Associated Press - January 18, 2012
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) - The U.S. government's decision to
pull out all its Peace Corps volunteers from Honduras for safety
reasons is yet another blow to a nation still battered by a coup
and recently labeled the world's most deadly country.
Neither U.S. nor Honduran officials have said what specifically
prompted them to withdraw the 158 Peace Corps volunteers, which
the U.S. State Department in 2011 called one of the largest
missions in the world.
But the wave of violence and drug cartel-related crime hitting
the Central American country had affected volunteers working on
HIV prevention, water sanitation and youth projects, President
Porfirio Lobo acknowledged.
Monday's pullout also comes less than two months after U.S. Rep.
Howard Berman, a California Democrat, asked Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton to reconsider sending police and military aid to
Honduras as a response to human rights abuses.
"It's a welcome step toward the United States recognizing that
they have a disastrous situation in Honduras," said Dana Frank, a
University of California Santa Cruz history professor who has
researched and traveled in Honduras.
The decision to pull out the entire delegation came 18 days after
a Dec. 3 armed robbery in a bus where a female volunteer was shot
in the leg in the violence-torn city of San Pedro Sula.
Hugo Velasquez, a spokesman for the country's National Police,
said 27-year-old Lauren Robert was wounded along with two other
people. One of the three alleged robbers was killed by a bus
passenger, Velasquez said. The daily La Prensa said Robert was
Most areas of San Pedro Sula, like other especially violent parts
of Honduras, had been declared "banned or highly discouraged for
volunteers," according to the June 2011 edition of the
Corps'"Welcome Book." Also banned were "all beaches at night" and
a large part of the country's Atlantic coast.
The U.S. also announced it was suspended training for new
volunteers in El Salvador and Guatemala, meaning that when
existing volunteers end their missions, the operations end. El
Salvador has 113 volunteers, and Guatemala, 222. The U.S.
embassies in those countries did not respond to requests for
The three countries make up the so-called northern triangle of
Central America, a region plagued by drug trafficking and gang
violence. El Salvador has the second highest homicide rate with
66 killings per 100,000 inhabitants, the U.N. said.
Honduras joins Kazakhstan and Niger as countries that have
recently had their volunteers pulled out. The Kazakhstan decision
followed reports of sexual assaults against volunteers. The Niger
decision came after the kidnapping and murder of two French
citizens claimed by an al-Qaida affiliate.
A U.N. report, released in October 2011, said Honduras had the
highest homicide rate in the world with 6,200 killings, or 82.1
murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010.
"Violence affects all Hondurans. It wouldn't be surprising if
Peace Corps members, too," said Jose Rolando Bu, president of a
group that represents non-governmental agencies.
Between June 2010 and June 2011, nine U.S. citizens were killed
in Honduras, most in San Pedro Sula or northern coastal areas.
It is most significant suspension of Peace Corps activities in
Central America since the 1980s, when several Central American
nations were torn by civil wars.
The Peace Corps had sent volunteers to Honduras since 1962, and
around 1982 it was the largest mission in the world, according to
the U.S. State Department. The U.S. sent more people to help
after Hurricane Mitch in 1998.
The volunteers in Honduras had been working on projects focused
on HIV/AIDS prevention, water sanitation and youth development.
It was not clear what effect their departure would have on those
efforts; no other aid agency immediately announced any pullout
based on security concerns.
Peace Corps volunteer Claire Krebs, an engineer from Houston,
Texas, described her work in the mid-sized city of Choluteca on
the Peace Corps Journals blog site. Krebs wrote that she
surveyed, planned and designed water systems for rural Honduran
villages, which involved visits to rural areas in the country's
somewhat more tranquil southern region, where there were few
apparent security problems.
Krebs was training Hondurans to do the work she was doing, but it
was unclear if they could yet replace her.
Berman said in the Nov. 28, 2011, letter to Clinton that he
worried that some murders in Honduras appeared to be politically
motivated because high-profile victims included people related to
or investigating abuses by police and security forces, or to the
June 28, 2009, ouster of President Manuel Zelaya. The coup lead
to the temporary diplomatic isolation of Honduras.
On Tuesday, a Honduran lawyer who had reported torture and human
rights violations by police officers was killed by gunmen,
Three men stormed into the office of Ricardo Rosales, 42, shot
him dead and escaped, said Hector Turcios, the police chief of
Tela, a city 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of the capital.
Rosales had told local press that officers had tortured jail
inmates in his city.
Adriana Gomez Licon reported from Mexico City.