • New York Times Magazine feature follows the story of an Honduran man, Kelvin Villanueva, who was deported earlier this year from Kansas City. The piece focuses on the travails of migrants who are forced to leave their families in the U.S. and return to a shockingly violent Honduras. "Over the last five years, the United States has deported more than half a million Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, many of whom, like Villanueva, have had to leave their children behind. Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, says it exercises discretion to target lawbreakers for removal, a majority of Central American deportees have no criminal record. Among those who do, about half are guilty of either a traffic violation or an immigration-­related crime — entering the country illegally, for instance."
  • This week the U.S. government announced it would open two new shelters -- one in Texas and one in California -- to accommodate the new influx of unaccompanied children crossing the southwest border illegally, reports the New York Times. A total of A total of 5,622 youths without their parents, mostly from Central America, were caught at the Mexican border last month, more than double the number stopped in November 2014.
  • In Honduras a player for the national soccer team, Arnold Peralta, was shot to death while visiting his hometown of La Ceiba. Officials ruled out robbery as a possible motive, reports theAssociated Press.
  • El Salvador's Congress passed new legislation removing the statute of limitations on sex crimes against minors as the country's church faces a growing number of abuse scandals, reportsReuters.
  • Mauricio Macri was sworn in as Argentina's new president yesterday, in a ceremony that was boycotted by his predecessor Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a first since the return of democracy in 1983. Macri appealed for unity in his inaugural speech and called for Argentines to overcome their political polarization. "Confrontation has taken us down the wrong paths," he said. "We have to remove conflict from the center of the stage and replace it with meeting points. ... If we Argentines dare to unite, we will be unstoppable," reports the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal notes that he promised to "pragmatically tackle" complicated economic issues and at the same time protect the poorest Argentines."Our point of encounter will be the truth," he said. Yet while Macri's goal was to draw a clear division with his predecessor, in a La Nación op-ed Universidad de San Martín political scientist Lucía Vincent draws parallels with late President Nestor Kirchner's inaugural speech 12 years ago, which also called on Argentines to respect each others' differences and to strengthen the country's political institutions. "Two foundational moments with surprising similarities, in a country that cyclically begins again."
  • Contributing to the whole debate over the end of the left-wing governments in the region, in the World Policy Journal Michael McCarthy suggests looking at Macri's narrow victory and the Venezuelan opposition's landslide as the "end of the beginning." He argues that there is no clean slate in politics, and that both movements will have to deal with the legacies of their predecessors. For example, Macri has promised to maintain popular social policy programs and appointed an independent foreign minister with a strong United Nations and business background. He had escalated talk against Venezuela in recent weeks, threatening to to invoke the democratic clause of the Mercosur Trading Block and revoke Venezuela’s membership. But after this weekend's results, that proposal has been jettisoned. "The backtracking actually places Macri in line with the rest of the region, particularly and most importantly with Brazil as well as potentially even the United States. The latter may decide, definitively, that it wants to provide diplomatic guidance so that the country stays on an electoral path. What Macri may have discovered, or simply admitted, is his position on this new dichotomy. Being in ‘the end of the beginning’ phase means dealing with the past and cobbling together its legacies to build something new."
  • In a New York Times op-ed, Venezuelan Caracas Chronicles blogger Raúl Stolk, notes that an economic crisis was indeed the reason for Sunday's opposition win in Venezuela. But not a hidden economic war by capitalist forces, as government officials have been saying (seeyesterday's briefs), but rather a crisis of the government's own making, which has resulted in triple-digit inflation and hours of lines "just to buy sugar, diapers and other basic goods," he writes. The upcoming weeks before the new National Assembly will be critical to determining whether Maduro will work with the new political forces in order to overcome the crisis or whether he will continue "fighting fictional wars."
  • But while many analysts hope to see a period of greater dialogue between the two parties -- especially on key issues like inflation and scarcity of goods -- to do so would require serious compromises and commitment to address the country's ills at the expense of easy political point scoring, writes Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • On a promising note, the opposition's leaders have promised to do just that, reports the Wall Street Journal. They are vowing to focus on the economy rather than an attempt to oust President Nicolás Maduro via referendum later next year.
  • It's worth going back to this weekend's news from Venezuela to note that amid the historic vote, elected the country's first transgender congresswoman, Tamara Adrián, reports Out. Her election could likely will revive an initiative called the Ley de Amor (Law of Love) seeking marriage equality, notes David Smilde at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • Moody's Investors Service raised Cuba's outlook rating to positive from stable, reflecting a relatively rosy outlook despite cuts to Venezuelan financial aid, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Brazil's 2016 budget will likely have a fiscal target lower than that called for by Finance Minister Joaquim Levy, which could result in more ratings downgrades for the beleaguered country, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A focus on sexist comments in Brazil in recent months (see Nov. 9th's post) has made it's way up to the highest political echelons. This week Minister of Agriculture Kátia Abreu tossed a glass of wine in an the face of the opposition Social Democracy Party's Senate leader, after he suggested she might be a "man-eater," that is to say a woman who dates frequently. The New York Times notes that Abreu is also a vocal supporter of President Dilma Rousseff, who is fighting off an impeachment attempt by the Social Democracy Party.
  • Experts watching Haiti worry that widespread allegations of electoral fraud are creating a phenomenon of voter apathy that threats the latest attempt to shore up country's democracy. Street protests might be the visible part of the anger citizens feel, the Associated Press says that interviews around the country suggest that voter disenchantment could lead to even lower voter turnouts at the upcoming Dec. 27 run-off elections to determine the country's next president. And at the moment, it would appear that there is only one candidate in the running anyway, as the second-place finisher has joined a coalition of other candidates demanding an independent recount of the first round of Haiti's presidential vote and immediate changes to an electoral council. (See Nov. 19th's post and Wednesday's briefs.)

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