Security Studies

The Honduran ambassador to the United States responds to James Verini.


James Verini’s article (“Prisoners Rule,” November 2012) is an inaccurate portrayal of the security situation in Honduras. He struggles to contextualize facts related to gangs, drug trafficking, and violence in our country and fails to acknowledge the government’s efforts to address these issues.

First, the author’s characterization of how President Porfirio Lobo Sosa came to power is offensive to the 56.6 percent of Honduran voters who elected him in 2009. More than 4,200 domestic and international observers — plus the other four contending political parties — recognized the electoral process as open and fair. Contrary to Verini’s unfounded allegations, Lobo and his family were long known for their generosity and goodwill toward campesinos. As president, he has made possible the transfer of some 5,000 hectares of land to the campesinos in the Bajo Aguán region.

Second, though Verini criticizes former President Ricardo Maduro’s anti-gang measures as “sweeping” and “indiscriminate,” the people of Honduras are grateful to Maduro for handing a safer and economically sound country to former President Manuel Zelaya in January 2006. Between 2005 and 2009, the year Zelaya left office, the murder rate increased significantly, from 35 to 77 homicides per 100,000 people.

Third, Lobo has tackled the issues of gangs and drug trafficking that he inherited from the previous government. The national Observatory of Violence in Honduras has reported that the country’s murder rate declined from 86 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 to 80 in 2012 — a drop that occurred as a result of Lobo’s efforts to strengthen law enforcement institutions, implement prevention programs, and install new leadership for the Honduran national police. Simultaneously, a blue-ribbon Commission for Public Security Reform and community involvement in neighborhoods and municipalities have increased civil society’s participation in justice and security reforms.

The Lobo government’s accomplishments include increased vetting of police personnel, the training of new police officers, and the reform of current police law. Over the past two years, new or modified laws have been approved against terrorism financing, asset forfeiture, and wiretapping suspected criminals. A constitutional amendment was passed last year to allow for the extradition of Honduran citizens accused of terrorism, drug trafficking, or organized crime. Judges now have national jurisdiction to hear and solve cases involving organized crime, and Congress has approved a new security tax to increase funds for the war against drugs.

What’s more, Honduras and the United States recently signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on criminal investigation and the fight against impunity, corruption, and organized crime. Both countries also instituted a bilateral working group on human rights. But none of the above is even mentioned in Verini’s unbalanced article.

Honduran Ambassador to the United States
Washington, D.C.

James Verini replies:

Jorge Ramón Hernández Alcerro’s job is to defend his president’s administration and present his country favorably in Washington. This does not require him to spend time in the streets and barrios of San Pedro Sula, speaking with the ordinary people behind the frightening news reports coming out of Honduras. If he did, the ambassador might find that my portrayal of the situation there is inaccurate in only this sense: It is far less grim than the reality. If the ambassador spoke with some of the people I have — the priests, police officers, teachers, judges, parents, lawyers, prison wardens, journalists, children, and gang members — he would find it’s the statistics he offers, not my reporting, that lack context. He would learn not just of endemic crime and lurid mass violence, which he presumably knows about already, but also of pervasive, murderous police corruption and official indifference to these problems.

But even if Hernández Alcerro prefers to confine himself to news reports, the ambassador need hardly rely on mine. Dozens of Latin American and international news organizations and investigative bodies are chronicling Honduras’s brutal reality.

Finally, the ambassador is right to point out that President Lobo was elected, but he neglects to mention that it was only after Lobo’s candidacy was agreed upon by the people who orchestrated the 2009 coup against his already-elected predecessor. Hondurans (including the ambassador) did not get the chance to vote on that illegal action. Nonetheless, many who neither supported the coup nor trusted its backers voted for the president in the hopes that his connections might help improve public safety and reduce corruption. If the ambassador would care to walk the streets of San Pedro Sula, or any other city in Honduras, and speak with some of those voters, he would learn just how bitter their disappointment is.

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer is the Europe editor at Foreign Policy. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and Forbes, among other places. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and master’s degrees from Peking University and the London School of Economics. The P.Q. stands for Ping-Quon.

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