|Honduran President Pepe Lobo and|
Minister of Tourism Nelly Jerez
The US State Department has issued another Travel Warning for Honduras. I thought it would be interesting to compare the wording in this one with the previous November 21, 2012 warning. Below is the June 17, 2013, warning with the new words and sections underlined. The parts changed or eliminated from the 2012 warning are indicated with
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Bureau of Consular Affairs
June 17, 2013
The Department of State
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens
U.S. citizens do not appear to be targeted based on their nationality. Crimes are committed against expatriates at levels similar to those committed against locals. Most resort areas and tourist destinations have lower levels of crime and violence than other areas of the country, though still high by international standards. Moreover, tourists traveling with group tours
A majority of serious crimes are never solved; of the
Transnational criminal organizations conduct narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout the country and use violence to control drug trafficking routes and carry out other criminal activity. Other criminals, acting both individually and in gangs in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, commit crimes such as murder, kidnapping, carjacking, armed robbery, rapes, and other aggravated assaults.
Kidnappings and disappearances are an ongoing concern throughout the country. Kidnapping affects both the local and expatriate communities, with victims sometimes paying large ransoms for the prospect of release. Kidnapping is believed to be underreported. Since January 1, 2012, four cases of U.S. citizens being kidnapped were reported to the U.S. Embassy. The kidnapping victims were all subsequently released.
U.S. citizens should be vigilant of their surroundings at all times and in all locations, especially when entering or exiting their homes, hotels, cars, garages, schools, and workplaces. Whenever possible, U.S. citizens should travel in groups of two or more persons; avoid wearing jewelry and carrying large sums of money or displaying cash, ATM/credit cards, or other valuables; and avoid walking at night in most areas of Honduras or walking alone on beaches, historic ruins, and trails. Incidents of crime along roads, including carjacking and kidnapping, are common in Honduras. Motorists should avoid traveling at night and always drive with their doors locked to deter potential robberies at traffic lights and on congested downtown streets.
The location and timing of criminal activity is unpredictable. We recommend that all travelers exercise caution when traveling anywhere in Honduras. However, certain areas of the country demonstrate higher levels of criminal activity than others. Honduran “departments” (a geographic designation similar to U.S. states) with homicide rates higher than the national average of 85.5 per 100,000 in 2012 include:
Atlántida (including La Ceiba)
Cortés (including San Pedro Sula)
Francisco Morazán (including Tegucigalpa)
There are not reliable statistics for the department of Gracias a Dios, however travelers to this area should note that it is a remote location with limited government services and frequent presence of narcotics traffickers.
For more detailed information regarding personal security, please see the State Department's Country Specific Information for Honduras. For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Bureau of Consular Affairs'Web site, where the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. U.S. citizens living or traveling in Honduras are strongly encouraged to sign up for the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to obtain updated information on travel and security within Honduras.
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime in Honduras, you should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. If your passport is stolen, the U.S. Embassy can help you replace it. For violent crimes such as assault and rape, the U.S. Embassy can help you find appropriate medical care, contact family members and friends, and help them send you money. Although the investigation and prosecution of crime are the responsibility of local authorities, U.S. consular officers can provide guidance on the local criminal justice process and find you an attorney if needed. The U.S. Embassy does not provide private security for citizens visiting Honduras.
I didn't include the last three standard paragraphs which is information about obtaining more information about personal security and contacting the Embassy or Consulate. Here are the highlights of that if you want to save the phone numbers or read the websites:
US State Department Country Specific Information - Honduras
US Embassy in Honduras
Phone: (504) 2236-9320 or 2238-5114
Fax: (504) 2236-9037
After-hours emergencies: (504) 2236-8497
Embassy’s American Citizen Services Unit (Tegucigalpa)
Phone: (504) 2238-5114 ext. 4400
Fax: (504) 2238-4357
US Consular Agency (San Pedro)
Passport applications and notarial services
Monday-Wednesday-Friday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.
President Lobo minimized the warning because, he says, "the whole world has security problems" and that the difference is that people know where to go and where not to go. This is the same President who, when the rector of the university system's son was killed by police, stated that he had no idea that crime was so bad. He still doesn't have a clue. Since the new Minister of Security has given orders that no crime information be revealed to reporters, I am more sure than ever that we will be seeing manipulated 2013 crime statistics in an attempt to deal with this little 'problemita'. However, bodies are usually found by citizens before the police get there, so the news is still full of murders on a daily basis. The Travel Warning and the Embassy's online security conferences last year made it eminently clear that crime and murders happen everywhere, including tourist areas.
Rather than suggesting more needs to be done to protect citizens as well as tourists and that the so far failed police purification needs to be made a priority (just yesterday a police prison guard was charged with raping a 12-year-old girl), Lobo's only idea was to define the "complicated areas" and let tourists know about them. What about the people who live or work in those dangerous areas? I guess they are on their own.
People are killed in buses, taxis, public streets, restaurants, schools, markets, and yes, in tourist areas though those in the tourism business conveniently forget that or blame the victim. Lobo also did some victim blaming saying that "sometimes there are problems when people visit places late at night." Who wants to vacation in an area where it is safer to stay in your hotel room after dark or where you have to be on guard all the time? "Honduras is no worse than any place else" is simply not a true statement and there is no one, including the President, who can make an honest list of guaranteed safe areas in Honduras. I'll give you one guess where Pepe Lobo spends his vacations and it isn't Honduras.
I found President Lobo's remarks to be highly offensive, as if the murders of 7,000+ people per year is not important, especially if those murders occur in marginal, non-tourist locations or to what he considers marginal people, i.e., Hondurans, not tourists. The Minister of Tourism, Nelly Jerez, was equally ridiculous in her remarks. Jerez showed her lack of credibility by flatly stating that "tourists are not in danger". I challenge her to report the number of tourists who have been robbed, raped, attacked, or murdered in Honduras. It may not be a large number compared to the number of Honduran victims, but it does happen.
Only ex-Ambassador Guillermo Pérez Cadalso showed some integrity by saying "It [the travel warning] is worrisome, but at the same time, we as Hondurans know that much of it is true. We only have to read the newspapers, listen to the radio, watch television to know the scale of violence that our country is suffering....We can't cover the sun with a finger, but we can tell the truth about what we are doing to counteract this negative situation that in the last decade has increased." He explained that insecurity is a reality that exists, that we see every day in the country and that chases away the tourists. He qualified this as "an ethical, moral, and patriotic obligation that Honduran diplomats explain the actions that are being taken to deter organized crime in the country."
Unfortunately, the lack of any real action is precisely what has caused the US to pull funds from the police purification program. We get so many misleading and downright false statistics from the government, but it appears that only something like seven police officers have truly been fired in the almost year and a half of police "purification" and that virtually none of the criminal or corrupt police are in the process of prosecution, not even the ones who have been found to have become millionaires on salaries of a few hundred dollars per month. We constantly read headlines reporting that hundreds here or hundreds there have been suspended only to find out later that no, they actually were not suspended, and that they have been reinstated or transferred.
The US isn't the only country to issue Honduran travel advisories to their citizens. Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Germany, Italy, Japan, and others have, too. They are showing more concern for their citizens' safety than Honduras shows for its own.
I was going to give my take on some of the changes in wording in the US warning but this article is already too long. So I'll ask you, what do you think about the changes in wording?
I have no doubt that this article will anger some people. This is my opinion and I struggle with my desire to not do anything that will hurt Honduras business and what I feel is my moral obligation to be as honest as I can possibly be. I respect that others have other opinions and here is one that may be more to your liking.
I think it is better to admit the problem and do something about it than to ignore it or try to sweep it under the rug as the Honduran government and tourism industry do. It isn't scary travel warnings that are hurting Honduras, it is scary, violent crime that is hurting Honduras. I'm not going to encourage people to ignore the warnings because it would be better for business. I just don't want that on my conscience if one of those people turn out to be one of the unfortunate tourists who does become a crime victim. Around 7,000 people are murdered each year in Honduras. Every life is as important as each of the others no matter what their nationality.
Should I come to Honduras?
Tips from the US State Department for a safe trip abroad