Bay Islands VOICE: In Bay Islands there are perhaps 1,200 – 1,500 full time foreign residents, yet for a group that is around 2% of the total population, the crime rate far surpasses that of the general population. Other than damage control and preoccupation with impact on tourist industry, what do you see the local authorities actually do to reduce and solve crime against foreigners?
Ambassador Hugo Lorenz: To put things in perspective, Bay Islands has some of the lowest crime rates of any other Honduran department. But we know that crime has gone up. We estimate that there are 3,000 US citizens living in the Bay Islands and this community is growing rapidly. No one will want to move here if it is not safe. It’s in the interest of the leadership of the islands that they control crime. One of the ideas is to strengthen tourist police and have them work for the mayor directly.
B.I.V.: How many murders of US citizens remain unsolved and is this list growing?
Ambassador H.L.: I don’t know the exact number, but in the last 10 years we had serious crimes against Americans. We were able to have Ministry of Security create a special investigative unit to investigate crimes against foreigners. We are very proud that working with ministry of security we were able to solve a number of these cases. We always follow up on how these investigations are going. We want to ensure that if US citizens are harmed that there is a serious investigation and that guilty people are brought to jail.
B.I.V.: There were some contentions to the conduct of the internal elections in the Bay Islands, especially on Roatan and Utila. Do you have plans to include Bay Islands as far as elections monitoring in the future?
Ambassador H.L.: I don’t have an answer to that, but what I would say is that Honduras is only one of two countries in Latin America that holds nationwide primaries. It shows that you [Hondurans] are pretty advanced in this. Other countries usually conduct conventions or party leaders choose who the candidates are, making up their own ‘listas.’ OAS decided to send international observers, but for the national elections there will be a lot more interest. EU plans to have observers for that and hopefully that will include the Bay Islands.
B.I.V.: Signing of ALBA has surprised and worried many US investors. Do you believe that signing of ALBA will be reversed by the next Honduran administration, or is it likely that Honduras will leave CAFTA to stay in ALBA?
Ambassador H.L.: No, not at all. ALBA is strictly economic and doesn’t talk about any political alignment. The Honduran government recognizes that its principal political ally is the United States, in terms of being its largest investment and military partner. None of that has changed. We know that there is a commitment on part of this government as well as on the part of the two political candidates in upcoming elections to CAFTA.
B.I.V.: So you are saying that for Honduras and Nicaragua, who are both part of CAFTA and ALBA, the best place to be is to trade with the north as well as with ALBA partners?
Ambassador H.L.: I am not suggesting there is any best place to be. I am saying that countries are free to choose who they choose to have economic relations with. We support democracy and we don’t care if a country is on the left or right side of the ideological spectrum. What we care about is that the countries are committed to democratic values. [If they] believe in freedom of expression, media rights, free and fair elections – those are the values that we share with Latin America.
B.I.V.: Guanaja, Utila, Roatan airports have been used, in an increasing trend, as landing strips for plane-to-boat cocaine smuggling operations. Has the US Navy or Coast Guard put any extra effort in assuring that Bay Islands won’t become a cocaine smuggling relay point rather that a retirement haven?
Ambassador H.L.: One of my principal security objectives is combating the problem of international crime and narcotics smuggling. We are working closely with the Honduran government in a holistic way to raise our capability to minimizethe problem of drug trafficking. Clearly what we have seen in the recent years is the increasing bans on drug trafficking in Central America. This is a regional problem and we have to combine our capabilities to be effective. We are focusing the ability to project our presence in the key [drug smuggling] corridors. In La Mosquitia the La Tasca base is being built. We recently donated four fast boats to the Honduran Navy. We are creating a possibility for more detection and interdiction in the Bay Islands. We are not leaving the Bay Islands alone. The Bay Islands needs to be a place free of international crime, a peaceful place. I see Bay Islands as a unique place that brings Honduras into the global economy. The last thing you want is a pristine place like this to be ruined by drug traffickers.
B.I.V.: In Honduras in places like Tocoa, Olanchito, even La Ceiba one can see the narco money being used in construction of malls and homes creating a mini boom. Do you see this as potentially the thing that will allow Honduras to make it through tough economic times?
Ambassador H.L.: Narco money is poison to the economy. Drug traffickers only try to launder their money so what they do is compete against legitimate businesses which are the heart and soul of the Honduran economy. The real profits and real wages are the measure of productivity. The drug traffickers may generate some wealth that appears on the surface, while they drive legitimate business out of business. At the end of the day the real economy is damaged by what is bad money. The key people that will ultimately develop Honduras are driven out like a cancer by the drug trafficking money. Drug money is ultimately no good for the long term development of Honduras. [/private]