Honduras declares state of emergency over gang crime

Tegucigalpa, Honduras (AP) — Honduras has become the second country in Central America to declare a state of emergency to combat gang crimes such as extortion.

For years, street gangs in Honduras, as in neighboring El Salvador, have demanded protection from bus and taxi drivers and shopkeepers.

Late Thursday, Honduran President Xiomara Castro proposed measures that would limit constitutional rights to round up gang members.

“This social democratic government is declaring a fight against blackmail just as it has declared a fight against corruption, impunity and drug trafficking since day one,” Castro said. It is enforced in every corner of our country. “

Honduran bus operator leader Jorge Lanza on Friday backed the move, saying bus drivers were tired of being threatened or killed for not paying protection money. Lanza said drivers have been calling for a crackdown for years.

“We cannot stand any more workers being killed or coerced,” Lanza said. “We hope these measures work and remain intact.”

Lanza said 50 drivers have died so far in 2022, bringing the total to 2,500 over the past 15 years. He estimates that the company and drivers paid gangs an average of about $10 million a month to operate.

Honduras has not specified exactly what the emergency entails, but such measures typically temporarily suspend normal rules governing arrests and searches. Restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly may also be enforced.

In neighboring El Salvador, President Naib Bukele asked Congress to grant him special powers after a gang was accused of killing 62 people on March 26, and the emergency order has been issued monthly since. Updated. Suspends some constitutional rights and empowers police to arrest and detain suspects.

The measure has been popular among Salvadorans, with more than 56,000 people arrested on suspicion of gang affiliation.

But non-governmental organizations tally thousands of human rights violations and at least 80 deaths in custody of those arrested in exceptional conditions.

Rights activists say young men are often arrested simply because of their age, appearance, or whether they live in gang-controlled slums.