December 26, 2013

USA issues new travel warning for Honduras

On Christmas Eve, the US State Department issued a new travel warning for US citizens traveling to Honduras. Though the warning states that "tens of thousands of U.S. citizens visit Honduras each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work without incident", it goes on to state this:

"The vast majority of serious crimes in Honduras, including those against U.S. citizens, are never solved; of the 50 murders committed against U.S. citizens since 2008, police have only solved two. Members of the Honduran National Police are known to engage in criminal activity, including murder and car theft. The Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and police often lack vehicles or fuel to respond to calls for assistance. In practice, this means police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime, or may not respond at all. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras. The Honduran government is in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions."
Apparently the Embassy does not agree with President Lobo's assessment that homicide has decreased tremendously in Honduras this year. If there really had been a reduction, the Secretary of Security would provide the data to the Observatorio Nacional de la Violencia (ONV), an independent academic research institution based out of Honduras’ national university and supported by the UN. ONV has been charged with providing Honduras' official crime statistics for many years and has always worked with the police and media to generate the statistics – until Arturo Corrales became Secretary of Security. Recently, the director of the ONV denounced that based on Secretary Corrales' orders, police have refused to provide any crime information since June 2013. The State Department chose to include ONV's estimate of an increase in 2013 homicides in their warning rather than President Lobo's verbal assurance of a big reduction.

Alianza para la Paz y la Justicia (Alliance for Peace and Justice, APJ) issued a public pronouncement (in Spanish) earlier this month condemning not only the failure of the government to purify the police department but also a condemnation of the Secretary in particular for his inability to reduce murder and violence as well as his lack of transparency and his refusal to provide data to ONV.

APJ demands reforms in the entire justice system, which they say have been obstructed to date. They say that the new president has an obligation to name a new Secretary of Security who is valiant, honest, and professionally capable of fomenting a policy of transparency, accountability, and an open-door policy for the media, civil society, academia, and citizens in general. APJ (Facebook page) is a coalition of civil society, NGOs, and religious organizations whose leading members are among the bravest people in Honduras. They literally risk their lives every day by speaking out against crime and corruption in the government and justice system. One of their member organizations (AJS) is the national representative for Transparency International and another, Transformemos Honduras, has worked with the Secretary of Education to develop numerous improvements in the education system as well reductions in corruption. APJ has my total respect.

The previous June 17th US State Department travel warning as well as a comparison with the November 2012 warning can be found here.

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