Saturday, September 01, 2012

Like the auto club, but with shotguns

I've spent a lot of time telling people that Honduras isn't really as dangerous as the news reports make it sound.
Yes, it has the highest murder rate in the world. But a lot of the killings involve disputes between gangs and people in the drug business. They're just as dead, of course, but if you aren't in those worlds, you aren't at risk. (In El Salvador, the two main gangs have reached a truce, and the murder rate has fallen by two-thirds.)
That's not to downplay the impact of crime in the major cities. The gangs are into extortion, and murder is part of the business model. And robbers are casual about killings.
Still, the crime reports are overblown, I've maintained. Copan Ruinas at 1 a.m. is safer than Victoria when the bar crowd hits the street on a Saturday.
But this week I was stopped by a half-page ad in La Prensa. It was for a BCAA-type service, I thought, based on the woman peering beneath the hood of her car, stopped at the roadside.
The company didn't offer roadside repairs.
Instead, it would dispatch two guys on motorcycles, with body armour and shotguns, to guard you. The pictures above tell the story. (Sorry about the poor quality.)
It's a good deal - $2.50 a month, and you can call them 10 times a year. It would certainly help in settling questions of responsibility after a fender bender. (Unless, of course, the other driver also had the service.)
But really, a country is in trouble when people feel it's worth paying for armed response when they run out of gas, rather than a service that would send a tow truck.
There are lots of signs that people have lost confidence in the state. In the big cities, razor wire and electrical fencing tops high walls around houses and armed guards open the doors for you at many restaurants. Go to buy a bag of chips at the corner stores, and you shop through a barred window.
There have been lots of efforts to fix things since we've been here. The government called in the Chilean police for advice on reducing corruption and improving efficiency. There's a new, controversial head of the national police force, who has re-assigned total departments. And there's a plan to investigate all police officers, with lie detector tests and financial audits, to identify problem officers. (Though that will take a long time, and so far 24 of the first 169 officers called for the tests just haven't showed up.)
It is safe in Copan. But when roadside armed response becomes a viable business, things are spinning out of control.


intimaralem85 said...

"But a lot of the killings involve disputes between gangs and people in the drug business. They're just as dead, of course, but if you aren't in those worlds, you aren't at risk."

My mother was an honest, well-intentioned attorney who was assassinated last year. She was not a gang member or in the drug business. The previous 72 attorneys who have been murdered 2006 arguably were not in those worlds. I think most Hondurans who are murdered daily are not part of those worlds. Discuss.

Or maybe you need to get out more -- or pay more attention.

paul said...

First, Inti Martinez-Aleman, my genuine condolences.
I did say a lot of the killings involved drugs and gangs, not most, or all.
And in most posts - which are written on my blog for people who know me in Canada - I take care to emphasis my lack of expertise.
I've been here seven months. I am no kind of expert, and don't pretend to be.
Thanks for the comment. The perspective is valuable.