Sunday, November 01, 2015

Another travel warning on Honduras: more of the same

On October 30, the US State Department released another travel warning for Honduras, available here. I don’t know if it was part of a Halloween attempt to scare people from visiting Honduras, but it is a highly flawed document.

When the last warning was released in March 2015, I wrote a critique, which you can read here. This recent report is significantly shorter but it is still largely a “cut and paste” of previous reports.

One of the most egregious problems with the document is that it seems to treat all of Honduras as being a risky place to travel. Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula are very different from Santa Rosa de Copán and Gracias Lempira. Rural municipalities of Dulce Nombre de Copán and Concepción Copán are very different from Choloma and other suburbs of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa.

The first change is interesting. In the previous four warnings, the documents read:
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens visit Honduras each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work without incident.

This is strangely missing.

They also excised the critique of Honduran military and police that appeared in last March’s report:
Members of the Honduran National Police have been arrested, tried, and convicted for criminal activities. Many more are under investigation. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras. The Honduran government is still in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions.

There is thus no report on the so called “substantial reforms” of the Honduran government, which many consider to have been undercut by continuing corruption and efforts of the executive branch to control all the aspects of the government. 

Is the US State Department afraid of offending Honduran officials?

The report continues to mark Honduras as a country with a high murder rate, but note changes:
Since 2010, Honduras has had one of the highest murder rates in the world,...  However, official statistics from the Honduran Observatory on National Violence show Honduras’ homicide rate has decreased to 66 per 100,000 in 2014, down from its peak of 86.5 per 100,000 in 2011, and mid-year estimates in July 2015 predict a lower rate for 2015. 

Then, it continues to repeat that:
U.S. citizens are victims of crime at levels similar to those of the local population.

In a previous paragraph they have added that
the U.S. Embassy has recorded 42 murders of U.S. citizens during the same time period [since2010], with 10 recorded since January 2014

What is missing in this is any substantial indication of where and when these crimes happened or under what circumstances.

There is a statement about carjackings and assaults in isolated areas:
Honduran law enforcement reports frequent highway assaults and carjackings, including remote areas of Choluteca, Olancho, Colon and Copan Departments. 
Reporting indicates that these assaults are frequently executed by criminals posing as Honduran law enforcement.  This criminal activity occurs frequently enough to present security challenges for anyone traveling in remote areas. 

But here again the information is vague. What is a remote area in the department of Copán where I live? There was a bus that was attacked a few months ago on the road between La Entrada and Santa Rosa de Copán, but it was after dark. I have not heard of any other specific cases.

The report also repeats what was noted in the May 2015 report:
Most of Honduras’ major cities (Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, and others), as well as several Honduran “departments” … have homicide rates higher than the national average for 2014…

The report continues to report that
Since January 2012, four cases of kidnapped U.S. citizens were reported to the U.S. Embassy and the kidnapping victims were all subsequently released after paying ransoms.

These kidnappings were first noted in the June 2013 report; there have thus been no kidnappings for about two and half years. Why this information is given in such an inaccurate manner is beyond my comprehension.

There is, for the first time, note about sexual assault, which is important:
Sexual assault is a concern in Honduras.  Most Honduran local police and medical staff do not have the capacity to properly handle evidence collection and medical care of sexual assault cases.

Those of us who live here know of this and of the violence against women – Honduran women. There may have been sexual assaults against non-Hondurans but the most serious problems are the assaults against Honduran women and the large number of violent deaths of women, what some here call femicide.

But I am again incensed at the outright lie that “U.S. citizens are victims of crime at levels similar to those of the local population.” As I noted in my previous analysis this is completely false for any number of reasons.

I expect more of the US State Department than cutting and pasting and vague generalizations.

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