Confessions of a Robber

December 1st, 2005
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] v3-12-Interview-Mara13
Bay Islands Voice has reported numerous times on the crime in the Bay Islands. We talked to the victims, police, jurists, politicians, but the one on one perspective we haven’t presented was the criminal’s.

Bay Islands Voice was able to locate a career house robber and conduct a series of interviews. We were not interested in him in particular, but in the phenomenon that has been growing on Roatan and has plagued mainland Honduras for decades: armed house robberies.

What motivates someone to pursue this? How did they became involved in house robberies and what methods did they use to scope out and rob houses? What did they see on Roatan and what made their robberies most difficult? These questions are best posed not to police, but to the perpetrator himself.

We interview an eloquent, young man in his mid-twenties. Carlos (an assumed name) was neither ashamed, nor proud of his heists. He spent several years in prison in La Ceiba and had tattoos and scars to show for it. He was a member of the Mara Salvatrucha and majority of his operations took place in La Ceiba.

At 14 years old Carlos ended up in a youth detention center here he says he was bullied into joining the mara. “They beat me up until finally I decided to join.” It was a way of survival and belonging to a group.

A few years later Carlos was convicted of an assault with a deadly weapon in which he lost several fingers, and was scarred on his hands and arms. He ended up in La Ceiba’s notorious El Porvenir prison on a five year sentence. “They told me. ‘Don’t worry about it. The one finger you need to fire a gun, you still have.” Carlos survived the April, 2003 gang clashes and fire where 66 inmates and three visitors were killed.

Some ex-mareros come to Roatan to escape the scrutiny of their bosses. Carlos was one of them, but while on Roatan he went back to what he knew best- armed robbery.

B.I.V.: Why do people rob houses?
C.M.: The biggest motivation is crack. I want to rob wherever and whomever to get drugs. The motivation is that many people are hungry, poor. They can’t find work and have two, three children. (…) Sometime the professional will get together with the drug addict to do a robbery.
B.I.V.: How do you conduct a robbery?
C.M.: We use wire cutters to break through metal fences. We go through glass windows. We observe the house to see how many people live in a house. How many left a house. We rather go there when no one is there, or they are sleeping. When they come back home the house is empty. We find one big truck and get everything out of the house: refrigerators, TVs, computers. The truck is for someone allied with us. We call them up and for the use of the truck we give them some of the items.
B.I.V.: What do you do about dogs?
C.M.: We come sometime one hour before to give a dog some [poisoned] bread, or meat. In 25 minutes they die. If the dog is inside the house, we manage the door open so the dog leaves the house. (…) The dog that we respect the most to protect a house is pit-bull.
B.I.V.: What about houses that have alarms?
C.M.: We try to find out if there are dogs, alarms, video cameras. We sometime spend three days looking at a house. We cut telephone cable, any cable we can find, before entering a house so no one can call police and we leave someone outside to watch. (…) [A lookout will] throw a rock on top of the roof if they see a car, or someone. (…) If we find people, they need to subordinate themselves. We wear masks so no one can see our faces. Some people are more brutal, we are not. ‘Good evening. Excuse us, but this is an assault,’ [we say]. If someone doesn’t want to stop shouting, we tie them up, cover their mouths and blindfold them. [Sometimes] we are obliged to kill them.
B.I.V.: What about personal items?
C.M.: We don’t take personal items like photographs, IDs, passports, nothing of the sort. What interests us [most] are firearms and cash and drugs if we find them.
B.I.V.: What is the difference between security of homes and the attitude of the people in La Ceiba and Roatan?
C.M.: In La Ceiba the people are more aware. They know when they see someone who doesn’t belong on their street. (…) People here have more money and don’t take their money to the bank and keep it in their houses. (…) Here people like to go out. That is why around Christmas and Holy Week, when people leave their houses more, is a good time for us.
B.I.V.: Are there robbers from Roatan?
C.M.: There are people from here that rob. Especially young people- those who smoke crack.
B.I.V.: How do robbers from the coast see Roatan?
C.M.: There is more work here. It’s easier [here] and there’s more money. (…) Some people are established here and contact people on the coast to come and do a job. Some people work for people with money here. They know how things are, how many guns they have. Then they contact people on the coast who come here for one, two days to do a job.
B.I.V.: Does the taking of ID numbers on the ferry, or at the airport make it more difficult for you?
C.M.: Even if they take my ID number, I’m not nervous. They still have to look-up everyone [criminal record] one-by-one, and they don’t do it.
B.I.V.: Can someone decide to leave the lifestyle of robbery? How can they do it?
C.M.: If someone shoots him, breaks his both legs, arms, if that person becomes disabled, they stop. (…) Another way is if one enters someone’s house and gets enough money that they decide is enough. He can buy a car, start a small store. [That is] if they can find an alternative to getting money by robbing. [/private]

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