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Story Publication logo November 14, 2011

Honduras: The Revenge of Luis Gomez

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The dead man lay flat and face up on the patio of the Las Cascadas Hotel, arms outstretched, his black boots glinting in the light. A large crowd had gathered at the edge of the police tape, staring at what the AK-47 rounds had done.

He was shot 10 times, apparently at close range, since some of the bullets left holes as big as baseballs. A half-dozen forensic agents in jeans and t-shirts were hovering around the body, dutifully jotting notes and enumerating the shell casings scattered across the tile floor. They had run out of plastic markers at number 30, it seemed, because there were casings on the dirt road outside too, but those were marked with leaves.

Some in the crowd said the man was the owner of a security company that guarded the hotel. It was the kind of thing that automatically shifts suspicion onto a murder victim here. He worked with armed men, so he probably had it coming—at least that seemed to be the assumption.

There wasn't much to guard. Las Cascadas was a modest roadside hotel set right along Honduras' main highway and painted in pastel orange. A drainage ditch choked with trash ran between the roadway and the patio where the dead man lay, creating a hazard for the families who had brought their kids out to watch the clean-up. They took turns craning for a look and saying little, mesmerized by the crime scene as if it were a television program.

Napo, a local crime reporter for the Honduran daily La Prensa who had found out about the shooting on the police radio, noted the position of the body, less than 10 yards from his Chevy Silverado pickup truck. "He didn't see it coming," Napo said. "This was a professional job."

Professionals of this sort are getting plenty of practice now in Honduras. A surge in cocaine trafficking along the country's north coast left this nation of 7.6 million with the world's highest per capita homicide rate in 2010, according to UN report released last month. The region of the country with the most killings was here in the San Pedro Sula area and surrounding Cortes department, where nearly 1,800 were slain last year.

This year's total will be even higher. "Sometimes we get 10, 12, 15 in a day," Napo said.

No one from the dead man's family was there outside the hotel, but Napo later found out that his name was Henry Alfaro Figueora. He was 42, and ran a nightclub in addition to the security company. His killers had arrived in two late-model SUVs, springing from the vehicles to ambush him in broad daylight as he got out of the truck.

Figueora had a bodyguard with him too, but when we arrived all that remained of the man was a dark stain in the dusty street where he fell. His corpse had been placed in a yellow plastic bag and loaded into a battered police van for the ride to the morgue.

"His name was Hernán Gómez," said the bodyguard's brother, Luis, a slim man in a white cowboy hat that changed colors in the flashing lights of the patrol cars. Luis said his brother had three kids and was working at a sportswear apparel assembly plant until September, when he was laid off. He didn't even know how to use a gun. "It was his third day on the job," said Luis.

Luis said all this in a flat, matter-of-fact way, and someone asked him if he were sad, or angry. Did he know who the killers were? Would he seek revenge?

He said he would not. "We are Christians," he said, explaining that he felt a dolorcito ("small pain") in his heart, but he would not cry.

"No one can escape death. And these days we have to be ready for it at any time," said Luis, walking off to help lift Figueroa's body into the van. "We will leave justice to God."

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