Around midnight on Thursday, August 1, a small bomb went off 100 meters from the residency of Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. Latin America has a long history of violence, including armed coups, but even by Latin American standards, throwing a bomb at the house of a head of state is an uncommon and worrisome development. The attack, combined with the country’s numerous security and political challenges, raises the question of how Honduras should be regarded by the international community.
What little is known about the explosion is that the device was homemade and not particularly powerful. More worrisome is the fact that it is unclear how the perpetrator got away, especially since the president’s residence is heavily guarded.
Even though no one was injured in the attack, the attack can be placed amongst a growing number of recent incidents that demonstrate the country’s instability, which targets not just the general population, but even the highest elected officials.
Days after the attack took place, the Honduran media reported a shootout between a Nicaraguan drug trafficker, alias, Juan Carlos Villalobos Quiroz (alias “El Muco”) and his Honduran partner, Fredy Avila, over a shipment of up to 700 kilos of cocaine. Overall, 17 criminals were killed in the crossfire, which occurred along the country’s isolated Caribbean coast, La Mosquitia.
Additionally, days after the shootout, inter-gang violence erupted in the Marco Aurelio Soto National Prison, forcing an army deployment to restore peace.
Three prisoners were killed and twelve others were injured when members of the Barrio 18 and MS-13 opened fire within prison walls.
The situation in Honduran prisons is dire, with pavilions normally run by gangs instead of wardens and security officers – though the same can be said of the penitentiary system of several nations across the hemisphere, which are run by criminal entities such as the PCC gang in Brazil and the narcos in Mexico.
Apart from violence, the country’s economy will likely suffer significantly from a fungus that is currently attacking coffee bean crop fields.
Coffee bean production is a cornerstone of several Central American economies, and regional governments are attempting to control the spread of the fungus, known as roya, or coffee-leaf rust. Moreover, there is a deadly dengue fever epidemic spreading across Central America – 17 infected people have died so far in Honduras.
The Honduran government has been attempting to address these issues. The country’s air force is planning to upgrade its Tucano aircraft and Bell 412 helicopters to better combat drug trafficking. Additionally, General John Kelly, head of the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) visited Honduras in January, which including a meeting with President Lobo.
The general discussed with the Honduran leader the possibility of improving military cooperation in areas such as humanitarian assistance after natural disasters.
Regarding political instability, the country is recovering from the very controversial June 2009 overthrow of then-President Manuel Zelaya.
In spite of the overthrow and subsequent political instability, Honduras managed to hold elections in November 2009, with Porfirio Lobo emerging as the country’s new president.
When states (almost ) fail…
Honduras’ dire security situation serves to spark a scholarly discussion about the nations that are (or should be) labeled as “failed states.”
The term is usually reserved for countries that have major internal insecurity and governments that are either non-existent or very limited in power projection—to the point that they cannot control their own territory.
According to the Failed States Index 2013, a project run by the Fund for Peace research center, the countries ranking at the bottom are Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.
Honduras ranks near the middle – 75 out of 178, which places it above other Western Hemisphere nations like Ecuador (74), Bolivia (67), Colombia (57), and, unsurprisingly, Haiti (8).
At this time it is unclear whether or not Honduras deserves to score at such a middling point in the FSI index, or if the country should have ranked worse.
Due to space issues, we cannot discuss every issue of Honduran security, economic capacity, governmental instability, and other standard aspects that are looked at when judging a country’s governance, it would be informative to briefly examine internal security.
When it comes to internal security, criminal networks and gangs arguably run rampant within certain areas of the country. That said, the Honduran security forces have had (some) successes in tackling them. It can be argued that Honduran security forces still have general control of their nation’s territory and that the country is not breaking apart like Somalia.
Nor has it seen the emergence of territories controlled by criminal movements like in Colombia or Mexico.
Many scholars would argue that a developing country is “at a crossroads,” if there is still some probability that it will be able to resolve internal concerns regarding security threats or political instability.
Although Honduras may currently be at a crossroads, a bomb thrown at the president’s home signalizes a potential setback before a noticeable improvement of the troubling situation. Maybe “troubled” or “borderline failed” state would be a better label to apply to Honduras rather than “failed,” but that discussion may ultimately just come down to semantics.