The group had 10 families when it started three years ago. Today it has 60, and all but one of their cases remain unsolved.
“We are living in constant fear,” said Blanca Alvarez, wearing a pin bearing a portrait of her dead son, Jason, shot in a carjacking in 2006. “We have had marches for peace, wearing white, releasing white balloons into the air. Nothing is going to change here. Nothing.”
Honduras had 82.1 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, the highest per-capita rate in the world, according to a global homicide report published by the United Nations in October that included estimates for Iraq and Afghanistan. Security concerns prompted the U.S. Peace Corps to announce last week that it would pull all 158 volunteers out of Honduras.
As in Guatemala and El Salvador, Honduras’s neighbors in the Northern Triangle region of Central America, the homicide problem goes back decades. But as Mexico’s billionaire drug mafias expand their smuggling networks deeper into Central America to evade stiffer enforcement in Mexico and the Caribbean, violence has exploded, as if the cocaine were gasoline tossed on a fire.
Honduras’s grim tally reached 6,239 killings in 2010, compared with 2,417 in 2005, and researchers say the count will be even higher this year. The largest number of homicides occurred here around San Pedro Sula, a once-booming manufacturing center that is fast becoming the Ciudad Juarez of Central America.
That troubled city on the U.S.-Mexico border and San Pedro Sula share more than a reputation for low-wage assembly plants and fratricidal violence. They are at opposite ends of the billion-dollar smuggling chain that extends from the north coast of Honduras to the United States.
It starts on the isolated beaches and jungle airstrips of Honduras’s Mosquitia region, where 95 percent of the suspected drug flights from South America to Central America land, according to U.S. narcotics agents. U.S. radar detected 90 such flights into Honduras last year, compared with 24 in 2008, marking a major shift in trafficking patterns that indicates a strong preference for the country’s rugged geography and feeble institutions.
In March, authorities raided a cocaine processing lab in the mountains near San Pedro Sula. The facility was the first of its kind in Central America, capable of churning out a ton of powder each month by combining imported coca paste with hydrochloric acid and other chemicals.
Then, in July, a semi-
submersible “narco submarine” with $180 million worth of cocaine was caught by the U.S. Coast Guard in international waters off Honduras, the first such craft detected in the Caribbean. Since then, three more have been busted.