The government says a wave of violence in northern Honduras that left at least 11 people dead within 48 hours is due to gang warfare, but the reality may be more complex.
The spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office in San Pedro Sula said the conflict began when members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang killed two members of Barrio 18 (M-18) on Monday night, reports the AFP.
Barrio 18 retaliated by killing four alleged members of the MS-13 in La Lima, a town some 260 kilometers north of San Pedro Sula, the spokesperson said. The group then reportedly murdered five more alleged MS-13 members in another town, Chamelecon (see map, below). Police say they have captured one suspect responsible for the Chamelecon killings.
The deaths followed a massacre on Sunday in the northern port city La Ceiba, where gunmen killed seven people in a pool hall.
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The alleged conflict between MS-13 and Barrio 18 is taking place in Cortes province, which, according to the National Autonomous University of Honduras, registered the highest number of homicides in Honduras last year, with 1,915 killings. Human rights organization Conadeh released slightly different numbers, but found that Cortes and another province, Francisco Morazan, accounted for 46 percent of the violent deaths registered in Honduras last year.
Along with the province of Atlantida, where La Ceiba is located, these three northern provinces have seen the highest levels of violence in the country since 2008.
There are different explanations for why these areas have been so badly afflicted. One is that the killings are part of gang wars, as with the government's explanation for the 11 murders on Monday and Tuesday. But as human rights group Conadeh has observed, police frequently commit extrajudicial killings and then pass off the deaths as being related to gang infighting. Cortes and the other provinces have also been the site of land conflict, with farm workers pressuring for agrarian reform. Activist groups have said part of the violence is related to this struggle.
Government institutions allege that gang rivalry is responsible for much of Honduras' violence, but the reality is often more complex.
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