Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Feeding the fire in the most dangerous country in the world

   No one in the world is at greater risk of violent death than a Honduran.
   Every 73 minutes, a Honduran is murdered in this country. That breathtaking fact not only signifies a tremendous loss of men in their prime economic years, who account for 92 per cent of the victims, but a life turned upside down for the thousands of women and children those dead men leave behind.
   Those of us who live in Honduras hear the murder rate so often that it starts to become meaningless: 85.5 violent deaths per 100,000. But you need only take a look at violent-death statistics in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq to get a sense of just how over-the-top that homicide rate really is.
   In Afghanistan in 2011, for instance, 3,021 civilians died violently. In Honduras in that same year, more than twice that number died violently – 6,239. Last year in Iraq, 4,753 civilians died violently. Last year in Honduras, there were 7,172 homicides.  In any given 18-month period, Honduras records more violent deaths than the total number of Afghanistan military and police forces killed in a decade of war.
   How can this be? Where is the global outrage? Everybody’s quick with the scary travel advisories, but those do little but add economic woes to the plight of Hondurans who are living in a country devastated by murder. How might the world react if, say, 20 citizens of London, England (which has about the same population as Honduras) were dying violently every single day?
   Violence in Latin America tends to be a subject that gets a shrug from the developed world, as if the tired stereotype of hot-blooded Latins is enough to explain the insanity going on in Honduras. We shake our heads, put on our sad faces and lament a “violent” culture.
   Ah, but the developed world is so complicit in the violence. We of the enviably low homicide rates are the profiteers who sell the guns to Honduras, and the buyers of the 200 metric tonnes of cocaine that pass through the country every year on its way to markets in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. They do the killing, but it’s our money and our arms that make it possible.
   It's striking to see just how many peace-loving countries make big money from manufacturing and exporting guns. The U.S. leads the world with $845 million or so in gun exports every year, followed by Italy, Germany and Brazil. Canada, Finland, the UK, Spain and Japan are all “Tier 3” countries that have had annual exports of $100 million at various times over the last decade.
   An argument could be made that a country experiencing as much violence as Honduras would find a way to kill people regardless of whether guns were readily available. But the fact that they are certainly makes things easier. Almost 85 per cent of the violent deaths in Honduras are the result of firearms.
The country imported more than $13 million in small arms in 2011. Mexico considers Honduras one of its best customers for small arms, as does the Philippines. An AK-47 here sells for a mere $200, compared to $500 in the U.S.
   As someone who has lived here for a year and a half without fearing for my life, I want to stress that the violence in Honduras is almost exclusively focused on Hondurans. Even though there are virtually no statistics kept that might clarify who is most at risk, I feel confident in saying that those who work in the cocaine-distribution business, associate with anyone in that line of work, are gang members or live in gang-controlled barrios in the big cities are disproportionately affected by the violence.
   But given that you really can get away with murder in Honduras – the result of an overwhelmed and compromised justice system – there are also those who kill as a way to settle scores or retaliate for real or imagined crimes against them or someone in their family. Virtually everyone I’ve met here has at least one friend or family member who was murdered in recent years. In the last five years, murder has somehow become “normal” in this deeply Christian country.
   The problems require a much bigger global response than just more development aid. Funds to help rural Hondurans grow more food, prepare for the next flood or understand domestic violence are all good things, but they’re not going to resolve mass murder. You can come on down to put a new roof on a school or distribute eyeglasses to grateful campesinos, but they’re still going to be living in the most dangerous country in the world.
   Hondurans aren’t killing each other because they’re poor, hungry and uneducated (although those are all justifiable worries in their own way). They’re killing each other because the entire country is neck-deep in an illegal industry that countries like mine and yours fund, and armed to the teeth with guns that we sell them.
   What can be done? First, take responsibility. If we’re buying the drugs and selling the guns, then this terrible violence belongs to all of us. The developed countries of the world have an ethical responsibility to stand shoulder to shoulder with Hondurans in resolving this crisis.
   Does the country need a truth commission? An international intervention? A revolution? An end to the destructive, stupid belief that we can “just say no” and drug use will go away?
   Perhaps all of the above. But first and foremost, we the privileged need to step up and take ownership of this tragedy that we have wrought. We got Hondurans into this. They need our help to get out.


Yeny said...

Excelente Jody, así es, las ganancias son la motivación sin importar quien pierde la vida.

Harry Abrams said...

Great article, but of course it raises more questions than anything else. I don't do or buy street drugs, and not just because it's unhealthy, but because everything about it is violent coercion. But where are weapons sales coming from in Canada, if not to only the military or police authorities like they're supposed to? I suppose you'd have to point that finger elsewhere.

Mental Health BC said...

Hi Jody, I really appreciate you writing this article about your perceptions of the reasons for the high level of violence/killing that is occurring in Honduras.

Your article left me curious as to how Hondurans themselves view, perceive, or make meaning of the level of murder that has now become part of their culture?

As privileged outsiders to cultures different to ours, we often assign meaning, or perceptions, to things that those who are part of the culture explain in a different way.

For instance, in your article, you write about some motives which could be described as "honour" killings. Generally there is a perceived slight, retaliation (killing someone) and this (perhaps false) sense that the slight has now been rectified. You will see this kind of value, belief, and behavioural pattern (or variations) displayed in different ways in various cultures. Is that a result of guns, or a result of culture?

Clearly there is a global drug and firearm trade where some are financially benefiting, not just corporations, but others who are part of the institutions and culture of a place like Honduras.

I have to wonder what else is happening in this nation that is contributing to a cultural normalization, and perhaps, acceptance of violence, murder and killing?

One of the things I have been learning from teaching students from many corners of the world is that violence is embedded in many cultures in a way that is very different from what we may experience, or witness in a place like Canada. Sometimes it serves a socialization and cultural purpose and people who carry it out do not see the violence as wrong, or problematic, particularly violence toward women and children. I have realized I have a very small, inexperienced lens to analyze violence from a cultural context so I am very cautious now as I try to understand it.

Jody Paterson said...

Hi, BC Social Workers commentator. I am far from an expert on how Hondurans feel about the violence in their country, but I can say that everyone who I have met in these past 18 months have been very, very disturbed by it. What's important to note about the homicide rate here is the dramatic increase over the past few years, Look at page 50 of this report http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/statistics/Homicide/Globa_study_on_homicide_2011_web.pdf to see the huge increase in homicides in Honduras since 2004. That is not violence embedded in the culture - that's something that has changed, and that goes against trends in other Central American countries.
As for Hondurans benefiting from the drug trade, absolutely. The drug trade is essentially integrated into every level of Honduran society now. But in many ways it's just a business. Other countries are in the same business, with much less violence. The fact that there's so much violence within the industry is something peculiar to Honduras. There are many other Latin American countries that are equally involved in the cocaine industry that do not have the same extreme levels of violence.
On the retribution front, I'm sure that any country without a workable justice system carries out these kinds of killings. But again, we're not talking about the historical situation in Honduras. We're talking about the last 8 years. The phenomenal violence in the country is something new.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

Jody, your entry comes at a time I'm reflecting on violence, having transported last Saturday a woman hacked by a machete to the hospital.
What I am trying to think about are the other factors that lead to violence. There is, of course, the judicial system where,as you note, people can get away with murder; thus people seek vengeance. There is also the use of violence to prevent people from testifying about murders. There are also the violent attacks that reveal the lack of "skills" or a "culture" where people can control their strong emotions and deal with conflict in other ways than violence.

I don't know how to do this - but it's something I need to study and critically reflect on.

Any ideas?

e.a.f. said...

cutting back on the number of guns would be nice. However, the makers of guns aren't going to like that. There is even more money in guns than in drugs.

Should there be a ban on selling guns to Hondorus. Maybe, but they will be smuggled in then. Guns come from the U.S.A. and until their gun culture changes not much can be done in the countries in North and Central America except to implement stronger gun laws.

What may help Honduros is improving the economy. For that the 1%ers in that country will have to give up something.

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