STATEMENT ON SAFETY
To hear the international media tell it, Honduras would appear to be a country in collapse, where no one is safe, anywhere. This is very far from the truth, and the last thing Honduras needs is for people to stay away. Full Disclosure: Yes, except for flying into them, STAY AWAY FROM SAN PEDRO SULA (Purportedly the world's highest murder rate) and Tegucigalpa (ranked number 4 or 5). But don't stay away from Honduras altogether. Why?
1. "Most Dangerous" is inaccurate -- what is really meant is "most violent." The difference is more than semantics -- while we don't want to diminish what is happening in certain parts of Honduras (primarily the above-mentioned cities and their outlying districts), the danger that is experienced is, with normal precautions taken, not something experienced by or even targeted toward un-inebriated outsiders.
2. Yes, life is extremely violent for many Hondurans, and this is truly a great tragedy, but the "smokeless industry" of responsible ecotourism is one way that "foreign aid" can elude the grasp of bureaucrats and reach local people directly, from our pockets to theirs, so to speak. We have watched countless millions of dollars poured into wasteful development and infrastructure projects funded by foreign taxpayer dollars. Isn't it better to impact the local economy directly instead of hoping (ignoring decades of failure) that if enough money is thrown at Honduras, then positive things will surely result? We have found that the relationship is the reverse (less money means greater impact). What we are saying is that economic well-being, while not a panacea, is certainly a contributor to lower levels of societal violence.
3. We have worked in some capacity for over 20 years in Olancho, supposedly an ultraviolent region akin to Colombia, where outsiders trespass at their peril. This could hardly be farther from the truth -- outsiders are treated better in Olancho than just about anywhere else! Yes, like in most regions of Latin America, violence occurs, but it rarely, if ever, involves outsiders unless they are involved in unlawful or irresponsible activities. We have worked successfully in communities with high levels of societal violence, none of which involves us, and we have never been affected.
4. Of course, we take many, many precautions, which is also why we haven't had any incidents. Because we are environmentalists and openly identify ourselves as such, we are seen in a none-too-positive light by those who destroy the environment for a living. But we are scrupulously honest and open about what we are doing, and are always present on local TV and radio programs to spread what we call the 'good word' of Green in a manner similar to that of the numerous religious projects that also--because they are seen as doing good work--are rarely bothered by the criminal elements. We are widely known, and have the support of many locally powerful people, which helps us immensely.
5. We are known to everybody and we talk to everybody. We aren't foolish; we obsessively check local conditions and steer clear of problematic areas and situations. At the same time, we always communicate with local authorities and inform local leaders of what we are doing. We don't take anyone by surprise and, if we have questions about the safety of an area, we postpone trips or change locations to adapt.
6. Yes, of course narcotics trafficking is an issue. While we dispute the hysterical statements made by many Honduran and American "authorities" on the subject, we do recognize that trafficking corridors exist, and we steer clear of them. However, we are also aware that traffickers steer clear of third parties, and to a great extent endeavor to keep their activities invisible. To those overcome by the hysteria, we would only remind you that drug trafficking and open-air drug markets exist IN PLAIN SIGHT in US cities, but most of us know well enough to steer clear of them, particularly at night. Of course, if we are out-of-towners who don't know the terrain, and we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, bad things can happen. In Honduras, we ensure that we are NEVER in the wrong place at the wrong time.
7. But doesn't everyone carry a gun? Do you? Guns and gun violence is prevalent, but we ourselves are radically peaceful and always go unarmed. We represent a threat to no one and have no enemies; several of us are trained and experienced in tactics of non-violent resistance.
8. We travel, always, with local people. Several of our guides and affiliates are local farmers with lifetimes of experience, and their presence is an enormous aid in helping 'read' problematic situations, particularly in 'Wild West' situations along lowland rainforest frontier. We HAVE observed other groups get into trouble, invariably because they did not carefully and respectfully engage with local communities, and communicate clearly with leaders and stakeholders what they were doing.
9. What do we do if someone we are working with flagrantly violates our Code of Ethics , for example by insulting local people? Simply put, we kick them out without further ceremony. We can't risk jeopardizing the bonds of confianza (trust) that we have built over so many years. Fortunately, this is a very rare occurrence, as most outsiders are polite and well-behaved :)
10. Is it ever going to get better? In Olancho, it appears to already have, with the height of societal violence occurring in the aftermath of the 2009 military coup. Overall, however, taking the major cities into account, Honduras probably remains the most violent country in the world not presently at war. Guatemala and El Salvador are not far behind, and we really don't know if and when conditions will improve. What we do know is that an estimate 1/3 of the adult population suffers some sort of depression from the constant drumbeat of negativity, hopelessness, and violence conveyed in the press, and the society as a whole is deeply traumatized by what has happened--seemingly only negatives--to their country. This is why so many of us who work for environmental causes try so hard to promote the natural wealth and beauty of Honduras, to help construct a positive image that can replace the ghastly caricature so many Hondurans and outsiders have mistaken for an accurate representation of the country.
11. Is anywhere in Honduras truly safe and peaceful? Yes, indeed, a non-combative and largely peaceful culture exists in various parts of the country, particularly in the southern departments of Choluteca and Valle, in large parts of the Western Highlands, and in indigenous communities throughout.