Honduras in state of emergency over gang activity

Police increased their presence on the streets of Honduras on Friday after President Xiomara Castro declared a state of emergency to quell a surge in gang activity in the Central American nation.

The small country has long been plagued by poverty, gangs and drug-related violence. Gangs have recently been blackmailing ordinary citizens as they go about their business.

“To step up efforts to restore neighborhood, village and departmental lawless areas, I declare a national state of emergency,” Castro said Thursday.

An AFP photographer reported on Friday a heavy presence of special forces and other officers in the capital.

The state of emergency comes just days after hundreds of truckers protested in the capital Tegucigalpa to demand the government take steps to stop gangs from extorting a “war tax” from them.

Castro, who was elected the country’s first female president in January, “declared that we will fight against blackmail, just as we have fought against corruption, impunity and drug trafficking”.

She called on the police to reclaim public spaces “that have been attacked and controlled by organized crime and its gangs”.

She urged police to identify hotspots where “the partial suspension of constitutional guarantees” would be needed.

Police Chief Gustavo Sanchez said he would allocate more money and at least 20,000 officers to efforts to root out gang activity.

Along with neighbors El Salvador and Guatemala, Honduras forms the so-called “triangle of death,” plagued by murderous gangs known as “maras” who control drug trafficking and organized crime.

In 2020, there were 37.6 recorded homicides per 100,000 population.

High levels of poverty and unemployment, mixed with gang and drug violence, force nearly 800 Hondurans to leave the country every day, mostly for the United States, where more than a million already live, most of them undocumented.