Honduras has the highest per capita murder rate in the world, marked by a sharp increase in the number of drug-related deaths. More killings take place in the small Central American country than anywhere in the world.

"The military coup has significantly undermined the democratic institutions. A lot of the violence and disorder in Honduras now is the direct result of the Zelaya crisis. There is a dramatic increase in violence after the coup, especially of impunity."

- Rodolfo Pastor, a former diplomat

The government blames the drug trade and the growing presence of Mexican cartels. Honduras is a gateway between the biggest cocaine producers and Mexico.

Now, the Honduran army is being sent onto the streets. The Honduran Congress has just empowered the military to carry out most police work for at least 18 months.

The decision to deploy the army in Honduras has been compared with the beginning of the so-called drug war in Mexico. Authorities have rejected claims Honduras is copying the Mexican model. But human rights groups have expressed concern.

"Sending in the military which has been deeply involved in drug-trafficking is only adding fuel to the fire, without deep changes in the justice administration, without functional prosecution and courts that are able to condemn, and without a political will to prosecute high-level government officials."

- Annie Bird, the co-director of Rights Action

In the country's 2009 coup, it was the military that helped oust Manuel Zelaya, the democratically-elected president.

Amnesty International concluded that soldiers who were doing police work at the time were involved in killings, and had employed excessive use of force.

So, is the military the answer to Honduras' high murder rate? And is this response just another step towards the militarisation of society across Central America?

Inside Story Americas, with presenter Shihab Rattansi, discusses with guests: Rodolfo Pastor, a former Honduran diplomat in charge of political affairs at the embassy in Washington; Jose Cardenas, a former official in the Bush administration with senior positions at the US State Department and National Security Agency; and Annie Bird, the co-director of the Washington DC-based humanitarian group, Rights Action.

"There is no question that drug-financed corruption infuses all institutions, not only in Honduras but throughout Central America. But Honduras unfortunately is a victim of what they call in the counter-narcotics field the 'balloon effect' - US pressure in Colombia and Mexico's [crackdown] - has forced traffickers into finding new routes to the American market."

Jose Cardenas, a former senior US official

Source: Al Jazeera