Honduras has passed on the unenvied title of the world’s most murderous country to its neighbour El Salvador. In the first 9 months of this year, there have been 4,930 killings in a population of 6.5 million – giving El Salvador a murder rate 20 times that of the United States.
A large part of the country is controlled by gangs, who recruit children in primary schools and extort money from businesses. It is estimated that nearly 300,000 people were forced to flee from their homes last year.
The violence got worse when the government withdrew its support for a truce between the gangs in the run-up to last year’s presidential election. During the ceasefire, killings had dropped by nearly two-thirds, but the gangs carried on with their extortion rackets, which made the government look weak.
Now police and soldiers are trying to try to wrest back control of neighbourhoods, so far with little success. The Roman Catholic Church has tried to resurrect the truce, but for the moment, the president is refusing to talk to the gangs.