Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stopped by police and soldiers

For Holy Week the Honduran government is putting more soldiers and police on the streets. A show of “force” that they say will make things safer.

I am not convinced. And my experiences today make me doubt this even further.

I go out to the parish of Dulce Nombre at least three times each week. At the turn off to Gracias there is almost always a police checkpoint . In the last year and a half it has been manned by both police and military – often about 4 policemen (occasionally one woman) and 6 or more soldiers. Now there seem to be two police and six to eight soldiers.

I get stopped about once every six times I pass. Usually they just ask for my license and car registration. Occasionally when they see me, a gringo, they wave me on. A few call me padre, thinking I’m a priest.

Today was quite different. I was pulled over at the Gracias turnoff checkpoint. and had to show my documents.

Then when I turned into the road to Dulce Nombre I was pulled over again by the military there. One claimed I was going too fast. I thought he was going to give me a ticket (but, as a soldier, I don’t think he can). He had me get out of the car and he and another soldier looked into the front and back seat. I then was asked if I had a weapon. “Only a bible,” I said, probably to his confusion.  Then he let me go on.

I felt that he was rather rude. I also wondered whether he was subtly hoping for a bribe.

After a meeting with the council of zone 3 of the parish in El Zapote de Santa Rosa, I headed back to Santa Rosa, partly because there was a strange sound in the motor.

Between El Zapote and Plan Grande, there is a road on the ridge of the hills – with exquisite sites. But it’s very isolated, with no houses anywhere nearby.

Near where I was stopped by the police

I saw a car coming and noted the police markings. As I approached the police car moved to the middle of the road and stopped. (The road is so narrow that you have to get over to the far right to have two cars pass.) 

The police car stopped and several police came out – one with his rifle aimed toward the window of the car. I remained very calm, calmer than I thought possible. One policeman came and asked where I was coming from. Finally I was allowed to go forward.

As I stopped, even before the police came toward my pick-up, I felt a bit uneasy. Just a few weeks ago a priest in the south of Lempira was beat up by police after they fired on his vehicle.

And so I, like many Hondurans, have little confidence in the police. In some places, they are involved in crime and in drug trafficking. I also seldom see them really involved in activities that protect the people.

All this is after major investment in the purification of the police forces in the last year or so and in the light of the current president’s plan to obtain security by using more military in police functions.

There is, though, an interesting end to today’s encounters.

As I approached the Dulce Nombre turn off, leaving the area, I was pulled over again. This time a different soldier came to the car and asked where I was going and then asked for my documents. As I reached for them, he told me to go on. Then he said, “Gracias por ser amable.” – “Thanks for being friendly.”

As I drove on, I wondered how often he had encountered persons who were very angry and rude to him. 

Several things come to mind as I reflect on today’s experiences.

I, with my white skin, don’t experience the hassle that many Hondurans experience at the hands of the authorities.
In the US we white men usually see the police as our friends and protectors. Not so here. Sadly, because of the system, that is not the experience of most poor Hondurans.

The Honduran government is trying to show force instead of working on the real changes needed to provide more security for the people. The police and soldiers are poorly trained and are sent to places where their actions may be misunderstood and where they may experience the disdain of the people.

Finally, on a personal note, I was, somehow, able to maintain calm, even when I saw a rifle pointed at me. I also thank God that I was able to treat them with respect (despite what I might be thinking.) 

God is good.

1 comment:

Des said...

Very interesting article, I hope things improve or at the very least don't become more dangerous for you.