Story

Mexican Cartels Bring Drug-Related Violence to Central America

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With thousands of tiny cays and few patrols, Belize's Caribbean coast has seen a surge in drug smuggling. Image by Nick Miroff. Belize, September 2011.

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Belize's tiny military has fewer than 1,000 troops, and the country's unpatrolled jungles and coastline make attractive targets for cocaine smugglers working for Mexican cartels. Image by Nick Miroff. Belize, September 2011.

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Belizean troops on counter-narcotics patrol near the Guatemala border. Image by Nick Miroff. Belize, September 2011.

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Sgt. Marcos Villagran of the Belize Defense Forces trying to locate a suspected marijuana field near the Guatemala border. Image by Nick Miroff. Belize, September 2011.

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Belizean soldiers from the Special Assignment Group head out on patrol in a U.S.-donated Ford F350 pickup truck. Image by Nick Miroff. Belize, September 2011.

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As more cocaine moves through Belize, the drug violence between Belize City street gangs has soared to an all-time high. Image by Nick Miroff. Belize, September 2011.

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Belize City at rush hour. Image by Nick Miroff. Belize, September 2011.

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Young men in this neighborhood of Belize City wear red clothing to mark their affiliation with the Bloods street gang. Image by Nick Miroff. Belize, 2011.

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Honduran police and investigators retrieving the body of Henry Alfaro Figueora, a nightclub owner shot 10 times with an AK-47 on a hotel patio in Villanueva, Honduras. Image by Nick Miroff. Honduras, November 2011.

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In response to the drug violence, the Honduran government launched "Operation Lightning" in the country's most troubled areas, setting up police checkpoints along major thorougfares. Image by Nick Miroff. Honduras, November 2011.

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San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was the world most murderous city in 2011, with 159 killings per 100,000 residents, surpassing Mexico's Ciudad Juarez. Image by Nick Miroff. Honduras, November 2011.

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A 24-hour funeral parlor in San Pedro Sula, Honduras the new homicide capital of the world. Image by Nick Miroff. Honduras, November 2011.

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Sign on a grocery store window in San Pedro Sula, Honduras tells customers "No Guns Allowed. Image by Nick Miroff. Honduras, November 2011.

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Graffiti on the wall at this police checkpoint reads "Gringo murderers: you only send us guns." Image by Nick Miroff. Honduras, November 2011.

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Tabloid headlines in Honduras's capital Tegucigalpa display the latest gruesome killings. Image by Nick Miroff. Honduras, November 2011.

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The mothers of murder victims in San Pedro Sula have formed a support group at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. The group had ten members when it started three years ago; today it has 60. Image by Nick Miroff. Honduras, November 2011.

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The increase in drug trafficking through Central America now threatens Costa Rica's peaceful image, a cornerstone of its tourism industry. Image by Nick Miroff. Costa Rica, December 2011.

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There is no room for any more confiscated drug boats on the docks of the Coast Guard station in Puntarenas. Image by Nick Miroff. Costa Rica, December 2011.

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Coast Guard officer Edwin Cantillo on the docks of a new U.S.-financed $3 million station at Puerto Caldera on Costa Rica's Pacific coast. Image by Nick Miroff. Costa Rica, December 2011.

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A wanted poster on the walls of the Coast Guard station in Puntarenas, Costa Rica offers a reward for information on a fugitive former officer caught working for the cartels. Image by Nick Miroff. Costa Rica, December 2011.

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The savviest traffickers have learned to conceal their drug shipments in legitimate cargo. Here ships waiting to unload at Puerto Caldera on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. Image by Nick Miroff. Costa Rica, December 2011.

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Graffiti on the streets of Puntarenas, Costa Rica accuses "The Toad" of selling cocaine. Image by Nick Miroff. Costa Rica, December 2011.

Mexican drug cartels have pushed deeper into Central America's small, weak states as they compete to establish control of new smuggling routes. The result has been a surge of murder and crime, making Central America the most violent region in the world. Nick Miroff traveled to Belize, Honduras and Costa Rica to see how local authorities were coping with the crisis.