Sunday, February 17, 2013

Passing the hat - or plastic bottle - to raise ransom money

I wrote this almost two weeks ago, but hesitated in posting.
I’m a visitor in Honduras, and reluctant to appear judgmental about my hosts. I don’t want to draw unwanted attention. And someone was in danger.
But the rumour mill says he was released, so I guess it’s OK now.
It was the day to take the hogar kids to the pool. So Sunday morning Jody went to buy mortadella - bologna - and bread and the various supplies needed for lunch. She bought a cake - $6.50 - because Carina’s 16th birthday was the next Tuesday, and Jody has a soft spot for teens.
On the street, she met a woman we sort of know, a teacher at the private bilingual school, staffed by a few Hondurans and semi-volunteer gringos. The woman had a five-gallon water bottle and was collecting donations.
A young Honduran man known at the school - I think a family member works there - had been kidnapped Saturday. Now there was a campaign to get donations to pay the ransom.
He must be well known. Jody got a lift in a mototaxi on the way back from Angelitos, the orphanage/foster home, and the driver said the soccer team he coached - uniformed with Real Madrid shirts through Jody and supporters in Victoria - had cancelled its game because of the kidnapping. 
And there were donation bottles in Bodega Gloria when I stopped to shop on the way back from the pool.
This is wrong on so many levels.
Practically, shouldn’t the kidnappers have done a little research before they grabbed this guy? It seems poor planning to snatch someone whose family has to do a fundraising drive to come up with ransom. (Though perhaps kidnapping someone from a richer family brings more police pressure.)
The gossip is that the kidnappers wanted five million lempiras - $250,000. I’d guess there was about $15 in the container at the store. (Jody gave $5.) The ransom demand did not seem well thought-out. 
But maybe it was just an asking price.
It’s hard to imagine a comparable situation in Canada. If someone is kidnapped, the police take over. There might be a ransom drop, but the family doesn’t hold a 50-50 draw at the Legion to try to come up with money to pay the kidnappers.
In Honduras, people don’t expect the police to ride to the rescue. They sort things out as best they can, without the state’s help.
Kidnappings aren’t common here. We heard a hotel owner was kidnapped by a bumbling gang just before we came down. Things went wrong and he was killed. A doctor was snatched last year in Santa Rita, the next town over, and ransomed after a week or so.
And, I hasten to add, gringos don’t seem to be targets. Even kidnappers must know how hard it is to transfer money from North America to Honduras. And police reaction would likely be more intense.
But it is odd to live in a country where you pass the hat - or, more accurately, the water bottle - to buy someone’s freedom.
The kids from the hogar had a good time at the pool. I’m hoping the fundraising drive is going well too.