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Is Democracy at Risk in Central America?

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Policemen guard the building of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal during a protest the day after general elections, in Tegucigalpa on November 25, 2013. Political tension loomed over violence-torn Honduras on Monday as the conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez led the early count in presidential elections while his leftist opponents claimed fraud. Hernandez declared himself the winner with 34 percent of the vote, after 54 percent of ballots were counted. AFP PHOTO / Orlando SIERRAORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images

IS DEMOCRACY AT RISK?

The Gang and Drug Trafficking Organization problem has overwhelmed the capabilities of civilian law enforcement agencies within the Northern Triangle. For example, in Honduras a state of emergency was declared by President Hernandez immediately after taking office, where the Honduran military was authorized to take on the traditional role and functions of civilian law enforcement. This was necessary to address the critical failure of the police and justice system to provide effective safety and security.

The military was used to fill critical gaps while a wholesale effort to vet and reconstitute the law enforcement capabilities and reform the criminal justice system was undertaken, due to high rates of corruption and intractable incompetence.

The broader use of military forces within these states to support civil authorities in areas like law enforcement and governance (areas traditionally within the civilian sphere) raised concerns within the Obama Administration Department of State (DOS) over what might be perceived as the “military’s intervention” or the “militarization” of a partner nation’s response to social and public safety matters.

Governments in the region coping with transnational criminal actors and uncontrolled levels of violence are straddling a “razor blade”, as they attempt to balance short term security exigencies with the long-term goals of building stable functioning democracies.

If past is prologue, the hyper development of the local military capabilities, when combined with the institutional weakness of these civilian governments, is fundamentally unsustainable and may pose an insurmountable obstacle towards achieving the long-term goal of developing strong democracies.

We have entered a critical period to define the norms of judicial practices in Central America, and ensure the fragile democracies that have taken hold with stregthen and support the region as a whole.

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