Our Position on Safety and Security

October 27, 2013
The Shoulder to Shoulder community was saddened to learn of Mayor Fredy Lemus’ passing on Saturday, September 14, 2013. We have worked closely with Mayor Lemus for many years and extend our sympathy to his family.
We have dedicated resources and staff to learn as much as possible regarding the events and circumstances surrounding these events. Based upon the official investigation as well as Shoulder to Shoulder’s private inquiries, Mayor Lemus was fatally shot at close range near his house. Some reports indicate he was shot in front of his home after returning from the town square. There is no lack of speculation on possible motivations or suspects.
Shoulder to Shoulder Brigade Coordinator Ever Bonilla has been our designated point person investigating the situation. Mr. Bonilla spoke with Inspector Ever Espinoza with the National Department of Criminal Investigation based in La Esperanza, who informed us that a special criminal investigation unit had been dispatched from Tegucigalpa. Inspector Espinoza confirmed that no conclusions had been reached but that all possibilities were continuing to be explored. These possible explanations currently include someone seeking revenge regarding old problems or politics in light of the fact of Mr. Lemus’ status as Mayor of Santa Lucia. Though a political motivation in the run-up to the November elections is plausible, some have expressed doubt on this motivation in light of the fact that Mr. Lemus was running for re-election unopposed. Inspector Espinoza requested that Shoulder to Shoulder remain calm and patient. When asked whether he believed the case was in anyway linked to drug cartels, his reply was that “People should not jump to conclusions nor fall into the rumor mill. People must let us do our job before anything is said.”
Without being asked, Inspector Espinoza spontaneously commented that he did not believe that anyone who worked with Shoulder to Shoulder in our clinics or comes to visit our clinics is in any type of danger and believed that Mayor Lemus’s situation was an event that was targeted at him specifically and not in any way at North Americans.
These events point out to all of us the difficulties experienced by the poor in Honduras generally and now even in the department of Intibucá. Because Shoulder to Shoulder has chosen to work in this area, we have developed a very strenuous security policy. Our fundamental principal as it relates to security is that Shoulder to Shoulder has a zero tolerance for unnecessary risk. Applying that maxim to this situation, we are unaware of any additional steps that could reasonably be taken to increase the security and safety of our volunteers from the type of situation involving Mayor Lemus. Based upon the sequence of events we understand this situation to be a targeted event and not in any way, an act of random violence causing a significant probability of danger to others. For these reasons, Shoulder to Shoulder will not be implementing any policies designed to reduce this type of risk since, based upon everything we know to date, the type of events that led up to this situation, are not reasonably foreseeable to reoccur. In other words, our analysis is similar to that of Inspector Espinoza who stated that he was completely unaware of any risk to Americans. We will, of course update you immediately if this changes.
Despite the fact that we are unable to implement any steps that might decrease the probability of the type of violence involved in this situation, any time there is an event like this, it makes sense for us to redouble our efforts and to critically analyze all of our policies and procedures. As a result of that process, we have implemented the following new policies and procedures to further enhance Shoulder to Shoulder’s security program.
First, all volunteers in Santa Lucia and/or Concepcion, will have the option of moving to an alternative site. No one will be forced to move, however, if anyone feels uncomfortable there will be a no questions asked policy.
Second, we will increase our guard services at the gates to our clinics until further notice. In addition to guarding the perimeter, gates at all facilities will remain closed.
Third, all visitors and patients will be asked whether they have any machetes or other weapons. Any machetes or weapons will be checked in at the guard gate and will be returned to patients and/or visitors at the time they leave the clinic.
Fourth, we will reinstitute mandatory safety meetings every quarter at which time we will be reviewing the safety reports that are conducted monthly and will have focused discussion pertaining to ways in which our staff can conduct operations and simultaneously consider new interventions that will allow us to complete our mission and simultaneously minimize avoidable risk.
Finally, our Safety Officer, Ever Bonilla, will conduct a bi-weekly phone call to Sharon Mullen. Sharon Mullen will be the point person in the United States who will answer all questions and information pertaining to safety. Ever Bonilla will be the point person in Honduras who will continue to investigate and prepare our monthly safety report that is posted on the website. Ever and Sharon will communicate on a regular basis to make sure that each are communicating current events and risk factors to leadership both in the United States and in Honduras.
In addition to these interventions, we will also redouble our efforts and current requirements that volunteers walk with a partner when outside the clinic and discourage travel including walking after dark. Safety is Shoulder to Shoulder’s number one priority and is everyone’s concern. Please visit our Safety and Security page for more information.
Safety is not just about you or me but is about our mission. Please join me in continuing to serve the poor. Please help safeguard our mission by minimizing avoidable risk in each encounter and at each opportunity.
Thank you.
Wayne E. Waite