Another Year, Another Crime Meeting
But This Time Promises to be Different; It Needs to Be; It Has to Be

December 20th, 2012
by Robert Armstrong

How many deaths will it take ‘til he knows
That too many people have died?

– Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind” –

As we bid farewell to 2012 we can all hope that the tragic and brutal death of Patrick Zingg, longtime owner of Subway Watersports on Roatan (and a Voice advertiser) will be enough for everyone to say “enough!”

Zingg, a quintessentially quiet Swiss, defied all the characterizations that many residents here rely on after someone is murdered to comfort themselves and reassure themselves that it can’t happen to them. He was the very opposite of the “Type-A” personality. Speaker after speaker at his memorial service last month referred to him as “reserved.” He was said to have had a “quiet grace” about him and a “twinkle in his eye” and to have moved about “like a Caribbean breeze.”

By all accounts he was an honest small-business owner. There are no indications or even rumors that he was involved in anything illicit or had any “questionable associations.” A letter writer refers to him as “kind” and “generous.” Another remarks, “He did not deserve to die like this.” Who does?

Zingg was found dead on the floor of his home in Brick Bay November 29, stabbed in the throat. At press time the case was unsolved. He was the third foreigner and the second expatriate investor killed on the Bay Islands in a six-week period. Two more people were murdered on Roatan in the first half of December, before we went to press, keeping up the pace of roughly a murder a week on the island since September. That’s too much.

As we mourn Patrick’s passing, however, we can take solace that it may have been the necessary “last drop” (última gota) that tips the balance and spurs the island community to take actions that are long overdue to combat crime on the islands. There are already encouraging signs that that may be the case.

Less than two weeks after Patrick’s death, Roatan Mayor Julio Galindo convened a meeting of business owners and community leaders at which he bluntly announced: “If we don’t do something about security here, we are done. It’s going to finish us.”

Many long-time residents rolled their eyes and said they’d seen the same movie before. Every year, they said, there is a crime wave preceding the Christmas tourism high season, and nearly every year there is a meeting of concerned citizens to address the problem. Then tourism picks up, the crime abates, and everyone forgets about it. As one friend of ours, who preferred to remain anonymous, put it: “SSDD – same (excrement), different day.”

But Galindo said he was determined that this would not be just “another meeting,” that he would follow through with the Central Government authorities to assure that Roatan and the other Bay Islands got the authority and the support they need to address their worsening public security problem. Then, to his credit, he convened a second meeting the following week where, in the presence of judicial and law enforcement authorities, he delivered a detailed action plan that appears at least at first glance to hit all the right buttons.

The Voice does not involve itself in or report on Honduran politics or endorse candidates for political office (Galindo is up for reelection this year). However, in a strictly non-partisan spirit, we think the Mayor’s plan deserves our serious consideration and support, and we say this not just because many of its recommendations have appeared recently on this page.

For example, the Mayor is calling for tighter screening of visitors to the islands for criminal backgrounds (see December My Voice), improving police investigative capacity (October) and recruitment and training of islanders to form part of the local police force (August).

More significantly, the Mayor has picked up the tool we highlighted in our November issue: that the Bay Islands have the legal authority under existing legislation to take considerably greater control over their own internal security, including having their own police force. It’s an idea whose time has come.

We wish the Mayor luck. But he can’t do it alone. Who wants to help?

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