Colombia vs. Honduras. Jun 10, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 37 • By MAX BOOT
If you want to see both the potential and the peril in Latin America, you could not do better than to visit Honduras and Colombia, as I did in mid-May: The former is Exhibit A for all that is wrong with the region, from drug trafficking and violence to governmental corruption; the latter a showcase of what can be done to bring even the most embattled country back from the brink.
First, the bad news. Honduras owns a dubious distinction, of the highest murder rate in the world. In 2012, according to the United Nations, it suffered 85.5 homicides per 100,000 residents compared with a global median of 8.8. The rate in the United States is under 5 homicides per 100,000; in Canada it is under 2. Mexico is far more violent but even its homicide rate is less than a third of Honduras’s—24 per 100,000. San Pedro Sula, a city in northern Honduras, is ground zero for this epidemic of violence—its murder rate is 169 per 100,000, making it the most violent city on the planet. More than 7,100 people were murdered in the entire country (population 7.7 million) in 2012, and there has been no abatement of that trend this year. Even in the capital, Tegucigalpa, visitors are warned not to walk outside their hotel.
Honduras is the original banana republic—it was home in the early 20th century to banana plantations owned by two giant American corporations, United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) and Standard Fruit Company (now Dole), which dominated the country’s political and economic life. Today it is a cocaine republic, not a major grower of coca but the leading transshipment point for cocaine coming from Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia to the United States.
The State Department estimates that “more than 80 percent of the primary flow of the cocaine trafficked to the United States first transited through the Central American corridor in 2012,” and “as much as 87 percent of all cocaine smuggling flights departing South America first land in Honduras.” Honduras is ideally placed midway between the Andes and North America—single-engine aircraft can make it there from Venezuela without refueling. U.S. officials in Tegucigalpa estimate that 20 to 30 tons of cocaine pass through Honduras every month, mainly along the remote Atlantic coast where roads are few but jungle landing strips for cocaine-carrying aircraft and makeshift ports for cocaine-carrying fast boats proliferate.
Not all of the cocaine moves by air or sea; some of it is transported via the Pan-American Highway into Mexico and then to the United States. Powerful street gangs have developed in Honduras such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street gang. Their membership is estimated at more than 36,000, and their tentacles reach into the United States—not least because some of their members are former illegal immigrants who have been arrested and deported to Honduras, where they have few social ties outside the criminal gangs. (Some 32,000 Hondurans a year are deported from the United States—the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service runs six to eight full flights a week to Honduras.) As in Mexico, turf battles among gangs produce horrendous casualties and considerable collateral damage.
The government in Tegucigalpa seems helpless to stop this onslaught of criminality—not least because so many officials and their relatives are believed to benefit from the drug trade. Narco-trafficking is one of the few sources of revenue and employment in this desperately poor country whose per capita income, according to the World Bank, is less than $2,000 a year and where more than 59 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
It is no coincidence that Honduras is not only the most violent country on earth but also one of the most corrupt, ranking 133 out of 177 in Transparency International’s survey of international corruption. That makes it the most corrupt country in Central America, a region not exactly noted for good government (with the possible exception of Costa Rica). The police are particularly suspect. In one notorious case in 2011, Honduran police officers kidnapped and killed the son of a prominent academic. The result is what one U.S. embassy official calls a “culture of impunity” for drug traffickers.
7:22 AM, May 28, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Joe Biden is in Latin America meeting with foreign leaders. His first stop was in Colombia, where he landed yesterday and met with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos.
The vice president was diplomatic. "We understand that some real progress appears to have been made yesterday on the agrarian front. We applaud every advance -- every advance -- that gets Colombians closer to the peace they so richly deserve. And we look forward to the day when Colombia can fully enjoy a genuine peace dividend."
8:30 AM, Sep 28, 2012 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
We are now less than two weeks away from an election that could either save or destroy what remains of Venezuelan democracy.
Colombia has become one of the most promising economies in the Western Hemisphere.9:00 AM, Oct 31, 2011 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
On October 21, President Obama signed into law the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement (FTA), thereby giving American exporters greater access to one of South America’s fastest growing markets. The long, tiring debate over the FTA—which began five years ago, when the agreement was first completed—showed that popular perceptions of Colombia are stuck in a time warp. Not only has the country become a much safer and less violent place than it was in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, it has also become one of the most promising economies in the Western Hemisphere.
4:29 PM, Oct 3, 2011 • By DANIEL HALPER
The president finally submitted trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to Congress.
4:25 PM, Apr 9, 2011 • By PATRICK CHRISTY
The Obama administration finally announced earlier this week an agreement on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, paving the way for its ratification. The Colombia FTA is long overdue, and President Obama’s change of heart is a welcome step for America and Colombia alike. As the White House notes, American workers will immediately benefit from the agreement:
5:00 PM, Feb 11, 2011 • By JOHN NOONAN and PATRICK CHRISTY
It is, in a way, unsurprising that the president gave Bogota a brief nod during his State of the Union address. After all, In 2010 State of the Union address, the president claimed, “we will strengthen our trade relations in Asia and with key partners like South Korea and Panama and Colombia.” And, in 2009, President Obama told Colombian president Alvaro Uribe that he was “confident that ultimately we can strike a deal that is good for the people of Colombia and good for the people of the United States.” Yet, no such deal has been struck.
Good news for South Korea, but what about Colombia and Panama?7:30 AM, Jul 1, 2010 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Speaking to reporters at the G-20 summit in Toronto, President Obama declared his intention to complete the U.S.–South Korea free-trade agreement, which was signed by the Bush administration three years ago. “I want to make sure that everything is lined up properly by the time I visit Korea in November, and in the few months that follow that, I intend to present it to Congress,” Obama said. “It is the right thing to do for our country, it is the right thing to do for Korea.”
Colombia's Mockus on track for world's first Green Party election win.
3:00 PM, May 17, 2010 • By ADAM BRICKLEY
Dr. Antanas Mockus is a bit of an oddity in Latin American. He has a Lithuanian name, an Amish-looking beard, walks around wearing sunflowers, and gives rambling, professorial answers when you ask him a question. He's a stark contrast to the "machismo" we've come to expect from Latin American politicians, but in a few months Colombians will likely be calling him "El Presidente." Perhaps more importantly, he will enter the history books as the first world leader ever elected as a member of a Green Party.
Chronicles of hypocrisy.8:40 AM, Apr 19, 2010 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Last week, U.S. and Brazilian officials signed a defense pact that will significantly enhance bilateral military ties. “This agreement will lead to a deepening of U.S.-Brazil defense cooperation at all levels,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared. While the agreement does not explicitly discuss U.S. access to Brazilian bases, it does mention naval visits. I would not be surprised if it eventually led to some form of U.S. military presence in Brazil.
First a Coaster, then a falconer/central banker.Mar 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 26 • By JOE QUEENAN
Ever since I read George Plimpton’s Paper Lion in high school, I’ve been a huge fan of “stunt journalism.” This is the type of feisty reportage where a writer tries out for a professional football team, or takes a crack at conducting a symphony orchestra, and then writes a lighthearted article about his experiences.
Drug-war funding has actually increased on his watch.Mar 22, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 26 • By JOHN P. WALTERS
For anyone who feared that the Obama administration would abandon efforts to control illegal drugs, the president’s first year in office has been on balance reassuring.
Robert Kagan and Aroop Mukharji on Colombian democracy.2:40 PM, Mar 9, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Robert Kagan and Aroop Mukharji write in today's Washington Post:
There is plenty of pessimism about democracy these days, and autocrats seem to be on the march on every continent. So we should take note when democracy triumphs over autocratic temptations.
That's what happened in Colombia recently. President Álvaro Uribe had hinted for some time that he might run for a third consecutive term, despite the constitution's two-term limit. Last summer Colombia's House and Senate, controlled by allies of Uribe, passed a bill to change the constitution. The next and final step was a popular referendum in May to endorse Uribe's reelection. If that sounds familiar, it should. It was by popular referendum that Venezuela's Hugo Chávez installed himself as a virtual president-for-life. But late last month Colombia's constitutional court rejected the bill. The referendum is dead, and Colombia's democracy lives.
Vanessa Neumann has more on Columbia in this week's issue.