Monday, November 12, 2012

Honduras: Local Attorney, Son, 10, Murdered in Capital, 30 Attorneys Killed in 20 Months

Honduran attorney Marlon Saúl Cerrato Gómez  and his 10-year-old son were murdered by unidentified gunmen in the capital of Tegucigalpa on Friday (November 9). The shooting occurred in  the Colonia 21 de Octubre district of the capital.

The attack occurred at 2050 hours in the evening in the neighborhood in which the Cerrato family resided.

COMMENT: At least two gunmen opened fire on the attorney and his son in their Nissan, hitting the vehicle some 15 times. The assailants then fled on a motorcycle. 

Cerrato practiced law in Tegucigalpa. At least 30 lawyers have been murdered in the past 20 months in Honduras in addition to six journalists. 

Attorneys Antonio Trejo and Manuel Diaz were murdered on September 22 and 24, respectively, but the motive for the shootings remain unknown. Trejo, a defender of the rights of peasants demanding land to farm in the Caribbean region, was killed by gunmen in Tegucigalpa, while Diaz, a human rights prosecutor, was murdered by gunmen in Choluteca, located in southern Honduras. 

The majority of killings of attorneys and journalists are generally politically motivated. As a matter of interest, active duty police officers have been liked to assassinations in the past. Note: A Honduran police officer was arrested yesterday (February 7) in connection with the May 28, 2011 murder of prosecutor Raúl Reyes, in the Caribbean city of Puerto Cortes. 

Unfortunately, the Honduran National Police has a terrible record of not only institutionally engaging in human rights violations, but in being directly connected to drug trafficking, kidnapping, robbery, extortion and murder. Eight officers also were charged in the October 22, 2011, murder of two college students, one of them the son of the chancellor of the country’s main public university. 

In December 2011, after the assassination of two prominent Hondurans, a law was passed banning motorcycles with tandem riders. Needless to say, this was more of a knee-jerk reaction to a much larger problem of police corruption and ineptitude. In the end, all the ban accomplished was penalizing law abiding citizens and simply forcing those intent on murder to work around the inconvenience. 

Honduras continues to have the highest per capita rate of homicide in the world, which is unlikely to change any time soon. That being said, it remains to be a wonderful country to visit and has great potential tourism-wise, if it could effectively safeguard its citizens and visitors. 

According to a report by Mexico’s Civic Council on Public Safety and Criminal Justice, San Pedro Sulka, Honduras' second largest city, saw 159 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, topping the nonprofit organization’s list of the most violent cities in the hemisphere, and pushing Ciudad Juárez from the top of the list. 

Comparatively speaking, Honduras leads the global per capita list of 82.1 homicides per 100,000, yet San Pedro Sula's murder rate is actually higher.  

One explanation for the high incidence of homicide in Honduras comes from Honduran Defense Minister Marlon Pascua, who in September 2011, claimed that 87% of cocaine which is sent from South America to the US passes through Honduras. If this is accurate, then, taken with the United Nations’ latest estimates of the size of the US cocaine market, it suggests that as much as 143. tons of the drug passes through Honduras annually. 

Although a strong case can be made that much of Honduras' violence is connected to the drug trade, the reality is that foreigners traveling to Honduras should know that dysfunction and systemic breakdown within the police service is the lynch-pin as to why violence cannot be contained.

As a matter of interest, Canadian tourist Tim Vallee, 34, was shot and killed on October 17, when he was confronted by two assailants who  demanded his iPhone at roughly 0100 hours. The incident occurred outside of a local bar known as La Cueva when an altercation ensued between the victim and his assailants, resulting in Vallee being shot in the head. 

It should be noted that Mr. Vallee was also a conservation officer in British Columbia. Considering that our postings are dedicated to contributing to the prevention of similar attacks in the future, law enforcement officers of all nations are urged to NOT resist armed robbery when traveling abroad for pleasure, but particularly in Honduras. 

I should also note that as a matter of practice, I urge all travelers to not carry their home-based smart-phones while visiting developing countries, largely because of the high level of smart-phone theft and robbery.

Alternatively, I recommend that travelers purchase an inexpensive unlocked, quad-band mobile phone for when they are abroad, whereby such phones can be easily used by purchasing a local SIM card and accompanying minutes on a load-card. Such phones rarely attract the attention of local criminals.

Only 15% of violent crimes in Honduras result in an arrest.