The US government’s decision to pull out all its Peace Corps volunteers from Honduras for safety reasons is the latest blow to a nation still battered by a coup and recently labeled the world’s most deadly country.
Neither US nor Honduran officials have said what specifically prompted them to withdraw the 158 Peace Corps volunteers, which the US Department of State last year called one of the largest missions in the world.
However, 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, Honduran President Porfirio Lobo acknowledged.
Monday’s pullout also comes less than two months after US Representative Howard Berman asked US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham 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 Honduras’ 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 from Texas.
In a blog posting added to Peace Corps Journals, a Web site run by returned members, volunteer Jenna Pierce wrote that days after a fellow volunteer was injured in a bus attack early last month, she received an e-mail saying the program was suspending training for Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala until the “security situation improved.”
Four days later, she received another e-mail saying the 158 volunteers in Honduras would fly back to the US. On Dec. 21, the volunteer program sent a news release announcing the decision. Peace Corps Journals said it makes every effort to verify the stories and postings written by the program’s volunteers.
Peace Corps’ spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said she could not comment on individual incidents for security and privacy reasons.
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-Qaeda affiliate.
A UN report released in October last year said Honduras had the highest homicide rate in the world with 6,200 killings, or 82.1 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010.