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Can a Gang Truce Help Save Honduras?

At this point, it’s unclear whether the Honduran government facilitated the recent truce declaration in the same way that El Salvador’s government facilitated the March 2012 truce. Either way, Honduras plays a much bigger role in the hemispheric drug trade than El Salvador. Therefore, as Schwartz indicated, drug-related killings are responsible for a larger share of overall murders in Honduras than in El Salvador. Needless to say, the drug cartels have not signed any non-aggression pact, and they may in fact be emboldened by the Honduran gang truce. It has been estimated (by the Honduran defense minister) that 87 percent of all U.S.-bound cocaine passes through Honduras, with one of the primary transit points being the so-called Mosquito Coast. (Not surprisingly, drug trafficking and violence have also increased along the Nicaraguan portion of the Mosquito Coast.) In that sense, Honduras will continue to be a victim of its geography, regardless of how the gang truce evolves.

In both El Salvador and Honduras, the only true, long-term solutions to gang violence and gang recruitment are stronger public institutions and greater economic opportunities for disadvantaged young men. (Brookings scholar Diana Negroponte points out that “30 percent of urban youth aged 15 to 24 years in Central America are neither at school nor working.”) The best we can say about gang truces is that they can provide short-term relief from nonstop violence and create better conditions for institution building and prevention efforts.

The Salvadoran truce has led to fewer murders and has given President Mauricio Funes an opportunity to launch new social programs. On the other hand, MS-13 and Barrio 18 continue to extort and terrorize the Salvadoran people, and the durability of their truce is uncertain. Given these mixed results -- along with the geographic and drug-trade realities discussed earlier -- any progress in Honduras will likely be modest.

(Thumbnail on PJM Homepage assembled from multiple Shutterstock.com images.)