Make Honduras Great Again: Honduras’ National Solution to a Global Problem

Brooke Bonnema
Vol. 40 Associate Editor

Before the 2016 elections popularized the tagline “Make American Great Again” and the rise of U.S. nationalism that came with it, the Honduran government saw its own rise of nationalism in its drug trafficking policies. Honduras’ anti-trafficking policy directly violates the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime because it pushes the drug trafficking into Costa Rica.[1] To correct this violation, Honduras must abandon its isolationist approach to fighting the drug trade and work with Costa Rica and other neighbors to develop cross-border police reforms and prevention strategies.

Convention’s Commitments

The U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (U.N.C.T.O.C.) calls for international cooperation in combating criminal activities, such as drug trafficking.[2] It requires states to craft domestic laws that prevent and combat crime that moves across state borders.[3] While drafting and enforcement of these laws are left to state discretion, the convention calls upon ratifying states to not limit themselves to purely national means when combatting criminal activities.[4] The convention’s preamble states: “If crime crosses borders, so must law enforcement.”[5] The convention offers two solutions that could bring cross-border crime to an end. One solution is the creation of joint investigative teams that bring multiple states together to investigate criminal groups across borders.[6] A second solution is for states to work with non-governmental organizations to develop prevention techniques.[7]  Honduras, however, directly violates this U.N. convention because the Honduran government limits itself to national means when confronting drug trafficking. While Honduras has implemented investigative teams and prevention training, like the convention recommends, it has done so on a purely domestic level in violation of the U.N.C.T.O.C. Honduras’ approach also falls outside of the U.N.C.T.O.C.’s spirit because it fails to consider the impact of these efforts on the region as a whole. 

National Efforts for an International Issue

Honduras ratified the U.N.C.T.O.C. in 2003, right after its implementation of strict anti-gang laws established tougher prison sentences for gangs. This also followed its first failed attempt at police reform.[8]

Honduras’ second major attempt at police reform came in 2012, when the Honduran Congress created a commission for proposed legal reforms.[9] While this was a start to combating the corruption within the police force, it left much of the high-ranking officials’ corruption untouched because it only addressed bad acts committed by low-ranking officials.[10]

Fortunately for Honduras, its most recent police reform is the most successful. President Juan Orlando Hernandez created the Special Commission for Police Reform in 2016 to respond to police involvement in drug trafficking.[11]  Unlike the earlier reform attempt, the Commission investigated high-ranking officials at the top and worked its way down to low-ranking officials.[12] Weeding out the top-ranked corrupt officials made great headway in stamping out drug trafficking within the country because the top-ranked officials worked closely with drug traffickers.[13] By replacing them with newly trained police men skilled to combat corruption, drug trafficking in Honduras receded. In response, drug traffickers switched their routes to neighboring countries like Costa Rica and created a “balloon effect.”[14] Instead of fulfilling its commitment to international anti-trafficking efforts under the U.N.C.T.O.C., Honduras ignored this new development.

The Balloon Effect

This is not the first time strict drug laws in one part of Latin America has pushed drug activity to another country within the region. In the 1980s, U.S. – sponsored anti-drug operations like coca eradication in Peru pressured drug traffickers to switch their routes from Peru to Brazil.[15] The increased drug trafficking contributed to increased violence in Brazil.[16] While the Brazilian government attempted to combat the rise in trafficking by sending armed forces after the drug lords in the 1990s, the country continues to battle drug trafficking to this day.[17] Brazil has not found a solution to the trafficking but it demonstrates that increasing the presence of armed forces within the state, including armed police forces, isn’t enough to eliminate trafficking. Instead, a different approach must be taken.

A Global Approach

Honduras and Costa Rica must coordinate through cross-border police investigations and prevention strategies to stamp out drug trafficking in Central America and uphold the U.N.C.T.O.C. The Organization for American States (O.A.S) facilitates sharing of successful practices between states but should go one step further.[18] O.A.S. should duplicate Honduras’ Special Commission for Police Reform. This commission should investigate each country’s police, starting with the high-ranking officials as Honduras has done. Additionally, O.A.S should create a regional police force trained as Honduras’ new police are trained, thus creating an international police force as laid out in the U.N.C.T.O.C. Honduras’ new policy academy could train police from all over the region instead of focusing on Honduran police. Honduras’ academy could also be replicated in neighboring countries. Either way, if the police force is strengthened throughout Central America, drug traffickers will not be able to merely switch their routes to a different state to avoid law enforcement.

In addition to joint investigation teams, the U.N.C.T.O.C. calls for cross-border prevention strategies. Both Costa Rica and Honduras partner with Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that partners with national chapters to fight global corruption.[19] The Costa Rican office, Costa Rica Integra, and the Honduran office, Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), should partner together to develop cross-border prevention strategies. Both organizations fight corruption within their borders, but they should share best practices for keeping children in school and out of gangs. They should also share drug trafficking and corruption statistics, as well as best practices for strengthening rule of law. Assisting Costa Rica in boosting its police reform and prevention strategies will allow Honduras to uphold the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and bring Central America one step closer to stamping out drug trafficking for good.


[1] U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, art. 30.1, Sept. 29, 2003, 2003 U.N.T.S. 2225.

[2] Office on Drugs and Crime, Legis. Guides for the Implementation of the U.N.C.T.O.C.,  at 238, U.N. Sales No. E.05.V.2 (2004).

[3] U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Legis. Guides for the Implementation of the U.N.C.T.O.C.,  at 18, U.N. Sales No. E.05.V.2 (2004).

[4] U.N. Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, art. 30, Sept. 29, 2003, 2003 U.N.T.S. 2225.

[5] U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, Legis. Guides for the Implementation of the U.N.C.T.O.C.,  at iii, U.N. Sales No. E.05.V.2 (2004).

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 313.

[8] See C.R.S. Rep. No. RL 34112, at 13 (2007). See also Association for a More Just Society, Purging and Transformation of the Honduran National Police Force, at 3, (Nov. 2016), https://www.ajs-us.org/sites/default/files/research/washington_plan.pdf. In 2000, Honduras’ former Secretary of Security removed 2,090 corrupt police officers. However, he failed to give the officers due process when removing them so the removed officers sued the government and were reinstated.

[9] Association for a More Just Society, Purging and Transformation of the Honduran National Police Force, at 3, (Nov. 2016), https://www.ajs-us.org/sites/default/files/research/washington_plan.pdf.

[10] Id.

[11] Id. at 4.

[12] Id.

[13] From 2016 to 2017 Honduras’ annual murder rate dropped by 26%. The amount of cocaine transited through Honduras to the United States fell by 40% from 2014 to 2015. See Tristan Clavel, InSight Crime’s 2017 Homicide Round-Up, Insight Crime, (Jan. 19, 2018), https://www.insightcrime.org/uncategorized/2017-homicide-round-up/; U.S. Department of State; 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (2016), https://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2016/vol1/253271.htm.

[14] A balloon effect is where anti-narcotic crack downs in one area, like Honduras, have led to increased narcotic activities in other countries, such as Costa Rica. See Marguerite Cawley, Why Increased Interdiction Does Not Lead to Less Drug Trafficking, Insight Crime, (May 21, 2014). https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/why-increased-interdiction-not-lead-less-drug-trafficking/; U.S. Department of State; 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (2016), https://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2016/vol1/253271.htm.

[15] Frank Mora, Victims of the Balloon Effect: Drug Trafficking and U.S. Policy in Brazil and the Southern Cone, J. of Social, Political, and Economic Studies 115, 124 (1996).

[16] Id. at 125.

[17] Id.

[18] Organization of American States;  General Secretariat for Multidimensional Security (2009), https://www.oas.org/dsp/english/cpo_sobre.asp.

[19] Transparency International; What is Transparency International? (2018). https://www.transparency.org/about

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