Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said on Saturday that the surge of police and military personnel in cities highly affected by drug-related violence—part of a mission known as Operación Relámpago (Operation Lightning)—has been successful in reducing crime.
According to the president’s remarks on national television and radio, the operation, which began on November 1, has lowered the rate of violence by 90 percent in Tegucigalpa and 50 percent in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ two largest cities. Lobo added, “From the results that have been obtained in a few days, we are confident that as time passes by the entire population will restore its confidence in returning to the streets without having fear of being victims of criminals.”
Operation Lightning was launched to combat a spiraling wave of violence in Honduras, which has claimed 20 lives every day and earned the Central American nation the highest homicide rate in the world—82.1 murders per 100,000 people—according to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, which was published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Lobo has pledged a zero-tolerance attitude toward crime and corruption. He fired his top police chiefs in the end of October.
In efforts to combat an ongoing wave of narcotics-related violence, police forces in Honduras yesterday moved in on cities and neighborhoods dominated by criminal gangs. The mission, endorsed by President Porfirio Lobo and referred to as Operation Lightning, began in the large population centers of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Lobo pledged to “do everything possible within the law to reduce the impunity that makes us all indignant.”
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Honduras “has become a main transit route for South American cocaine” bound for the United States, and that Honduran authorities—in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other partners—only intercept about 5 percent of the cargo.
According to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, commissioned by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and released last month, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world last year: 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people. El Salvador, Honduras’ neighbor in the Northern Triangle, registered the second-highest homicide rate: 66 per 100,000 people.
Further, earlier this week Lobo fired his top police commanders in a measure to tackle corruption; four Honduran officers serving prison sentences for murder had been released from jail, inflaming public discontent.
On the day that the United States reflected over the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Guatemala went to the polls to elect its next president. The contest pitted three leading candidates against each other: Otto Pérez Molina, a former army general, of Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party, or PP); Manuel Baldizón, business tycoon, of Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom, or LIDER); and academic Eduardo Suger, of Compromiso, Renovación y Orden (Commitment, Renewal and Order, or CREO).
Pérez Molina had a comfortable lead in the polls in the lead-up to the election; if he had earned more than half the vote he would have made history by being the first national candidate since the 1980s to avoid a runoff vote. But, having secured only 35 percent of votes from more than 7 million tallies, he won the first round but not by enough to avoid a second round. Meeting him in the runoff, scheduled for November 6, is Baldizón, who received 23 percent of votes. Suger finished a distant third with 16 percent.
"Several sectors of the dominant [Guatemalan] forces expected Otto Pérez Molina to win in the first round to save costs,” said Álvaro Velásquez, 42, professor of social sciences and political analyst at Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Guatemala City. “Now the people have spoken to contradict this. That's good news for the power of the vote.”
But Pérez Molina can still make history in November; given his extensive military background and Guatemala’s history under decades of military rule, he can be the first ex-soldier to be democratically elected in Guatemala. Baldizón, a successful businessman with alleged ties to narcotraffickers, hails from the northern region of Péten—a department that borders Mexico.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Guatemala yesterday for a meeting of regional leaders as part of an International Conference of Support for the Central American Security Strategy. Also attending are numerous heads of state from the region and other officials, such as Luis Alberto Moreno, president of the Inter-American Development Bank.
During an announcement earlier today, Secretary Clinton pledged U.S. support totaling $300 million (up 10 percent from 2010) to combat drug trafficking, crime and associated violence. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos—speaking from vast experience in dealing with insecurity issues—told his Central American counterparts, “Drug trafficking brought our country to its knees…But we stood back up.”
Clinton’s visit comes on the heels of President Obama’s March trip to El Salvador, during which he reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to stability in the region. Total cost estimates for regional security measures are estimated to be nearly $900 million but, as Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom said, “for us, it is the difference between life and death.”