The U.S. State Department yesterday updated its travel advisory to Honduras, stating that the level of kidnapping, crime, and violence in Honduras remains "critically high." (this warning supersedes the last warning in October 2015).
The warning states that "criminal activity is a serious problem throughout the country and the Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly respond to, investigate, and prosecute cases. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras."
Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world (it's homicide rate was 60 per 100,000 in 2015; in comparison, the U.S. rate is around 4.5 per 100,000). The warning further states that the U.S. Embassy recorded 37 murders of U.S. citizens since 2011, with three recorded since January 2016.
Many tourist-dependent businesses and U.S. and Canadian expatriates on Roatan claim that the island is generally safe. The hotels, resorts, bars and dive-shops advertise Roatan as an idyllic, tropical, get-a-way vacation paradise. The State Department warning acknowledges that the islands are generally safer than the mainland of Honduras, but the crime is still higher than what most U.S. passengers would face at home. The warning contains specific warning about Roatan:
"Roatan & Bay Islands: Roatan and the Bay Islands experience lower crime rates than the Honduran mainland. While the national government of Honduras, Roatan authorities, and businesses took measures in 2014 to improve tourism security, thefts, break-ins, assaults, rapes, and murders do occur. You should exercise caution, especially at night. If staying at a hotel resort, book tours and sightseeing through the resort or reputable tour companies. Coxen Hole on the island of Roatan should be avoided after dark.
If you are on a shore excursion from a cruise ship, take care to book only with reputable tour companies during your stopover in Honduras. The port agencies at Mahogany Bay and Towne Center have worked to improve taxi service to and from the ports."
The warning's refers to 2014 because a NCL crew member was shot and killed near the port that year. The Filipino crew member worked on the Norwegian Pearl. Previously in 2014, a number of tourists, including a mother and her two boys from a Royal Caribbean ship, were robbed at gunpoint while taking a private trip to the beach. Earlier in 2014, a family in a rental car with their three children vacationing on a Carnival cruise ship stopping in Roatan were shot at and robbed.
One of the problems with Honduras is it is a key player in the international drug trade. The warning explains that "transnational criminal organizations conduct narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout the country and use violence to control drug trafficking routes and carry out criminal activity."
Roatan has long been considered one of Honduras' "narco-islands."
There have been several instances where crew members from Honduras have been arrested trying to smuggle drugs on cruise ships, like this arrest in Roatan of a NCL crew member from the Norwegian Dream last year. Last year also saw five NCL galley workers from the Norwegian Sun arrested in Tampa when the cruise returned from Roatan where the crew members picked up cocaine. In 2014, police officers in Brazil arrested several Honduran crew members after finding 333 bags of cocaine weighing 100 pounds on the M/S Empress, owned by Royal Caribbean and operated at the time by the Royal Caribbean brand Pullmantur.
Roatan has been home to a notorious list of major drug intermediaries who launder money by purchasing properties on the island. Members of the “Los Cachiros“ drug trafficking ring were arrested and numerous properties in Roatan were seized several years ago. In 2014, a drug trafficker with connections to Colombia, Carlos Arnoldo Lobo, alias "El Negro, was arrested and millions of dollars in bank accounts and numerous of his properties in Roatan were seized. Earlier this year, Mexican drug kingpin El Chapo's' "Honduras henchman" Franco "The Wizard" Daniel Lombardi, the financial operator of the Sinaloa Cartel in Honduras, was arrested and many of his properties in Roatan were seized.
The January 2014 New York Times article Security Concerns on a Honduran Island indicates that the U.S. State Department has warned since at least December 2013 that the “level of crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high.”
If you travel or cruise to Roatan, the Times' article suggests visitors:
- not to walk alone on the stretch of beach between West Bay and West End;
- avoid unpaved roads to the beach;
- avoid Coxen Hole after dark; and
- stick to the island’s main road unless you're with a group.
Photo credit: Jim Walker