A new decree banning the public possession and transportation of weapons in northern Honduras, a key drug trafficking region, is intended to cut violence in the area though critics argue it will prevent farmers involved in a violent land struggle from arming themselves in self-defense.
The decree passed August 1 and prevents civilians from carrying weapons in public or in vehicles in Honduras’ northern Colon province. La Tribuna published the full text of the law, which says that any offenders will be fined the equivalent of two months minimum wages (about $300) and the maximum of 10 months minimum wages (about $1,500). Offenders will also have their weapons confiscated, to be returned if the decree expires, something which can only happen under an executive order.
Police, military, and private security firms contracted to businesses are exempt from the gun ban, the law states.
Colon is home to Honduras’ Bajo Aguan region, site of the country's most prominent land conflict, with local farmers’ organizations fighting against palm oil companies they say are illegally moving in on their land. At least 55 people, many of them farmers, have been killed in the region since 2009 as a result of the conflict.
Complicating the scenario is the reported presence of armed drug traffickers in the area. Colon has over 150 kilometers of coastline along the Atlantic, and is believed to be used as a transit area for drug flights. Government officials have previously spoken of criminal groups and gunmen in Colon, and have equated them with the farmers’ groups involved in the Bajo Aguan conflict.
Farmers in Colon and the Bajo Aguan do openly port high-power weapons in the area, as highlighted by a recent AP report, but say they must carry weapons for their self protection.
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By exempting business security guards, land activists say the gun ban will make them more vulnerable to violent attack from shadowy rival interests.
“At first we thought this measure was going to avoid more deaths, but afterwards we realized that these measures were going to be selective, and so they were,” the leader of one major farmers’ organization, MUCA, told La Prensa.
It is unclear what the government intends the primary effect of the gun ban to be. If it is enforced properly, it could well force any drug traffickers based in the area to be more cautious about their operations. But if more farmers are killed in mysterious attacks in the near future, land activist groups could be further justified in their complaints that the gun ban detracts from their ability to protect themselves.