Friday, February 28, 2014

Some fallacies of US State Department warnings

Last year the US State Department issue two travel warnings on Honduras.

I found them woefully inadequate since they made generalizations about the situation, without recognizing regional differences.  Living or visiting in Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula is much more dangerous than living in Santa Rosa de Copán. Even the differences between safety in different areas of these cities was glossed over.

There are other problems with the warnings, including the failure to look carefully at causes of violence other than gangs or drugs. The militarization of the police force and the corruption in institutions are not mentioned, nor is the US military presence and support for the militarization of the police.

But what really disturbed me was this line in the December warning, which was almost identical with the wording of the June warning:
U.S. citizens do not appear to be targeted based on their nationality, and expatriates are victims of crime at levels similar to those of the local population.
Expatriates are people who live in a country other than the country of their nationality.

I believe this is a lie – or at the very least a statement that reveals the blindness of the US State Department about violence in poor countries.

In a critique of the June warning that I wrote to people at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames I wrote:
Crimes against Hondurans, I believe, are more likely than against non-Hondurans. In the big cities, many Hondurans are victims of crime because of where they live and work, and their need to use public transportation. Also, gangs are present almost exclusively in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa and along the north coast. Many Hondurans cannot move from where there are concentrations of violence and crime, whereas Europeans and North Americans are likely to avoid those areas and can move around in more secure transportation.
I still believe this but reading The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence has led me to confirm my belief that the violence that affects the poor is more and different from the violence that affects the non-poor (which includes almost all US citizens who visit Honduras or live here. I wrote about this book in a previous post, here. I highly recommend it.

We non-Hondurans are used to demanding justice and we can get further than most Hondurans in achieving this. We non-Hondurans can move to more secure housing if we have a problem. We non-Hondurans can more easily avoid more insecure places or means of transportation. We non-Hondurans can refuse a request for a bribe from the police without major complications. We can avoid being on some busses where not only is there fear of gangs and robberies but where all the men are forced to get out of the bus at a police checkpoint.

Poor Hondurans, the overwhelming majority of the people, not only suffer poverty but also the hidden violence of a corrupt and non-functioning police and justice system.

The State Department warning says, “The Honduran government is in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions.”  But is the reform substantial or just superficial?

The militarization of the police does not necessarily make them feel safe. Sometimes the police and the military have been sources of violence against the poor here and throughout the world. Read The Locust Effect.

And so the US State Department releases warning about Honduras – that, I believe, are not based on the reality of the poor here. And, of course, the warning says nothing about US role here – and the amount of foreign aid sent here, some for good causes, but some for support of the militarization of the police.

Is the US interested in really helping Honduras transform its police and justice systems for the betterment of its poor citizens? Or in the US mainly interested in anti-drug efforts far from its shores and for establishing a climate conducive to foreign corporations that profit in Honduras?

There are serous questions that I don’t think are really being discussed.

1 comment:

Charles said...

I've always been of the impression that the US facilitated the drug trade, both as a means of financing covert operations and as a means of maintaining poor countries in a vulnerable state, near crisis. As you point out regarding The Locust Effect, ending poverty requires ending violence. But if poverty is necessary to keep a nation dependent and desperate enough to accept the lowest wages, then stirring up violence is helpful for those who wish to exploit that labor.

Really, the State Department is quite good at doing what it is being used to do.