San Pedro Sula
As late as the very end of October 2014, the murder rate in San Pedro Sula was a shocking figure of 169 per 100,000 residents. The U.S.A.’s most dangerous city (Flint, Michigan) has a murder rate of 62 per 100,000. That’s almost three times as many people dying per 100,000 residents. San Pedro Sula is also an extremely important city economically for Honduras. San Pedro Sula is a complex city. If I’m being entirely honest, I don’t know how to write this. But I do San Pedro Sula is a city crying out. Regular citizens die. Normal people who want nothing more than to return home to their families will not see their children, or their spouse, their siblings, their parents again.
The task of writing something critical about Honduras is exceedingly difficult. But the fact of the matter is, that San Pedro Sula is so dangerous that information is actually accessible about the dangers which haunt the crowded streets, and the killers that lurk in lower class neighborhoods. The truth demands to be known.
La Prensa, a Honduran newspaper, published an article in early March of this year talking about San Pedro Sula. The headline read “Buying Drugs in San Pedro Sula is like buying candy”. It also reveals something extremely important. According to the article, some 70% of the murders committed in San Pedro Sula are related to the drug-trade. Now I don’t believe that personally (and by this I mean that I am skeptical of those exact numbers), but I do believe that the connection between the illegal trade of drugs and the violence which so often shatters families in the city are absolutely connected, and that one problem being solved will requires steps to handle both.
The reality is that the issues which create so much violence in the city are also connected to other things, such as poorly handled immigration regulation. Criminals of Honduran origin who come to the United States can and do get sent back to Honduras. Unfortunately this doesn’t make the lives of Hondurans easier.
Another article, published by Fox News Latino highlights this issue. The article talks about the deported felons coming to Honduras and basically recreating their gangs in Honduras. These gangs will then clash and the results are deadly, and are crucially connected to the illegal distribution of drugs that the La Prensa article highlights. Part of the activities the gangs that win the contested turf will do is sell drugs. That is a large motivation, because it is in that activity that they begin to gain a profit, so that they can buy more weapons and continue to expand their controlled land. They also create extortion rings, and murder businesspeople and regular Hondurans who don’t pay them.
The time has come to open up a serious discussion about how to handle these sorts of conflicts in places like San Pedro Sula. It is time to discuss legalization. The “war on drugs” has not been won. But it can be. The influence of drug cartels and small gangs in Honduras can be successfully fought. The lives of the hundreds of residents of San Pedro Sula who die in mere months can be reversed. Their deaths can have meaning.
It is time to begin the slow and steady process of bleeding these gangsters dry. And the main way that can be done, is by actually taking away what makes them capable of earning money. The gangs, and cartels have a market. It is time that the Honduran government accept that there are Hondurans who buy drugs. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The Honduran economy is terrible. Many Hondurans cannot find employment, and that motivates them to join gangs, and or to leave the country. That doesn’t help Honduras. Neither of those options help Honduras. What could help Honduras is creating jobs, and getting people out of jail and into the fields. Drug legalization is absolutely not a cure-all. But by prohibiting the drugs absolutely, the gangs and cartels have a monopoly. And in San Pedro Sula it is clear that this is profitable. So why can’t ordinary, law-abiding Hondurans profit off of that market? Why is it that only Hondurans and foreigners who have no problem with murder get to feed their families?
The time has come for a genuine movement to appear that plans to legalize drugs in Honduras. An intelligent, passionate, group of people who understand that zero-tolerance for drugs doesn’t help anyone aside from those who are willing to kill and maim in order to survive, and thrive.
An intelligent campaign designed to improve the quality of life in San Pedro Sula, and yes, all of Honduras cannot be done without the legislation of drugs. The evidence is clear, there is no question, outlawing drugs doesn’t keep them off of the streets, and out of the hands of people with an intention to buy them, including children. Outlawing drugs does not make them regulated. What does make drugs regulated is when they are produced by people with permits and the legal authorization to do so. If we as Hondurans, and international citizens want Honduras to improve it is time to actively shout for legalization.
The reality is simple. If given the opportunity to legally purchase drugs, or to risk life and death purchasing them from gang members odds are most Hondurans will or would buy them legally at safe stores, and be happy to no longer experience shame for the usage of drugs.
Additionally, the process by which drugs are made and refined requires workers. Currently in Honduras there is obviously the equipment needed to produce and transport drugs. Imagine if that equipment was seized when successful drug busts occurred, and give to individuals with the skills needed to produce drugs, but with the morality needed to keep careful stock of them, and legal licenses to be able to sell them. Imagine a Honduras where items taken from gangs and from drug cartels are used to combat those cartels and gangs, and continually weaken them, until they are but a memory in the minds of the oldest Hondurans.
Hondurans could have jobs producing, refining, and selling drugs. Hondurans who only want to help their country. And taxes acquired from the selling of these drugs could go into improving Honduran infrastructure. But instead 100% of the money made off of drug distribution goes into the pockets of gangsters who killed for it, or businessmen and politicians who assist with the transportation of the drugs into other countries, including yes into the United States.
Drugs are an unpleasant reality in Honduras. But ultimately this notion of prohibition is not working. Obviously a different approach needs to be taken. There are alternatives to prohibition that work better than prohibition, such as controlled regulation. Also, by removing the penalties associated with possession, and by actually working to treat drug-addiction and abuse as a health problem, Hondurans will begin to gain access to a higher quality of life.
These problems can be solved. And the fact that they continue to be real issues is insane. It is time for a new set of Honduran leaders to come to power, who have the energy needed to begin fighting the enemies of Honduras and Hondurans, including corruption, drug use, cartels, and gangs. The fight to end the monopoly on drug production and transportation in Honduras will be bloody. But continuing this false offense on gangs will be even more so. It will also be toxic to San Pedro Sula and motivate even more students and young people to flee the country.
The time has come. It is time to strip the drug cartels of their immunity, and come down on them like the hammer of God. Imagine a Honduras without cartels. Imagine a Honduras without gang members coming into homes and murdering people. Imagine a Honduras where people feel safe to go to school. Imagine a San Pedro Sula without a black market drug economy. Imagine a San Pedro Sula where it is safe to go to work. It can be done. The time is now.