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.