NEW YORK – President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who declared war on street gangs when he took office in 2014, is now seeking to attract investment to create jobs, attacking Honduras’s gang problem from another angle.
The plan has won the support of the presidents of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, and El Salvador, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who will join Hernandez for a meeting in Washington with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Friday.
The meeting, Hernandez told EFE in an interview, aims “to bring in private sector businesses from the three countries and the United States with an interest in the region.”
The three governments formed an alliance earlier this year, agreeing to coordinate the fight against the gangs, known as “maras” in Central America, in response to a proposal from Hernandez, who is attending the 71st UN General Assembly and other meetings this week in New York.
The Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and Barrio 18 gangs are blamed for the violence and high murder rates in Central America, whose impoverished Northern Triangle is one of the world’s most violent regions even though it is not a war zone.
The high level of violence is spurring the internal displacement of people, emigration and drug trafficking as gangs pose a challenge to regional security, a threat that even the United States recognizes, the 47-year-old Hernandez said.
“Honduras has proposed a plan to focus more on the gang phenomenon. We have the protocols ready to create a trinational force,” the president said.
“The task is not limited to suppressing crime. We need to create job opportunities. We have developed Plan Honduras 2020 to create 600,000 jobs in the next five years,” Hernandez said.
The goal is to “revitalize production in Honduras and the Northern Triangle. We seek to educate and train our human resources along the lines of the Plan Honduras 2020. We are working on that, but we also realized that the plan needed to be regional in scope, and we are working on that,” Hernandez said.
Honduras is taking a tougher approach in dealing with gang leaders, putting them in total isolation to prevent these criminals from running their organizations from prison as in the past, and the government has taken steps to eradicate corruption in public agencies.
Gangs “are a monster with one foot in Honduras and another in the United States and Mesoamerica,” Hernandez said. “We cannot fight alone against it.”