Honduras travel warning

Honduran police stand guard at the scene where four youngsters were shot and killed in Tegucigalpa. (Orlando Sierra / AFP/Getty Images / December 3, 2013)

WASHINGTON -- The State Department on Tuesday cautioned travelers about the risks of visiting Honduras, known as the “murder capital of the world,” saying that killings of Americans are frequent and almost never solved.

In a travel warning, the department said American expatriates experience similar levels of crime as other population groups. Police forces are unable to keep up and have solved only two of the 50 killings of Americans since 2008, U.S. officials said.

Honduras has had the highest murder rate in the world since 2010, and levels of violence and crime remain "critically high," the warning said.

Though the Honduran government is trying to improve the criminal justice system, the effort remains at an early stage. Drug cartels operate freely, U.S. officials said, but there are also other groups that commit crimes such as killings, kidnappings, extortion, carjackings, armed robberies, rapes and other aggravated assaults.

Expatriates, as well as locals, are targeted for kidnapping, and large ransoms are sometimes required for their release, the warning said. Four kidnappings have been reported to the U.S. Embassy in the last two years, but numerous other cases go unreported, it said.

The warning urges travelers not to walk alone on beaches, trails or at historic ruins, and not to travel at night. It also cautions against wearing jewelry or displaying cash, credit cards and other valuables.

Most resort areas and tourist destinations have crime rates that are “high by international standards,” but lower than other areas of the country, it added.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with two-thirds of the population living below the poverty line.

Crime and corruption have deterred foreign investment, according to the U.S. government. About 1 million Hondurans live in the United States, about 600,000 illegally, the State Department said.

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paul.richter@latimes.com