Archive for August, 2014

Why they flee: Life in the murder capital of the world, San Pedro Sula, Honduras
by Dan Lieberman
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras–A crowd gathered around the crime scene tape to look at the latest victims — the bodies of six men, including a police officer.
They were all killed in a gunfight on a Thursday evening in a residential neighborhood, just before sunset.
Less than 24 hours later, the scene repeated just a few miles away. This time, three men were shot in a supermarket parking lot. Music played on the outdoor speakers while police searched for shell casings.
One of the victims lay behind his bullet-riddled pickup truck for hours. He was a bystander killed in the crossfire, according to Honduran military Col. German Alfaro, who arrived on the scene.
When Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández took office in January, he deployed the army to quell the violence—promising a soldier on every street corner.
Col. Alfaro blamed the shootout—which occurred while the supermarket was full of local residents buying groceries —on a conflict between drug traffickers.
“That’s how it is,” he said. “You could be at the wrong place at the wrong time when things like this happen and anyone can die.”
These are typical scenes for a city in the grip of a violent gang war. San Pedro Sula has—for the last two years—had the highest murder rate of any city in the world, according to the Mexican think tank Citizen Council for Public Security, Justice, and Peace. The homicide rate in 2013 was 169 murders per 100,000 residents.
By comparison, the most dangerous city in the United States on the list, New Orleans, had a rate of 56.13 murders per 100,000 residents for the same year.
Gang warfare has left its mark on places like Chamelecon, a working class neighborhood in the southern part of the city where two gangs with roots in Los Angeles – the MS-13 and 18th Street gang – battle for control.
We accompanied a military patrol through the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon. On one corner, a barber shop stood vacant and riddled with bullets. The gangs impose taxes on businesses and families here. If you don’t pay, you run or get killed.
We counted 25 vacant homes during our tour. Our military guides let us into one. It appeared the former residents had left in a hurry: belongings were scattered across the floor — teddy bears, passports, a woman’s shoe, and a fourth grader’s homework. Officers told us that families started to leave a few years ago.
Walking through their bedrooms, I could only imagine how afraid they must have been to leave everything behind. They had a life here. It was easy to wonder where they went, whether they made it, and if they are still alive. They may well have made the same choice that so many of their compatriots have in recent months – and fled north.
Since last October, more than 63,000 undocumented minors — many younger than 12 — have been detained at the U.S. border. Most of them were from violent cities and towns in Central America’s “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. A Pew research study showed that San Pedro Sula sent more children to the U.S. — about 2,200 — than any other city in the region.
To understand the reasons for the exodus, we spoke to a wide range of people who confront the crisis of violence in San Pedro including a mother who lost one son to the violence and feared for the life of another, a military commander trying to restore order and a “coyote” who works smuggling people out of the country.
We learned firsthand why people flee, and how those who stay behind try to survive in a city where death — or fear of it — is a part of daily life.

Unthinkable violence drives Hondurans north to United States

  • In Mexico July 22, a Central American migrant walks toward “La Bestia,” a cargo train headed for the U.S. border. (Newscom/AFP/Getty Images/Ronaldo Schemidt)

They set out — alone, terrified and at the utter mercy of gangs and criminals — on a treacherous journey for the promised land: a mass exodus of children, some as young as 4.

Most are fleeing their homes in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, and it is un milagro, a miracle, if they ever arrive at the U.S. border.

The migrant trails through Mexico are torturous and fraught with dangers. Most children must not only endure the blazing desert sun, but get through La Arrocera, a lawless region where many have been beaten, robbed or raped. More than a few are murdered.

They are often shaken down by corrupt Mexican police and immigration officers who threaten to deport them unless they pay a bribe. Some are kidnapped and held in groups until relatives pay a ransom.

But if their luck holds — if they escape serious injury and have not been deported or abducted — they might catch a ride on the roof of a freight train that could bring them near the U.S. border.

But the train, known as “La Bestia,” has its own deadly perils, as it passes through areas controlled by drug cartels. Children have fallen off or been thrown off the roof if they couldn’t pay criminals who prey on the easy targets.

If they do make it to the border, they face swimming the Rio Grande. If their families have paid a coyote to get them across the border, their smuggler is likely to also be a drug trafficker. Criminals control the crossings, which are usually the same paths that drug mules use to cross the river.

If they don’t drown, they arrive strangers in a strange land. More than a few of the girls are pregnant from rape. After a 1,500-mile trek through a modern-day heart of darkness, they are greeted with hostility by U.S. Border Patrol agents. More than 60,000 children have been arrested so far this year, many of whom are warehoused in detention centers, where they often languish in a legal limbo.

And yet they keep coming.

A desperate choice

Michelle Brané, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice Program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, has offered an explanation: “While some children may be seeking to reunite with their parents or family in the United States, the motivating factor forcing them from their homes is violence and persecution. The children we spoke with told us they feared they would die if they stayed in their home country, and although they might die during the journey, at least they would have a chance.”

The latest United Nations homicide figures show that these children are fleeing the most violent countries in the world: Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala are three of the top five murder capitals of the world.

Desperate families face a desperate choice: Do they risk having their children remain in their home country, where they have witnessed unthinkable violence and criminal gangs attack or forcibly recruit them? Or do they hand their children and a year’s wages over to smugglers who claim they can get them into los Estados Unidos?

The United Nations has urged the U.S. to treat the children from these three countries as refugees displaced by armed conflict, but politics being what they are, the White House and Congress are engaged in partisan battles and remain deadlocked over both short- and long-term solutions.

President Barack Obama has deported more than 2 million immigrants, a rate greater than that of any other president in history, but Attorney General Eric Holder has defended his record, saying, “The president has been unfairly labeled the deporter-in-chief.”

The National Lawyers Guild has criticized the administration for expediting the deportations of children “fleeing persecution and violence in Central America,” and for continuing to jail “thousands of women and children in hastily erected family detention centers, despite reports of abuse.”

It’s “a wholly inadequate response” and “ignores the root causes of this forced migration,” the guild said, calling on the administration to adhere to its international human rights obligations and provide legal counsel to the children.

To stem the flow from Honduras, the country with the largest number of migrant children, the Obama administration has proposed a plan to consider giving them refugee status once they are screened in their own country.

Meanwhile, House Republicans passed two measures before the summer recess that would speed up deporting children, legislation that a Catholic bishop called “a low point for our country,” and The Wall Street Journal blasted in an editorial. The newspaper took Republicans on for instigating “a screaming match on the floor in full view of the national media” and portraying itself as a “party whose preoccupation is deporting children,” something certain “to alienate many conservatives, never mind minority voters.”

Not about economics

Many Americans wrongly assume that most of these children are economic migrants. Some children no doubt want to escape extreme poverty. About 30 percent of Hondurans, according to the World Bank, live on less than $2 a day. And so-called free trade agreements like CAFTA, which protect corporations and promote sweatshops, have made the poor in these countries even poorer.

But poverty can’t explain the current crisis. Neighboring Nicaragua — the poorest country in Central America — has very few child migrants.

A May 27 Border Patrol report states that while Guatemalan children from rural areas might be seeking economic opportunities, those from Honduras and El Salvador “come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.”

Of the top 10 cities children are fleeing, seven are in Honduras, the report shows, with San Pedro Sula being No. 1.

What has been largely missing from the public debate is the elephant in the room: the full extent to which past and current U.S. policies have fostered the dire and violent conditions in these three countries, especially the U.S. training and funding of Latin American militaries.

Add to that the insatiable U.S. demand for illegal drugs and a U.S.-led drug war that has miserably failed, judging from the thriving drug cartels, the ready availability of drugs, the increase in migrants and the exploding homicide rates.

The most salient piece absent from debate on the Honduran refugee crisis is the Obama administration’s failure to act in 2009 after the Honduran military overthrew the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya.

The coup was led by Gen. Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez, who twice received training at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The institution in Fort Benning, Ga., has trained so many coup leaders it was nicknamed the “School of Coups.” Two other Honduran SOA-trained gen-erals — Juan Melgar Castro and Policarpo Paz García — overthrew earlier governments.

In 2009, not only did then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton resist international pressure to reinstate Zelaya, but the administration allowed the training of Honduran officers to continue at the Fort Benning school despite its claims that it had cut military ties to the nation and despite federal law requiring that U.S. military aid and training be suspended when a country undergoes a military coup.

The blowback was almost immediate, as the U.S. disregard for the rule of law wasn’t lost on the coup leaders.

Right after deposing the president, according to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report, “the de facto government suspended key civil liberties, including freedom of the press and assembly. In the ensuing days, security forces responded to generally peaceful demonstrations with excessive force and shut down opposition media outlets, which caused several deaths, scores of injuries, and thousands of arbitrary detentions.”

In 2011, the Honduran Congress enacted a “decree allowing military personnel to carry out public security duties,” the report said. In 2013, it passed another law creating “a military police force with powers to seize control of violent neighborhoods and carry out arrests, among other duties, despite a history of abuse by the military against civilians.”

The bloodshed has gone unabated, with government and private security forces killing people alongside the drug cartels and gangs. A common perception is that gangs and drug cartels cause most of the violence, but human rights advocates say that these elements can’t flourish without the complicity of the police and the military.

The country’s murder rate spiked after the coup, going from 61.3 murders per 100,000 in 2008 to a whopping 90.4 in 2012, according to the latest U.N. figures, making Honduras the murder capital of the world. El Salvador ranks fourth with 41.2 and Guatemala fifth with 39.9.

The Human Rights Watch report concludes that the country “suffers from rampant crime and impunity for human rights abuses. … Perpetrators of killings and other violent crimes are rarely brought to justice.”

Yet, despite the repression and corruption, the U.S. has poured tens of millions of dollars into the country since the coup. And SOA/WHINSEC is still training Honduran officers, although it’s impossible to assess the impact of the ongoing training. That’s because the school has refused to release the names of its graduates ever since it was found in 2003 to have admitted human rights abusers like Salvadoran Col. Francisco del Cid — who had been cited by the 1993 U.N. Truth Commission for commanding a unit that dragged people from their homes and shot them at point blank range.

Children as collateral damage

The Obama administration’s inaction and disregard for the rule of law made Honduran children collateral damage from U.S. policies.

It also reinforced a bitter lesson Hondurans learned in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration pressured its leaders into joining the U.S. war against Nicaragua — a war condemned by the International Court of Justice for “unlawful use of force.”

Washington had assembled a Contra army, comprised largely of Somoza’s former National Guard and led by officers the dictator had sent through the School of the Americas, then based in Panama.

These graduates included Ricardo “Chino” Lau, the counterintelligence chief implicated in the murder of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero; José Benito Bravo Centeno, a Contra commando trainer who murdered POWs; and Armando López, whom another Contra called a bloodthirsty serial killer.

The U.S. pressured Honduran President Roberto Suazo to make Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martínez, a 1978 SOA graduate, the head of the Honduran armed forces, a favor he returned by aiding and abetting the Contra operation.

Alvarez created Battalion 3-16, a CIA- and SOA-trained Honduran military unit that The Baltimore Sun exposed as a death squad, with former members admitting the people they interrogated were stripped, then shocked by electrical wires clipped to their genitals, often with rubber masks wrapped tightly around their faces to cut off their air supply. Women were routinely raped.

And yet Alvarez was awarded the Legion of Merit by the Reagan administration for encouraging “democratic processes.”

Hondurans not only saw the U.S. honoring a death squad creator, but illegally selling missiles to Iran to finance the Contra war after Congress cut off funding.

The Reagan administration’s point man in the Iran-Contra scandal was ex-Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, who also tried to recruit Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega, a five-time graduate of SOA, to destroy a Nicaraguan airport and an oil refinery.

What’s more, secret manuals were produced during the Reagan administration for the Honduran military, the Contras and the SOA, whose manual advocated torture and assassination and were passed out by U.S. mobile training teams.

No one was ever disciplined for producing or using the materials, another clear message to the militaries of Honduras and other Central American countries that anything goes.

Today, Honduran government death squads are using tactics similar to those used by the death squads of the 1980s: arriving in the middle of the night, masked and in dark unmarked vehicles, to assassinate their victims. A warehouse security camera caught a death squad in action in 2013, executing two students in the back of the head as they lay face-down in the street.

In December 2013, the chief of Honduras’ National Police, Gen. Juan Carlos Bonilla, an SOA graduate known as “el Tigre,” was fired after he was linked to a death squad.

“A death squad government may not be the Obama administration’s first choice for Honduras,” Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, wrote in The Guardian, “but they prefer it to another left government that people might elect if they were able to organize in a free election.”

Even a 2013 U.S. State Department report admitted that there continues to be “widespread impunity” and “unlawful and arbitrary killings by security forces, organized criminal elements, and others.” It also noted that seven journalists were killed and violent deaths of women increased by 246 percent in recent years.

This spring, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández sponsored a controversial military program called “Guardians of the Fatherland” to indoctrinate children as young as 5.

It was criticized as a path to militarization by José Guadalupe Ruelas, director of the children’s shelter Casa Alianza. In May, Honduran military police arrested, beat and dragged him face-down by his feet, according to Amnesty International and the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras.

Ruelas had also issued a report detailing “an emerging pattern of organized people with access to expensive vehicles, weapons and equipment, who kidnap, torture and kill poor children and youths, in almost total impunity.”

The bottom line is that the immigration crisis will never be solved as long as the U.S. funds repressive governments and trains their militaries under the pretext of the drug war, said Arturo Viscarra, an immigration lawyer who fled his Salvadoran homeland as a child and serves as the advocacy coordinator for the human rights organization SOA Watch.

“The U.S. has enormous power over Central America and an obligation to fix what it’s broken,” he said.

“When warning George Bush about invading Iraq, Colin Powell cited the Pottery Barn rule that if you break it, you own it.” The same applies to Honduras, Viscarra said — and Guatemala and El Salvador.

[Linda Cooper and James Hodge are the authors of Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of Americas.]

Report: World Bank Loan in Honduras Ignores Environmental and Social Risks

Resistance group Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguan (Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguan) holds a sign that says “No more murders of campesinos in the Aguan.” (Photo: AFP)

Resistance group Movimiento Unificado Campesino del Aguan (Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguan) holds a sign that says “No more murders of campesinos in the


The World Bank’s mission is to eradicate poverty. However, critics say its history in Latin America is tainted by land conflicts, human rights abuses, and environmental destruction.

The World Bank was criticized by its internal auditor on Monday for not properly carrying out adequate environmental and social safeguards before lending money to Honduras’ largest bank.

This is the second time this year that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the World Bank’s private-sector arm, has come under fire for irresponsible lending practices in Honduras.

The IFC’s Office of the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO) noted in its audit that the IFC’s 2011 loan of US$70 million to Banco Fichosa failed to adequately assess the Honduran bank’s high-risk clients.

“The absence of an environmental and social review process that was commensurate to risk meant that key decision makers … were not presented with an adequate assessment of the risks that were attached to this investment,” the CAO report stated.

One of Fichosa’s clients, also a past IFC loan recipient, is the Honduran palm oil company Dinant. Dinant’s operations in Honduras’ Bajo Aguan Valley have sparked decades-long land disputes with local campesinos, along with charges of human rights abuses against the company.

Human rights groups claim that the company’s private security, working closely with Honduran military forces, is responsible for the murder of at least dozens of local campesinos – a fact that the CAO cited in a previous audit released in January criticizing the IFC’s 2009 loan to Dinant.

The CAO stated in Monday’s report that discovering that Dinant was a client of Fichosa, “a company which IFC knew to be affected by a violent land conflict,” led the auditing agency to initiate its investigation.

“Let’s be clear, this is not just about failing to take account of social and environmental risks. This is the World Bank profiteering from businesses that are implicated in murders, disappearances and land theft,” David Pred, Managing Director of Inclusive Development International, told teleSUR English.

Carla Garcia Zendejas, a program director at the Washington-based Center for International Environmental Law, said that while one could conclude that financial interests may trump human rights concerns at the World Bank, the organization’s bureaucratic structure may also be to blame.

“Some information is getting in but it’s not being used to halt investments in these dangerous situations where human rights violations exist and the rule of law is already compromised on the ground,” she said in an interview with teleSUR English.

The IFC, in a written response to the CAO report, said that changes have already been made to address any procedural shortcomings.

“Under this new structure, [environmental and social] risk will receive the same weight and attention as financial and reputation risk,” stated the response released on Monday.

Tanya Kerssen, Research Coordinator for Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy, told teleSUR English that critics shouldn’t look at the cases of Dinant and Fichosa as institutional failures on the part of the World Bank; rather, these cases should be viewed through the broader context of the Bank’s larger purpose of advancing capitalism and neoliberal reforms in the developing world.

She also dismissed the IFC’s response of prioritizing environmental and social risks as nothing more than empty rhetoric.

“Unfortunately, whether its agriculture or extractive industries, the Bank has a long history of using social and environmental impact assessments as a means of pushing projects through and legitimizing them instead of as a tool to examine the real impacts of a potential investment,” said Kerssen.

Bad Role Models

The Embattled Arrival of Honduras’ Model Cities

“The Voice of Zacate Grande” is a community radio station named after the island in southern Honduras from where it broadcasts. Located off a dusty road that winds past modest homes and stunning views of the beautiful Gulf of Fonesca, the station has become a focal point of the local community’s resistance to the ongoing land conflict with Miguel Facusse, the richest man in Honduras and reportedly its largest landowner. On the wall outside the station hangs a portrait of Francisco Morazán, revered by Hondurans for his progressive vision and courageous leadership in the newly independent country more than a century ago. These days his portrait has become a symbol of a new struggle for freedom.

Zacate Grande’s plight seems likely to get worse. In May, the Honduran Supreme Court upheld a law, passed by the National Congress last year, authorizing the creation of so-called Zones for Employment and Economic Development (ZEDEs). Modeled on the charter cities concept designed by Paul Romer, an economics professor at New York University, ZEDEs will be semi-autonomous areas that are free to set up their own laws and enforce them via security forces and a judicial system established by them. In theory, these charter cities are designed to spur widespread economic growth by allowing free enterprise to circumvent the country’s weak political institutions.

In practice, however, ZEDEs seem likely to benefit only Honduras’ existing economic and political elites and foreign investors. The laws allowing ZEDEs have been designed to give their investors maximal legal and financial protection, leaving residents with only minimal legal recourse and democratic rights. If Zacate Grande is subsumed into the first ZEDE, the island’s 5,000 inhabitants will lose the right to help determine what happens to its land or its resources. And that has generated alarm among the residents about international investors more focused on earning a profit than building a sustainable economy and a fair political order.


The Honduran government’s approval of the creation of model cities follows the marked deterioration of economic and social conditions after the 2009 coup that ousted President Mel Zelaya, a populist who had been elected in 2006. Between 2010 and 2012, the conservative forces that controlled the national government drastically cut spending on public services, including housing, health care, and education. Extreme poverty rose by 26.3 percent; almost two-thirds of Hondurans now live below the poverty line. And inequality increased rapidly — in the first two years after the coup, the wealthiest 10 percent of Hondurans reaped 100 percent of the country’s real income gains.

At the same time, violence and insecurity have careened out of control. Since 2011, Honduras has claimed the highest per capita murder rate in the world. The international media has typically attributed the violence to drug traffickers and gangs. But that has obscured the role played by the notoriously corrupt police force and military who enforce the government’s policies with lethal means. Over the past year and a half, more than 400 children have been murdered. Journalists, lawyers, judges, human rights defenders, land rights activists, opposition party members, members of the LGBT community, and indigenous activists are routinely targeted for brutal repression by state and private security forces.

It was against this backdrop of economic and social mayhem that Romer first urged Honduras to experiment with model cities. He claimed that in order to spur growth, Honduras should allow foreign investors to circumvent the country’s poor governance and endemic corruption. New cities, he argued, would bypass Honduras’ existing elites, to the benefit of the rest of the country. But Romer failed to consider that model cities could create a new style of corruption. Honduras’ existing political elites began using Romer’s concept to help deep-pocketed international investors manipulate the rules in their favor.

The law for Special Development Regions (REDs), which the Honduran Congress passed in 2011, ostensibly realized Romer’s vision for model cities. Romer envisioned inviting investors to develop new cities on uninhabited or sparsely populated land and placing few restrictions on how they could govern those areas. But he insisted that it was important to require transparency in order to ensure that the model cities were appropriately administered. Romer endorsed Honduras’ proposed law in 2011, but he unexpectedly distanced himself from it in 2012, in part because the Honduran government dispensed with the Transparency Commission on which Romer expected to serve.

That same year, Honduras’ Supreme Court invalidated the law on constitutional grounds. But shortly thereafter, the government illegally removed four of the five justices who had ruled against the REDs, replacing them with judges more amenable to the government’s agenda. In 2013, the Congress passed a law authorizing ZEDEs, which was substantially similar to the RED law, and even less protective of democratic principles. For example, the Honduran government permitted international investors to build ZEDEs anywhere in the country, including in areas that were already inhabited, thus dispossessing existing residents. (Romer had argued that it was important that workers “vote with their feet” — that is to say, they actively choose to live in the cities in question.)

ZEDEs will be overseen by a 21-person committee comprised of members that are allied with the national government and independent free market libertarians. That committee will delegate authority for each new ZEDE to a five-member subcommittee that will — with the expected input of major investors — appoint an administrator to oversee the creation of the zone’s civil, criminal, and administrative institutions. For the Hondurans who may suddenly find themselves living within these cities’ boundaries or neighboring them, this is an alarming prospect. They will be deprived of many of the constitutional and other types of protection granted to their fellow citizens. Moreover, they will lack meaningful legal recourse, for example, if the security forces created by investors are repressive, or the administrators prove to be corrupt. Each ZEDE is expected to develop its own judicial system of common law courts — again, under the guidance of individual investors — which is entirely independent of the Honduran civil law system. Further, there is no apparent mechanism to appeal beyond the ZEDE judiciary.

On May 26, the Supreme Court upheld the ZEDEs law. Feasibility studies are now underway at several sites in Honduras. In densely populated areas of over 100,000 people, citizens can reject a proposed ZEDE charter through a referendum. But for low-density communities and designated areas on the country’s coasts, no citizen input is required. That leaves the inhabitants of Zacate Grande without any right to self-determination.


For marginalized communities in Honduras, model cities have stirred memories of the country’s long history of class struggles over land. Land captured centuries ago by European imperialists was eventually passed on to local oligarchs. Agrarian reform efforts initiated in the 1960s aimed to give marginalized communities formal ownership over the land they inhabited for generations, but those endeavors were undermined by business elites through coercion, fraud, and intimidation. Poor communities still suffer from dispossession, food insecurity, and repression as a result of their lack of legally recognized land title.

Honduras’ land-owning elites seldom feel compelled to do anything to mitigate that suffering. Indeed, when the country’s dispossessed have attempted to protest their condition, the elites have a history of fighting back viciously. Peasants in fertile the Northern Bajo Aguan region resisting land grabs by the Honduran businessman Facusse, have faced a brutal crackdown that has resulted in 140 deaths.

The pending arrival of model cities has been another case in point. On September 4, 2012, Antonio Trejo, a human rights lawyer who had been representing the peasants of Bajo Aguan, helped draft a constitutional challenge to the RED law, despite several death threats against him and repeated requests for police protection that went unheeded. Seventeen days later, he was gunned down outside a wedding he was attending in the city of Tegucigalpa. (Earlier that day, Trejo had publicly accused legislators of using the model cities to fund raise.) Five months later, his brother was shot by unknown assailants.

The residents of Zacate Grande refuse to be intimidated. “Voice of Zacate Grande” continues its daily broadcasts in support of the community’s struggle for self-determination. Unfortunately, the odds remain stacked against it. Honduras’ political and economic elites are skilled at dividing and conquering marginalized communities through various means. They might try to buy off some members of the community in order to create friction within it. They will likely continue to try to instill fear among the residents of the island. There are already reports of land speculators arriving in the town of Amapala, on neighboring Tiger Island, buying out some small landholders, and telling others that if they don’t sell, they won’t be able to afford the property taxes after the arrival of the ZEDEs. Residents will continue to fight for their rights and their survival, but with the advent of international capital drawing closer, the exploitation and dispossession of Honduras’ poor will likely continue unabated.

For Hondurans it does not really matter whether the Democratic or Republican Party wins. The USA government has always maintained close ties with the arm forces and the corporate and political elite groups; and that is why they have turned this country into a huge United States military base. On our grounds we have 13 United States military bases. US was behind the coup back in 2009 which harmed us in evry way. One thing is the people of the United States; however, its government is a totally different story.

Hillary Clinton’s Real Scandal Is Honduras, Not Benghazi

Saturday, 26 July 2014 11:09 By Emily Schwartz Greco, OtherWords | Op-Ed

2014 726 hil swHilary Clinton speaking at a Rally in North Carolina, May 2, 2008. (Photo: Keith Kissel / Flickr)Is it too soon to predict who will be the next president of the United States?

Without officially declaring her intention to run again, Hillary Clinton has cornered Democratic frontrunner status. Given the weak and crowded Republican field, that makes her the presumptive next occupant of a prestigious office lacking – as comedian Jon Stewart observes – any corners.

Clinton’s apparent unbeatability this time around helps explain the right-wing hysteria over the Benghazi tragedy. The conspiracy theories about the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya amount to a desperate effort to discredit the Democratic Party’s strong centrist candidate. It’s no surprise that this ploy isn’t making a dent on her popularity.

What beats me is why more Democrats aren’t deeply troubled by the legacy of Clinton’s foreign policy blunder in Honduras.

Maybe you’ve forgotten what happened in that small country in the first year of the Obama administration — more on that in a moment. But surely you’ve noticed the ugly wave of xenophobia greeting a growing number of Central American child refugees arriving on our southern border.

Some of President Barack Obama’s supporters are trying to blame this immigration crisis on the Bush administration because of an anti-trafficking law George W. signed in 2008 specifically written to protect Central American children that preceded an uptick in their arrivals. But which country is the top source of kids crossing the border? Honduras, home to the world’s highest murder rate, Latin America’s worst economic inequality, and a repressive U.S.-backed government.

When Honduran military forces allied with rightist lawmakers ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, then-Secretary of State Clinton sided with the armed forces and fought global pressure to reinstate him.

Washington wields great influence over Honduras, thanks to the numerous military bases built with U.S. funds where training and joint military and anti-drug operations take place. Since the coup, nearly $350 million in U.S. assistance, including more than $50 million in military aid has poured into the country.

That’s a lot of investment in a nation where the police, the military, and private security forces are killing people with alarming frequency and impunity, according to Human Rights Watch.

In short, desperate Honduran children are seeking refuge from a human rights nightmare that would cast a dark cloud over Clinton’s presidential bid right now if the media were paying any attention.

That wouldn’t give Republicans a big advantage, of course. Until they stop alienating a majority of female voters and communities of color, I find it hard to see the party of Mitt Romney and John McCain winning the White House.

Given the Democratic Party’s demographic edge, progressives have nothing to lose by seizing on the GOP field’s weakness and pressing for a viable alternative to another Clinton administration. Senator Elizabeth Warren could prove a contender. Unfortunately, the consumer-rights firebrand and Massachusetts Democrat lacks any foreign policy experience.

And foreign policy is no afterthought these days. Israel – the recipient of $3.1 billion a year in U.S. military aid – is waging a ground war in Gaza, and the stakes in the Russia-Ukraine conflict just grew following the downing of that Malaysia Airlines jet. Plus, Iraq is growing more violent and unstable once more. On all these issues, Clinton is more hawkish than most of the Democratic base.

But other Democrats with a wide range of liberal credentials and foreign policy expertise are signaling some interest in running, especially if Clinton ultimately sits out the race.

Even if Clinton does win in 2016, a serious progressive primary challenge could help shape her presidency. As more and more Honduran kids cross our border in search of a safe haven, voters should take a good look at her track record at the State Department and reconsider the inevitability of another Clinton administration.

In Honduras, U.S. deportees seek to journey north againdeported

By the time Isaias Sosa turned 14, he’d already seen 15 bullet-riddled bodies laid out in his neighborhood of Cabañas, one of the most violent in this tropical metropolis. He rarely ventured outside his grandmother’s home, fortified with a wrought iron gate and concertina wire.

But what pushed him to act was the death of his pregnant cousin, who was gunned down in 2012 by street gang members at the neighborhood gym. Sosa loaded a backpack, pocketed $500 from his mother’s purse, memorized his aunt’s phone number in Washington state and headed for southern Mexico, where he joined others riding north on top of one of the freight trains known as La Bestia, or the Beast.

Crossing the Rio Grande into Texas, Sosa was apprehended almost immediately by Border Patrol agents as he desperately searched for water.

After a second unsuccessful attempt to enter the U.S. last fall, he now spends most of his days cooped up at home, dreaming of returning yet again.

“Everywhere here is dangerous,” he said. “There is no security. They kill people all the time.”

“It’s a sin to be young in Honduras.”

Like thousands of other undocumented Honduran children deported after having journeyed unaccompanied to the U.S., Sosa faces perilous conditions in the violent neighborhood from which he sought to escape.

“There are many youngsters who only three days after they’ve been deported are killed, shot by a firearm,” said Hector Hernandez, who runs the morgue in San Pedro Sula. “They return just to die.”

At least five, perhaps as many as 10, of the 42 children slain here since February had been recently deported from the U.S., Hernandez said.

Immigrant aid groups and human rights organizers say the Honduran government is ill-equipped to assist children at high risk after they have been returned.

San Pedro Sula had 187 killings per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Honduras’ overall homicide rate was 90 per 100,000 in 2012, the highest in the world, much of it fueled by gang and drug-trafficking violence.

Unaccompanied children from Honduras “come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to staying at home,” the report said.

In one case, a teenage boy was shot to death hours after arriving in San Pedro Sula on a deportation flight, according to the boy’s cousin, who refused to identify himself or the boy to The Times for fear of reprisal from neighborhood gangs.

To do so, he said, “I would be killing my entire family.”

He said his cousin had left for Los Angeles after his family received several threats from the Barrio 18 gang. His mother and sister moved to a different neighborhood while the boy headed for the U.S. They simply abandoned their house in Chamelecon, one of the city’s roughest areas.

Some neighborhoods feel like tropical ghost towns because scores of residents have fled the violence fomented by two of the country’s most notorious gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18.

A faded Polaroid sent from the U.S. and a torn-out page from a coloring book are the only indications of life in one abandoned home in the Palmira neighborhood.

The San Pedro Sula morgue reports 594 homicides in the surrounding northwestern region as of mid-July. A total of 778 people were slain last year.

Valdete Wileman, a nun who runs the Center for Returned Migrants in San Pedro Sula, said about 80% of the children who had been returned from the U.S. had been seeking to escape the gang violence.

Wileman said she was particularly concerned about children who once served as gang lookouts.

“Some of these children are threatened with their lives,” she said. “And now they are being forced to return to the same place.”

Other children head for the U.S. after the rest of their families have been killed. Although some of these deportees move to other neighborhoods here, many don’t have the money to relocate. And the gangs, with ties throughout the country, could track them down anyway.

Wileman said she has neither the resources nor the means to help, because the government barely funds the center.

“This is the responsibility of the government. This is the responsibility of the entrepreneurs who run this country … those who are in power,” she said. “All I can do is pray.”

Just a few days after Sosa, now 19, was deported from the U.S., he was shot at by gang members while walking to the corner store for a soda. He said he didn’t have allegiances with any gang and didn’t know why he was targeted.

His second unsuccessful emigration attempt came after a friend was fatally shot and left to die in a neighborhood alley.

While saving money for a third attempt, he rarely steps outside the front door, declining birthday party invitations and shunning soccer games in the neighborhood.

“If you leave your home, you don’t know if you’ll return.”

He knows the trip north will be perilous but says he doesn’t see any choice.

“What am I going to do?” he said. “It’s more dangerous to stay here.”

So when it’s time to again depart, he’ll do what he did before: He’ll get out his backpack, but he won’t tell a soul, fearing word may get out to gang members who’ll prevent him from leaving.

Periodista asesinado en Olanchito había recibido amenazas

Ago 15, 2014

Nery Soto era conocido como un hombre tranquilo, sin enemigos, amoroso, servicial y cristiano. Era conocido y admirado además por su papel de comunicador en Olanchito, Yoro; sin embargo, compañeros aseguran que los periodistas en esta ciudad son constantemente amenazados cuando se tocan ciertos temas, y Nery no fue la excepción.

Nery Francisco Soto Torres de 32 años, fue ultimado a balazos anoche en la ciudad de Olanchito. Su alcalde, José Tomás Ponce asegura que este municipio últimamente es conocido como el tercero más violento del país.

Soto Torres regresaba de trabajar a eso de las 10:00 pm, hora en que habían suspendido el servicio eléctrico, por lo que estaba todo a oscuras cuando fue atacado a balazos por varios sujetos que al parecer lo estaban esperando.

Wilberto Sánchez, coordinador de fiscales del Ministerio Público dijo a Radio Progreso que estaban por descartarse los móviles de robo, por riña de enemigos y por el ejercicio del periodismo. Sánchez asegura que aún falta realizar más investigaciones pero que hasta ahora manejan un solo móvil, sin embargo no lo dio a conocer.

Desde el 2003 el Comisionado Nacional de Derechos Humanos (Conadeh) contabilizó 46 asesinatos de comunicadores, la mayoría periodistas, pero incluye también otros trabajadores de medios de comunicación. Más del 90% de los asesinatos de comunicadores siguen impunes.

El último periodista hondureño asesinado había sido Herlyn Espinal de 33 años, en Santa Rita, en el mismo departamento de Yoro.

Por los hechos violentos que van en aumento, en Olanchito actualmente se está realizando un proyecto de Observatorio de la Violencia con ayuda de la Unah y organizaciones de la sociedad civil, involucrando la alcaldía y las fuerzas del orden público.


Roder Acosta, compañero periodista de Nery en canal 23 de Olanchito, asegura que el asesinato de Nery es un mensaje que quieren mandar “porque nosotros mantenemos a la población informada de una manera transparente”.

Acosta informó que ya entre 3 y 4 periodistas del canal habían sido amenazados de diversas formas, por mensajito, por whatsapp y por llamadas al aire. En ese ambiente hostil muchas veces tocaron temas de narcotráfico y corrupción política.

“Se han manejado varias informaciones que a veces quieren callar, cosas que se ven y no quieren que salga a la luz, hay cosas que uno no puede manejarlas porque o le amenazan la familia o a uno y nunca se averigua. Pedimos al presidente de la república que haga algo, porque aquí no hay confianza en la autoridad, la gente no quiere colaborar con la policía porque rápidamente los delincuentes saben quiénes los denunciaron, temen por su vida”, contó Acosta.

Sin embargo, hay varias personas que no creen que el asesinato sea por el ejercicio del periodismo. Mari Padilla, representante de la sociedad civil de Olanchito asegura que esto es un golpe duro para todo el pueblo y que fue algo muy inesperado.

“Sentimos indignación, impotencia, dolor, condenamos esto como sociedad civil, como amigos, hermanos. Lo triste es que no hay investigación, no hay respuestas, el dolor queda allí.

Yo no creo que venga la muerte por ser periodista. No hay claridad,  hasta este momento no quisiera prematuramente decir nada”, expresó.

Otro que descartó que el asesinato fuera por el ejercicio de periodismo fue el alcalde, José Tomás Ponce asegurando que Nery no tenía enemigos y que “no se metía con nadie”.

Por su parte, el sacerdote Hugo Lemus, de la parroquia en Olanchito expresó que no es de extrañar que este hecho sí esté vinculado al ejercicio del periodismo pues Nery era conocido como un comunicador imparcial y justo con sus comentarios.
“Nos pone a pensar sobre el papel del periodismo que no se ha rendido y sigue siendo fiel a la verdad. También nos pone a cuestionar la autoridad que no ha logrado brindar paz y seguridad a la sociedad”, dijo.

Muertes en la oscuridad

Mari Padilla asegura que en Olanchito hay un asesinato cada vez que se va la luz y esto es algo que ya no se aguanta en la ciudad. Así como asesinaron a Nery, en plena oscuridad, han asesinado a mucha gente, afirman los pobladores.

Roder Mendoza, dice resignado que al no haber confianza en las autoridades y al haber tantas precariedades, como estos fallos en el servicio de la energía eléctrica, solo queda encomendarse a Dios y saber cuidarse solos.

Ley de protección a periodistas

El Congreso hondureño analiza un proyecto de ley para proteger a periodistas, abogados y activistas de Derechos Humanos por ser particularmente vulnerables.

La socialización para la aprobación de la Ley de Protección de Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Periodistas, Comunicadores Sociales y Operadores de Justicia continúa. Las organizaciones de sociedad civil  presentaron un documento con recomendaciones, previo a la sanción de dicha ley en el Congreso Nacional en el que solicitan una legislación menos “policiaca”.

La directora del Centro de Estudios de la Mujer de Honduras (CEMH), Suyapa Martínez, indicó que una de las propuestas hechas es la descentralización del órgano rector de la Ley de Protección de Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Periodistas, Comunicadores Sociales y Operadores de Justicia.

El comunicador Roder Mendoza asegura que hasta no ver no creer, ya van muchos periodistas asesinados y falta mucho para parar la violencia en el país.

The Deadly, Invisible Borders Inside El Salvador When the threats come, there is only one direction for families to run

(while this article is mainly about El Salvador, its relevance to Honduras is obvious)

Last April, in the town of Izalco in the western state of Sonsonate, El Salvador, a group of families decided to dismantle the makeshift houses of wood and tin where they had been living for up to 26 years. The scene unfolded on a rural stretch of land known as the San Luis Ranch, where the families had built up a shantytown. The Mara Salvatrucha gang, which is blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department, had targeted one of the residents, and that meant all the families felt they had no choice but to move.

In the United States, you are having a debate over immigration. But many of the Central Americans now coming into the United States never wanted to leave their country. For them, the proper verb is not migrar, but huirto flee. The breaking point for the residents of San Luis Ranch came when members of the Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, kidnapped Gerardo, a 22-year-old man from the settlement. That same night, Gerardo’s father, a 45-year-old farm laborer, went to the nearest police post to file a missing-person report. The police told him they couldn’t help him because they were using the area’s only patrol car to transport a sick woman. The next morning, Gerardo’s father and a few neighbors and rural police officers set off to look for him. They combed the foothills of the Izalco Volcano until they came to a hamlet called Cangrejera where a storm of gunshots stopped them cold. None of the shooters, the police would later estimate, were older than 15. Gerardo’s father and some of the other farm laborers thought they had caught a glimpse of a tied-up Gerardo being dragged away by the gang members who were shooting at them. Gerardo’s father chased after the child-thugs until a bullet caught him in the head.

But why was Gerardo abducted in the first place? According to the police, the young MS-13 members were provoked by Gerardo’s visits to his grandfather, who lived in a nearby subdivision ruled by the rival 18th Street Gang. No gang likes it when people living on their turf cross over to another’s. They fear that their enemy will take advantage by buying out their subjects and using them to attack from within. A visit to a relative becomes treason. In such ways does the violence in Central America reach people of all ages, not just the minors who fill news reports about the immigration crisis.

The packing up of the settlement on San Luis Ranch was speedy and grim. A police squad stood by to protect neighbors from attacks while they dismantled their homes. That was the police’s only role: to watch over the escape.

Having problems with MS-13 or the 18th Street Gang means having problems with a criminal army. According to the Salvadoran Ministry of Public Security and Justice, there are some 60,000 active gang members in a country that has little more than 6.1 million inhabitants and barely spans 8,100 square miles. There are cliques of the main gangs in all 14 of El Salvador’s states. The state of Morazán has the fewest cliques with eight; San Salvador has the most with 216. The cliqueswith names like Hollywood Locos Salvatrucha or Southern Tiny Locoscan be made up of adolescents armed with .38 caliber revolvers like the group of kids who killed Gerardo’s father, or they can be like the Fulton Locos Salvatrucha. When the police raided a Fulton Locos stronghouse, they found an arsenal, seizing more than ten AK-47s and M-16 rifles, as well as a dozen M-67 grenades.

Reuters/Daniel LeClair
The aftermath of an attack on a public bus in Guatemala City.

On top of such firepower, the gangs have developed effective systems of surveillance and security, and they like to use these to humiliate the authorities. This past May, for example, the Salvadoran director of forensic medicine announced that a number of his technicians were extorted after entering gang territory to retrieve bodies.

You probably have read that El Salvador and Honduras have had the highest homicide rates in the world over the past ten years. But to put the numbers in proper perspective: In Mexico, when the violence caused by warring murderous organized crime groups like Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel peaked in 2011, the country ranked only fourteenth for per capita killings, with an average of 22.8 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, according to the United Nations. Honduras, now ranked first, has 90 for every 100,000 people. El Salvador is right behind it. In 2013 alone, the gang violence of this frightened corner of the world claimed 15,328 lives.

Both of Central America’s major gangs were founded decades ago in California, by Latin American migrants who banded together in order to defend themselves from gangs already ruling there. By the mid-’90s, the U.S. government had decided it was a good idea to deport thousands of gang members each year, many of whom had committed small crimes. The gangs grew quickly and are still spreading. The United States seemed to have forgotten the golden rule of migration. Forgotten that migration works like a boomerang. There are cliques of MS-13, such the Sailors Locos Salvatrucha, that formed in El Salvador but whose members are now migrating to Washington, D.C.

Joining a gang isn’t something you can take back. Once you’re in, there are only two ways to get out: by dying or running. And merely joining is a nightmare: To become a member, you need to murder. In the last three years, the gangs have required aspiring members to kill somebody before they can join the ranks.

They kill to join because the legitimate occupations available to them can feel like a different kind of death. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala have devastating levels of inequality. The United Nations has flagged the countries as among the most unequal in the Americas. Many have very little; very few have way too much. In El Salvador, the minimum wage requires that a farm worker be paid just $113.70 a month for his or her brutal twelve-hour days of labor. Other pathslike joining a gangcan seem, at least at a glance, more appealing. Children buckle under the enormous recruiting pressure. Who wants to follow in his father’s footsteps when his father is an exploited laborer? Each clique sends most of its earnings to its top bosses, most of whom are in jail. But the leftovers are enough to share among the foot soldiers. The money and the opportunity to go to war are stronger attractions for many young men than the misery of waking up at four in the morning for a long day of work under the sun, then returning to their clapboard homes at night to eat beans and tortillas and, for all of their toil, receiving nothing but an insulting wage at the end of the month.

When a family keeps its children out of the gangs, the gangs have a way of still getting to the family. The case of the former residents of San Luis Ranch repeats itself ceaselessly. Every month, you see a newspaper headline announcing a new group abandoning their homes. The families are threatened for all sorts of reasons: because their sons didn’t want to join a gang, because a family member filed a police report, because they won’t let a gang member rape their daughter. Or simply because they visited their grandfather in enemy territory.

Pushed out of their neighborhoods, the families are recast as wanderers, bouncing from house to house until they can find a new community, which will likely be controlled by the same gang that forced them to flee in the first place. Or it will be controlled by the rival, which is just as bad: The 18th Street Gang would never accept an MS-13 family moving into their neighborhood, and vice-versa. The families scatter with the threat chasing closely after. Any day, the clique that runs their new neighborhood will figure out why they left their old one and then, most likely, kill them. Many of these people will never find the safety they sought when they gave up their homes.

It’s only natural that someone who can’t find a corner in which to hide in his own country would consider migrating to the United States to join relatives already there. And now, decades after the civil wars that led to the last great exodus, Central America is facing another war: a war prompted by the gangs’ takeover of our weak and corrupt states. It’s a war in which the United States has its share of responsibility, just as it had its share of responsibility when the U.S. government supported the military dictators in the ’80s and ’90s. Last year, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Obama administration deported an average of 59 Salvadorans a day, a number much higher than the rate under George W. Bush. The deportations are meant as a deterrent, but the fleeing continues. The Independent Monitoring Group of El Salvador estimated that every day between 200 and 300 Salvadorans leave their country en route to the United States as undocumented immigrants. And of course this is not counting the daily departures from Honduras and Guatemala.

There is an alternative to fleeing. And that is to stay and become a living ghost. For the past two years, I’ve been in touch with a 31-year-old ex-member of the Hollywood Locos Salvatrucha who testified against members of his own clique. The Public Prosecutor’s Office used him for three years to build cases against 42 gang members accused of nine murders and multiple extortions. Then the authorities abandoned him. In order to survive, he lives like a nomad in the western mountains of El Salvador. He knows firsthand that the gangs are everywhere, that they are out there, hunting.

Óscar Martínez is the author of The Beast: Riding the Rails and Dodging Narcos on the Migrant Trail and a writer for


Crime Fueled by Police and Gangs in Honduras Causing Children to Flee

Thousands of migrants in the U.S. are children from Honduras escaping highest murder rate in the world

Children sleep in a holding cell in Nogales, Arizona. (Photo: Human Rights Watch)

More than 62,000 unaccompanied children fled Central America for the U.S. border in the past year alone to escape poverty and violence, particularly in Honduras, which became the most deadly country in the world in 2014 — more dangerous than Iraq at the height of the U.S. occupation, according to the Center for American Progress.

While the government plans shutdowns of migrant shelters in Texas, Oklahoma, and California, crime in Central America continues to skyrocket. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported in 2013 that the murder rate in Honduras was 90.4 per 100,000 people, compared to the U.S.’s 4.7, with individual cities like San Pedro Sula struggling with 187 homicides per 100,000.

Iraq’s civilian casualty rate in 2007, while in the throes of insurgency, CAP says, was 62.2.

Gang violence is partially driving the unprecedented migration wave, but a corrupt national police force also fuels the crime rate. The Honduran Ministry of Security recorded a homicide rate of 75.6 per 100,000 in 2013 — a significant difference from the UNODC’s numbers for the same year, statistics that come as the State Department warns of the Honduran government’s lack of “sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases” that allows criminals to “operate with a high degree of impunity” throughout the country. The UNODC also estimates that there are more than twice as many gang members as there are police officers in Honduras, a dire prospect considering the high rates of corruption among law enforcement.

While poverty in Honduras is widespread, violence — both real and feared — is a greater driving factor in the migration swing. Honduran children “come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home,” according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Before 2011, CBP encountered roughly 8,000 unaccompanied minors annually. The rapid upswing in Central American migrants entering the U.S. began when crime rates hit another growth spurt following years of police corruption, civil unrest, including a 2009 coup d’etat that saw the overthrow and exile of then-President Manuel Zelaya, and increased drug trafficking. The total number of cocaine and heroin shipments passing through Central America on the way to consumers in the U.S. more than tripled from 2004 to 2011, rising from an estimated 24 to 84 percent. Widespread crackdowns on the drug trade in Mexico and Colombia also pushed crime and gangs deeper into smaller Central American countries that did not have the resources to fight them off.

As gang violence and police corruption persists, the average age of Honduran civilians that face becoming targeted has lowered. According to the Pew Center for Research, children ages 12 and under are the fastest growing group of unaccompanied minors traveling to the border, and almost half of them are girls. The number of girls seeking refuge in the U.S. grew 140 percent over the last year, compared to a 100 percent increase among boys.

“Due to many factors, including the high homicide rate and alarming levels of other expressions of violence, including injuries, robberies and extortion, Honduras is reported to be among the most violent countries in the world today,” said Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, after a visit in July 2014. “In Honduras, violence against women is widespread and systematic… The climate of fear, in both the public and private spheres, and the lack of accountability for violations of human rights of women, is the norm rather than the exception.”

When the UN Refugee Agency interviewed (PDF) Honduran children who had fled the country in 2012 and 2013, organized crime and violence in their societies were one of their most highly cited reasons for leaving. One 12-year-old girl spoke about threats of rape and kidnapping that girls in her community faced every day:

In the village where I lived there were a ton of gang members. All they did was bad things, kidnapping people. My mother and grandmother were afraid that something would happen to me. That’s why my mother sent me here. They rape girls and get them pregnant. The gang got five girls pregnant, and there were other girls who disappeared and their families never heard from them again.

Migrant children who are able to reach the U.S. live in conditions that are only marginally better than what they face at home. They are warehoused in military bases and overcrowded detention facilities while they wait to see if the government will protect them or send them back home to the unstable environments they were escaping.

“The US government’s policy of detaining large numbers of children harms kids and flouts international standards,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Clara Long. “The recent surge in unaccompanied migrant children reaching the US cannot justify longer detention periods… Many [of them] are extremely vulnerable to abuse upon return to their home countries.”

At least 90,000 children are expected to arrive on the border by the end of this year.