October 31, 2011

Correction: Petition Link

Huge fail! My last post, La Gringa needs your help now! had incorrect links to the petition.

If you couldn't find the Change.org petition, please click below to sign it.

PS: If you are reading this by email,
you may not see the widget. Please click
the link in the second paragraph instead.

I am so sorry for any inconvenience!

October 30, 2011

La Gringa needs your help now!

name tag

I want to give a big thank you to all of you who have signed the petition (over 400) and helped to spread the word about my Facebook pseudonym name issue, and especially to those of you who have written such wonderful comments on the petition. I have literally been overwhelmed reading those comments. I wish I could thank everyone personally, but I don't have email addresses for the majority of my Facebook friends.

I could still use your help. If you can sign or help to spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, your blog, or elsewhere, I would be very grateful.

Please sign the online petition here. Your name can be hidden from public view if you desire that.

Banning backfires

Like a banned book, trying to silence ideas often backfires. The Blogicito has reached readership levels not attained since the 2009 political crisis from those curious to see what the fuss is all about. Welcome to my new subscribers during the past week, too.

Even though I can't post links to my articles on Facebook, you can. Just click the Facebook "Like" button at the end of this or any article to share it on your FB page. You can also click the Twitter button to tweet an article or the "mail" button to email it to a friend. If you are reading this article from the daily email, click the title of the article to go to the blog.

What did I do?

Here is my confession: I signed up for Facebook in July 2007, only on a whim to see what it was all about (I blogged about it). I DID NOT read Facebook's guidelines (which may or may not have changed since then) — just like 95% of the people who sign up for our Honduras discussion group do not read the guidelines and just like most people do not when they sign up for any website to make a comment or read a forum. Guilty as charged!

But that didn't get me kicked off Facebook during more than four years of active use. What else did I do? I wrote about crime and corruption in Honduras, which many people for various reasons don't want you to know about.

Who is La Gringa?

I am the same 'La Gringa' here on the Blogicito, in online discussion groups, in emails, in comments on news and blogs, and Twitter — as well as formerly on Facebook and Google+. Websites like Honduras Weekly and PJ Media have pubished my articles using my pen name.

'La Gringa' is the name that everyone knows me by and the proof of that is that the vast majority of my 1,200 Facebook friends found me through that name. 'La Gringa' (me!) has a wide internet presence and doesn't use a pseudonym to deceive, troll, abuse, start flamewars, spam, or any other nefarious purpose — that is easily proven. Long time readers may not know my name but they probably know more about me and my life than they do some of their real life neighbors.

During September, 49% of readers came to my blog through searches, and by far the most common search terms were "La Gringa", "La Gringa blog", or some variation of those terms. It's my name, it's my pseudonym, it's my nickname, it's me!

Certainly Google, above all, has a long history of my web activity since they have been hosting my Blogicito and email for more than five years. I'm inextricably tied to Google through those services, Google Reader, Picasa, Feedburner, and a myriad of other Google products, all under the same ID.

I was successfully able to "authenticate" my Google+ ID, which instructions say must be the "common name" that your friends and family know you by. By going through the several complicated steps to tie it to my online presence I was able to prove that I was truly that 'La Gringa'. But a month or so later Google+ also unceremoniously dumped 'La Gringa' without a question or a warning. Yet Google Search continues to list my Blogicito at or among the top websites for Honduran-related searches.

How to get credibility?

One friend insists that I would have more credibility if I used a name, even if it was a false one. The concept that lying could give me more credibility is astounding to me. I don't think credibility depends upon a name. Who of us knows with certainty whether our online acquaintances or favorite bloggers are using their real names? Does it matter? I think credibility has to be earned over time. But even if it would benefit me or the Blogicito, I would feel like I was deceiving people, many of whom I consider friends. I think that I've earned my 1,460 readers' trust over the years. If I haven't, I doubt that a name would have changed anyone's opinion.

One credible writer using his own name, Federico Álvarez, a naturalized Honduran citizen, was successfully silenced by Honduran government action. His citizenship was revoked with the threat that if he continued writing opinion pieces for La Tribuna [in Spanish] as a legal resident, it could result in him being expelled from the country in which he has lived for almost 35 years!

Zelaya supporters who opposed Álvarez's opinions very vocally cheered this government action, while still hypocritically crying to the world about the repression of their own free speech. Through a lengthy court battle which has gone to the Supreme Court, Álvarez may get his citizenship back, but whether or not he will ever resume published writing, I don't know.

When a former Ambassador from Costa Rica who has received prestigious awards from two Honduran presidents and is a well-known businessman with 3 1/2 decades of powerful business and political ties can be silenced, I have no delusions that I couldn't be as well.

Not going to do it

But the main point for me is that I have been seriously threatened and relentlessly harassed over the years by those who don't like some of the topics that I write about or my strong opinions. Some of those people sounded rabidly psycopathic to me. I live in a country where the police can't protect even the lives of its people or its journalists, where people are afraid to say too much about corruption or crime because often the police are involved, and where the murder rate is the highest in the world. The police don't have the resources or technology to investigate murders much less online crime, and I sincerely doubt that they have the interest.

Honduran friends warn me all the time to "be careful" and many say that they pray for me. I made the decision for myself to continue writing and suffer the unpleasantries, but I won't make that decision for my family members in Honduras, who could also be similarly threatened, harassed, or worse.

Bit by bit, I've given more and more personal information to these mega giants. First it was a birthday, then a location, then answers to secret questions. Then they wanted an additional email address — in case of problems. Then it was a phone number — in case of problems! No mas!

I will draw the line at providing a copy of my ID to any online service. There is no guaranty that it will be safe or private, especially with Facebook, which has a long history of changing security and 'visibility' settings without prior notification to its users. So if that is going to remain their policy, I will respect their decision but I won't be using their services.

I will keep blogging because I love Honduras. But I despise the crime and corruption and the poverty and ignorance in which the politicians have been able to keep the majority of its people. The first step to solving a problem is recognizing that you have one, something that seems hard for some people to accept.


Because of my personal situation, I've learned a lot about the "nymwars" (name wars) controversy going on all over the internet right now and I'll share some of that with you in the next article.


Please sign the online petition here. Your name can be hidden from pubic view if you desire that.

Two university students

Rafael Vargas Castellanos (1989-2011) with mother, Julieta Castellanos
Rafael Vargas Castellanos (1989-2011) with mother, Julieta Castellanos
Photo: La Prensa, Honduras

In the early morning hours of Saturday, October 22, two university students, Rafael Alejandro Vargas Castellanos (22) y Carlos Pineda Rodríguez (24), were found shot to death in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, their bodies thrown in a 30-foot ravine which El Heraldo described as being used for a garbage dump for bodies of late.

One victim was the son of the rector of the state university system (UNAH). Julieta Castellanos is a notable figure in Honduras, often in the news. She served on the OAS Truth Commission as well as many other commissions.

This was one of those crimes that grabs attention. Two seemingly innocent university students coming home from a birthday party gunned down for no apparent reason. Photos of Dra. Castellano's raw, grief-striken face at the funeral pounded home the tradegy of losing a son, as well as the fear that this could happen to anyone.

Promises were made by President Porfirio Lobo and the Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla to personally see that the perpetrators were caught and punished. Five teams of investigators were assigned. Extreme pressure was put on the police to investigate quickly and thoroughly. Meetings were held between the President, the Minister of Security, the Attorney General. The medical faculty of UNAH was put in charge of the forensic investigation to avoid possible manipulation of the evidence.

Initially there was speculation that Dra. Castellano's politics or her strong rule of the university system might have had something to do with the murders. By Monday, however, it was widely reported that police were thought to be involved in the killings.

Investigators announced that the caliber of bullets was that used by the police. The victim's car showed evidence of three bullet holes that had been shot through the back of the vehicle and through the seats. A private security video was said to show a police vehicle chasing the victim's car. Inspection of the patrol vehicles of that unit was performed. One of the vehicles was found to contain traces of blood and hair that may have been from the victims.

On Friday, La Tribuna reported confrontation between the police and Ministerio Público (attorney general's office), with a source within the MP informing them that the police have known since Monday the names of the three suspected police and one sub-inspector but had taken no action to capture them nor had they presented an official report. It is unknown whether the suspects continued to work as police officers during that week.

A police spokesman said previously that day on television that the MP already had all that was needed to take action. La Tribuna also reported a dispute between the two agencies in which police wanted one agent treated as a protected witness, which was denied by the MP because the agent was considered to be a suspect in the case. The article implied that the police were trying to protect the subinspector.

The same article reports that reporters and camera men have been intimidated by having had their photos taken on cell phones and threatened with being investigated by members of the police unit in La Granja. Dra. Castellanos denounced that journalists, investigators, and fiscales (prosecutors) were being intimidated and coerced by the police.

Investigations are underway in La Granja, where a ring of corrupt police are said to be associated with assasinations, vehicle thefts, charging "impuesta de guerra" (war tax), armed assaults, and drug dealing while using police radio communications to determine the locations of other police patrols.

Finally a week after the crime, four police were taken into custody and their names were released. Incredibly, Saturday, eight days after the events and after heavy rains, more investigators were sent to the scene of the crime to "collect data".

One theory was that the police shot the victims for failing to stop at an "operativo" and then tried to cover it up by taking them to a remote location, shooting them several times again so that it would appear to have been a gang shooting. Neighbors in the area where the bodies were found reported the gunshots about 2 am on Sunday. Later one of the police agents confessed that Rafael Vargas Castellano was the target of a planned kidnapping by a police official.

What is clear is that the vast majority of murders do not get this kind of attention (all the way up to the President) or the manpower that has been devoted to this investigation. And that makes us wonder how many similar crimes by the police go undetected and unpunished. Even in this high profile case, it appears that police still attempted cover up and still felt free to intimidate reporters. What should also be clear to everyone is why citizens are afraid to report crimes or abuse or corruption on the part of the police.

News flash:

On Sunday, October 30, Proceso Digital reported that all four police officers "escaped". It seems that the policemen, though accused of murder, were given a "free day", permitted to leave by sub-comissioner Jorge Barralaga Hernández on Friday, with the promise to return on Sunday. They did not.

No comment has yet been made by President Lobo or Minister of Security Bonilla.

Only in Honduras.

Update 7 pm:

Acting director of the national police Marco Tulio Palma stated that all they need is the warrants issued by the prosecutor's office. He says he is "bereaved" by the escape of the suspects and "we don't know if they have fled to another country".

October 27, 2011

How do we cope with crime in Honduras? (Part V)

School girls buy ice drinks at crime scene in La Ceiba, Honduras
Source: El Faro — Atlántida se hunde
Photo: Daniel Valencia Caravantes

As a general rule, the Honduran people are resilient. They stoically accept the injustices for which they have been subject for centuries and just try to live their lives as best they can without expecting anything from their government and without worrying about things that they don't have the power to change. Public opinion polls generally show that Honduran people are among the most pessimistic about their country, but unexpectedly show that individually they are among the happiest in Latin American countries. That might be because their expectations are lower.

I think that is now changing to some degree because of the fear of crime.

How much crime is related to narcotrafficking in Honduras?

There is no doubt that the majority of murders in Honduras are related to narcotrafficking and organized crime. The manner of killing often points to that. The Observatorio de la Violencia reports that 33.9% of 2010 homicides were by hired assassins. Other categories of motives (murders committed in connection with robbery, rape, domestic violence, etc.) barely rate a blip in the statistics.

Some authorities estimate that 80% of the crime is related to organized crime but in a whopping 50.7% murder cases, the police never even came up with a motive much less a suspect. I don't know the official definition of a 'massacre' (dictionaries say it is "a large number"), but according to the director of the Observatorio, we have at least three massacres per week in Honduras.

Blame the victim

What I invariably hear from friends, family, neighbors, and expatriates, and read in the comments on news articles is that people are quick to blame the victim. "The victim must have been involved with something", or "He/she must have made someone mad", or "He/she shouldn't have resisted".

That view is often reinforced by the police who most often report that the latest killing was probably an "ajuste de cuentas" (adjustment of accounts or revenge killing) or territorial dispute among gangs or some product of organized crime. These statements are often issued within hours of the killings before any real investigation has occurred. What is worse, a proclamation of "ajuste de cuentas" seems to be synonomous with "The victim(s) deserved it. Case closed."

I sense that a 'blame the victim' mentality in Honduras helps us to deal with all the violence. We all want so badly to believe that murder only happens to bad guys or people who do stupid things but that just ain't so. With this dark cloud of violence hanging over our heads, people just have to believe that the victims must have had some fault in the matter; ergo, if I am not involved in drugs and if I don't do anything to make anyone mad, I'll be safe.

But in a country where human life holds no value, where a 'hit' can be bought for L.500 (about US $26 — ask anyone), making someone mad can be much easier than you would imagine. Standing up for yourself or for what is right in even the most mundane situation can result in retaliation — take the case of the stale bread for example. A teenage boy was sent by his mother to return a loaf of stale bread bought earlier in the day. He was shot and killed by the bakery's guard for insisting on an exchange.

So, that's something to think about every time you think about complaining about goods or services. Intimidation also results in more victimization of the Honduran people who are apt to not stand up for themselves in any unjust situation. Unfortunately, they've learned that 'justice' in any situation is hard to attain.

Even robbery or burglary victims are often said to have done something dumb. "They shouldn't have been carrying their cellphone...or laptop....or whatever." "They shouldn't have taken that taxi or walked on that road." "They shouldn't have been out at night."

Safe areas

We also want to think that all the crime is in the big bad cities of Tegus and San Pedro Sula, and that just ain't so either. It's everywhere as far as I can tell. There are just more people and more reporters in those cities so we read about it more.

The less we know about an area, the safer we feel. For example, I've been to San Pedro Sula many times and never felt unsafe or threatened. Many people would laugh about that because it is the Honduran city most warned about to travelers. But when in San Pedro, we are usually in our car, in a store, or in someone's house. The extent of our worry about crime has a lot to do with our personal knowledge.

We, like a lot of people, are less likely to go out at night. In some neighborhoods, many people do not walk or visit with their neighbors at night as they used to. Assassinations of patrons have occured outside two of our favorite La Ceiba restaurants as well as Pizza Hut, none of which is in a known high crime or dangerous area. One acquaintance who we used to run into at parties said that she doesn't see anyone anymore, that no one is giving parties and that everyone is busy just trying to make a living.

Robberies and burglaries are so commonplace that many just shrug it off as the price of living in Honduras, thankful because "it could have been worse". Everyone who can, lives behind bars and walls. The rich have armed guards and the really rich drive bullet-proofed vehicles and carry bodyguards with them at all times.

The poor do what they can with barbed wire fences and some never leave their home unless someone can be left behind to 'guard' the house, because no matter how comparatively little you might have, there is always someone who wants to take it away from you. The working poor and middle class are particularly susceptible to crime during the period of the 13th and 14th month cash payments, when the robbers are out in full force to relieve them of their hard-earned extra money.

Perception of crime

There may be someone who has been here 20 years and never been a crime victim and someone else who was robbed their first day. Since the statistics are so unreliable, all any of us can do is talk about our experiences and those of the people we know. None of us can predict what will happen to you.

Since many people don't read the newspapers every day or don't read the crime section, (as I frequently don't for the sake of my mental health), often their perception of crime correlates with how many people they know who have been crime victims or how much crime and violence is in their neighborhood.

If you've been a crime victim, crime is bad; if you haven't, well, maybe it's not that bad. Others downplay crime as "no worse than any place else" or "no worse than any large city in the USA". But most people do not live behind bars, walls, and barbed wire in the USA and there is no city in the USA or virtually anyplace else in the world whose murder rate comes anywhere near Honduras' rate of 82.1 per 100,000 or the rates of it's major cities. Most people in developed countries don't have to worry about being re-victimized by the police. And some folks just can't bear to know the facts. They downplay crime as a personal insult to their country or as a threat to their business or organization interests.

We hear about kidnappings on TV and we think — "well, those people must be rich, it doesn't affect me". Then your middle class neighbor or his child gets kidnapped, and you start worrying about your own.

Twenty people are murdered daily and everyone says that they must have been "into something". Then your friend or neighbor gets murdered, and you realize that it isn't always about what the victim did to deserve it.

Our tolerance depends upon how close to home crime hits

One expatriate described our tolerance for crime as "a cup that will hold only so much before most folks who can, will simply say they're ready to move on." Most Hondurans don't have that luxury of being able to move on to another country. But more and more I'm hearing from professional Hondurans, who do have the means and a marketable talent for making a life in another country, that they are making plans to take their families and emigrate.

Others who have been educated in foreign countries at universities as prestigous as Harvard have told me that they will never return and they specifically point to crime and corruption as the reasons. I know many Hondurans who are legal residents of other countries whose dream was always to retire and return to the homeland to live out their golden years. Some are reconsidering that decision because of the fear of crime.


One of the side effects of so much crime and so much narcotrafficking activity is that people are just a little or a lot suspicious of anyone who has a new car, a bigger house, or has moved from a less desirable neighborhood to a better one. It does appear that there are many, many people involved with organized crime, but I refuse to believe that everyone who has been able to improve their standard of living is involvled.

Often reader comments on news stories indicate that it's not a such bad thing that the narcos and gangs are killing each other off. It is easy to blame the people who stoop to getting involved with narcotrafficking and gangs. While some do it for greed, the "easy" money, or the inability to find work elsewhere, it's not always by choice.

Unless you were in the helpless position of being offered plomo o plata (lead or silver - bullet to the head or payment for services) or maybe even having the lives of your children threatened, it's hard to imagine what you would do — when you know full well that they have the power to follow through and they know that they would almost certainly never get caught and punished for the crime. I consider myself an honorable law abiding citizen, but I can't honestly say what I would do with a gun to my head or my loved ones threatened.

Even without threats, some of those not otherwise involved in organized crime are tempted by huge rewards for being a "mule" (transporting drugs or money from one location to another). We often see arrests of ordinary people at the airports because they have been caught carrying huge amounts of money strapped to their body or in their luggage. In one case, a whole family travelling with children, was arrested when caught with their luggage stuffed with packages of US dollars.


A recent article indicated that treatment for depression is increasing among Ceibeños. I think a lot more people are worrying about crime more than they used to. I know that I do.

My personal opinion is that we become desensitized to crime. I used to jump when I heard gunshots; now they barely rate a blink unless they sound very near to our house. Saturday night, we heard what sounded like gun fights on three separate occasions. The first time we wondered about what was happening, but were glad that it sounded far enough away. The second and third time, it was just "There they go again." The first time that I was subjected to a decapitated body on the news, I was horrified and felt sick to my stomach. The fourth time, I said, "not again"! Before long, you start turning off the TV and skipping the crime section of the newspaper because you just don't want to know anymore.

We have to become desensitized because what is the alternative? To quake with fear every waking moment? No one can live like that. We take what sensible precautions* we can. Depending upon where we live, we may not go out at night as frequently. We might not visit areas that we consider to be higher crime areas — unless we happen to live in one and have no choice, which is the unfortunate situation of many of the poor in big cities and one of my relatives right now. She'll never be able to sell her house and move because who would buy it? In some particularly bad areas, houses are just abandoned.

One of the best examples (or saddest) of desensitization is the photo above of two young school girls calmly buying strawberry flavored ice drinks from a street vendor just outside the crime scene tape while a bullet ridden dead body lies close by. Children should not have to be desensitized like that.

* The US State Department has a long list of common sense safety precautions, both specifically for Honduras and for international travelers in general. While some think that the State Department's warnings are excessive, I think that most can agree that these precautions are common sense measures.


Related article:

Most Honduran bloggers do not write too much about crime. This anonymous blogger spoke out. A few months ago he wrote about a relative being murdered.

Honduras es considerado como el país más corrupto y peligroso del mundo


This is Part V of a series of articles about crime in Honduras.

Part I: Crime is out of control in Honduras

Part II: Security measures, Honduran style

Part III: Drug trafficking in Honduras

Part IV: Crime in La Ceiba, Honduras

October 24, 2011

Action against crime in the news today

Images: La Prensa, Honduras

An airplane with flight plan of Colombia to Panamá was obligated by the Honduran Armed Forces to land in La Ceiba. The plane which supposedly lost its radar was first seen flying over La Ceiba appearing to be trying to land, later it was over Roatán trying to land, and then back to La Ceiba. No drugs were found in the plane, but its tires had mud and manure on them, indicating that it's last stop may have been one of the clandestine narco runways. The plane is in the custody of the authorities.

(All news articles linked are in Spanish.)


This morning there were 18 simultaneous "raids" (allanamientos) by a joint operation of the anti-narcotrafficking unit and military resulting in seizure of homes of people suspected to be involved with organized crime — rumored in one report, but not confirmed, to include one congressman.

Five were in San Pedro and 13 in Roatán and La Ceiba. Additionally, 17 fishing boats thought to involved with narcotrafficking were confiscated in Roatan. El Heraldo includes several photos of the homes, some of which readers might recognize.

La Tribuna reports that there were a total of 27 raids, including a well-known hotel, and other properties. The seizures are estimated to be valued at L. 300-500 million, which according to Honduras law (if proven in court — big IF) could be sold and the money used for crime fighting measures. Some of the articles name the individual and business names.

More than L.50 million in cash was seized from the residences alone and some bank accounts were frozen. There was no word about arrests — as is normally the case because often the bad guys are tipped off by someone within the police department. Minister of Defense Marlon Pascua also mentioned that there could be a foreigner involved as well as a politician but declined to give any further information. He said it was the biggest operativo ever performed in Honduras.

Later news articles were very detailed about the main subject (without naming him). It appears that all of the houses and other properties and businesses were in his name or that of his wife or friends.

Readers comments on newspaper articles abounded with "When are they coming to Tocoa?" "Come to Copán!" "Why don't they come to Santa Barbara?" and on and on and on.

October 23, 2011

Crime in La Ceiba, Honduras (Crime Part IV)

La Ceiba, Honduras
"Invest in your life — Protect yourself!"
Full page ad for car bullet-proofing
Source: local Ceibeño section of La Prensa

While many like to believe that crime in Honduras is "no worse than any large city in the USA", that is simply not true. Sleepy little La Ceiba has the distinction of the being the city with the highest murder rate in the country with the highest murder rate in the world.

La Ceiba's murder rate per 100,000 population was 158.2 in 2010, more than double the country-wide Honduras rate of 77.5 according to the national Observatorio de la Violencia report [Spanish].

During 2010, 1.6 persons out of every 1,000 in La Ceiba were killed in violence, putting it among the most violent cities in the Western Hemisphere. Current year-to-date figures by the police show a likely 20% increase in 2011. Even the smaller outlying communities are affected. The Departamento (state) of Atlántida had the highest murder rate among Honduras' 18 departamentos with 131.8 homicides recorded in 2010.

Honduras murder rate map 2010
Honduras murder rate map
Source: 2010 Observatorio de Violencia report

The statistics

The official Observatorio de Violencia report [Spanish] states that there were 294 homicides in La Ceiba in 2010. But figures recently given by the police to reporters indicated that their records show "463 murders by guns" during 2010 [Spanish]. If that figure is correct, this represents a 37% understatement in the official report. However, if the figures given by police truly only include "murders by guns", then the statistics are even more vastly understated because approximately 17% of 2010 murders were committed by other means.

La Ceiba, HondurasAs of September 30, the same La Prensa Ceibeño article reports that 416 murders by guns have occurred compared to 463 for all of 2010. That would result in a projection of 555 murders for 2011, a 20% increase. If those numbers only reflect murders by guns as stated, then the total number of murders will be much higher. It gets mind boggling to think about.

The vast majority of thefts, robberies, assaults, or other crimes in La Ceiba never get reported to or by the police and almost never in the newspapers. One year-to-date statistic given by the police to reporters is that there have been 12 robberies of La Ceiba residences so far this year [Spanish]. Anyone who knows more than three Ceibeños, can come up with a longer list than that! If I had to guess, I would be surprised if even 5-10% of common property crimes get reported and/or are included in the official crime statistics.

Atlántida is sinking

Honduras crime cartoonSe hunde Atlántida (Atlántida sinks — La Ceiba is in the state of Altántida), an exposé in Spanish by Daniel Valencia Caravantes, is a must read for those who want to know more. The article includes interviews with police and an investigative reporter who compiles information but is afraid to report on gang and narco activity. It ends with the police laughing about a running joke of the La Ceiba police investigative unit: Here there are only two things left pending in the cases. What are they? Discover the perpetrators and capture them!

I couldn't tell you the number of times El Jefe has come home to tell me that there was a bullet-ridden body dumped by the side of the road on his way home or that a friend or relative of a friend was murdered. Other expatriates have reported the seeing the same. "Hits" are rumored to cost L.500 (about US $26). He and many other people have lost good and decent friends and relatives to violence, the latest being a young father who was killed in broad daylight in a well-populated area for his motorcycle, which the armed thieves could have easily taken without killing him.

Gang controlled colonias

Gangs have taken control of some 10 colonias, Bonitillo, Riveras del Caribe and others, killing those suspected of being friendly with a rival gang. The gangs impose toques de queda [Spanish] (curfews), effectively shutting down the colonias to residents or outsiders after 7 pm. El Jefe's friends have confirmed that gang-imposed toques are also happening in La Mayo, El Confite, La Suyapa, La Mercedes. The police chief boldly states that "Little gangs can't impose curfews!" [Spanish], but guess what? It is happening and the last we have heard, the police still have not stopped it in the two weeks since that statement.

Los Pelones (said to be a faction of Los Cachiros), Barrio 18, and Los Grillos (said to be well infiltrated within the police) are the most notable gangs operating in La Ceiba. The legendary Los Pumas [read this 2008 Blogicito article for the legend] 'gang for the people' is said to have been reestablished and refortified after losing one of their top leaders to violence. This group is said to be leaders of organized neighborhoods and former police officers, and is suspected of being sponsored by businessmen who have taken the law into their own hands out of desperation. Los Pumas are also suspected of killing Begué, the La Ceiba "drug king", in 2009, discussed in the El Faro article linked above. Some of the San Pedro Sula Airport massacre murder victims were suspected narcotraffickers from La Ceiba.

Lack of security, the most adverse factor for business

Many, if not most, businesses have one or more armed guards, some even keep their doors locked during the day, and some are closing as early as 5 pm for fear of being robbed. [read article in Spanish for several comments by business owners] Bus drivers and taxis readily admit to paying impuesto de guerra ("war tax") to the gangs or say that it is only a matter of time before they will have to do so. Many businesses are now being extorted for impuesto de guerra as well. In some cases of small businesses, the monthly payment is so high (L.10,000) that it is almost not worth staying in business.

For months and years, Ceibeños have pleaded for more patrols [Spanish] and particularly patrols in the high crime areas. Though there is always talk of doing it, reader comments generally confirm that it just does not happen. La Ceiba police have a total of eight patrol vehicles for a population of somewhere around 185,000. One or more of them are generally not running or are out of gas. A police officer makes the equivalent of about US $320 per month, an investigator about US $350.

How does this affect tourism?

Worries about crime have severely damaged the tourism industry. Even though the La Ceiba crime situation is not so well known among those who don't live here or even among some who do, Honduras' general reputation for crime has caused a terrible blow to La Ceiba tourism, one of the best hopes for economic growth on the north coast. Many businesses are hanging on by a thread and most of our previous favorite restaurants have closed down. Since many tourists have to travel through La Ceiba for other Honduran destinations like Roatán and Utila, crime is having an effect on tourism there as well.

Are tourists or foreigners targeted in particular? No, I don't think so at all, but that is only my opinion and there are no statistics upon which anyone can base any opinion. The US State Department doesn't think so either. But any sensible person who has a choice between going to relatively peaceful vacation spot or a high-crime city is probably not going to choose the latter. More and more, that is exactly what they are doing.

La Ceiba, HondurasThere are many reasons why tourists or other visitors may be less likely to be crime victims. By the very nature of a tourist, they often spend most of their time in hotels with good security and in tourist areas where security is high. They probably aren't going to the high crime areas or hanging out with gang members. They may be transported around with trusted drivers or take luxury buses with high security.

Those in the tourism business understand the risk and take the safety of their tourists very seriously because it is their bread and butter. Simply by only being in the country for, say, 10 days might decrease the likelihood of your being a victim to 3% of that of someone who lives here 365 days a year. Certainly, during a week or two, a foreigner is not going to get a good feel for the real crime situation and may not even be aware of it.

Tourists are likely to report their misfortune on internet travel sites which are visited by millions of people. Any serious crime against a foreigner generally gets plenty of coverage in the newspapers and/or among the expatriate discussion groups. For those reasons, I think we would be more apt to know if tourists were routinely being victimized. However, I do not agree with downplaying the dangerousness of crime situation in the interest of business or tourism. That isn't something that I want on my conscience.

The police respond

"We have made an analysis of what has been occurring in these sectors. There are plans and new strategies, we are working on that and in a permanent manner the Cobras have been assigned to the sector to patrol and watch this corridor 24 hours", said Filberto Martínez, new regional commissioner of police.

He also claimed that it is the residents in those colonias who are self-imposing curfews. He asks for citizen cooperation. One Pizatti resident who witnessed a shoot out in which 5-8 people died said that when the police arrived, they said there were no bodies. Some say that the gangs do their own "clean up" and that there are no deaths recorded in any of these neighborhoods.

Reader comments on the news article were less than impressed and disputed some of his statements.


This is part IV in a series of articles on Crime in Honduras.

Part I: Crime is out of control in Honduras

Part II: Security measures, Honduran style

Part III: Drug trafficking in Honduras

October 22, 2011

My ripples will continue

How does an 'activist' blogger know when she's doing a good job? When people try to stop her or intimidate her.

censorshipReporters without Borders (RWOB) ranks Honduras as 143rd of 178 countries in their 2010 Press Freedom Ranking. While RWOB often sites government intimidation, many journalists and bloggers freely admit to self-censorship for various reasons, including personal safety, job security, business or organizational interests, and others.

I use the pseudonym 'La Gringa' for obvious reasons — and note that this is very different from an anonymous poster who could be one of millions of anonymous posters. 'La Gringa' is my internet persona and wherever you find me on the internet, you find the same person, with the same thoughts and beliefs. There is no intent to deceive, to abuse, or to pretend to be someone else.

speak no evilI may only be one grain of sand in the ocean but using a pseudonym allows me the freedom to speak more openly than I would otherwise. I won't bore you with stories of the attempts to intimidate or threaten me over the years. Suffice it say that those who don't agree with me but are intellectually unable to argue their own position often resort to vulgar language, name calling, intimidation, threats, and even impersonation in an effort to silence my voice.

I have had an account on Facebook for three more than four years, with almost 1,200 friends. After posting the first three articles of my Honduras crime series, someone filed a complaint about my user name which resulted in Facebook disabling my account. Although I don't have much hope that Facebook will reverse their decision, I have appealed with the message reprinted below.

Additionally, an online petition was started on my behalf to request that Facebook restore my account. I would appreciate it if you take the time to sign it. We can disagree with one another's opinions, but when we start interfering with other's right to speak their opinions, we are on a slippery slope.

I have several more articles in the crime series to post and I will post them. I hope that readers will share them on the various social services so that they get the widest possible audience.


To Facebook:

I would like to ask that a human being review this appeal of the unjust disablement of my Facebook account.

I am a serious, long-time blogger (since 2006) who lives in the most dangerous city in the most dangerous country in the world according to the United Nations - Honduras, where 17 journalists have been murdered in the past 2 years, and where many reporters are afraid to write about organized crime or political matters.

I use a pseudonym, as many authors do, not to deceive, but because it is the only way that I can exercise my freedom of speech without fear of serious reprisals. My articles have been published all over the internet under that pseudonym.

This week I started writing a series of blog articles about crime and narcotrafficking in Honduras — and that is likely what prompted the complaint about my account, just as postings of my political articles were blocked by Facebook for a time last year and the year before because of false complaints.


My history on Facebook should show that I am not a "fake" or a spammer. I have almost 1,200 Facebook friends (most of them for 2 years or more) under the only name by which I am known in Honduras, the US, Canada and Central America. My FB friends and 1,400 blog followers understand the reasons why I must use a pseudonym.

By asking for a copy of my ID, Facebook is asking me to put my life in danger. By disabling my account, Facebook is silencing one of the few internet voices in English in Honduras.

I hope that you will take a serious look at my account and consider reinstating it.


Please sign the online petition here. Your name can be hidden from pubic view if you desire that.


Related articles:

October 21, 2011

Drug Trafficking in Honduras (Crime Part III)

World murder rate map
Murder rate around the world
Go to Guardian UK for interactive map

"We are clear that these [homicide] statistics are high" said the police commissioner José Luis Muñoz Licona, who pointed out that one of the causes of increased violent deaths "is the product of confrontations between criminal groups, especially between narcotraffickers in the north coast, in the departments of Colón and Atlántida" without putting aside the departments of Cortés, Yoro, and Copán. "We are practically talking about all of the north, west, and Atlantic zones".

A reader sent me a report from the Woodrow Wilson Center: Organized Crime in Central America: The Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). It's a frightening collection of four studies commissioned "to understand more fully how organized crime has evolved in Central America, and to examine the links between organized crime and traffickers in Central America, Mexico and Colombia and the role played by Central America in the supply chain for illegal goods." (Note: try this link if you are unable to open the PDF directly in your browser.)

Since most of my readers will not have the time to read all 245 pages, I'm including some excerpts related to Honduras that I found most fascinating.

Chapter 1. Drug Trafficking Organizations in Central America: Transportistas, Mexican Cartels and Maras

Central America's Transportistas

page 25
Not since Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros have Central American
organizations played central roles in drug trafficking. They serve one central purpose: to transport drugs between South America and Mexico. For that reason, they are known in the region as transportistas. Increasingly, however, these organizations have also taken on the role of local distributors and, in some cases, the suppliers of marijuana and poppy, for the production of heroin, as well as importers and suppliers for the raw ingredients of synthetic drugs that are manufactured in Mexico, Nicaragua and possibly Honduras.

Increasingly in Honduras, some [transportistas] are reportedly emerging from the landed classes—sons of large cattle owners and other agri-business.

page 26
Narco landing strip, HondurasIn Honduras, the transportistas are, by and large, locals who have some experience trafficking contraband, stealing automobiles or rustling cattle. Although several intelligence sources mentioned that large landowners are increasingly entering the business, these landowners appear to be more important as infrastructure than personnel. Nonetheless, as in Guatemala, it is usually a family trade. Two of the more infamous transporters are Nelson and Javier Rivera, former car thieves and cattle rustlers. They run the so-called Cachiros gang, which stretches from Colón along the northern coast to the Gracias a Dios province in the East and the Olancho province to the south. Other, lesser known groups appear to operate in Yoro, Olancho and Cortés.
[See this Wikileak cable for specific reports of narco activity at the site of prominent Honduran businessman]

DTOs [drug trafficking organizations] in Central America

page 30
These two countries also see the most trafficking: In 2009, an estimated 200 metric tons passed through Honduras, and an estimated 250 tons went through Guatemala. The two main Mexican DTOs operating in these countries are the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas.

A Sinaloa Mayor in Honduras. Honduran police intelligence say El Paraiso, Copan Mayor Alexander Ardon works with the Sinaoa Cartel. Ardon has built a town hall that resembles the White House, complete with a heliport on the roof, and travels with 40 heavily armed bodyguards. Cameras monitor the roads leading in and out of the town, intelligence services say. And there are reports that the mayor often closes the city to outsiders for big parties that include norteña music groups flown in from Mexico.

page 31
cocaine, HondurasIn Honduras, these agents say that Sinaloa factions work closely with transportistas in Olancho and near the Gulf of Fonseca. Sinaloa Cartel members are also reportedly buying land, building houses and co-opting local officials in the Copan, Santa Barbara and Cortés provinces along the Guatemalan border, areas they are also using for storage and trafficking activities

Penetration of the Government Forces and Institutions

page 34
To varying degrees, international DTOs and local transportistas have penetrated portions of the police, treasury, customs, military, attorney general’s offices, jails and court systems in Central America. They regularly finance pubic works and bankroll political campaigns. Their abiity to outspend the governments frustrates the local authorities and thwarts efforts to slow the DTO's growth. This is particularly true in Guatemala and Honduras, two governments that have seemingly lost control over large swaths of their territory.

page 37
In Honduras, in addition to the Copan, Santa Barbara and Cortés provinces alluded to earlier, authorities say the Cachiros’ control the local police in Colón, Gracias a Dios and parts of Olancho. Penetration into the police was evident July 2009, when ten members of the elite anti-narcotics Operation Group were arrested transporting 142 kilos of cocaine. The Cachiros have also attempted to control policy at a national level. When their liaison failed to secure their pick for vice-minister of security, they killed him. The would-be vice-minister is now a representative for congress.
[Los Cachiros also operates in La Ceiba.]

page 39
narco submarine, HondurasAn uptick by authorities in interdictions of fishing trawlers and cargo ships – “stateless vessels” – has pushed DTOs to rely more on go-fasts and the so-called semi-submersibles. The use of what are essentially mini-submarines is a relatively new phenomenon dating to the late 1990s when a clandestine factory for the first subs was discovered in rural Colombia. Today’s semi-submersibles are 45 to 82 feet in length and are made of fiberglass or steel. They have a range of 2,000 miles and can carry up to seven metric tons of cocaine. U.S. officials estimate that over 60 submarines move over 300 metric tons of cocaine per year.

page 40
Infrastructure abounds in Honduras to facilitate these landings, in particular in the Yoro and Olancho provinces. There are hundreds of clandestine landing strips and numerous old air fields in Yoro courtesy of the banana exporting companies that once dominated the economy. Yoro’s relatively flat terrain also permits airplanes to land on highways and sparsely trafficked roads. Olancho, meanwhile, seems to be a relative newcomer to the drug business. While the infamous Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros bought large quantities of land in the department, it appears as if enough local agri-business kept drug running activities to a minimum until relatively recently when a so-called “new generation” began “lending” their large haciendas for drug airplanes. Farm owners are reported to receive $50,000 per flight.

Narco landing strip, HondurasThe infrastructure needed to operate these landing strips is minimal. In just a few hours, teams of 25 to 30 men can cut the grass and trees, open up the fences and set up the lights to receive the airplanes. The airplanes are hollowed out and the drugs are packed in what are called fardos, which can weigh as much as a heavy suitcase (about 50 pounds) but are still easily manageable. The amount of drugs the planes carry vary, but one Honduran official said that traffickers found the shorter distance to Honduras gave the DTOs an opportunity to pack more drugs into each airplane. Once a plane lands, it takes between 20 and 30 minutes to offload the cargo into the waiting vehicles. As extra insurance, police are sometimes hired to provide protection and escorts for these drug shipments, for which the commander can receive between $2,500 to $5,000.

Money, Efforts and Challenges

page 52
Narco plane, HondurasOverall, despite tough talk from its presidents, the region seems ill prepared to face what is arguably a bigger threat to regional security than the civil wars of the 1980s. In many ways, Central American countries are fighting against simple economics. An estimated $38 billion in cocaine flows from South to North America. The U.S. Government estimates that 42 percent of these drugs, representing $16 billion, pass through Central America, more than national government expenditures of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador combined in 2009. Fifty-nine percent of Hondurans live below the poverty line; 56 percent live below the poverty line in Guatemala; and 31 percent live below the poverty line in El Salvador.121 The poverty, mixed with the lawless environment that presides over the region, makes it an ideal place for the DTOs to operate. Murder rates in the northern triangle are some of the highest in the world. Impunity reigns. Few crimes are investigated. Fewer are resolved. In Guatemala, for instance, of the 6,451
murders in 2009, investigators resolved just 256.

Chapter 2. Honduras, Organized Crime Gained During Political Crisis

page 63
The public security situation in Honduras is among the worst in the world, ranking among the top five nations with the highest number of violent crimes and murders per capita. The government estimates that one person is killed every 88 minutes. The 2010 UNODC reported that the province of Atlántida, which includes the port city of La Ceiba, was among the most violent in the Western Hemisphere, with 1 person out of every 1,000 killed in violence crimes.
[Based on the 2010 UN report. Current UN statistics are higher.]

The Sinaloa Cartel

page 65
Police intelligence reports suggest the Sinaloa Cartel has installed operations in the states of Copán, Santa Bárbara, Colón, Olancho, and Gracias a Dios. In late 2009, the U.S. Department of Treasury froze the assets of Agustín Reyes Garza, “Don Pilo,” a member of the Sinaloa Cartel operating in Honduras.

In 2007 and 2008, it is believed that the cartel began buying off or killing potential local rivals. A top cartel leader was sent down to Honduras with a group of Mexican sicarios, or hitmen, over a 15 day period to kill off Honduran rivals. That leader then set up a “sicario school” in Honduras that recruited local operatives to continue providing security and protection for Sinaloa operations.

page 67
Minister of Security Óscar Álvarez has warned that the Sinaloa Cartel is attempting to buy off mayors and municipal officials while corrupting police officers. In that way, it is trying to create “parallel government structures” at local levels that will allow it a greater freedom to operate.

Reporting on the Sinaloa cartel’s activities, particularly its corruption of government officials, has become dangerous for Honduran reporters. Journalist Nahun Palacios of Radio Tocoa and Canal 5 in Colón was killed in March 2010. David Meza was killed near the port of La Ceiba after reporting on Sinaloa cartel activities in the area. Both had received threats from the drug trafficking organization prior to their deaths.

The Zetas

page 67
With the break between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas in Mexico, the Zetas took over many of the operations inside of Honduras. They maintained ties with corrupt officials and kept track of the land titles and routes landing air and sea shipments in Honduras.

page 68
Narco plane, HondurasLike the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas have begun managing clandestine runways and transportation networks in Honduras. The country has become a key transfer point to take control of the cocaine as it heads northward into Mexico and then the United States. While some of the Zetas’ land routes overlap with the Sinaloa Cartel’s, the organization appears to prefer trafficking by sea, leaving from the area in or around La Ceiba and going to Guatemala, where they have better control of land routes, or all the way to Mexico.

From South America to Honduras

page 72
Nearly all of the world’s cocaine is produced in three countries in South America: Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. The cocaine destined for the North American market must travel by boat or air to Central America and the Caribbean and onward to the United States.36 Approximately 90 percent of cocaine going to the United States travels through Central America and/or Mexico, though some analysts believe there has been a slight shift to the Caribbean route in the past year as Mexico has cracked down on drug trafficking in its territory.

Other Illegal Activity Linked to Organized Crime

page 77
la cocaina, HondurasWhile the bulk of organized criminal money in Honduras is made from drug trafficking and extortion, a number of other illicit services occur as well. Some of these, like money laundering, are directly linked to the drug trafficking operations.

Honduras has a money laundering task force, but according to local authorities money laundering is less of an issue in Honduras than in some of its neighbors. The bigger issue concerns the large amounts of bulk U.S. cash smuggled through the country. As exchanging a large amount of U.S. dollars into Honduran currency (lempiras) is not particularly easy, most criminals and their related networks functioning in the gray and legal market prefer to work in U.S. dollars in Honduras. With limited government capacity to investigate financial crimes, criminals do not always feel the need to launder the money. In a country in which many crimes are never investigated or prosecuted, criminals who decide to keep their profits in Honduras can spend ‘dirty’ money with impunity without going through the time, effort, and cost of laundering the money.

Bulk cash smuggling is largely done over land routes or by air, often on legal flights from major airports. For example, in early October 2010, the Honduran police arrested four Colombian citizens attempting to traffic nearly US $1.5 million from the San Pedro Sula airport.

The effects

page 80
The influence of organized crime is evident in many locations, but no criminal organization “controls” large swaths of territory. Mexican DTOs have varying degrees of prevalence across the country, but there are few areas where analysts can clearly say, “this is Sinaloa territory” or “this is Zeta territory” in the way that areas of Mexico or Guatemala can be identified and mapped. Rather, there is a significant amount of overlap among the Mexican groups. There are indications that some gangs (maras) exercise significant control over neighborhoods (colonias) of the capital and San Pedro Sula, but these are more local phenomenon than transnational crime.
Impunity for crimes remains a problem.

Corruption within the Honduran political and security system is widespread due to the influence of organized crime. Drug trafficking organizations are willing to pay a month’s wages to a police officer or solider for one or two nights worth of work. Current and former police officers have been recruited to provide security. The corruption also creates a level of distrust within the institutions of government. Civilian and military organizations are more reluctant to share information outside their organization when they believe that it may be leaked to the criminals.

Politicians have also been linked with organized crime. For example, in 2003, a member of the Honduran Congress, Armando Ávila Panchamé of the Nationalist Party, was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being caught operating with a Colombian group bringing cocaine into the country. There is also strong evidence that at least one local mayor near the Guatemalan border, Alexander Ardon of the town of El Paraiso, has been corrupted by the Sinaloa cartel. Authorities suspect the number of mayors who receive a plata o plomo [silver or lead] style threat from the cartels is growing.

page 81
While the issue of human rights is generally discussed in the context of government actions or obligations, it’s worth noting that the criminal organizations in Honduras are a key violator of human rights in the country, depriving citizens of their right to life and security and indirectly violating their rights to fair and impartial institutions of justice by undermining the government institutions that do investigative and judicial work

page 91
Too often, government officials suggest that victims of crimes have been involved with DTOs or maras before full investigations are completed, which likely harms the ability to investigate organized crime and end impunity.


Even if you don't read the entire study, just from the excerpts that I posted, I think you can see that the situation looks pretty dire for Honduras.

I don't want to imply that I believe that narcotrafficking is responsible for all of the crime in Honduras, but there is no question that it plays a major part in it.

You might also be interested in these Blogicito summaries of a 2008 La Prensa exposé on Narcotrafficking in Honduras

October 18, 2011

Security measures, Honduran style (Crime Part II)

Honduras police operativos
Police Operativo
Images: La Prensa, Honduras

Several months ago a well-respected pastor was senselessly murdered in San Pedro. Initially it was reported that he was killed while walking his dogs by thieves who wanted his two Schnauzers, which reportedly have a value in Honduras of about US $500 each. Later it was reported by a witness that he was killed merely for his cell phone.

Honduras President Pepe Lobo's first anniversaryThat murder seemed to be the straw that broke the camel's back — for a few moments in time anyway. Thousands came out a week later in a silent protest to demand that something be done about crime. Journalist, attorney, and business associations, among others, also made strong demands of officials.

The pastor's murder was followed by the assasination of a couple of attorneys and the surviving brother of a congressman who was himself assasinated a few months previously. At least two mayors have been murdered and other attempts have been made against mayors this year. Forty-plus police officers have been murdered, including the head of the organized crime/narcotrafficking unit of the police. Journalists continue to be murdered. A judge who ruled against invasionistas in the controversial Bajo Aguan dispute was murdered. Those are only some of the most notable assasinations, only a taste of news, which is usually complete with gruesome photos and video that we are subjected to every single day in Honduras, where an average of 20 murders per day, or one every 72 minutes, are committed.

"New" security measures

A week after the pastor was killed, Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez announced that new measures would be taken to combat crime. For a few minutes, I was joyful to hear that serious action was finally going to be taken. But it turned out that the planned operativos were only more of the same ineffective nonsense: road stops that harass all citizens instead of targeting criminals and high crime areas. This tactic has been used for decades and is commonly known in Honduras as a "show" (yes, in English), and Alvarez was commonly called the "showman".

The news showed the Minister, along with what appeared to be about 50 police officers, in a one block area where they were stopping all motorcycles and other assorted drivers (photo at top). Most of the police were doing nothing but standing around. Certainly that one block area would be crime-free for the hour or two or four that the police might be there — only the most stupid of criminals would commit a crime there. Only the most unalert criminal would not turn off and find another route or toss their gun out the window.

News video showed that only some vehicles and all motorcycles were being stopped and searched, so unless a criminal happened to be carrying unregistered guns, drugs, or stolen goods, I'm not sure what the police hoped to accomplish. Even then, with evidence in the vehicle, given the quality of the police investigation and documentation abilities, I'm not sure that they could make a case anyway. No computer system is used by the police to check whether there are warrants out for the driver and passengers or whether the vehicle was stolen. These large police operativos were performed in the major cities of the country ... for a couple of days. To Alvarez's credit, in our experience, the police have been more professional in recent years and less apt to ask for bribes.

During those few days of operativos, thousands of tickets were given for not carrying a current car registration or drivers' license and other vehicle "irregularities". Does that combat crime? I don't think so. Honestly, where are the priorities? With the highest murder rate in the world, with robberies, muggings, and burglaries rampant, who cares whether anyone is driving with an expired license? Criminals have access to all the false or "legitimate" paperwork in the world. Expired documents do not kill and rob people. Honduras has much more serious things to worry about than drivers' licenses and up-to-date vehicle registrations.

Some unlicensed guns were confiscated but that could be at least partly blamed on the government, too, as the gun licensing system disappeared a few years ago and now is only available in the major cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro. So, the government makes it difficult to impossible to follow the law and then gives you a ticket for not following it. I'm not sure even how to transport an unlicensed gun to San Pedro for registration without having the gun confiscated and/or being arrested for carrying it along the way. It is one of those Honduran Catch 22s: You can't carry a gun unless it is registered, but you can't register it unless you can carry it to some far off city.

Honduras police operativosTraffic operativos are nothing new. They happen all the time. On our last trip to San Pedro Sula from La Ceiba in September, we passed five operativos, only slightly more than usual. We were waved through on two of them, one time we were stopped but when we rolled down the window, the officer waved for us to move on. In two stops, our paperwork was checked and once they asked us if we were carrying guns (but didn't search the car). Once the officer asked us to roll down the back windows and he took a fleeting glance at the back seat which was packed full of stuff. My point is that we could have been wanted criminals, we could have been carrying guns or drugs, but the police did nothing except determine that our paperwork was in order.

Back in March, the military was also put out on the streets (as they are sometimes when the population becomes publicly incensed about crime) at an estimated cost of L.10 million per month. But mostly they weren't put out in the high crime areas — they were out performing the same operativos, stopping traffic and asking innocent citizens for their paperwork. I'm not complaining about 'inconvenience'. I think most would happily give up our right to free circulation and wouldn't mind being stopped every mile if we thought it would actually have an effect on crime and not merely traffic. But now, after the airport massacre, citizens have the added worry that any operativo might actually be criminals in disguise.

If we wait, the criminals will come

Really? How has that philosophy been working for you for the past 10, 20, 40 years? What can the government possibly hope to accomplish with traffic stops, except to give a lot of tickets and maybe catch one in a thousand vehicles that have weapons or drugs? Do they think the criminals will burst into a spontaneous confession? Do kidnappers take joy rides with their captives? Are criminals carrying drugs or guns not smart enough to turn off the road when they see a road stop ahead?

Honduras police operativos
I think the above cartoon illustrates the reality. While police are routinely pestering innocent citizens for no other reason than there are a lot of criminals out there and they might get lucky, the real criminals go merrily about their business.

Some of my Honduran friends think that these operativos do have some effect on crime, but traffic stops just seem so misguided to me considering the amount of manpower put into them. Why not regularly put police in the high crime areas? [Spanish] Why not regularly put one or two in plain clothes on the buses to areas that get robbed so often? Why not regularly put police on foot in markets, shopping areas, and high crime colonias, not just the tourist areas, so that people can feel a little safer? Here is a novel idea, how about putting security forces out at night, when most crimes are committed? And most of all, whatever you are going to do, why only put on a show for a couple of weeks or a month and then go back to business as usual, citing vehicle irregularities?

Other security measures

Assasinations (and muggings) are often committed by two men on a motorcycle; one is the driver and the other is the shooter. A motorcycle allows them to manuever quickly through traffic to make their escape, while helmets eliminate the possibility of identification. (You learn about such things in Honduras.) A huge added advantage — provided by the government! — is that there are no identifying license plates for new motorcycles in Honduras. The government has been out of plates since sometime during the Zelaya administration, making witness identification of the driver or the vehicle impossible.

So, illogically, rather than providing a budget to issue motorcycle license plates as requested by the DEI (tax collection agency), which was estimated to cost about L.400 million (about US $21 million) and which might provide an means of identification, an additional measure discussed once again in congress was the prohibition for two people to ride on a motorcycle. This would be a huge hardship for many young workers and families who have a motorcycle as their only means of transportation. Many assasinations are committed by two or more people in a car as well. Why not pass a law outlawing more than one person in a vehicle, too? More than a few assasinations are committed by a person(s) in a taxi. Should we outlaw taxis?

Recently the military requested to purchase a fleet of Tucano 'star-wars' equipped super jets to aid in fighting organized narcotrafficking to US cocaine consumers, at an estimated cost to Honduras of as much as US $100 million. In a country where the entire security budget is only about US $150 million, where there is no money to buy gas for police cars, where the technical knowledge of the necessity to keep oil in a vehicle engine is beyond most the police departments, and where even the 'new' science of fingerprinting crime scenes is not generally employed, we can only shake our heads again at the priorities. To put the security budget in perspective, the combined 2011 budget [Spanish] for the Presidency and the Secretariat of the Office of the Presidency is about US $170 million, increased from about US $82 million in 2010.

Congress has revised the new security tax on citizens and businesses, expected to generate about US $79 million per year, probably as a result of the US demands that devastatingly poor countries like Honduras "do more" in the fight against narcotraffickers which feed the heavy user demand for cocaine in the US. So ironically, in addition to Honduran lives lost to narcotrafficking, the people of Honduras will be paying in cash for US's addiction problems. Congress has approved an increase in the 2012 security budget [Spanish] to about US $215 million.

President Lobo has lately put forth the idea of combining the police and military forces, which, in some way that I don't understand, would then somehow magically improve the crime situation. Then he decided that he wouldn't combine them. Then he would combine the two ministries under one "super minister" but not actually combine the forces. Then ... well, honestly, I have no idea what the latest is on this. Like so many ideas thrown out there on a whim, there seems to be no study of the legal, constitutional, or logistical aspects beforehand.

There have been other suggestions which get a lot of publicity for a day or a week and then fade away. Former Minister of Security Oscar Alvarez made some very strong statements about corruption within the police department, including that at least 10 police officials were acting as "air traffic controllers" for the narcos. The last statistic that I heard was that some 100 proven-to-be-criminal police officers were removed during his 17 month watch, but he has also complained that the courts have forced him restore some of them to their jobs.

Minister Alvarez himself was removed shortly after he proposed that he be allowed to fire corrupt police police officers directly — what a concept! Apparently that wasn't popular with the police forces, or the narcos who control them. The new Minister of Security Pompeyo Bonilla [Spanish] says that he doesn't have any idea of who those "air traffic controllers" might be but he talks of purifying the police department with no specifics given about how that would be done.


Another measure discussed then and being tossed about again now [Spanish] is a general disarmament — all guns would be prohibited, except for police and security companies, I presume. But the simple fact is that criminals and organized crime will always have access to guns, illegal or not, and sometimes with the collusion of the US government as in "Fast and Furious". Most of their weapons are already illegally imported, like AK-47's and M-16s. Honduran port authorities have confiscated several incoming shipments of illegal guns 'missed' by US port authorities.

I've never been a right-to-bear-arms activist and never owned a gun in my life until we came to Honduras. After being crime victims, which sent me into a spin in which it was more than a year before I could sleep normally, we bought a gun. We know from personal experiences that the police will never protect us. It crystal clear to me and most citizens of Honduras that it is up to us to protect ourselves, because no one else will.

Calls to the police in most parts of the country result in being told that there is no gas for the police vehicles, or the cars aren't running, and others have experienced delays of hours if the police ever do show up. Generally, if you want the police to come, unless you are in one of the major cities, you have to go pick them up. It's true, it can't be denied, and it is another reason why crime statistics are understated.

When I saw a TV poll that showed 88% of the callers agreed with a general disarmament, I literally had a panic attack. Does anyone really believe that the criminals and gangs and narcos will simply turn in their already illegal guns? Does another law make it any more likely that police will actually confiscate more illegal weapons or that the weapons won't later disappear from evidence rooms in police, Ministerio Publico, or judicial offices? In my opinion, all this will do is to change law abiding citizens who need to protect themselves into law breakers and provide even less security than the average citizen has now.


It seems apparent that the Honduran government just has no sense of priorities. The congress has discussed spending hundreds of millions on a new ID card system and millions more will be spent on promoting the Charter City concept. Now the government is planning to spend US $100 million on jets to fight narcoplanes.

False promises - HondurasThese are not the priorities that Pepe Lobo promised voters when he was elected. One of his major campaign promises was more security for the people — in that, the statistics show that he has failed miserably. But what the public can't forgive him for is that his priorities for the past 18 months have been focused primarily outside the country trying to appease every whim of the "international community" instead of focusing on the primary concern of his people — their ability to live in peace without fear. What can be more important for a government than protecting the lives of its people?


This is part II of a multi-part article on Crime in Honduras.

Part I: Crime is out of control in Honduras

Part III: Drug trafficking in Honduras

Part IV: Crime in La Ceiba, Honduras
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