San Pedro Sula, the Murder Capital of the World
The international press has had a field game naming San Pedro Sula the Murder Capital of Honduras. Unfortunately, the local press has jumped on the band wagon and helped them position the city as such. But is San Pedro Sula the murder capital of the World?
I lived in San Pedro Sula from 1995 through 2002. I first visited the city in 1993, and I have lived in Honduras since 1993. 24 years plus in Honduras give me a vantage point that is not available to international press members. They usually visit Honduras for a few days to write an article. The truth is that a news article titled “San Pedro Sula, the Murder Capital of the World” is catchy. It also makes any press correspondent sound as a brave professional willing to risk his life for a good story. Perhaps this is why they all keep using this tag when they write an article about Honduras.
Indeed, these stories have put San Pedro Sula, and Honduras on the map. Yet they are not objective and harm many Hondurans whose livelihood depends on tourism. Back in 2009, before the political crisis that resulted in the ousting of President Zelaya, tourism was the third source of revenue for hard currency in Honduras and growing. Today, it has fallen to a distant fourth. News articles depicting Honduras as the home to San Pedro Sula, the murder capital of the World generate much damage.
Travel Warnings Issued by “Friendly” Governments are Biased
Yes, I figure you are saying that you should consider the travel warnings issued by friendly governments. The truth is that the relationship between countries is never unbiased! There are always hidden political motives that spur warnings and cause friction. For example, the US government uses it to put pressure on the Honduras Government to be more aggressive against corruption. Unfortunately, corrupt government officials in Honduras could not give a darn about the people of Honduras. Thus, many just continue their corrupt activities and complain about the “unfair” travel warning.
The bottom line is that San Pedro Sula is not as dangerous as the press and “friendly governments” claim. To illustrate the above, I will share a few things with you.
For three decades, between the 1980, 1990 and 2000s, San Pedro Sula was the fastest growing city in America. This was the result of government policy to promote development and private enterprise who invested in the city. Keeping up with the fast sustained growth was not possible. In the end the public services in San Pedro Sula could not keep up with the population increase. This means that there are areas within the city that lack the proper policing, public lighting, public health services and so on. To this day, San Pedro Sula continues to grow. If San Pedro Sula was the Murder Capital of the World, people would not be investing in the city!
An Unlikely Origin of Central American Gangs.
When Hurricane Mitch hit Honduras in October, 1998, devastation was huge. Many Hondurans fled to the USA in search of the American Dream, with hopes of survival. Unfortunately, many Hondurans ended up in California, most of them in Los Angeles. As you all know, Los Angeles has the worst gang problem in the United States. Not only that, this is where the Latino gangs were born! They grouped together to protect themselves from the gangs that were already in place there.
The Central Americans had a thorough education on how to organize and run gangs while in Los Angeles. Once they were well trained and graduated from “Gang University”, they got deported back to home. Today, friendly governments, like the USA say that gangs are a local problem and put the blame on the local governments. The truth is that gangs are an exported social problem that came from the north.
Statistics are cold, and produce unbiased information. As such, when you read about murders in San Pedro Sula, it is easy to interpret them. Yet you must put them in context. For several years, San Pedro Sula had over 80 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants. This was the highest in the world. By the end of 2016, the rate has fallen to bellow 60. This is an important reduction that shows that things are much better.
San Pedro Sula is not as Unsafe as the Press Makes it Look!
To put these numbers in context, you have to understand that there are two different international gangs that fight to control areas in the city. Most of the city is gang free. This includes the areas where the hotels are, as well as the zona viva, where most restaurants and bars are. Travelers visiting and staying in San Pedro Sula are safe and are not targeted by organized crime. Crimes against tourists are rare. Travelers are safe unless they commit mistakes like walking into dangerous neighborhoods. This only happens if they are in search for drugs or prostitution.
Unfortunately, Honduras is on the path that drugs must travel through en route from South America. They are on their way to the huge market in North America. This is what keeps the gangs finances going, controlling drug transit areas. They have alliances with different cartels operating in the area. As a general rule, 85% of homicides committed in San Pedro Sula and surrounding cities have to do with gangs and drugs. This happens within their controlled territories. Recapitulating, if you stay away from the areas that are under the control of the gangs in San Pedro Sula, you are safe in the city.
As I stated earlier in this post, I have lived in Honduras for 24 years. I and can assure you that calling San Pedro Sula the murder capital of the World is not accurate. I invite you to read through the lines in the different reviews that travelers post to share their travel experience in Honduras. You will notice that many say they felt safe. Rarely will you find one that claims they felt in danger and had the urge to leave. Some really good news from Honduras is that in 2017, San Pedro Sula dropped from number three most dangerous city in the World to number 26. I should say that this is not because things have gotten worse elsewhere, it is because the homicide rate in Honduras has been dramatically reduced!
Adalberto H. Vega
May 12, 2017 @ 9:19 pm
Good reading as always my friend John. Just a couple of things:
1) Another historic event related to gangs origins and proliferation in the Northern Central American countries is the fact that in the 80s and 90s when mass deportation occured, it was the time when civil war in Nicaragua was still in its apogee, and for humanitarian reasons, Nicaraguans in the US were not subject to deportation, because most were treated as political refugees or exiled. As a result to that, Nicaragua doesnt have the gang problem as its North CA neighbourgs.
2) San Pedro Sula has a morgue which serves not only the city and surrounding valley but also the whole North Western region of the country, therefore the numbers used to calculate murders per 100,000 inhabitants take into account the deaths by murder from the whole Northwestern region, and applies it (unfairly) to the city of San Pedro Sula which is just a fraction of that universe.
May 13, 2017 @ 12:56 pm
Thank you for your comments Adalberto! Very much on the dot!
May 29, 2017 @ 12:19 pm
Up until now 99% of the US population had no idea who MS 13 or Calle 18 are! Certainly had no idea that these gangs were born in LA and now are in most American cities. Finally the country is waking up to the problem.
May 24, 2017 @ 7:11 pm
We are planning to retire to Honduras in the next couple of months so safety concerns us. The original post and the comments reinforce my opinion that it really is not very dangerous if you stay away from drugs and some areas that are controlled by gangs.
Having said that I should add that my wife is Honduran and her sister who lives in La Ceiba is afraid to leave her house and there was a drive by murder within the last year very near her house.
These changes are saddening especially since the USA is partly responsible because of our drug use and gang deportations. I lived in La Ceiba in the early 70’s and we never felt unsafe but there were parts of town we did not enter. On the other hand as ‘white’ North Americans we stood out in a crowd.
May 29, 2017 @ 12:14 pm
Lived in Honduras off and on since 2002. Use gringo smarts, better known as common sense and stay away from other man’s woman, drugs and areas that gangs operate. No Problems. Yes I have a business operating in the Jungle near La Ceiba so I have a dog in this fight, however like I mentioned, I have had no security issues or indeed any guests that did not feel safe and secure. PM me if you need more information