- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras The winner of Honduras' presidential election pledged yesterday to do whatever necessary including using soldiers to confront the gangs, killings, kidnappings and white-collar crimes that plague this Central American country.
Ricardo Maduro, a political newcomer of the Nationalist Party, was declared the winner of Sunday's race with a projected 53 percent of the vote, defeating Rafael Pineda of the ruling Liberal Party, who received 44 percent.
Mr. Maduro has pledged to use a New York City-style "zero-tolerance" approach in his fight against crime, but he faces a monumental task.
Nineteen Americans have been murdered here in the past three years, but not one of their killers has been convicted. In the capital, Tegucigalpa, street children as young as 6 sniff glue from baby-food jars.
Mr. Maduro, a businessman and political neophyte, says he wants to break the atmosphere of lawlessness. He is no stranger to crime. His own son was gunned down in an apparent kidnapping attempt in 1997.
"I want to become the first crime victim to get justice for us all," he said.
But in a country where a gang member or street child turns up murdered once a day on average, Mr. Maduro has raised fears that the crackdown on crime may bring more violence in this country of 6.5 million.
Medical salesman Felix Alvarado, 53, said the "maras" youth gangs, with an estimated 70,000 members, are a serious problem.
"A lot of it is the result of a lack of jobs and opportunities," he said. "And when they find a mara member dead, it's as if they had found a dead animal. They don't do anything."
Many argue that is the case with most murders here. In July, a prosecutor freed the suspected killer of U.S. citizen William Donohue on a technicality, although he was found in possession of a gun and Mr. Donohue's license plate number.
Mr. Maduro hired private attorneys in a bid to successfully prosecute his son's killer just as diplomats have suggested the families of U.S. victims do. The murder suspect subsequently escaped from prison.
"Imagine, if I have resources and influence and that happens to me, what happens to the average person," he said.
Mr. Maduro has denied planning a violent crackdown, saying "the only people who have to be afraid are those who break the law."
Citing a lack of police, Mr. Maduro, 54, said, "It may be necessary, at the start, to call on the armed forces."
He also plans special police squads for kidnapping and organized crime and a campaign against minor crimes like traffic violations, vagrancy and littering.
He estimated that Hondurans could expect a reduction in crime within one year, but said the root problems like poverty and unemployment "will take eight, 10, 12 years to resolve."
He also plans to reform the prison system, where 90 percent of inmates are locked up sometimes for years awaiting trial.
"Every bad thing you can imagine exists in our prison system," said Security Minister Gautama Fonseca. "In the police force, there are problems of corruption, lack of training, equipment, everything."


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