This is not an attempt to justify or defend the violence in Honduras but to offer some context and explanation.
In trying to understand the violence one needs to first recognize that Honduras is not the U.S.A. It has a different culture, values, system of justice and ways of doing things. For example, in the States the community bully might have a Restraining Order placed on him or be sent to counseling, etc. In Honduras, he will likely be killed. In the States, police may become frustrated when they are unable to get a conviction on a known criminal. In Honduras, they quietly go out at night in civilian clothes and shoot him and leave him in the ditch, etc. for someone to discover and call the cops to report the killing. In the States, someone who swindles others may be sued. In Honduras, they get shot. All I am saying is there is a different way of dealing with justice in Honduras.
All of the folks I’ve known who have been killed did something to precipitate their death. For example, one was a revenge killing because a sister had been violated by a neighbor. When the judicial system didn’t take care of things, her brothers extracted justice. Ditto for a local small town politician who treated those of the opposing party terribly making it difficult for them to remain in business in that town. When the judicial system didn’t address the problem, some frustrated local residents had the guy killed.
I am not saying this is right or justifiable. What I am saying is the vast majority of killings happen for a reason. They are not indiscriminate acts of violence. They are calculated and they are for specific reason. Revenge being the most prevalent.
One of the ways the police deal with gangs is to leave them alone and let them kill each other. For that reason, gangs don’t go on indiscriminate killing sprees. They don’t want to attract attention to themselves by killing innocent folks. The want to kill rival gang members in turf battles. Ditto for rival narco groups.
A large portion of the unsolved murders are by police who are carrying out their sense of justice. So for example, when they find a group of known gang members out late at night, they discreetly kill them. They don’t pretend they were acting in self defense, etc. The just quietly leave the scene. They don’t report the killing. They just leave the bodies for someone to find and call the police and speculate it was a rival gang who did the killing.
In many areas, there will be a few police who work at night without uniforms or police weapons. They quietly move through the neighborhoods looking for known bad guys. When they find them, they quietly kill them and leave them to be found in the morning. In the morning, someone will call the police saying there has been another murder. The murder rate in Honduras goes up every day as a result of these kinds of activities.
While these are unsavory ways of dealing with justice, the bottom line is the average Honduran is not at risk nor are tourists. In fact, perhaps these crude ways of handling vicious criminals makes the average citizen safer. At least that is the perception of many of my Honduran friends. They have a sense of comfort knowing that justice is being done making the streets safer and thus they feel better.
So, although there is much violence in Honduras, the vast majority of it has little implication to those who are volunteering or visiting Honduras nor to the average Honduran. As we’ve said on this web site for years, if you stay away from the drug crowd, married women and leave your Mr. Macho Tough Guy attitude at home, you are not likely to experience any violence in Honduras and you might even be safer than some place in the States.
The author of these notes is Glen Evans the founder of Art For Humanity. For 11 years he has traveled extensively throughout Honduras. As a pastor, he often meets with gang members and police in the course of doing pastoral counseling. He spends about 6 months a year in Honduras.