The rise of gangs in Honduras

I am going to attempt to discuss why the gang culture that exists in Honduras is so prevalent – however this is a hugely complex topic which is quite controversial and open to a lot of debate, but I will try my best. One of the reasons I started my blog was to raise awareness of the problems in Honduras, and the region of Central America, and the reasons behind these problems are important and not often understood. I’m sorry if you find it really boring but I find it super interesting and hope you will read 🙂

 

Why are drugs and gangs so prevalent in Honduras today?

Most countries have some sort of gang culture, and like most, Honduras’ gangs were existent but didn’t cause too many problems 30 years ago – however the situation changed dramatically in the 1980s. Civil conflicts hit the region at this time and Honduras became very unstable. In fear of their lives many Hondurans, and people from other Central American countries, fled to the United States – many went to LA due to its proximity and the promise of work. However, the gang culture was already strong in LA at this point and due to insecurity many Central Americans either joined gangs or created their own. It was at this time that the two largest Central American gangs were created – the 18th street (M-18) and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangs. M-18 was created by Mexicans in LA and MS-13 was created by an El Salvadoran youth in LA1; therefore neither of these gangs originated from Honduras, or Honduran people. However today, it is arguable that it is Honduras that suffers the most from their creation. The gangs found it easy to recruit in LA as illegal immigrants arrived and had no where to sleep, no money and no friends and so they were desperate. The gangs were even known to recruit from as young as 9 years old and train these young people to kill.

 

Despite LA’s already prevalent gang culture, the US decided that these new gangs were making the situation worse in the UK and therefore they felt able to justify the deportation of tens of thousands of Latin Americans. It seems that, unable to kick US citizen gang members out of the country, it was easier to deport those who they were legally able to. These deportations occurred in the 2000s. Between 2001 and 2010, it is estimated that almost 130,000 convicted criminals were deported to Central America; Honduras received 44,042 criminals2. The population of Honduras today is around 7,700,000 people, the population of the UK is 62,000,000 people. Therefore, relatively, it would be like having 400,000 criminal gang members thrown into the UK (yes, I did the maths!). So this was a big problem for Honduras to deal with. Due to many of the people that were being deported being youths, and therefore in many cases had spent their whole lives in the US, they often did not know how to speak Spanish or have any connections in the new country. Therefore the gangs again fed on this desperation and were able to quickly develop and became more organised. I have also read that the Central American countries that received deportees had no information about why the criminals had been deported and what the crimes they had committed were3 and so they could not detain them and they were free to carry on with their crimes. The emergence of these new, and deadly, gangs can’t be fully blamed on the US and it’s strict deportation approach – however I believe it has been a huge influence. When the gangs were in the US they had strict prison systems, a functioning government and a reliable police force to limit the activities of the gangs. But when they were sent to Central America, the gangs no longer had these limitations and began to expand their crimes in hope of more money and more power with little resistance from the government.

 

One of the easiest, and most lucrative, ways for Central American gangs to earn money was drug trafficking. As the Mexican government became stricter in its control over Mexican gangs, the official routes used moved to Central America – and central to the region sits Honduras. It has also been easy for gangs to use the country as a passage from South America to the US due to its shockingly corrupt government that allows the crime to continue in exchange for huge amount of money. Honduras is said to receive a shocking 79% of of the drug flights that leave their South American neighbours4.. The drug trafficking situation in Honduras, and the gangs that control it, has become almost untouchable. The government is corrupt and therefore is easily paid off. Those who do speak out against the violence are often silenced – a shocking number of journalists have been murdered in the last 5 years. At least 20 have died since the 2009 coup5. There is even a Wikipedia page listing the number of victims. In 2009 the anti-drug trafficking force, Julian Aristides Gonzalez, was shot 11 times as he dropped his daughter at school6. These murders are barely investigated and very rarely solved and so drug gangs face impunity, paving the way for them to continue silencing anyone who may affect their operations in Honduras. Over the past decade the number of murders in Honduras has grown rapidly, now reaching around 86 per 100,000 and shows no sign of slowing down. In one article I read while researching this topic I came across an article by an American journalist living in America. He talks about one night where he joined a police patrol in San Pedro Sula (the largest and most dangerous city in Honduras), in one night he saw ‘the bodies of two bus drivers who had been killed for refusing to pay a cut to gangs, a police officer executed on a highway with a single shot to the head, and three people shot dead in a pool hall for what was described as “a settling of accounts”’7. This was just one city, one police patrol… in one night. The more control these gangs have upon Honduras, the more the violence is spreading to those who have not chosen a life of crime, but have fought against it or simply just got in the way. I’m not sure what the future holds for Honduras but unless the government can make big changes, the future does not look hopeful for the people here.

 

  1. http://www-pub.naz.edu/~gbower6/history.html

  2. http://www.insightcrime.org/violence-against-migrants/part-ii-gangs-deportation-and-violence-in-central-america

  3. http://www-pub.naz.edu/~gbower6/history.html

  4. http://www.hondurasweekly.com/national/item/16293-the-struggle-to-survive-in-honduras

  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-18083550

  6. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1948258,00.html

  7. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57561301/inside-the-worlds-deadliest-country-honduras/?pageNum=2

     

 

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Should I be scared?

As some of you may have noticed, I go through stages where I write quite a few blogs within a few days and then I will go quiet for a couple of weeks… I feel that at times I just have so much to say and not wanting to bore anyone specifically, it is better to vent my thoughts on here (and then hopefully someone might find it interesting and maybe even learn something!). From my last post on the men here, I had some great replies from friends on facebook and I hope they won’t mind if I share them here… 

A fellow ICYE volunteer from the UK who was here last year said: 

“Oh dear, it really is a relentless daily trial! It’s like they don’t have a choice, a weird compulsion. I did meet some brilliant Honduran male friends though, they arent all the same, keep going 🙂 xxx” 

Another friend who is Honduran but has a lot of foreign girl friends: 

“It’s not going to change linda!… I talked to you about this the first day we met… men here literally hunt down foreigners… they even hunt me beacause I dont look honduran… and its difficult to tell who hangs out with you because of WHO YOU ARE or because of WHERE you come from (how blond your hair is, or how white your skin is)… I can tell the difference… because Im honduran, but more because Ive been A LOT around foreign girls… and I know how honduran men act around them… but the saddest part is that it works like that between hondurans as well (they will always ask for your last-name.. and you are worth what your family name is worth…) and the bad news is that you are caught in both situations… (physically) because you are CHELA (white and blond) and (socially) because your last name here in honduras is Jess ENGLAND……it’s so TRUE! I’m not joking… being appreciated for WHO you are and for HOW you think is the thing i miss the MOST about europe!! I’m sorry for my horrible honesty and my horrible english as well… hehehehe” (you’re English is amazing chica!!!)

I also had a good friend (a boy!!) text me and say that it is part of the culture and they are not all like that which I do totally agree with. I have met some guys who are lovely – they just seem to be in the minority. But for example, I have a taxi guy who I always use called Angel. He is an angel. He is always so polite on the phone and (almost) always comes to pick me up when I need a taxi somewhere – even in the storm that happened last week. And he always gets out of the car and opens the door for me! He also likes to laugh at my poor Spanish but I let him off for that. So there are some nice ones I promise! 

So, why should I be scared? Well become I am in Honduras obviously!! I mentioned the Daily Mail article recently about how murderous Honduran cities and to be honest when I read it, I thought nothing of it. You quickly get used to the horror stories here – you can’t listen too much or you would never leave your house. But I guess some people never do leave their house, car or work. I have also, personally, not seen anything to make me feel uneasy. I walk past the newspaper photos every day but they are somewhere else so it’s not real right?? But I feel like I’ve had a bit of a wake up call today. 

Firstly, I have been reading a fellow Brit’s blog who is in Honduras (yes, a brummy in Honduras!! We’re hoping to meet up next week, whoop!) and he worked in Caza Alianza which is probably one of the biggest children’s charities here. Some of the stories from his blog (children from the charity being murdered and him getting robbed) are scary and very sad – you can read it here http://elcatracho1.wordpress.com/ . 

Secondly, I had a few texts from Laura on her way home saying she thinks she drove past the scene of a murder. As well, she saw a young girl who had clearly very recently given birth getting on a yellow bus (the horrible scary ones) with just her baby, mum and a black binliner with her things in. No Dad, no husband to help her. Maybe not so scary, but very sad and a horrible reminder of the extreme poverty here. 

Lastly, a Honduran has just posted a status on Facebook about the fact that there has been 13 murders in San Pedro and Tegucigalpa in the last 24 hours. It is hard not to see that about the place you are living and not feel at least a little uneasy. You can try to read the story in a Honduran newspaper here – http://www.elheraldo.hn/Secciones-Principales/Sucesos/Al-menos-13-muertos-deja-jueves-violento-en-Honduras

I am not saying all of this to scare and worry anyone at home – it does actually sound worse than it is. The UN and the World’s media like to discuss the fact that Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world regularly. But they often fail to mention that the majority of these murders are connected to the gangs and drug issues here. It isn’t usually your average person walking down the street who is in danger. I get taxis home at 9 or 10 o’clock at night and there are still a lot of people walking around the centro, so they can’t be too scared. It often seems unfair that Honduras is often broadcast as the most murderous country in the world but you have to question the statistics of these claims and how reliable they are. One of the first internet searches I did when I arrived here was ‘how many murders does Afghanistan/Iraq have a year?’; it doesn’t make sense that these countries that are war torn and constantly in the news for suicide bombs claiming dozens of lives are supposedly safer than here. As of 2011, Honduras has the most murders at a rate of 82.1 per 100,000 people and El Salvador was second with 66.0 (huge difference but why??). Afghanistan (according to the UNODC) has a murder rate of 2.4 and Iraq 2. But yet, if people were given a choice of Honduras and Afghanistan to visit I know where most would choose. At least for me, these statistics don’t make sense. 

Despite all this, I have fallen hard for this country and I am really enjoying it here. Despite all the scary statistics and horror stories, I have a normal life here and it feels like home now. I go to work, I meet friends and I go on trips at the weekend. Somehow it is easy (too easy) to ignore the problems here and forget where you are. So for many reasons I love it here, but hearing what Laura saw today it makes me want to help so much – more than I am now so hopefully either while I am here or after I can do something to make more of a difference.