Honduras is a transit country for Andean cocaine and small amounts of heroin destined for the United States and Europe, and increasingly for precursor chemicals for the production of methamphetamine. The Government of Honduras cooperates with the United States on investigations of narcotics trafficking, maritime interdictions and joint operations that result in seizures on land and at sea, but faces significant obstacles in terms of funding, a weak judicial system with heavy caseloads, and leadership challenges. There are indications of shifting boat traffic from Guatemala, increasing the amounts of drugs transiting Honduras. Marijuana is cultivated in Honduras in small isolated plots throughout the country and sold locally. Violent youth gangs are involved in retail drug distribution.
Honduras has the largest estimated numbers of active gang members and the smallest national police force of the northern triangle countries, with an estimated 36,000 MS-13 and M-18 gang members and a police force of less than 15,000. Gangs in Honduras now operate more like criminal organizations, and are likely the reason Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Law enforcement and social prevention programs have not met the scale of the gang problem, while gangs have become more sophisticated by less use of tattoos, focused violence against informers or rivals and contract assassinations. Gangs have also infiltrated the police, judiciary, medicine and banking and even previously accepted social organizations such as youth football fan clubs. The penal system has become a safe haven for gang leaders to mastermind national and transnational crimes; overcrowding and lack of control by prison authorities permit unfettered communications and control by incarcerated leaders of gangs in prison and on the street.
The U.S. provides assistance to help the Government of Honduras improve its law enforcement intelligence-gathering efforts, information exchange capability, interdiction, and anti-gang strategies. Through Mérida Initiative (now the Central American Regional Security Initiative, CARSI) funding, the U.S. provides resources for a variety of programs to strengthen the institutional capabilities of the Government of Honduras to investigate, sanction, and prevent corruption within law enforcement agencies; facilitate the transfer of critical law enforcement investigative information within and between regional governments; and support community policing and economic and social development programs. The U.S. also provides assistance to the Government of Honduras to reform its police training program, as well as Coast Guard support in maritime operations planning, engineering and maintenance, and a Border Enforcement Seaport course. The Regional Gangs program supports fingerprint analysis equipment, prison system training and reform, anti-gang units and gang prevention activities.