Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández claimed victory for his militarized internal security strategy, pointing to the fact that the country's homicide rate was reduced significantly in the past two years.
Since assuming office two years ago Hernández has delegated police intelligence and anti-narcotic operations to the military, and deployed a militarized police force to patrol gang-dominated neighborhoods.
In his inaugural speech to Congress on Monday he noted that Honduras no longer leads the world's homicide ranking, reports Reuters. Honduras had a murder rate of 56.7 per 100.000 inhabitants last year, down from 75.1 in 2013.
InSight Crime clarifies that while the government's homicide stats have been questioned, civil society coalition Alliance for Peace and Justice (Alianza por la Paz y la Justicia – APJ) recognized last year's data.
Nonetheless, massacre cases increased last year, even as the overall murder rate fell. The disturbing stat points to organized crime-related violence, explains InSight Crime in a separate piece.
Of course, it's worth noting that Honduras' improvement in the regional homicide ranking -- and it does still come in third -- comes in the wake of El Salvador's catastrophic increase in violence last year.
A December 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. (See post for Dec. 11, 2015.)
Last year in a piece in Americas Quarterly Robert Muggah examined the phenomenon of homicides in the region, which a few decades ago matched the global average and have since taken off.
He examines a long list of factors that help explain the regional crisis, including: persistent inequality, youth unemployment, "aspirational" crime, weak security and justice institutions, and (the regional scourge) organized crime. (See the post for Oct. 27, 2015.)
- Honduras' Congress failed to reach a two-thirds consensus in selecting 15 new magistrates for the country's Supreme Court earlier this week. The judges will be selected by secret ballot instead, possibly later today, reports Tiempo. Legislators will vote to select candidates from a list of 45 submitted by a nominating committee. Former President Mel Zelaya's Libertad y Refundación (LIBRE) party was among those blocking agreement, saying there was no transparency in the selection process and that the new magistrates would be a continuation of the outgoing court (which supported his ouster in 2009). Deutsche Welle reports that the U.S. objected to 24 candidates in the nominating committee's first filter due to corruption and drug trafficking links. And, in a report released ahead of the vote, the American Bar Association (ABA) noted cases of justices who had been formally denounced for abusing power and falsifying public documents, justices whose rulings contradicted international norms, and justices whose rulings had been overturned by superior courts among those who made it through the first filter of congressional consideration, reports InSight Crime.
- Venezuela's opposition is borrowing a leaf from Chavez's populist playbook: They want to give away the deeds to hundreds of thousands of homes built by the Socialist government in a ploy to win popularity, reports the New York Times. The piece cites experts mostly in favor, including WOLA's David Smilde who says the question "gets at the heart of what the economic model should be in Venezuela." Related NYTimes photo-slide show. The move is also part of a bitter political fight between the Assembly and the government: President Nicolás Maduro is fiercely opposed. (See Jan. 18th's post.)
- Maduro's economic emergency decree was rejected by the Assembly last week (see Monday's briefs). In response Maduro created a new organizational body for the Bolivarian Revolution: the Congress of the Fatherland. Conformed by one hundred delegates from social organizations, the new body will likely mainly serve as a mechanism of consultation, explainsHugo Pérez Hernaíz at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
- Foreign tourists, especially Americans, are avoiding Venezuela. The Miami Herald reports how the industry has adapted to cater to locals.
- The Obama administration lifted restrictions on American financing of exports to Cuba, and relaxed limits on products that can be shipped to the island, effective today. Until now, American products sent to Cuba had to be paid for in advance in cash or routed through a third country, a costly and burdensome process, reports the New York Times. Administration officials emphasize that the relaxed regulations will have greater impact if they are matched by Cuban policies to permit their citizens to take better advantage of them, notes the Miami Herald. The new rules are accompanied by other provisions aimed at facilitating trade, travel and cultural exchanges with Cuba, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- Belize authorities announced they will free 32 Cuban migrants detained for entering the country illegally, but they have yet to be informed of the details and remain in jail, reports theMiami Herald. The group is in legal limbo, having served the requisite jail time but asks not to be deported to Cuba.
- While the U.S. government is trying to move forward with Cuba agreements before the end of President Barack Obama's term, Cuban authorities are dragging their feet, reports the Miami Herald. The piece looks at attempts to bring American telecom and Internet companies to the island.
- Forest fires sparked by illegal loggers hiding their tracks have consumed hundreds of square miles of forest located in indigenous territories in Brazil's drought-stricken state of Maranhão, reports National Geographic. The fires are threatening the survival of at least two groups of uncontacted nomads from the Awá tribe. Indigenous communities have joined forces with government firefighters to save their villages.
- Brazil is losing the battle to contain the mosquito-borne Zika virus, and will deploy 220,000 troops for a day next month to go door-to-door to spread awareness, reports the New York Times. (See last Friday's briefs.)
- Forty-one convicts remain on the run after two prison breaks last week in Brazil's Pernambuco state. Both used explosives to blow holes in outer walls, reports the Guardian.
- Brazilian prosecutors charged the chairman of JBS SA, the world's largest meatpacker, with "crimes against the financial system," reports the Wall Street Journal.
- Puerto Rico will explore a possible restructuring of $70 billion of municipal bonds with several bondholder groups, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- Mexican regulators are slowing oil auctions due to low oil and gas prices which are predicted to last longer than originally thought, reports the Wall Street Journal.
- A much anticipated papal mass in Ciudad Juárez next month will focus on immigration, especially the widespread violence and crime that has caused a flood of Central American migrants towards the U.S. in recent years, reports the Associated Press.
- Urbanization, sedentary lifestyles and marketing that introduces kids to processed foods are the main causes behind the rapid increase in overweight and obese youths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The Wall Street Journal points to Mexico's cutting-edge policies in the area. A 2014 law taxes sugary beverages. Junk-food ads are also limited and guidelines limit unhealthy snacks and meals in schools.