Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom

Unintended Consequences of Collective Punishment

Alittle noticed law has been making a difference in the Roatan Municipality. It is now not allowed by two “men” to ride on a motorcycle in Roatan. Women – yes. While the law is supposedly limiting assaults by men committing robberies on a motorcycle, I found the effect of this punishing law on my own.

My hardworking gardener was driving his 14-year old cousin on the back of his beat-up, 13-year-old motorcycle. The motorcycle was stopped by police looking to “enforce” the no-two-men law. The young passenger could pass for 12-year-old, and as a minor doesn’t have an ID, but my gardener was too honest for his own good and admitted the boy was 14. The police confiscated the motorcycle, and then informed him he could buy it back, along with his license in 45 days for 12,000Lps.

This was quite an ordeal for this honest, hardworking man. My gardener doesn’t make much money and works two jobs that are inaccessible by public transport on other parts of the island. As the price of the fine surpassed the value of his beat-up motorcycle, he decided to abandon his commuter in the police yard. He also had to work an extra week to pay off the ransom for his seized license.

Motorcycle drivers must endure the consequences of the collective failure of the Honduras’ legal system.

The fact is my gardener is far from alone. There are now around 200-300 confiscated motorcycles in the parking lot of Roatan police headquarters. These are not stolen by thieves, they are taken away legally. Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is morally correct. Almost all of the people who had their motorcycles confiscated come from low-income, hard working Roatan families. Yet they fell afoul of the law.

The motorcycle drivers must endure the consequences of the collective failure of the Honduras’ legal system: its police, its prosecutors, its courts and its prisons. “When liberty leads to the loss of order, then the demand for order will lead to a loss of liberty,” said Dr. Stan Monteith.

Then there are the laws of unintended consequences. Honduras is not the first country to face assassins and robbers who use motorcycles and two-man teams. London, Athens, Mexico City, Buenos Aires and Bogota; These cities have seen the criminals switching operations to solo motorcycling and driving in tinted windowed cars.

The law will encourage crime amongst women who will be drafted to drive the getaway motorcycles of criminals. Maybe the deprived of motorcycles drivers, will lose a job and will take up the life of crime to maintain themselves and their families? When drivers caught driving two-men-up inevitably try to bribe their way out of a situation and the unjust law corrupts the law-abiding drivers, will the policemen realize they are enforcing a senseless law? Motorcycles are an affordable means of transport, of the working class of the island. They reduce traffic, and if the ride sharing men are now forced to spend hours on buses and in taxi this will also increase the traffic jams on the island.

The fact is that the collective punishment effort just doesn’t work. A law abiding, struggling majority that doesn’t want to migrate to the US shouldn’t be punished for the crimes of a tiny group and failures of the system. The fear, anxiety and expense that this “security” procedure has caused, outweighs any possible benefits from preventing crime.

But, if you need to have “some new” motorcycle laws that would make life better, I have plenty of suggestions. What about stopping motorcycles that don’t have working lights? What about requiring a yearly vehicle inspection that would be tested at certified? What about checking the tread of motorcycle tires assuring they are safe to drive?

There is another post scriptum to the story of my gardener. Since his motorcycle confiscation he has found a very competent friend to help him with gardening work. The only thing is he’s a 60-years-old man. The fact is not a lot of 12-year-olds are doing hold ups in Honduras and ever fewer 60-year-olds. Yet the Honduran law passed didn’t account for the elderly motorcycle passengers.

After three days, the 60-year-old gentleman had to quit because he couldn’t afford the time or expense of getting to work on public transport and walking. The devil usually hides in the details. Sadly, the politicians who pass these laws that create this oppressive situation only care about the sound bites and don’t really care about the misery they create.