Archive for the ‘gangs’ Category

I was an American missionary in Honduras. I witnessed firsthand the violence they endure.


In this Nov. 2, 2018 photo, 3-year-old Brithani Lizeth Cardona Orellana, bottom right center, stands with her 5-year-old sister Janeisy Nicolle and brother 9-year-old brother Kenner Alberto, flanked by their aunt and uncle at their home in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

There is an armed security guard at every Dunkin’ Donuts in Honduras. When you enter a pharmacy, the guard with a shotgun slung across his chest will considerately hold your pistol while you wait for your prescription to be filled. On holidays, there are no official fireworks, only a handful of illegal firecrackers and gunshots exploding in the night air. On Christmas Eve, New Year’s, Independence Day, in every barrio across the country, shots echo in the dark like a posse galloping out of town in an old Western.

Five years ago, I left the States to volunteer alongside other Americans and Nicaraguans at a children’s home on the northern coast of Honduras that served orphans and kids who could no longer live with their families due to extreme poverty, abuse or both. We learned firsthand that paradise and hell are next-door neighbors, and you can hear the gunshots at night from both places.

I first had a gun pointed at me while waiting for a cab before dawn in the wealthiest neighborhood of San Pedro Sula, the industrial center of the country and, at the time, the “murder capital” of the world. The security guard saw me standing outside the seminary where I had spent the night as a guest. He climbed down from his turret on the street corner and approached me with a machete in one hand and a raised revolver in the other.

“What are you doing here?” He squinted at me, blinking back sleep.

“I’m just waiting for a taxi. I’m headed to the airport,” I said.

“Then why would you be waiting here on the street?” he asked. “Nothing good happens here this time of night.” Surrounding us were houses that were mansions even by U.S. standards. I wanted to go back inside the seminary, but the 15-foot-high gate had slid closed behind me, and I could not open it again without waking up all the priests, nuns and seminarians inside.

“I can go wait on another block,” I offered. “My cab is just five minutes away.”

“No!” he responded firmly. “You wait right there. Don’t move. Just wait.”

When my taxi finally did arrive, he holstered his gun and offered an apology, but I did not stick around long enough to acknowledge it.

•••

Before I moved to Honduras, I visited the country. For a week, I helped lead a group of high school students from all of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas who wanted to offer some manual labor and supplies to our “sister diocese.” In the shadow of a massive green mountain, we worked to rebuild and paint a crowded school where Luis, our local guide, and his wife were teachers. Luis was the closest thing the small village had to a mayor. He ran the school, helped settle disputes, led the community Bible study and Sunday service, and as one of the only residents with a car, also provided ambulance service.

One morning he greeted us with bags under his bloodshot eyes. He had taken a neighbor who had stomach pains to the hospital in the middle of the night—more than an hour’s drive each way, around to the other side of the mountain. He returned in time for breakfast and prayers and to greet us in the morning at the school.

Luis and his wife stood out as towering examples of what was possible even amid extreme poverty. With determination and a good heart, one could be a pillar of the community—a community worth staying for. I once asked Luis if many of the young men in his village would eventually leave for the United States. “All of them,” he told me. There was no shame in his voice; it was simply a fact. When I asked if he had ever thought of making the journey, he shook his head. He had a wife and young son, a good job, a community where he was making a difference; he could not imagine leaving.

Years later, when I moved to a town just on the other side of that mountain, I jumped on the bus to visit Luis and his family. He was thrilled to see me again but cautioned me not to take the bus next time. “It was not safe” is all he would say.

During my two years in Honduras, I learned to love those kids at our children’s home like they were my own. Our goal was to prepare them for healthy and productive lives in Honduras, despite the brutal and heartbreaking childhood they had suffered. If we could only offer them enough love and stability and peace in the midst of the tempest around them and behind them in their past, they might have a fighting chance, we believed.

Yet violence does not issue warnings, and it will not take into consideration sincerely held beliefs. I had just returned from teaching my English class for the day when I learned that one of our volunteers and our executive director, who was visiting from the States, had been attacked on the beach next to our property. Maybe 200 yards from the house, our sanctuary, they had been held with machetes to their necks, and the volunteer, one of my best friends, was raped. “We know where you are from,” their attackers had said when they let them go. “Tell anyone and we come back and kill you and all the children.”

After going to the hospital and giving her testimony to the police, my beloved friend spent the night surrounded by the rest of us on the floor, several of us with machetes by our sides and all of us unable to sleep. In the morning, she was evacuated out of the country, and the rest of us were offered the option by our board of directors to leave as well. Suddenly the cursed choice to flee this country that so many of our Honduran neighbors had been forced to make became my own. The men responsible had still not been caught, and our already limited community of volunteers was quickly dwindling as many admitted they no longer felt safe enough to continue working. The next day the rest of us left as well.

•••

A few years later I reached out to Luis via WhatsApp. It turned out he and his family had snuck away from their small town in the middle of the night. A local gang had demanded he pay for “protection,” and when Luis refused, they threatened to kill him and his family. They fled to a larger city, but he and his wife were unable to find any work as teachers and were still fearful the gang would eventually find them. He asked if I could help him claim asylum in the United States.

I got in touch with a few immigration lawyers, who told me Luis would have to make it to the Mexico-U.S. border and apply for asylum there. But even if he got that far, I had to tell Luis, it was very unlikely his family would be granted asylum. Luis was heartbroken. He needed to protect his family, he said, and the best way he could do that was to leave and provide some kind of living for them. Maybe you and I could get married, if only on paper, he offered sincerely. He was right that such a union was now legal here in the United States, I explained, but I could not just marry him to get him citizenship. Despite the absurdity of the suggestion, I struggled to type out my response, knowing my decision was a matter of life and death.

I still receive messages from Luis every few weeks begging me for help, though to be honest, I no longer have the courage to open them. Constant reminders that I am helpless simply became too much. I know ignoring him is wrong. I know it is my privilege to be able to log off of the violence of Honduras and pretend I do not live in the country that created Luis’s desperation, which is also the country that could help to fix it.

For all I know, Luis may be part of the infamous caravan, waiting on the other side of the southern border to claim asylum. It is the type of thing a real friend should know. It is important to know who these people are and that what they are doing is legal. There is no way for them to claim asylum from within their country of origin. Implying that those who peacefully present themselves at ports of entry have broken any American laws is simply not truthful.

When I first met Luis, I assumed that in Honduras it was possible to get an education, work and become financially stable enough that you would never need to leave. But the image in my head of the “virtuous Honduran” proved an illusion when even Luis was forced to flee from the unyielding violence and poverty of Central America. If we want to end the cycle of families fleeing in the night for our border, it is necessary to learn why their nights became so terrifying to begin with.

The weapons that plague their streets came from us. The corruption that infests their governments is a direct result of the coups and instability our country has consistently directed or condoned for over a century. Before Banana Republic was a chic clothing store, it was a dismissive term for a country made entirely dependent on a more powerful economy outside its borders. It was merely an updated version of colonialism, and the original victim was Honduras.

Poverty and violence, the causes of these caravans, are diseases we infected these countries with. Getting mad at the migrants is like the conquistadors and white frontiersmen wondering why the Native Americans they found were always getting so sick.

Those of us who live north of the Mexican border have to learn just how intertwined our lands are and why our neighbors to the south still hear gunshots at night. I have fled from one side to the other myself and watched in vain as those I care about try to follow. But being born in paradise is no reason to condemn those still stuck in hell.

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Central American migrants—mostly from Honduras—descend from a truck at a temporary shelter in Irapuato, Mexico, on Nov. 11, 2018. Some caravans fleeing violence are now stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Central American migrants—mostly from Honduras—descend from a truck at a temporary shelter in Irapuato, Mexico, on Nov. 11, 2018. Some caravans fleeing violence are now stuck at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Alfredo Estrella—AFP/Getty Images
By Amelia Frank-Vitale

November 23, 2018

At the end of October, I sat with my friend Graciela, counting up all the murders we’d heard about over the last week in her sector of Choloma, a city in Honduras. We thought it was about seven. It turns out, between us, we’d heard of at least 10.

Murders. In one sector. In one week. Four young men, three young women, one bus driver, one older man who worked for the municipality, and one “colgado”—a body hung up as a warning.

This was at the same time the Central American caravan was making headlines in the international press, when people started speculating that mysterious political forces were behind this mass exodus of people from Honduras.

As Graciela—whose own brother was murdered a little over a year ago—and I went back and forth, I thought, This, this is why people leave. And this is what people outside of Honduras seem to not fully understand.

Months earlier, 9-year-old Andres told me about the first time he saw someone killed in front of his eyes, and the second time, and the third time. He talked about the murders he’d seen in a halting way, wishing he could unsee the things he’d witnessed. I told him I’ve actually never seen anyone be killed. His eyes widened, incredulous. That seemed impossible to him: someone my age, a grown adult, never having seen these things. He dreamed about going to the U.S., a place he imagined he might be able to live without seeing any more murders.

I have been living in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’s second-largest city and economic center, since September of 2017. I came to Honduras to research migration and life after deportation for my doctoral degree; I chose San Pedro Sula because it had become famous for being one of the most violent cities in the world, making migration and deportation questions of life and death. While Honduras has made significant strides in reducing its murder rate (from a high of 86.5 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 43.6 in 2017), it is still devastatingly high.

But what I’ve learned is that life here is so much harder than murder statistics could reveal.

One day, around noon, I showed up at Bayron’s house in Villanueva to collect a camera I’d lent him as part of a photography workshop I was running. His mother told me he was still sleeping, and I gently made a joke about him sleeping so late. No no, she told me, he was in line all night long last night. For school.

I didn’t understand at first. She explained that in order for Bayron to register for high school, he had to get in line the night before. Like devoted fans waiting for the box office to open, Bayron and his friends slept in that line, determined to get a spot in the public school this year. If he got there too late to get a spot, he would just have to wait until next year. This is how the public school system works across Honduras.

Bayron’s been deported once already; he left in search of better opportunities, safety, and stability. Back in Honduras, he’d rather be in school but the options before him are few if he cannot get a spot. Like so many, the next best choice might be migrating again.

Darwin, in the Rivera Hernandez sector of the city, also worries about what his son will do next year when it’s time to start high school. Here, the issue i­sn’t whether or not he would get a spot. Darwin’s neighborhood is controlled by one gang; the public high school is in a rival gang’s territory. His son would literally risk his life by going to school. Darwin has thought about sending him to private school, but he sometimes cannot find work for months and his wife, who is in her 40s, can’t get hired anywhere because of her age. They just shook their heads, tears welling up in their eyes, when I asked them what they would do.

Darwin looked up and told me, “Here, it’s a crime to be poor. The police treat us like criminals.” Darwin is careful to never leave home with more than 100 lempiras in his pocket—roughly $5—because he worries constantly that if the police find him with more money on him, they’ll arrest him for extortion. Many of his neighbors are in the “pozo,” Honduras’s maximum security prisons, awaiting trial for the crime of extortion. The apparent proof? Each was found with 300 lempiras on them.

People live on edge in Honduras, never sure when a stray bullet might hit them, whether they will be able to feed their families tomorrow, or if they will end up in jail without having done anything wrong. When word spreads that a caravan is forming, it doesn’t take much for people to join. No one needs to convince them, pay them, or promise them anything.

Even now, as Mexico has met the caravans with repression, protests, and deportation; Honduras has shut down at least one of its border crossings; and Donald Trump has sent troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, people in Honduras talk every day about forming new caravans, ready to walk thousands of miles for a chance, not even for a better life, but just at having a life at all.

Amelia Frank-Vitale is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan. After working in Mexico from 2010 to 2015, where she focused on the multiple kinds of violence that Central Americans face while in transit, she now works in Honduras, studying how deportees reconfigure their lives and reimagine their futures after being sent back to some of the world’s most violent neighborhoods.

Why they flee: Life in the murder capital of the world, San Pedro Sula, Honduras
by Dan Lieberman

http://fusion.net/justice/story/flee-life-murder-capital-world-san-pedro-sula-966764
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)

http://ncronline.org/blogs/immigration-and-church/unthinkable-violence-drives-hondurans-north-united-states

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.]