Honduran authorities have recovered 90 houses and several schools and churches that had been abandoned and taken over by gangs in San Pedro Sula, representing a success for ongoing security operations, but failing to address underlying problems.
Members of the national police and armed forces reclaimed the buildings in the Chamelecon sector, one of the city's most violent zones, as part of Operation Liberty, an ongoing operation in which the military and police conduct joint daily street patrols, reported El Heraldo.
Defense Minister Marlon Pascua said that residents were forced to flee as a result of gang activity by the Barrio 18 and MS-13 "maras" and other street gangs. Some of the recovered homes still contained kitchen items, clothing and family photographs reported La Prensa.
The military will continue to maintain a 24-hour presence in the area in order to guarantee a safe return for displaced residents.
InSight Crime Analysis
The gang-related displacement in San Pedro Sula also occurs in neighborhoods in Honduras' capital Tegucigalpa, where residents flee their homes to avoid repercussions because they cannot afford the exorbitant extortion payments demanded by gangs. In some cases, gangs later take over the homes and use them as drug storage and sales points.
A similar phenomenon of internal displacement has occurred in cities in El Salvador -- where the maras also have a strong presence -- as families struggle to avoid gang violence.
According to the military, since the start of Operation Liberty four months ago, homicides have dropped significantly in San Pedro Sula -- considered the most dangerous city in the world -- and the ongoing campaign has apparently had some success in creating a semblance of normalcy in the city.
However, military patrols cannot be viewed as a long term solution and at some point civilian security forces must take over. With reports that police themselves are involved in the extortion rackets that have caused displacement, and an overall culture of ingrained police corruption and involvement with organized crime, this is not a promising prospect.