Christina Portillo was taken from her business in the Rivera Hernández sector of San Pedro Sula on the night of November 24 by men dressed as members of the Anti Maras, Gangs and Organized Crime Police Directorate (Dipampco), witnesses told Contracorriente. To this day, the authorities have not responded to the family about her whereabouts.
Text: Catherine Calderón
Photography: Amilcar Izaguirre
Translated by: Amy Patricia Morales
Christina Portillo, reportedly last seen at her business, the Flamingos bar in the Rivera Hernandez sector, has been missing for two weeks, according to family members and witnesses. On the night of November 24, five individuals dressed in Dipampco police uniforms conducted a search allegedly looking for drugs and subsequently apprehended Portillo.
Christina is a 38-year-old trans woman and community leader in the Rivera Hernandez sector; she is the president of the patronage in Brisas del Sauce and a well-known National Party activist.
Since December 2022, Honduras has been in a state of emergency, with police frequently conducting operations in areas like these as part of anti-drug trafficking efforts. Josiris, sister of the disappeared woman, informed this newspaper that on the night in question at the bar, the entrance of the alleged police officers appeared like a routine operation. However, she noted an unusual aspect in the aggressive manner of the search. According to her account, the alleged agents engaged in disruptive behavior, confiscated identification, and took photographs of both sisters and two customers present that night. Additionally, they referred to Christina by her legal name, causing her to feel intimidated.
“At that moment, I found everything to be strange because almost nobody knows my sister’s name as it appears on her ID. When I overheard them mentioning taking her and the other young man from the establishment, I jumped out of the bar window and chased the car in which they were transporting my sister,” said Josiris. She assured that she went to the First Police Station, situated between the second and third avenues of San Pedro Sula, to check if they had brought her there, but she found no trace of her sister
“I am a lawyer by profession, and when I arrived and asked for Christina, they told me they knew nothing, asserting that there was no report of the incident. I arrived practically an hour after the event and they only accepted the report as a case of cell phone theft since 24 hours had not yet passed to officially declare my sister as missing”, she said.
On the night of November 24, Josiris searched hospitals, clinics, the morgue and every police station she could visit to verify Christina’s arrest, but she was unable to find her. For two days, Christina’s family spoke with Dipampco police officers and searched for her throughout the Rivera Hernandez sector. They even searched for her during body removal operations, to verify that she was not dead.
Four days passed without any information about her whereabouts when the family received numerous WhatsApp messages from an unfamiliar number, demanding a ransom of 300 thousand lempiras. It was at that moment they realized it might be a kidnapping. “At that point, I realized I couldn’t trust anyone for this, and I started becoming suspicious of the authorities,” said Josiris. She mentioned responding to the message, requesting evidence that her sister was alive, but they never responded to the message.
Ronald Posada, spokesman for the National Police in the northern part of the country, confirmed to this newspaper that Josiris did indeed file the complaint on November 24. “At the moment that the disappearance was reported to us, we made the formal complaint to whoever is responsible, which in this case is the Public Ministry, who must assign an investigator from the DPI who will gather all the information about that day”, explained the spokesman. Likewise, he said that a report was generated for the police post of the Rivera Hernandez sector, and after 24 hours of her disappearance, the radio patrols were alerted.
Christina had received threats before; in 2020 she reported being threatened by members of organized crime, attributing it to political reasons as she was an activist of the National Party. Following these threats, she attempted to flee the country, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic thwarted her plans. At that time, she told Contracorriente that her political activism was creating problems for her, despite all the effort she was making as an entrepreneur in the sector.
Christina decided to get involved in politics to be able to influence state politics in favor of the LGBTQ+ population, especially trans women. During the interview she gave to Contracorriente in 2020, she reiterated that she did not want to be just another statistic, that she wanted to live more than the 35 years that studies say a trans woman lives in Latin America and the Caribbean.
We recommend you to read: Locked up with no rights: this is how trans women live the pandemic in Honduras.
That same year, amidst hurricanes Eta and Iota, Christina had to flee from the shelter where she was staying, because someone in the area told her that they had paid to kill her because of her link to the National Party. Soon after, she returned to San Pedro Sula because she felt she could not continue fleeing; she wanted to continue with her beauty salon and open the bar with her sister.
Osman Lara, of the LGBTQ+ Committee of Valle de Sula, an organization that today held a sit-in to demand a prompt investigation and the return of Christina, said that this kidnapping reflects the ineffectiveness of the justice system in the country, since despite having made the complaint almost at the time of her capture, the police have not yet assigned a person to the case.
A source with knowledge of the Honduran prison system confirmed to this newspaper that Christina is not deprived of her liberty in any prison. Dipampco confirmed to this newspaper that there were no operations in that area during those days. “When we carry out operations, we immediately present them to the media; however, remember that gang members carry out their misdeeds with uniforms similar to those of the police authorities”, reiterated the Dimpamco spokesman.
Today, Christina’s family and friends met at the same place where her sister went to look for her on the day of her disappearance, in front of the First Police Station in San Pedro Sula, to demand Christina be returned alive and that justice will be served.