Donna Bryan spends a lot of time these days wishing her son Seaford Russell had left Honduras before it was too late.
Mr. Russell, a Caymanian, was shot dead in the La Ceiba area last October after spending only a few months there with his children and ex-wife.
“I begged my son a million times to come out of Honduras around the time he was murdered,” said Ms Bryan, speaking Monday afternoon in the yard of her George Town home. “I was in the process of sending him a ticket out of Honduras.
“Seaford was not the first Caymanian who was murdered in Honduras, but I’m praying that he’ll be the last.”
Mr. Russell’s October 2012 killing has never been solved by Honduran police – at least as far as the Bryan family is aware – but his mother, sister Patricia and brother Kenneth are adamant that his death was not at the hands of a street gang. Nonetheless, Donna Bryan said Mr. Russell knew well the dangers of the country, and that she is also aware of the horror stories beginning to emerge from Honduras in recent weeks.
So are the Cayman Islands and United Kingdom governments.
Kenia Reconco, special prosecutor with the Honduran government, told The Associated Press last week that criminal gangs are now in 40 per cent of the Central American country’s territory. Those gangs, which began extorting protection money from poor neighbourhoods, have now begun targeting the middle class, the prosecutor said.
Ms Reconco said that gangs extorting money from middle-class homeowners to “allow them to live in those homes” was a “new and frightening” crime for Hondurans.
Earlier this year, the national military was sent in to “recover” 95 homes that were taken over by gangs after their owners abandoned them under threat, but even when they were cleared out, the original owners were hesitant to return.
“Often the home owners are reluctant to return to their houses, even after they are recovered by authorities,” Ms Reconco said.
This week the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that Honduras’s two-dozen prisons were essentially being run by the inmates because the state abandoned its role in rehabilitating people convicted of crimes. The prisons are so poorly guarded that the inmates could escape if they wanted to, especially in the city of San Pedro Sula, the commission found.
“Prisoners do not escape because they prefer not to upset this balance,” the former director of the San Pedro Sula prison told the commission.
The Cayman Islands and Honduras have a long-standing relationship. Many Hondurans fled dictatorial regimes in their home and neighbouring countries during the late 1970s and early 1980s and some ended up in Cayman. As of December 2012, Honduran workers held 751 work permits in the Cayman Islands, making them the sixth-largest nationality of foreign workers in the islands.
Officials within the Cayman Islands government declined to comment for this story, citing the United Kingdom’s pre-eminent position in matters dealing with foreign affairs.
UK foreign travel advisories relating to the Central American country say little that is positive, according to an edition of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth website last updated on 31 July.
“There have been reports of violent attacks on cars and buses,” the UK advisory states. “These have included armed attacks on vehicles leaving the international airport in San Pedro Sula.
“Most serious crime doesn’t affect tourists, but attacks on foreigners including armed robbery and sexual assault do sometimes occur. People have been killed and injured resisting attack. It is useful to carry a small amount of money to hand out in the event of a robbery.”
The Bay Islands are thought to be generally safer than mainland Honduras, but there have been several attacks on visitors, including on ferries to and from mainland Honduras. There have also been attacks on foreigners on beaches after dark.
Travel, particularly around the borders with neighbouring countries, is difficult, according to the UK advisory.
“Don’t travel around after dark as you greatly increase the risk of attack,” the advisory states. “Take particular care near the borders with Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Travellers have been targeted by armed robbers after crossing the Honduran border into El Salvador. There are unmarked minefields in/around the border with Nicaragua. Take care and avoid walking on unmarked paths or off main roads in these areas.”
Back in Cayman, Ms Bryan said she’ll keep pushing local authorities to look into any possible local connections to her son’s murder. She also said she was informed recently by her daughter that the UK embassy in neighbouring El Salvador was looking into the matter on behalf of its overseas territory.
Now, her focus has turned to getting her son’s two children out of La Ceiba.
“I have two grandchildren there, they’re Caymanian children,” she said. “I’m doing everything I can to get their mother to take them out of there.”
She also plans to protest during the next meeting of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly regarding what she views as the local government’s lack of activity, or interest, in what happened to Mr. Russell in Honduras last year.
“If [the Honduran authorities] are left alone, they’re not going to do anything about it at all.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.