Honduras Kidnappings on the Increase
SAFETY & SECURITY
Americas - Honduras
6 Mar 2009
Over the past three years, kidnappings for ransom in Honduras have steadily increased. According to Government of Honduras statistics, kidnappings rose from five in 2005, to 16 in 2006, 42 in 2007, and 121 in 2008. Ransoms were paid in 40 percent of the kidnappings in 2008, totaling an estimated US$ 850,000. The Regional Security Officer in Tegucigalpa notes that kidnappings are often underreported throughout Honduras, and these figures may not be representative of the real amount.
Honduran kidnapping gangs prefer to target affluent Honduran entrepreneurs or their family members. These gangs have targeted, to a lesser extent, foreign and local business managers of multinational corporations or their family members. U.S. citizens, although not specifically targeted for kidnapping, have been kidnapped in Honduras. There have been three kidnappings of U.S. citizens in February alone. In these cases, however, their abductions appear to have little to do with their U.S. citizenship but more to do with the victim’s family connection to an affluent Honduran entrepreneur.
Kidnapping gangs in Honduras spend time studying potential victims before selecting a target, which could be either an affluent entrepreneur or a family member. Potential targets include those with predictable routines and who do not pay attention to their surroundings. A typical kidnap for ransom incident includes armed individuals who force the victim into their car. The kidnappers then drive to a second location to call the victim’s family in order to transmit a ransom demand. In most cases, the family negotiates a ransom, the ransom is paid and the hostage is subsequently released.
• In September 2008, gunmen kidnapped an owner of a hotel in San Pedro Sula and held him hostage for a week. According to open source press reporting, four gunmen accosted the victim in front of his hotel and forced him into his car. Honduran government officials stated that the victim was found in Copan, about 250 miles west of Tegucigalpa.
• In February, the brother of a Honduran Congressman was kidnapped in Copan. According to Honduran media reporting, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of US$ 1 million. The victim was abducted by two armed men and forced into his car, which was later found abandoned not far from the scene of the kidnapping. At this time, there are no reports on the status of the victim.
In January, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya increased the minimum wage 60 percent, raising monthly wages from US$ 181 to $289. As a result, an estimated 15,000 people have been laid off in urban areas. This number is expected to steadily increase as businesses cannot afford the new mandatory wages. Remittances from Hondurans in the U.S. have also decreased throughout 2008.
Some analysts predict increased crime in Honduras due to citizens unable to find legitimate sources of income. Many unemployed Hondurans could look to kidnapping for ransom in order to obtain large sums of money for a small amount of planning and effort. As the disparity between economic classes continues, wealthy Hondurans or foreigners of affluent appearance conducting business in Honduras could continue to be targeted at a higher rate.
The following best practices have been provided by the Regional Security Officer:
o All travelers should take measures to ensure their health, valuables, and personal property are safeguarded during their stay in Honduras.
o Excessive or expensive jewelry should not be worn and visitors should not carry large sums of money or other valuables.
o Visitors should maintain a low profile at all times and never resist an armed robbery attempt.
o If possible, vary routes and times to and from home or the office, in order to avoid developing routines.
o Whenever possible, visitors should travel in groups of two or more persons, particularly after dark.
o Protect personal information, and instruct household staff not to share any detailed information with strangers.
o Thoroughly vet household staff in order to prevent hiring anyone with links to organized crime.
While U.S. citizens are not targeted specifically for kidnapping, those not paying attention to their surroundings can become victims when in the wrong place at the wrong time. Local-nationals working for OSAC constituents are at an increased risk if in mid- or upper-level management, and U.S. citizens related to wealthy Hondurans are also at an increased risk of kidnapping. It is useful to apply some of the listed best practices in order to prevent becoming a victim. Finally, it is important to report instances of kidnapping to your corporate security manager and the Regional Security Officer in Tegucigalpa.
Source and Secondary Source