The (deadly) motorcycle diaries in Honduras
There is a good reason it is illegal in murder-wracked Honduras for two to ride a motorcycle at the same time.
A lot of people get killed that way.
Those who die are typically not the people who are riding the motorcycle.
It’s just the opposite. The people on the motorcycle are apt to be the killers.
Hired assassins in the Central American republic figured out some time ago that the most efficient way to kill someone and get away with it is to put two men on a motorcycle – a driver and a gunman – and simply ride alongside the target’s car in heavy traffic.
A gunshot or two takes care of the victim, and the getaway is easy.
The tactic – especially among drug gangs – has become so common that legislators banned passengers from motorcycles almost two years ago.
In neighbouring Guatemala, a similar law has been on the books since 2009.
Unfortunately, the laws don’t really work – for one thing, enforcement is patchy at best – and so assassinations by motorcycle continue more or less apace in both countries.
Earlier this year in Guatemala City, a pair of killers on a single motorcycle murdered Lea Marie de Leon, a prominent lawyer, as she was leaving work.
And, just last month, a security camera in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, recorded a deeply shocking episode that involved two men on a motorcycle and a police officer named Joaquín Santos Arita, 40.
In the final minutes of his life, Santos reveals himself to be a courteous and also brave man.
When he first appears in the video, the policeman is helping an elderly woman cross the busy Boulevard Centroamérica just outside central Tegucigalpa. He notices two men on a motorcycle, stopped for a red light.
Maybe Santos should have left the pair alone, but he didn’t.
Instead, Santos asks the driver (wearing a blue top) for his identification. The passenger (dressed in black) pulls out a gun and tries to shoot the policeman, but he misses both times. Santos tries to fight the passenger off, and then both of the criminals struggle to wrest away the officer’s gun.
After a frenzied scuffle, the passenger appears to hand his own pistol to the driver, who shoots Santos in the head.
You can watch the video here, but beware: it is very upsetting for anyone, and wholly unsuitable for minors.
The men on the motorcycle make their escape and are later seen on foot, trying in vain to flag down a bus. It turns out they were both captured by police. The passenger died in hospital four days later from injuries incurred at some point during this episode. The driver remains in detention.
With a population of eight million, Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, with 85.5 deliberate homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants per year. The corresponding rate in Canada is 1.6. Most of the violence in Honduras is drug-related in one way or another.
Oakland Ross is a foreign affairs reporter for the Toronto Star.