On November 24, the 2013 Presidential election in Honduras will decide the fate of the small Central American nation that has been labeled the murder capital of the world. Honduras is desperately in need of a change and they are hoping to find it in this election.
The small Central American nation has an average of 20 murders every single day. Considering the country has a population of less than 8 million people, this is a truly staggering murder rate. One of their most dangerous cities is San Pedro Sula. Despite having a population of less than one million people, San Pedro Sula sees an average of 1,200 people murdered per year.
To put this into a U.S. perspective, San Pedro Sula is about the size of Columbus, Ohio. Columbus had 92 murders last year. To bring this back into a broader perspective, remember that the U.S. has a significantly higher murder rate than most developed countries. In the U.S., average annual murder rates are five times higher than Australia or Germany and nearly ten times higher than Japan.
Of course, many factors are contributing to this staggering crime rate and it isn’t going to change overnight. The country’s choice of their next president, however, will have a major influence on the direction that Honduras is going.
The new president of Honduras will be either Xiomara Castro de Zelaya or Juan Orlando Hernández. The two candidates are currently tied. Castro is the head of the left-leaning Libre party. She has promised to reform agriculture and get foreign investment coming into the country again. Violence against women is rampant in Honduras and there is a mixture of curiosity and skepticism with respect to Castro de Zelaya’s ability to manage that issue.
Castro de Zelaya’s opponent, Hernández, is the head of the right-leaning National party. He has also promised agricultural reform along with assistance programs for the poorest Hondurans.
While the gap between the rich and the poor is slowly narrowing in other parts of Central America, the wage disparity is growing in Honduras. Just five years ago, the number of Hondurans who were considered to live in “extreme poverty” was 36%. That number is at 46% now. 40% of full-time workers are earning less than the minimum monthly income of $340 per month. This means that nearly half of the country cannot get by in even the most basic terms.
Things have gotten worse in Honduras with the impact of the 2008 U.S. recession. Former President Zelaya’s alliance with Venezuela and Cuba put him on bad terms with the West and eventually lead to the 2009 coup that pushed him into exile. Following the coup, the new President of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, did very little to turn things around. After a questionable election, he came into office in January 2010 and the economy has been in a constant downturn ever since. Foreign investment in Honduras has all but stopped. Critical workers like doctors and teachers are paid sporadically and regularly go on strike. The country is in a deep hole now and only time will tell if Castro de Zelaya or Hernández can dig the country out.
By Nicci Mende