Bukele’s ‘War on Gangs’ Model Won’t Work for Honduras’ Castro

Bukele’s ‘War on Gangs’ Model Won’t Work for Honduras’ Castro
Soldiers patrol the Riviera Hernandez neighborhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 27, 2023 (AP photo by Delmer Martinez).

Several months ago, this country’s government imposed a state of emergency to curb violent crime. More recently, it announced its intention to build a new, remote prison to secure the most dangerous criminals. In the meantime, its security forces have taken to displaying inmates seated front to back on the ground of prison courtyards—faces down, heads shaved and legs splayed, all under the close watch of heavily armed military police officers in a brutal show of force.

One might be forgiven for thinking immediately of El Salvador, where President Nayib Bukele has launched an unprecedented dragnet against criminal gangs, arresting around 70,000 people amid complaints of arbitrary detentions and massive human rights abuses. The country in question, however, is Honduras, where upon taking office in January 2022, President Xiomara Castro promised to “demilitarize” public security and instead adopt community policing methods and a preventative approach to violence. What explains her U-turn?

From Promises to Hard Realities

Signaling a break from the 12-year rule of the right-wing National Party, which had expanded the role of the military in a wide range of fields, the left-wing Castro campaigned in the 2021 presidential election on the promise of a fresh start in the security realm. She pledged to put the National Police back in the driver’s seat and focus on addressing the socioeconomic “root causes” that push so many young Hondurans into joining criminal organizations. She also vowed to uproot the corruption that reached a zenith under her predecessor—former President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who is now awaiting trial in New York on drug and weapons-trafficking charges—by installing a United Nations-backed anti-impunity commission.

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