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The drug gangs threaten the very viability of the Honduran state, but it is unclear whether any of the presidential contenders really has an answer.This week, The Telegraph witnessed the scale of the problems at first hand after accompanying one of the new military patrols through some of the toughest slums of the capital, Tegucigalpa, a sprawling jumble of neighbourhoods that stretches across a bowl-shaped valley.

But while Porter used the phrase to describe a country in hock to unscrupulous fruit corporations, today it is a trade of a far more ruthless nature that dominates the landscape.

Some 80 per cent of the cocaine that reaches US soil is now trafficked via Honduras, either spirited there by sea or flown into remote air strips carved out of the jungle in the inaccessible wilderness of the north-east.

The murder rate reached an unenviable global high of 85 for every 100,000 residents last year, and is on course to reach 90 per 100,000 in 2013.

The question of how to tackle this epidemic of gang and drug violence, which exploded after Honduras became the key staging post for cocaine smuggling from South America to the US, is the overwhelming issue facing the candidates in next Sunday's presidential elections.

At first glance, it would appear to be a typical playground scene from anywhere in central America.

The young girls play pit-a-pat and the boys charge excitedly after a half-deflated football across a makeshift pitch of caked mud.

Sandwiched between Nicaragua to the south and Guatemala to the north, Honduras has the dubious distinction of being the original "banana republic", a term coined by the American writer William Sydney Porter, known by his pen name O.

Henry, who fled there in the 1890s to escape embezzlement charges.

The pictures also show small planes that are burned and abandoned by the smugglers.

The flights are usually one-way trips from Venezuela, ending in deliberate crash landings with the mission accomplished.

"These areas were in the hands of the gangs," said Col Jose Lopez Raudales, a veteran army commander whose men were given a crash course in policing strategy before their deployment last month.