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Honduran army deployed against drug cartels

The Americas Post - There's a new sheriff on the streets of Tegucigalpa. Photo Credit: Xinhua

The Honduran legislature decided this week to deploy the army against Mexican drug cartels, hoping to put the brake on growing violence in the most murderous country on the planet.

Lawmakers voted by an overwhelming majority to follow the model used by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who launched a military campaign against powerful drug gangs after taking office in 2006.

Following that decision, over 45,000 people have been killed in Mexican drug violence.   On a per capita basis, however, the small nation of Honduras is leading every other country in the world in homicides, with 82 murders per 100,000 people last year according to the United Nations.   Some 20 people are killed there on a daily basis.

Officials blame most of the murders on cartels, smuggling South American cocaine through Central America to consumers in the United States.  Honduras also suffers from violent youth street gangs that extort local businesses with death threats.

“This legislation will allow the armed forces to take on policing roles to confront organized crime and drug traffickers operating across the country,” congressman Oswaldo Ramos said.

Some human rights activists say the military is not trained to deal with civilian crimes and have accused Mexican soldiers of torture and disappearances in the drug war.  Those concerns are taken seriously in Honduras, where the military overthrew leftist President Manuel Zelaya in a 2009 coup.

“We have serious doubts about the implications of sending the army to do policework,” said leftist congressman Sergio Castellanos. “They are not prepared to deal with civilians and this will only strengthen their position in society after the coup,” he said.

Recent polls have shown that the move does have popular backing and that people feel safer with soldiers patrolling the streets.