U.S. Ambassador to Honduras Lisa Kubiske paid a combination private and official visit to Roatan in late April. She held an off-the-record discussion with the resident U.S. citizen community, after which she agreed to answer some questions for the record submitted by the Voice. The transcript appears below.
Kubiske, a career U.S. Foreign Service Officer, was accredited as Ambassador to Honduras in August 2011. She previously held diplomatic posts in Latin America, Greater China and Washington, including a stint as Chargé d’Affaires in Brasilia. Before joining the State Department, she worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. She helped negotiate the free trade agreement among the U.S., Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA-DR). But she considers the highlight of her diplomatic career to have been saving lives as coordinator of U.S. search teams after the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City, where she was a first-tour officer.
She and her husband are both avid SCUBA divers and indulged that passion during the private portion of their visit, at Barefoot Cay.
BIV: First Madame Ambassador, how did you enjoy your stay on Roatan?
Amb. Kubiske: My first visit to Roatan was excellent. The diving is excellent and lives up to its reputation. I hope to return!
BIV: What are the top priorities for the U.S. Embassy in Honduras?
Amb. Kubiske: Enhancing citizen security, building economic prosperity for both our countries and helping to strengthen democratic institutions – all of which we do within the context of Honduran priorities and with its full cooperation.
BIV: What is your assessment of the current political situation in Honduras? Has the country put the constitutional crisis of 2009 behind it and returned to democratic normalcy?
Amb. Kubiske: President Lobo and his administration deserve credit for their efforts toward national reconciliation. I am pleased to be able to report that most people I meet focus on the future rather than the past. They are concerned about how to make a better life for themselves and other Hondurans.
BIV: Honduras gained some unwelcome notoriety recently when it topped a UN list for having the world’s highest murder rate, at least among those countries for which decent data were available that were not in a state of war. What is your assessment of the crime situation in Honduras in general, and the Bay Islands in particular and how it affects American citizen residents and visitors?
Amb. Kubiske: The crime situation is undoubtedly bad. Experts say it reflects ordinary delinquency along with the rise of organized crime and growing illicit narcotics activity. This happens in the context of a legal system that has not been able to keep up with the number of investigations and cases, thus creating a sense of impunity. Roatan has a much lower rate of violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants than many other parts of Honduras, but the rate is still quite a bit higher than in many other countries, including the United States. While American citizens and visitors are only rarely targeted, they can be affected by being in the wrong place at the wrong time or by being unfamiliar with ways used all over the world to avoid being the target of a robbery.
BIV: What can and should Hondurans and Americans resident in Honduras be doing about crime and how can the U.S. Government help?
Amb. Kubiske: The security situation will not improve unless everyone takes an active interest. Residents of Honduras can report instances of crime and elect officials who will ensure that the laws of Honduras are enforced.
The U.S. and Honduras are working closely together on a wide range of security programs, many of them under the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). We focus both on law enforcement and on the kinds of development programs that will make it possible and attractive for young people to get good jobs and avoid having to work for criminals.
BIV: U.S. Peace Corps recently pulled out of Honduras because of security concerns. Can you tell us what motivated that decision and when/whether Peace Corps might come back?
Amb. Kubiske: The Peace Corps suspended its operations in Honduras in order to do a full security review. That review is ongoing. The need for the security review stemmed from a number of significant crimes against Peace Corps volunteers in Honduras over the past few years.
BIV: The Honduran press recently reported that the U.S. Government is requesting extradition on drug-trafficking charges of a Honduran citizen who was once a sailor and day-laborer on Roatan and owned property in the Bay Islands. Press have also reported that the U.S. may seek extradition of perhaps a dozen more Hondurans. Can you tell us whether any other suspects on this purported extradition list have ties to the Bay Islands?
Amb. Kubiske: I cannot comment on any specific cases, but I can say that extradition is a tool that can fight impunity. The Honduran National Congress took an important step last year when it expanded the country’s ability to extradite criminals of Honduran nationality to countries where they may also have committed crimes.
BIV: We’ve noticed a couple of U.S. Coast Guard ships visiting Roatan recently, and a group of U.S. Army Airborne were on the island recently as well. Can you tell us what that was about? Is the Coast Guard stepping up its cooperation with Honduras?
Amb. Kubiske: The Coast Guard has an active cooperation program with all the countries of the Caribbean, including Honduras. In the past some vessels have made routine re-supply port calls at Roatan. The U.S. Coast Guard continues to work closely with the Honduran Navy to combat maritime-based illicit trafficking.
BIV: What can you tell us about plans for new military installations in the Bay Islands?
Amb. Kubiske: U.S. Southern Command assisted the Honduran Navy recently with the construction of a Honduran Naval basing facility on Guanaja. There are currently no plans for U.S.-funded military construction in the Bay Islands.
BIV: How do you think the current budget crisis in the U.S. will affect activities in Honduras and services to American citizens here?
Amb. Kubiske: Honduras is a country of significant interest for the United States. We are concerned by the security situation and by the continuing poverty. Fortunately, despite the budget crisis, we have been able to maintain, and even increase, the budget for many of our programs in the country.
BIV: How do you see trends for U.S. trade and investment in Honduras, and the Bay Islands in particular? Are we finally recovering from the global recession?
Amb. Kubiske: There are currently more than 150 U.S. companies operating in Honduras. U.S. investment in Honduras is valued at over $1 billion and has shown significant growth recently, increasing 37 percent from 2009 to 2010.
Trade between the U.S. and Honduras, which totaled over $10 billion in 2011, is also growing strongly. U.S. imports from Honduras increased by about 14 percent from 2010 to 2011, and Honduran imports from the U.S. grew even more strongly, by about 33 percent. Honduras was the third-fastest-growing market for U.S. goods of any major export market. These figures demonstrate a healthy recovery in the U.S.-Honduras economic relationship since the global recession.
Of course, we would like to see even stronger growth in trade and investment. Through President Obama’s National Export Initiative, we are working to increase exports to Honduras, particularly in key sectors such as renewable energy. Through our Feed the Future and Food for Progress programs, we are helping small farmers grow high-value crops and gain access to domestic and international markets.
Roatan’s natural beauty, pleasant climate and proximity to the United States make it an attractive destination for Americans. I know that tourism is definitely up, thanks to the rise of the cruise ships – as many as 28 a month in high season. As the global economy continues to improve, investors and entrepreneurs will find new markets and investment opportunities, not only in beautiful Roatan, but throughout Honduras.
BIV: What advice do you typically give to Americans thinking of investing here?
Amb. Kubiske: Like anywhere else, it’s important for investors to do due diligence and truly learn the circumstances that will be influencing their investment. The U.S. Embassy works with the Department of Commerce to publish a Country Commercial Guide each year and has staff that can assist investors to get to know local conditions and to set up relevant meetings.