|Pineapple fields of La Ceiba|
One of my favorite photos
I get so many reader emails about crime and safety in Honduras. The majority are from members of charitable groups planning mission trips to Honduras or worried parents of young people who are planning to come on this sort of trip. Some are from people with relatives in Honduras who they want to visit. They want to know what I think and whether I know anything specific about crime situation in the area to which they are going.
Frankly, I dread these emails. I wrote a whole series of articles on crime and corrupt police beginning in September 2011 and continuing through January 2012 (see the monthly archives for the lists of articles or click on the 'crime' topic in the topic list). The more I learned, the more depressed I became. Finally I had to just stop reading and watching the news for a few months. It was obvious to me that the Honduran government is not capable of taking serious, competent action against crime, not even within its own police department. It took me several months to get back to blogging again.
These reader emails just tie my stomach in knots. I can tell that most of them want me to say "Don't worry. You'll be fine." I don't want to tell these people not to come to Honduras but I'm not going to do what many others do and tell them that it's not any worse here than anywhere else. While I agree that foreigners are not particularly targeted for crimes, it does happen. A British tourist was shot and killed during a robbery on the street in broad daylight in San Pedro just a couple of weeks ago. Robberies of tourists and mission groups are not rare, those types of crimes just don't make the news and they are often downplayed for obvious reasons.
I feel somewhat better about the people coming to visit family because they will have their relatives – presumably with more street smarts and knowledge about the local dangers – to guide them.
I don't know what to tell these readers. I'm a born worrier. I worry a lot! I don't want it on my conscience that someone became a crime victim because they relied on what I told them. So rather than relying on my opinion, I suggest that you read what governments tell their citizens about travel to Honduras.
US Embassy Security Video Conferences
The US embassy had a series of four live video conferences regarding US citizens' safety in Honduras in late 2012. A video of first of those (November 27) is still available online but the others were not recorded for some reason. Unfortunately, the first was the most unsatisfactory with the participants not being prepared to answer many of the questions. It's really not worth watching the entire 30 minutes. The later conferences included people from the embassy's security division who were more able to answer questions. I missed one of the conferences completely and logged in late to another, but the following are my notes from the parts that I saw. I've expanded the abbreviations from my notes, but otherwise, it is the highlights presented just as I heard them.
November 27, 2012:
Kidnappings and disappearances are a concern and were one of the factors in deciding to issue the official travel warning.
Not only the number of crimes, but Honduras' inability to solve and/or prosecute any crimes against Americans were part of the State Department's decision to issue the Travel Warning.
Avoid traveling at night if at all possible. Use extra precaution if you must.
December 4, 2012:
travel in groups
don't carry big purses
don't travel at night
24 murders of US citizens since 2010
Most murders occurred in larger cities, Tegus, San Pedro, La Ceiba, Roatan, Puerto Cortés.
Kidnapping is a cause for concern.
Usually occur for one of two reasons: Ransom or revenge among criminal groups
US citizens - usually ransom
Foreigners are mostly victims in crimes of opportunity. Follow State guidelines and keep a low profile and you'll probably be okay.
One group in the past couple of weeks was robbed. They did the right thing, they didn't resist. Usually violence occurs if the victims resist.
Safety of groups: Can also hire a security firm or ask police if they can provide security for your group.
Moving at night - highly recommend not to move at night at all.
No specific charitable groups have been targeted. Usually big cities.
Advice for NGO groups - follow the US State Department advice, hire a private security firm or request police protection. International companies are recommended.
Question about false police check points - doesn't have much info about illegitimate check points but has heard about them. Question: Can we drive off? Answer: Don't resist.
Reluctant to mention specific areas because crime can occur anywhere. Suyapa church area [Tegucigalpa] is not recommended without security.
San Pedro Airport advice: fly in during the daytime, reserve a private driver.
Question: How to avoid sexual assaults? Answer: take same safety precautions.
Same recommendations apply for EVERY area of the country.
Aware of 4 people (US citizens) who have been kidnapped. [in 2012?]
Question: I'm engaged to a Honduran and we were going to start our life here in Roatan together but now we aren't feeling safe and we want to leave for the US until the crime is under control. Do you think that a fiance visa can be expedited for our safety? Response: Hi - this may be an option, but you would need to contact the immigrant visa unit at firstname.lastname@example.org or USCIS in the states.
Tourist police - [They didn't seem to have much information at all about tourist police. Personally, I think they are for show only. In La Ceiba, they used to spend most of their time inside the air conditioned mall.]
La Ceiba is one of those cities that they recommend extra precautions.
Dec 11, 2012:
They characterize Honduras as no less safe than last year.
Travel warning will NOT be lifted in the immediate future.
They are reluctant to discuss specific areas because crime occurs everywhere. If they mention certain places, people become complacent. Embassy doesn't have assessments for specific areas.
Referring to corrupt and criminal police: High level police are aware of police problems. Takes time and money to get changes.
Recommend: Carry throw-away wallets with some cash and expired credit cards, throw-away cell phones, etc.
Question about threats from gangs? Response: Notify Embassy, they will contact proper officials, not only Honduran officials.
SPS and Tegucigalpa airports are safe. Should coordinate rides prior to arriving at airport.
Throughout all of the conferences, the Embassy representatives were really pushing to get experiences from citizens.
Embassy representative: "I don't think the travel warning should effect your plans to come here." [Huh?]
Official travel advisories
The November 2012 US Travel Warning for US citizens going to Honduras has received a lot of complaints from those in the tourism industry and those trying to sell real estate and investments in Honduras.
The US State Department has some detailed information about crime in Honduras as well as tips for US travelers. I think the safety tips are good. The report indicates that during the first six months of 2012, six U.S. citizens were reported murdered in Honduras, two U.S. citizens reported incidents of rape or sexual assault, and two U.S. citizens were reported kidnapped. The State Department website also includes general international travel safety tips which would be good to consider also.
The Canadian government has also issued an advisory for travel to Honduras, stating "you should exercise a high degree of caution due to violent crime". Personally, I find the Canadian detailed travel guidance more alarming than that of the US State Department. The report notes that three Canadians have been killed in the Bay Islands since 2009.
The British government's travel advice for Honduras can be found here. It hasn't been updated for the murder of the British tourist last month, or perhaps it's not going to be.
The Australian government also recommends that its citizens "exercise a high degree of caution" in Honduras. An Australian citizen was shot in the back on Roatan in 2011 for parking his bicycle in the wrong place. It's likely that the Honduran who committed the act in front of several witnesses will never be convicted.
Should you come?
Only you can make the decision of whether or not it is a good idea for you to come to Honduras. If you are thinking of coming on a mission trip or to volunteer in Honduras, have a serious discussion with the organization about what they do to provide security for volunteers. The crime situation in Honduras hasn't really changed since I began writing about it in late 2011. The official detailed 2012 crime report has not been issued to the public yet, but the total number of murders showed a slight increase over 2011. This year, unfortunately, seems to be starting off with a bang (no pun intended).