If a building is on fire and the blaze is too high up for the fire department to reach it, what happens? Certainly, fire fighters gallantly try to save anyone they can and they will inevitably figure ways to hit parts of the fire where they can. But at some point they are reduced to spectators like the rest of us; guts churning in their powerlessness.
That is what is happening in Honduras on a national scale right now and those in the human rights community seem only to be able to sound the alarm and watch as another country is consumed in the Drug War.
The killing of one journalist and the kidnapping of another bring this into the spotlight. As of this writing, Alfredo Villotoro, the news director of the country’s most powerful and respected radio network HRN, remains missing, abducted by kidnappers. Although authorities have apprehended suspects in his disappearance, the core of the kidnapping gang remains at large, their motives (ransom may not be what they want) unclear. This follows the discovery of the body of Erick Martinez Avila, a noted journalist and political activist who promoted leftwing causes and gay rights.
Such positions would put Martinez in the circles of the exceptionally brave in some countries of Latin America where machismo culture still rules. For years, authorities have told members of the media there is a certain impunity in Honduras and many parts of Central America and Mexico: police never seem to get around to the murders of prostitutes, homosexuals or journalists. By that scorecard, Martinez already had two marks against him. (However, Honduras doesn’t even rate on the Impunity Index compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, where Colombia and Mexico rank worst in Latin America.)
These days Villatoro and Martinez have been swallowed up by the exceptionally violent swamp that Honduras has become. Honduras has the world’s worst murder rate according to the United Nations. Several groups that focus on free speech rights mark it as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.
The question is though what really can be done? Honduras didn’t just slide into this crisis condition this year, but this is the end result of a number of seemingly inexorable social and political changes that took years if not decades to develop. The U.S. government seems to be striking out in various directions with how to assist. U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske sent out a tweet condemning the cartels and armed gangs seemingly running rampant in Honduras. President Porfirio Lobo has invited international investigative teams to help solve the crimes (that’s often a euphemism for asking for help from the FBI). The U.S. is exploring new Drug War strategies supposedly learned from experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan (although anyone watching U.S. counter-insurgency tactics over the decades must wonder how many times our military must learn the same lessons over and over again) to confront the cartels in Honduras.
But some might wonder, isn’t every line of cocaine consumed in the U.S. a vote against U.S. policy and dollars deposited in the pockets of the gangs who are undermining Honduran society and doing harm to journalists like Villatoro and Martinez? We aren’t drawing these connections clearly enough to show current strategies actually put journalists and free speech at risk.
(The photo is from Venezuela’s teleSUR and is in the public domain.)