Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Crack down on crime where it counts

  This morning's paper brought news of a tiny baby found abandoned at the foot of a tree in a village not far from the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.  Next to him was a bag full of baby products - a bottle of milk, diapers, talcum powder, a bib - and a note asking whoever found the baby to look after him well. A neighbour saw the news about the foundling and called in to report the young mother who had abandoned the baby, and now she's going to prison.
    Oh, come on. In the same paper, there were stories about 14 people who had been fatally shot in Honduras the day before, including two in wheelchairs. Another story listed details of four massacres that had happened since November in which 17 people had been killed.
    With the exception of one of the massacres, there are no suspects in any of the murders. And if things go the way they usually seem to go here, there never will be.
     Elsewhere in the morning paper, the Ministry of Social Security reported a theft of 23 million lempiras (about $1.2 million) resulting from "ghost" companies billing for non-existent services. Meanwhile, an editorial noted that the number of women murdered in Honduras - which has the highest homicide rate in the world - has increased by more than 18 per cent in the last two years.
   And the new president's "firm hand" is coming down on desperate, impoverished moms who don't have the resources to look after one more child?
    I don't want to knock President Juan Orlando Hernandez for trying to get a handle on crime in the country. But what I've seen so far is a lot of busy-work at police road stops - cars pulled over, buses stopped and passengers ordered to disembark for inspections - while the fundamental problems continue unchecked.
    Honduras doesn't just have a lot of murders, it has an unbelievable number of assassinations - murders for pay. It's not just random violence happening here, it's executions. While the Direccion de Estadistica Policia Nacional has no data available for 55 per cent of the 7,500 or so murders committed in the country in a typical year (quite an appalling problem all on its own), at least 30 per cent of those that have been classified are listed as "retribution killings by hit men." ( 
    One of the most horrendous of the massacres on that list in today's paper was one such killing, and it happened just five kilometres away from our town of Copan Ruinas two weeks ago. Two young men chopped up five members of a family with machetes, reportedly in retribution for a murder a year ago. Two of those killed were children, one age six and the other a mere 11 months old. 
    What did Juan Orlando have to say about that? Nothing. He did give a speech yesterday in which he mentioned that the level of insecurity in the country is intolerable, but neither he nor any other political leader - or police chief, or church leader, or anyone beyond some poor, sobbing relative - ever comments on specific murders, or proposes something more substantial than an increase in police roadside checks and a few more heavily armed military guys standing around here and there.
    It's not just the murders that are weighing this country down. I chatted with my taxi driver in San Pedro Sula this morning about "war taxes," the money the gangs extort from small businesses in exchange for not killing them. The gangs operate at every spot where the taxis queue up for passengers - outside the malls, at the bus terminal, at designated areas in the city centre. A typical San Pedro taxi pays the equivalent of $90 a month in war tax, my driver told me.
    A bus driver on one of the long-distance routes told me his company pays $50 a week for every bus in its fleet, all of it due and payable every Monday at the San Pedro main terminal. All in, some $27 million a year is extorted solely from the transportation sector. The driver says all the stores working out of the bus terminal also have to pay the gangs. The gangs are a bitter fact of life for tens of thousands of hard-working, honest people trying to scratch out a living. 
    So yes, Mr. President, spread a little of that firm hand around. Your citizenry urgently needs the help. But get real. Get focused. And as for mothers too poor to raise their own children, how about you give those ones a hand up?


Anonymous said...

"San Pedro taxi pays the equivalent of $90 a month in war tax..."

"A bus driver on one of the long-distance routes told me his company pays $50 a week for every bus in its fleet..."

Makes one wonder what the multinational corporations are paying the Mexican cartels in the maquiladora zones so that business can continue without interruption in middle of the drug wars.

e.a.f. said...

It is easy to send a poor woman to jail, who is non violent. It is much tougher to deal with gangsters. If the president took on the gangsters he might find himself dead and he doesn't have the balls for that, nor do his senior police officers. Not to mention many of the wealth are the criminals also.