The murder of two prosecutors in Honduras is a reminder that even though the country has made progress in capturing the heads of transnational drug trafficking organizations, there is still a long way to go in mitigating gang violence and improving citizen security.
The prosecutors, Marlene Banegas and Olga Eufragio, were killed on October 10 while driving in San Pedro Sula, Honduras' most violent city. Banegas was shot over 50 times, which police said was an indication that she was the assassins' primary target, reported El Heraldo.
Banegas, who was the head of the district attorney's homicide unit, had previously led the organized crime unit. She had also worked as a regional coordinator for the Attorney General's Office in northwest Honduras. Eufragio was an environmental crimes prosecutor.
Honduras' chief of police said that street gang the "Mara 18" -- or Barrio 18 -- was behind the killings. Police arrested four suspected gang members after a shoot-out on the day of the killings, at least two of whom were believed to have been involved, according to the police chief.
Banegas had reported receiving threats from the Barrio 18 before her death, and had been removed from several investigations out of concern for her safety, reported El Heraldo. She had been involved in prosecuting a case against the Barrio 18, which saw three gang members found guilty of involvement in the massacre of 17 people in a shoe store in 2010. Following the August 2013 sentencing, Banegas was assigned a team of police escorts to protect her from the gang.
InSight Crime Analysis
Honduras has recently enjoyed some very significant successes in combating organized crime. With support from the United States, anti-drug police have dismantled the leadership of one of the country's biggest drug smuggling organizations, the Valles drug clan.
SEE ALSO: Honduras News and Profiles
But as these recent murders show, Honduras still faces the enormous task of improving citizen security and addressing gang violence. Capturing those behind the deaths of Banegas and Eufragio, and giving them a fair trial, would do much to send the message that gangs cannot attack the state with impunity. There is little hope of improving Honduras' justice system if those who handle cases related to gangs fear for their lives. According to Honduras' ombudsman, 83 lawyers have been killed in the country since 2010. This includes the murder last year of the chief prosecutor for money laundering cases.
The struggle to protect those who handle organized crime cases is an endemic problem across Latin America, including countries like Peru and Guatemala, where one lawyer who handled a case against Mexico's Zetas cartel was killed and dismembered in 2011.