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Created
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03TEGUCIGALPA1938
2003-08-15 21:14:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Embassy Tegucigalpa
Cable title:  

TRUTH SCARIER THAN FICTION: AN ANALYSIS OF

Tags:   PHUM  PGOV  KJUS  KCRM  PINR  SNAR  ECON  ASEC  HO 
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						UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 07 TEGUCIGALPA 001938 

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR DRL, DRL/PHD, INL, INL/LP, INR, AND DS
STATE FOR WHA, WHA/PPC, WHA/EPSC, AND WHA/CEN
STATE PASS AID FOR LAC/CEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KJUS KCRM PINR SNAR ECON ASEC HO
SUBJECT: TRUTH SCARIER THAN FICTION: AN ANALYSIS OF
INCREASINGLY HIGH HONDURAN MURDER RATES

REF: A. TEGUCIGALPA 1560

B. TEGUCIGALPA 527



1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Assault rifles, gang-related, nine
victims, 15 to 48 years old, early morning, all family
members, murdered. It is August 5 in Tegucigalpa, Honduras
and the facts of the latest mass murder swirl as you thumb
through the local newspapers. You know shock should follow,
but it does not. Instead, you mechanically proceed to the
next news item. Unfortunately, in the purest sense, this
multiple homicide is not news in Honduras; something similar
happened the day before, and a couple of days before that,
too. In fact, there are so many murders in Honduras that,
according to recent CID-Gallup polling data, the number one
concern among voters is violent crime (ref A). This is even
more significant when one considers the myriad of problems
facing the nation. But how violent is Honduras, and is it
really more violent than anywhere else? There are no easy
answers. The lack of reliable, comprehensive, and
transparent data, coupled with abundant speculation and
brandishing of unsourced material, frustrates any effort to
truly understand the problem.



2. (SBU) This report examines various organizations involved
with tracking violent deaths in Honduras, methodologies
employed, and the limitations inherent to the available data.
From this analysis, several conclusions are drawn. For one,
while murder statistics vary between sources, underreporting
of homicides in Honduras is endemic, and true murder rates
are probably even higher than currently being reported by the
Government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the
media. Secondly, this report finds that the murder rate in
Honduras is high compared with its Central American neighbors
and the U.S., and is climbing fast in 2003; and that the San
Pedro Sula murder rate is exceptionally high (almost four
times as high as the Washington, DC murder rate). Finally,
this report addresses how the Government and various NGOs in
Honduras compile homicide statistics, and how differing uses
of the terms "murder" and "extrajudicial killings" further
muddle murder-related reporting. END SUMMARY



--------------------------


METHODOLOGY


--------------------------





3. (SBU) Much of the information contained in this report
comes from an analysis of the murder-related data collected
and published by the Public Ministry, the Ministry of Public
Security, the San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa morgues, Casa
Alianza (an NGO dedicated to the betterment of abandoned
Honduran youth), Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in
Honduras (CODEH), and Amnesty International. Interviews were
conducted with members of these organizations when possible,

and considerable time was spent at both morgues observing
facilities, procedures, and meeting with forensic doctors and
staff. Procedures for conducting preliminary murder
investigations were also observed at the Public Ministry's
"Integrated Center" in Tegucigalpa. In order to evaluate how
murders are reported by the press, an assessment of murders
reported by the four nationally circulated newspapers was
conducted during the month of June, and several sources
familiar with how the media reports on murders, including a
newspaper journalist, were interviewed.



--------------------------


MURDER STATISTICS VARY BETWEEN SOURCES


--------------------------



GOH Data Collection Procedures:



4. (U) The Public Ministry (MP) and the Ministry of Public
Security (MOPS) are the two GOH agencies that serve as
repositories for data on crime and violent deaths. The
Public Ministry derives its murder count from the nation's
two morgues, located in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. The
morgues also report cause-of-death findings to the MOPS,
which treats this information as one component in its broader
investigation into whether a death was murder. In practice,
however, most cases are not investigated (President Ricardo
Maduro says that each murder investigator is responsible for
more than 200 cases, ref B) and the morgue's recommendation
often becomes the cause-of-death for MOPS statistics.

Morgue Procedures for Collecting and Reporting Murder
Statistics:



5. (U) Theoretically, when a violent death occurs in Honduras
a forensic medicine professional arrives at the scene to help
determine whether the cause of death was crime related. If
it is determined that the death is suspicious, the body is
taken to either the San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa morgue,
depending on jurisdiction. After conducting an autopsy,
forensic doctors record the death as a homicide, accident,
suicide, natural death, or indeterminable. Each morgue then
tabulates monthly and yearly murder statistics from these
records.

Discrepancies between MOP and MOPS Murder Statistics:



6. (U) As previously stated, the MP relies on data from the
two morgues for its murder statistics. While the MOPS also
receives data from the morgue, its murder figures, which are
most readily available through the Preventative Police's
Sub-Directorate for Information and Analysis (SDIA), are
considerably larger than the MP's numbers. This is because
the SDIA includes vehicular homicide in its count, while the
morgues list these deaths in a separate "accident" category.
The MOPS does maintain a database that differentiates
vehicular homicide from other murders, but the most widely
available, and the most publicly quoted, MOPS murder
statistics do include vehicular homicides.

NGO Procedures for Collecting and Reporting Murder Statistics:



7. (U) NGOs that report murder statistics in Honduras also
cite varying homicide rates. For example, Casa Alianza
compiles statistics on the murder of children and youths in
Honduras, but it is difficult to compare Casa Alianza's
figures with those of the MP because each organization uses
different age categories. While Casa Alianza reports on all
murders in which the victim was under 23-years-old, the MP
breaks their data down into smaller age groups, including a
20 to 24-year-old grouping. This lumps together murders
which fall outside Casa Alianza's purview with the murders
counted by the NGO. This problem is compounded further by
the fact that the 20 to 24-year-old age group accounts for
the largest number of murder victims, making any simple
comparison between MP numbers and Casa Alianza numbers
impossible. Casa Alianza's numbers differ from those of the
MP further, because the organization draws its data
exclusively from homicide cases reported by the four
nationally circulated newspapers, a not entirely accurate
barometer since many murders go unpublished.



8. (U) Other high-profile NGOs that report on the murder
problem in Honduras include the Committee for the Defense of
Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH) and Amnesty International.
CODEH quotes murder rates directly from the SDIA, which, as
previously stated, are significantly higher than other
sources because they include vehicular homicide. Amnesty
International's reporting on murders in Honduras, on the
other hand, does not include any actual numbers. The
organization astutely notes that "it has been exceptionally
difficult to establish with any certainty the number of
victims in question."



--------------------------


ENDEMIC UNDERREPORTING


--------------------------



Victims From Remote Areas Less Likely to Show Up in
Government Statistics:



9. (SBU) Information about morgue procedure was obtained from
meetings with: Dr. Amilcar Rodas, Director of Forensic
Medicine in Tegucigalpa; Dr. Arturo Alvarez, Head of Forensic
Pathology in Tegucigalpa; and Dr. Francisco Herrera, Director
of Forensic Medicine in San Pedro Sula. According to each of
these doctors, the bodies of some murder victims from remote
parts of the country never reach either the Tegucigalpa or
the San Pedro Sula morgue. Reasons they reported for this
included: No one ever called the police, the bodies were
dumped somewhere and never found, family members refused to
allow bodies to be taken to the morgue, insufficient
transportation to move a body, and police not following
proper procedure. Consequently, the morgues are actually
underreporting the numbers of murders taking place, and the
numbers collected and reported by both the MP and the MOPS
are also being skewed. None of the three doctors would
speculate as to how many murder victims do not reach a
morgue, and were doubtful that this number could be
determined to even a ballpark figure.



10. (SBU) Wilfredo Hernandez, violent crime reporter for La
Tribuna newspaper, also said that not all bodies from rural
areas were transported to the morgue. He reasoned that it
was impractical for poor, rural families to allow the bodies
to be taken to Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula since it was
unlikely that justice would be carried out through official
channels, and the cost of recuperating the body after the
autopsy is exorbitant. Hernandez said that while the MP paid
for a body to be transported to a morgue, the family bore the
burden of recuperating the body. He estimated that the least
expensive box allowed by the morgue cost USD 59, and a truck
to transport the body would cost at a minimum USD 29.
Additionally, the family would have to pay the morgue for
clothing the body, sealing the casket if the body was badly
decomposed, and for the official papers needed to bury a
cadaver. Hernandez estimated that a rural family allowing a
body to be taken to a morgue would need nearly USD 176 to get
it back, an exorbitant amount for many in Honduras. Since
rural families often place no value on the autopsy, they may
never call the police in the first place, or physically
prevent the police from transporting the body to a morgue.

Honduran Media Does Not Report All Murders:



11. (U) In an attempt to evaluate the degree to which murders
in Honduras were being reported in the press, Political
Section interns tracked all murders reported in the four
major newspapers, El Heraldo, La Tribuna, La Prensa and El
Tiempo, for the month of June. This is important because
these print media sources play a significant role in shaping
the public's impression of murder trends in Honduras.
Newspaper reporting on murders is also important, because
Casa Alianza derives its murder statistics solely from
accounts published in newspapers. During the month of June,
the newspapers reported on 183 individual murder cases. La
Tribuna generally reported more murders daily than the other
three newspapers, while El Heraldo tended to report the
fewest, focusing primarily on high profile murders.



12. (SBU) The fact that not even every murder reported by one
newspaper is reported by the other newspapers suggested that
not all murders are published, and that some selection and
exclusion is taking place. Wilfredo Hernandez, violent crime
reporter for La Tribuna for the past three years, confirmed
that not every murder is reported in Honduran newspapers.
Though Hernandez visits the Tegucigalpa morgue every morning,
confers with police officers, and visits crime scenes each
day, he acknowledged that many of the murders he learns of
are not reported by his newspaper. Hernandez said that
newspapers generally allot one page per day for murder and
violent crime news. He said this usually means three to four
articles per day no matter how much news there is to report.
According to Hernandez, murders of women and minors tend to
receive greater coverage, whereas the more frequent
gang-related shootings of 20-something-year-old males
receives less attention. Hernandez estimated that his
newspaper reports on two-thirds of all the murders he is
aware of.



13. (SBU) Hernandez also reported that rural murders are
especially prone to going unreported. He said that violent
crime newspaper reporters rarely travel more than 20 km
outside of San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa, and that crime
reporting in secondary cities and in the countryside was left
to correspondents and special reports. He would not
speculate on the number of rural murders that went unreported
by the newspapers.



14. (SBU) Another source familiar with the local media's
murder reporting, brought to the Political Section's
attention by the RSO, said that political pressure on
newspapers contributes to the underreporting of violent
crime. He said that President Maduro's administration leans
on newspapers to limit violent crime reporting. The fact
that both El Heraldo and La Prensa are affiliated with the
National Party (President Maduro's party) and tend to report
fewer murders than does La Tribuna and El Tiempo, Liberal
Party (opposition) affiliated newspapers, seems to affirm
that there is some observable link between politics and
newspaper murder reporting in Honduras. Note: These four
newspapers are the primary means by which the Honduran public
receives information on murders and crime trends. Despite
the phenomenon of underreporting in the Honduran print media,
a climate of fear still pervades the country. It must be
assumed that the public would react even more severely if the
newspapers were reporting all murders. End Note.



--------------------------



--------------------------


NUMBER OF MURDERS IN HONDURAS CLIMBING FAST IN 2003


--------------------------



--------------------------



San Pedro Sula Morgue Reports More Than 50 Percent Increase
in Murders Since 2002:



15. (U) Forensic doctors from both the San Pedro Sula and
Tegucigalpa morgues report that they have seen significantly
more homicide victims so far this year than during the same
period last year. The San Pedro Sula morgue, which receives
bodies from the northern half of the country, and keeps
better and more accessible statistics than the Tegucigalpa
morgue, reports that through the first six months of 2003
they have performed autopsies on 994 murder victims compared
to 628 during the same time period in 2002. This is a 58
percent year-on-year increase. While this augmentation could
be partly due to a population increase, the Honduran National
Institute of Statistics estimates that the population of
Honduras is growing at only 2.6 percent annually.



--------------------------



--------------------------


HONDURAS MURDER RATE HIGHER THAN CENTRAL AMERICAN NEIGHBORS


--------------------------



--------------------------





16. (SBU) To make murder statistics comparable between cities
and countries with different populations, a murder rate per
100,000 is tabulated. In 2001, based on morgue statistics,
the murder rate in Honduras was 29/100,000. In 2002, the
murder rate in Honduras climbed to 34/100,000. By
comparison, in 2001, according to the RSO in Guatemala City,
Guatemala recorded a murder rate of 24/100,000. In 2002, the
murder rate in Guatemala climbed to 29/100,000, a number
significantly smaller than the rate in Honduras. Similarly,
according to numbers available from the RSO in San Salvador,
El Salvador's murder rate was 31/100,000 in 2002, which is
again lower than in Honduras. As a point of reference, using
the FBI statistics on murders, the murder rate for the U.S.
as a whole in 2001 was 6/100,000.



--------------------------


2002


--------------------------



Country # of Murders Population Murders/100,000

Honduras 2,205 6,500,000 34

Guatemala 3,631 12,900,000 28

El Salvador 1,925 6,200,000 31



--------------------------


2001


--------------------------



Country # of Murders Population Murders/100,000

Honduras 1,899 6,500,000 29

Guatemala 2,905 12,900,000 24

U.S. 15,980 281,500,000 6



--------------------------


SAN PEDRO SULA MURDER RATE EXTRAORDINARY


--------------------------





17. (U) The San Pedro Sula morgue reports conducting 411
autopsies on murder victims from the city of San Pedro Sula
during the first six months of 2003. If this trend continues
through the end of 2003, there would be 822 murders in San
Pedro Sula for the year. Based on a population estimate of
500,000 for the city, the murder rate would be 164/100,000 in
San Pedro Sula (SPS) in 2003. By comparison, according to
police statistics, in 2002 the District of Columbia (DC)
recorded the highest murder rate of any large U.S. city at
46/100,000. In other words, San Pedro Sula is almost four
times as violent as Washington, DC.



--------------------------



--------------------------


PROJECTED 2003 SPS MURDER RATE VS. 2002 DC MURDER RATE


--------------------------



--------------------------



City # of Murders Population Murders/100,000

SPS 822 500,000 164

DC 264 572,000 46



--------------------------



--------------------------


CASA ALIANZA REPORTING ACCURATE, BUT MISLEADING ON AGE


--------------------------



--------------------------



Casa Alianza Counts Individuals Under 23-years-of-age as
"Children and Youth":



18. (U) Casa Alianza's murder reporting in Honduras is
focused exclusively on murders in which children and youth
are the victims. The organization publishes monthly and
yearly reports, as well as intermittent stories about
individual homicide cases that exemplify what Casa Alianza
considers to be the government's indifference towards the
murder of children. The monthly and yearly statistics
reported by Casa Alianza are published under the title
"Children and Youth Extrajudicially Murdered in Honduras,"
and come exclusively from the four nationally circulated
newspapers. For these reports, Casa Alianza uses the term
"children and youth" to mean anyone under the age of 23. The
Honduran Penal Code defines minors as individuals less than
18 years old. Casa Alianza's numbers do not include
vehicular homicides, suicides, or drug overdoses.



19. (U) Setting aside Casa Alianza's broad definition of
"children and youth," the statistics published by the
organization accurately reflect the number of youths murdered
in Honduras as reported by local newspapers. A review of the
murders recorded by Casa Alianza during June 2003 showed that
all were distinct cases published in at least one local
newspaper. In fact, Casa Alianza actually erred on the side
of underreporting, having missed several published murder
cases involving victims under 23-years-of-age. No vehicular
homicides, suicides, or drug overdoses were recorded by Casa
Alianza as murders during the month of June.



--------------------------



--------------------------


DIFFERING USES OF TERMS "MURDER" AND "EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING"


--------------------------



--------------------------





20. (U) Any discussion of collecting and reporting murder
statistics is incomplete without a discussion of what the
term "murder" actually means. In general terms in the U.S.,
murder is considered to be the intentional and unlawful
killing of a human being. There is a wide-ranging use of the
term in Honduras, however. The morgues define murder as
"death given by one person to another." The MOPS, on the
other hand, has a more complicated definition of murder that
takes into consideration a criminal investigation, the penal
code, and the rulings of judges. For some NGOs, suspicious
deaths that have not been categorized as murders by any
official entity are at times referred to as murders.



21. (U) The use of the term "extrajudicial killing" is
similarly nebulous. Traditionally defined, extrajudicial
killing is a murder carried out by someone acting in an
unofficial capacity as judge, jury, and executioner. Casa
Alianza uses a looser definition and counts every murder of a
child or youth as an extrajudicial killing. In fact, in its
monthly and yearly reports of extrajudicial killings of
children and youth, Casa Alianza includes every murder of a
youth published in local newspapers. Amnesty International
relies almost exclusively on Casa Alianza's information for
its critique of the extrajudicial killing situation in
Honduras. CODEH on the other hand, perhaps because of its
focus on state involvement in human rights violations, counts
murders perpetrated by police officers or soldiers as
extrajudicial killings.



--------------------------


CONCLUSION


--------------------------





22. (SBU) Comment: Honduras is a shockingly violent country.
There are many theories as to why the murder rate is so
astronomically high, including the plethora of AK-47s and
other guns left in the region from the 1980s, the high
unemployment (and underemployment) rate, the dissolution of
families due to heavy illegal immigration to the U.S., the
huge number of gang members (estimated to be at least
30,000), and, in some cases, the actions of corrupt security
officials. The fact that the police force is understaffed
and undertrained, and that the Public Ministry is often
ill-equipped to successfully prosecute criminals also
contributes the high number of murders. As noted in the
Human Rights Report, during 2002 "no perpetrator was
identified in an average of 60-70 percent of the killings;
gangs were suspected in 15-20 percent of killings; police,
private guards, or neighborhood vigilante groups were
suspected in 5 percent of killings, and 10-15 percent of
killings were drive-by shootings usually involving a truck,
often without license plates."



23. (SBU) Comment Continued: What is clear is that the
murder rate is high and increasing, especially in San Pedro
Sula. Debates over varying figures and interpretations
should not cloud the fact that the high murder rate is one of
the most critical human rights and law enforcement issues in
Honduras, one that has wreaked devastation on a country
already challenged by slow economic development, corruption,
and natural disasters. It also makes it clear why reform of
the justice system is one of the GOH's (and Post's) top
priorities. End Comment.
Pierce