Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Another US State Department Honduras travel warning

On January 23, 2017, the State Department  issued the most recent travel warning on Honduras. The seventh warning since July 2013, it is the shortest of all the travel warnings I have read. It is also, as were the previous warnings, very misleading.

It's more of the same - but less.

For example, it states
About 70% of U.S. citizen homicides since 2010 occurred in these urban areas [Tegucigalpa. San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba].

But it does not tell you have many were killed. In another US State Department site, from March 14, 2016, the number of US citizens killed is listed as 42 since 2010. Anyone reading the State Department warning without the facts and the context might be led to believe that there have been hundreds!

The warning also notes that
“San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa rank as two of the most violent cities in the world.’

But looking at another non-governmental site from 2016, whose credibility I have not studied, here are the ten most violent cities in the world.
  • 10. Caracas, Venezuela
  • 9. Ciudad Juárez, Mexico
  • 8. Cape Town, South Africa
  • 7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • 6. St. Louis, Missouri
  • 5. Acapulco, Mexico
  • 4. Baghdad, Iraq
  • 3. Kabul, Afghanistan
  • 2. San Pedro Sula, Honduras
  • 1. Detroit, Michigan

Another source from 2017, The Business Insider, a list of violent cities includes:
  • 1. Caracas, Venezuela
  • 2. San Pedro Sula, Honduras
  • 3.San Salvador, El Salvador
  • 4. Acapulco, Mexico
  • 5. Maturin, Venezuela
  • 6. Tegucigalpa (Distrito Federal), Honduras (73.51 homicides per 100,000 residents)
  • 7. Valencia, Venezuela

Yes, the major cities are dangerous and I take precautions when visiting – especially when I am not exactly sure where I am going. I would do the same in Philadelphia, Camden, New York City, Chicago, or Saint Louis.

But the report notes that some of the tourist areas are safer, but it does not note that there are cities, neighborhoods, and rural areas that are relatively safe. Santa Rosa de Copán, near where I live, is perhaps the safest city in Honduras, though I usually don’t walk around the city after 10 pm. It’s just common sense.

But the report also doesn’t distinguish types of violence. There is gang violence, mostly in the major cities. There is violence related to organized crime. There are cases of armed robbery. But it is very different in the countryside, where I live and work. There is violence. I have presided over one funeral of Honduran victims of violence and have been at the site of a killing in the village where I live, a few hours after the killings. But most of these killings are due to two major causes: vengeance and retribution (which flourish in a country where there is massive impunity) and abuse of drugs and alcohol. They are targeted killings.

I would also note that there are other killings and attempted murders – human rights advocates (e.g., Berta Cáceres in 2016), lawyers, and journalists. These too re targeted murders, though often by political, economic, and social elites whose privileges are threatened.

But what about the earlier warnings?

The current State Department Warning refers to the report on Honduras from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, dated March14, 2016. This seems to repeat what I have found in previous warnings. I will try to analyze it in the next few weeks, but it appears to me to be the same alarmist approach found in the warnings.

A first look revealed a serious error, speaking of the danger around “Suyapa Cathedral.” There is no Suyapa Cathedral; there is the basilica of Suyapa near one of the major highways circling the city and there is the Cathedral of San Miguel in the central of the city.

The last section of the 2016 report is entitled “Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim.”

Some of the advice is common sense – what one would do visiting cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Camden, and Detroit.
The majority of U.S. business persons conduct their daily activities without security-related incidents by following basic security precautions and exercising good judgment. The U.S. Embassy recommends that travelers exercise caution.

But I think there is an underlying alarmist tone, noted in the next to last paragraph:
Be alert for two men on a motorcycle, as this is against the law. All should be considered armed and dangerous until proven otherwise. 

I found the last sentence of that report amusingly sad, though probably quite true:
“Do not lower your guard because armed security is present. They are not always reliable.”

I would note that armed security also includes police and military.

Sadly, there is no note in the report or warning of the attacks on human rights workers, journalists, or lawyers in the past several years, nor of the continuing US military presence in the country and the continuing US political and economic support of the government and military of Honduras.


Posts on previous travel warnings can be found here, hereherehere, and here.

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