Success of Honduran government’s security strategy dependent on implementation of Private Security Law and adequate budgetary provisions

IHS Markit perspective

Outlook and implications

  • President Juan Orlando Hernández’s government has prioritised anti-corruption and restructuring measures to improve public trust in security institutions.
  • Security forces will continue to struggle with corruption, as well as limited government financial resources and equipment, and remain vulnerable to gang penetration if existing programmes are not maintained and strengthened.
  • Gang ‘turf wars’ and violent robberies will continue to present a moderate, mainly collateral, risk of death and injury for bystanders, especially in public spaces.


Corruption; Death and injury; Terrorism

Sectors or assets

Government; Justice institutions; Security forces; Individuals

Members of the Military Police stand guard as students arrive for class in Tegucigalpa, on 17 March 2017.

Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

Honduras’s capital, Tegucigalpa, and its business centre San Pedro Sula, together with Choloma, El Progreso, and La Ceiba, remain the cities at most risk from violent crime. The government has struggled to improve public security for over a decade, in the face of homicide rates that were once the highest per capita in the world due to an active gang presence; transnational criminal organisations with trafficking operations throughout the country; and highly corrupt police and military security institutions which sometimes engaged in their own criminal activities. Efforts to address corruption and reduce criminal penetration of security institutions at the highest levels have been moderately successful, including substantial purges of the country’s police institutions from April 2016 resulting in the dismissal of 3,519 police and a further 880 resignations from its total strength of 16,000.

According to statements from the Ministry of Security made on 3 September, Honduras has seen a 24% reduction in homicides between January and August 2017 to 2,550 from 3,330 over the same period in 2016. The homicide rate is projected to arrive at 45 per 100,000 by the end of 2017, down from over 85 per 100,000 at its most violent height in 2011. These improvements have been reflected in corresponding improvements on the Global Peace Index and Gallup’s 2017 Global Law and Order Report which measure public perceptions and citizen security.

Offensive against crime

President Juan Orlando Hernández, who is up for re-election in November 2017, has focused on anti-corruption purges of state security institutions and homicide reduction strategies over his first term. As a result of the militarisation of some public security functions, armed forces’ spending has increased from 4.93% of the government budget in 2013 to 6.19% in 2016 or USD332.5 million, with an accompanying increase in armed forces personnel to over 16,000 from 10,550. The Security Secretariat budget, which includes police funding, sat at USD266 million in 2016. Nevertheless, continuing weaknesses in public institutions and limited financing for anti-corruption activities risk stalling security improvements. The thin police presence on the ground is also an issue. Police personnel, of whom there are now approximately 13,000, are outnumbered by some 70,000 private security guards employed by some, largely unregulated, 880 companies. The proliferation of both legal and illegal private security enterprises has led to the persistence of insecurity perceptions throughout the country but especially among citizens living in high-risk urban centres.

Pushed to the fringes in Tegucigalpa

Throughout the country the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) has become a criminal force second only to transnational narco-traffickers, and has expanded its business operations into motels, hotels, real estate, auto-lots, and transportation sectors. Data from Honduras’s Police Statistics System (Sistema Estadistico Policial en Linea: SEPOL) indicate that those areas of Tegucigalpa with the greatest death and injury risks correlate with disputed gang territories in the capital. However, directly linking gangs’ activities to homicides is difficult as government intelligence is weak and more than half of homicides in 2016 were unattributed to a specific gang or motive.

Colonia El Pedregal, 2.5 kilometres from Toncontin International Airport, remains a hotspot for gang penetration, but most gang activity involving homicides is concentrated in the northwest and eastern fringes of the city. In particular, Altos de Loarque, Colonias Villa Olimpica, El Carrizal, Hato de Enmedio, Lomas del Norte, San Miguel, and Villa Nueva. There is thin police coverage with only one officer for every 900 individuals.

Tegucigalpa has seen over 350 homicides in the first half 2017, down from 495 in 2016. Targeted individuals include transportation workers, local students, and private security guards. Lawyers and LGBTQ community members are also at elevated risk. Most deaths take place at the weekend. Individuals face greatest theft risks in the northeast of the city while cars and motorcycles also are more likely to be targeted for theft in the southeast quarter towards El Hato and Villa Vieja. Businesses which hire un-certified private security firms are also exposed to increased risks as there have been several reported instances in which security guards have been subverted by criminal organisations and have attempted to extort clients for payments in Tegucigalpa.

Hotspots in San Pedro Sula

San Pedro Sula has seen a 50% decrease in homicides to 268 in 2017, down from 554 violent deaths in 2016. In 2011 it saw its homicide rate increase to 159 per 100,000; in 2016 this fell back to 107 per 100,000. Government statistics indicate that the greatest number of deaths result from confrontations between criminal structures and targeted assassinations. The highest-risk sectors are located to the east and south of the city, outside the main ring of Av. Juan Pablo II. In particular, 6 de Mayo, Colonias Satélite, La Aurora, La Pradera, Luisiana, Residencial Miguel Angel Pavón, Rivera Hernandez, and Tepeaca represent high incidence areas. Armed robbery and extortion attempts in the main business and financial zones do not tend to target resident workers or international travellers due to private security and police patrols. Car and motorcycle thefts in San Pedro Sula have fallen in recent years. Approximately one vehicle is reported stolen per day in 2017, dominated by vans and cars – particularly those driven by women.

Outlook and implications

Recent anti-corruption and law enforcement-strengthening operations have contributed to the reductions in death and injury risks. However, gang structures in Honduras are highly resilient and past experience indicates that they are likely to be able to re-establish themselves within 12 months and regain access to the security establishment if current government counter-crime policies are not sustained. One indicator of future risks from violent crime will be congressional actions on corruption penalties and institutional budgets. If justice and attorney general budgets are increased in 2018, the current downward trend is likely to be maintained. Another indicator will be the passage and implementation of the Private Security Law. Should it be passed before October 2017 and its provisions for licensing and training of guards be implemented swiftly, with first penalties for non-compliance handed out within 12 months, there will likely be a modest reduction in criminal penetration of private security companies, improving public space security and further reducing death and injury risks.

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