Authorities in Honduras have deployed military forces to a neighborhood threatened by the Barrio 18 street gang, but the soldiers' presence is unlikely to provide a long-term solution to the community's security concerns.
On March 21, residents of the Reparto Lempira neighborhood of San Pedro Sula received a message from Barrio 18 ordering them to leave their homes within 24 hours. The note threatened residents with violent reprisals if they refused to comply. (see below)
"You won't just be sorry. You'll see people losing their lives just for opening their front door," the note says.
Authorities also seized a cellphone from an alleged Barrio 18 member that contained threatening text messages, reported La Prensa.
"If you don't reply in less than 24 hours... you will see that we are not playing around," reads one of the texts.
A television news crew from HCH Noticias captured video of distraught neighbors scrambling to pack up their belongings, while media outlet El Heraldo reported that others were asking authorities for police protection to allow them to stay in their homes.
The following day, a contingent of military police arrived in Reparto Lempira. A spokesperson for Honduras' inter-institutional security force (Fuerza de Seguridad Interinstitucional Nacional - FUSINA), José Antonio Coello, promised residents the soldiers' deployment would be permanent.
"There will be checkpoints and roadblocks to protect the lives of the residents," Coello said, according to La Tribuna. "The collaboration of these residents is requested to provide information about any criminal groups, to carry out intelligence operations."
Coello also said authorities had already identified the individuals responsible for the threat and that they would be captured soon, according to La Prensa.
InSight Crime Analysis
For the moment, it appears the military occupation of Reparto Lempira has helped stave off a mass eviction of the neighborhood's residents by gang members. However, the soldiers' presence does little to address the principal factors that allow groups like Barrio 18 to wield so much power in Honduras.
A report (pdf) published last year by the Center for International Policy and the Latin America Working Group described San Pedro Sula as "nearly a war zone." The authors cited a lack of economic opportunities and inadequately trained and funded security institutions as some of the root causes of widespread violence and impunity in the city.
Moreover, the researchers pointed out the government often deploys military police to neighborhoods suffering from high levels of criminal violence. But these soldiers do not carry out investigations that could lead to criminal prosecutions, which means that "underlying problems in San Pedro Sula's worst neighborhoods are generally left unsolved."
SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 News and Profile
While Honduras has seen a substantial drop in its murder rate in recent years, the militarized security strategy pursued by the government has largely failed to tackle longstanding issues like corruption and lack of capacity in police and judicial institutions.
Given the immediate threat faced by the residents of Reparto Lempira, the decision to deploy the military is understandable. But in order to achieve sustainable gains in citizen security, the Honduran government should remain focused on addressing the socioeconomic and institutional factors that allow groups like Barrio 18 to flourish in cities like San Pedro Sula.