More than 20 journalists have been killed in Honduras in the past two years. The latest was HRN broadcaster Alfredo Villatoro, who was kidnapped and executed last week.
The Honduran Journalist Association will use May 25 — Day of the Journalist — to stage a series of marches throughout the country to demonstrate for more protection and the successful prosecution of the killers of journalists.
Periodistas celebrarán el 25 de mayo con protestas (Use Google Translate if your Spanish — like mine — is weak.)
Many are ready to blame the Honduran government, Honduran businessmen and even the U.S. government for complicity in the killings of these colleagues. More rational types just point only to the narcos who are infiltrating the very fabric of Honduran society.
Unfortunately it is not that easy.
Yes, the growth of violence in the country is directly tied to the growing influence of the narcos. But the narcos are only growing in strength because of the weakness (and corruption) of the legal system designed to protect the people.
The murder rate in Honduras is the highest in the world — 86 per 100,000 — and many cities are higher at 178-200 per 100,000. (Even at its worse, Detroit was only 30 per 100,000.)
Add to that, the fact that the Honduran police force is riddled with corruption — thanks to the narcos — and is not properly trained to investigate crimes.
So, it is difficult to say — with certainty — that each journalist killed was murdered because of his/her profession. Unfortunately, there are many times when it could have been a case of mistaken identity — such as Luz Marina Paz Villalobos, who was test driving a vehicle she wanted to buy from a military officer — or for completely non-media related issues, such as Luis Ernesto Mendoza Cerrato, who had investments in real estate and in the coffee and agricultural industries.
These journalists could have been killed because of what they reported, but we will never know because the police are either unwilling or unable (sometimes both) to conduct proper investigations. (BTW, the US and a number of Latin American countries are putting pressure on the Honduran government to get rid of the corrupt cops. These countries are also provide training for police investigators. There is still a long way to go on both fronts, but steps are being taken.)
The Committee to Protect Journalists does fairness to the situation in Honduras by making it clear what murders are committed because of the journalists’ work and those whose reasons are unknown. I am betting that if the police were better trained there would be more cases in the “Confirmed” column. But then again, if the police were better trained there would be fewer murders in general.
It would also be nice if the owners of news outlets would spend a few buck to protect their journalists. The publishers and station owners are happy to have aggressive reporters on their staff but too many don’t seem to care about making sure those aggressive reporters are properly protected.
Press freedom is a fragile thing. If the threats and killing of reporters continue, fewer will be willing to look into criminal activities in the prisons — as Villatoro was — or other activities that threaten the income of narcos and corrupt officials. And if that happens, the people will lose a major force for good.
It all boils down to this: The government and people of Honduras need to step up and get serious.
- The government needs to get serious about building proper investigative teams that are allowed to work unhindered by political or economic considerations. (Obviously they also need to be regularly vetted to ensure the investigators are not on the take.)
- Prosecutors and judges need to get serious about prosecuting and sentencing the murderers.
- The people need to step up and demand of their government an honest police force and strong legal system. Until this happens, no amount of complaining by other governments or individual groups — such as journalists — will anything seriously get done to improve the situation in Honduras.