No safety net 

A Tampa man's murder leads his family to seek answers through a documentary

Invincible.

That's how Kristina Lima thought of her father, Tampa lawyer and entrepreneur Albert Lima.

"He was smarter than everyone; he was stronger than everyone; he was bigger. We saw it as if anything did happen, it wouldn't be anything he couldn't handle."

The son of Cuban immigrants who worked in Ybor's cigar factories, Lima was also "very trusting," says his daughter -- especially "if you were of Hispanic descent."

In February 2000, that trust, and that invincibility, were irrevocably smashed. Lima was found murdered in the mountains of Roatan, a small island off the coast of Honduras, his body shoved into the vegetation along a dirt road. His killer, after beating him and shooting him through the head, had left Lima's body to bloat under the tropical sun.

"After he died, I realized that I had no one to fall back on," remembers Kristina, who is the owner of Gourmet Pizza Company in South Tampa. "He was my safety net. That whole sense of security that whatever you get yourself into your dad will be there, it was gone."

Now her brother Paul, an L.A.-based filmmaker, is using his father's story to raise questions about the lack of protection for all Americans traveling and doing business in Central America. In his new documentary, My Father's People, which screens for an invited audience this weekend at the Tampa Picture Show, he asks why the U.S. government did so little to assist his family and to track down his father's murder -- and warns that other families may suffer as his did.

Albert Lima began visiting Honduras in the mid-'80s. He and his friends from Stetson Law School days, Bill Yanger and Larry Scott, would take a couple of weeks off to fish in Roatan, where Yanger had a family home.

In 1986, during one Roatan trip, Lima befriended Octavio Coleman, owner of the island's only bakery. Coleman told him that the bank was going to foreclose on his business because he couldn't keep up with payments on an $85,000 loan, and asked Lima for help. The retired lawyer was reluctant at first, but eventually relented.

"As a kid," says Paul Lima, "I remember my father telling me how important it was to take care of our people. They were our own; we had to take care of them."

Lima agreed to pay off the $85,000 debt, with the stipulation that Coleman would repay as much as he could every month.

The arrangement worked for six years. Coleman made monthly payments, and Lima built a positive relationship with the Coleman family, frequently inviting Octavio's oldest son Martin to visit the States and stay with him and his wife Judy in their Carrollwood home.

In 1992, Octavio died and left the bakery to Martin. Soon, problems began. In the documentary, Martin says that his brothers -- Oral, Byron, Franco and Alex -- pressured him to stop paying the "gringo." Meanwhile, Lima. at Martin's suggestion, purchased new ovens and bread trucks. Business improved, but the debt payments stopped.

A grueling legal battle followed, winding up in the country's highest court, and Lima was awarded ownership of the bakery in 1999. Finally, in February of 2000 he returned to Honduras to close the failed business venture once and for all.

Martin Coleman describes the kidnapping in the documentary. By his account, he met Lima at the airport and they both headed out to close up the bakery. He says that his brothers then showed up with guns and dragged Lima to their car.

"Oral grabbed his gun," says Martin, "and 'Pow!'"

That night, Feb. 8, Martin called the Lima family and told them Albert had been abducted. Immediately, the family called the U.S. embassy in Honduras to see what was being done.

"It was news to them," says Paul. "When we called them, they had no idea what we were talking about."

The family grew so frustrated that they sent Yanger and Scott to Honduras.

"It got to the point where Bill and Larry had a wad of five-dollar bills they were passing out, just trying to get information about where my father was."

In the documentary, the two friends return to the place where they found Albert's body. They explain how a woman directed them to a spot where there'd been so much blood in the dirt she thought a cow had been slaughtered.

Once the body was found, the Limas encountered new frustrations.

"We got a call from the state department on Friday at 7 p.m., saying that if they didn't have $10,000 from us by Monday morning, they were going to bury our father's body in an unmarked grave in Honduras," said Paul. "They told us that the Honduran government had laws saying that a body could be kept for only three days, and that after that it would be buried and we wouldn't be able to get it back."

The family got the money together only to find later on that the state department's information had been wrong: The coroner in Honduras told Paul that there was no such policy.

The snail's pace of the investigation, the apathy of the state department, the pain of his father's death all became too much for Paul. Desperation prompted him to start his own investigation in Honduras in 2004.

"I started learning that everything I had been told for the past years was literally a lie," Paul said. "The embassy, the state department, the documents they sent us. Things were not being done. The officials I talked to didn't even know what I was talking about."

Oral Coleman was not tracked down until 2005. He's now in jail, but has not yet been charged or tried in court. According to Kristina, the family now believes that the actual mastermind behind the crime was Martin Coleman, who was himself shot and killed at the bakery earlier this year.

From his investigation, Lima began to understand the limits to American citizens' safety abroad. And with that realization came the idea for a documentary to not only tell the story of his father, but to educate.

"I didn't make this movie so that people are like, 'That's so sad for the Lima family,'" said Lima, "I want them to view the movie and fear for themselves. I want them to know that it's happened before, it happened to me, and it will happen again as long as Americans ignore the issue.

"The moral of the story," he continues, "is that if someone has a problem with American businessmen doing business in Central America, that person can kill them and nothing will be done about it and the problem goes away."

Paul has created a website, myfatherspeople.com, which includes a petition asking Congress to "apply greater pressure to foreign government agencies as it pertains to the safety and/or recovery of American citizens that are harmed, kidnapped or murdered abroad" -- especially, the petition concludes, "countries with which we are engaged in free trade agreements."

He already has the support of at least one Congressman: Florida gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, who is interviewed in the documentary.

"We are going to be traveling more to these countries," Davis says in an on-camera interview, "and something needs to change or Americans shouldn't visit these countries."

In Honduras, the former Minister of Security, Oscar Alvarez, has opened an agency dedicated specifically to crimes committed against Americans in Honduras.

Paul sees this as a first positive step, but says he won't stop until United States policies improve.

"I can't blame the country of Honduras or the United States for my father's murder. No agency could have prevented that," Lima said. "With this documentary, I am trying to point out that our country needs to step it up."

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