In Honduras crime is endemic. With a population of 7.3 millions and 4.473 homicides, its per capita murder rate back in 2008 was 59,7 x 100.000 inhabitants, the second worst in the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2011 Global Study on Homicide, Honduras has become today the nation with the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.
Almost 80% of the victims are killed with a gun and most of the homicides are committed in public places of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, the political and the economic capital of the country, by hired killers, usually members of a gang recruited by the Mexican and Colombian narco cartels. More than a third of the victims has less than 24 years of age. The country has a youthful population; 50% of Hondurans are under the age of 19. But endemic poverty, chronic unemployment and the prospects offered by drug trafficking have contributed to a virulent crime wave conducted mainly by youth gangs known as “maras”. The maras are said to have tens of thousands of members and use threats and violence to control poorer districts in towns and cities. Imported by returning immigrants from the US, Honduras was the least prepared State of Central America to cope with the youth phenomenon and only in 2003 a plan of specific laws against the maras was implemented by the government, substantially giving the police the right to arrest anyone suspected of being a member of a gang just for having tattoos or the way of dressing.
After the 2005 presidential electoral campaign which saw Pepe Lobo, the National Party candidate, promise the population to reintroduce the death penalty, the gangs changed their criminal habits and their strategies. Both the biggest maras, the Eighteen Street or 18 and the mara Salvatrucha or MS13, became partners of the narco cartels running the drug business. Those who decide to quit the mara have to live with a lifetime death sentence on them. It’s a rule. No one can leave behind his mara, and doing so he put at risk the life of his familiy and friends, at all times. Most of them grew up in the streets and entered the gang very young. Fabian, Ana, Nelson, Luis Omar, Robin, Carlos Alberto, Axel were well known with the names they were given entering the maras. El Demente, la Casper, el Sombra, el Plaga, el Pantera, el Bestia, Spike. All of them have killed the first time entering the mara, when they were “initiated”. Abandoned from their parents, they thought the gang as a new kind of family but without really knowing what it was, its strict rules, the stress of living under constant threat and the immense quantity of violence it would have brought in their lives. Like them, there are some 50.000 kids at risk reported only in Tegucigalpa. Probably ten times more in all the country.
In Honduras, social discrimination is very strong. There is an increasing feeling of uncertainty about the chronically poor security situation, the widely spread corruption among politicians and police officers. The increasing number of people living in extreme poverty is leading to an always higher number of kids living in the streets and most likely going to enter the maras.
Honduras, march-april 2009
Published on Internazionale, Italy – July 2012 / Private 48, Italy