Archive for the ‘Ser Mujer To Be a Woman in Honduras’ Category

‘They put a gun to my head,’ says Honduran mother

Elquin Castillo is seen near Casa Betania Santa Martha June 29, 2019, in Salto de Agua, Mexico. (CNS photo/David Agren)

TENOSIQUE, Mexico (CNS) — Maribel — a Garifuna woman from Honduras and mother of six children, ages 6 months to 16 years — only wanted to work.

She baked coconut bread and sold it the streets of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, until a gang started demanding a cut — roughly 20 percent of her earnings. After threats and violence and futile attempts at negotiating with the gang, she fell behind in her payments. Gangsters eventually showed up at her daughter’s school to send a message of intimidation, forcing Maribel and her family to flee the country.

“I was being pursued,” she said from a shelter run by the Franciscans in southern Mexico. “I’m scared they’re going to come looking for me here,” she added, noting that gang members were now threatening her sister in Honduras and asking about her whereabouts.

Maribel’s plight highlights the despair and desperation of many migrants, who flee violence, poverty and, increasingly, drought and the early effects of climate change in Central America.

Mexico has sent members of its National Guard to stop migrants at its southern border, and stories of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in U.S. and Mexican migration detention centers have surfaced.

U.S. President Donald Trump — who threated Mexico with tariffs on its exports if migration was not stopped — has praised Mexico for its increased enforcement, telling reporters July 1: “Mexico is doing a lot right now. They have almost 20,000 soldiers between the two borders. … And the numbers are way down for the last week.”

But the migrants streaming out of Central America seem undeterred due to deteriorating conditions at home.

Few migrants grasp the geopolitics at play, focusing instead on seeking safety or escaping hunger at home. Staff at shelters in southern Mexico say the flow of migrants has remained high.

At La 72, the shelter in Tenosique, director Ramon Marquez reported receiving more than 10,000 guests so far in 2019, putting them on pace to break the record of 14,300 migrants welcomed in 2013.

Militarization, however, forces migrants to take paths less traveled to avoid police and soldiers, and this puts them more at risk, say shelter directors.

“Migrants don’t come here because they want to. Migrants leave their country because they don’t have any other alternative,” said Franciscan Sister Diana Munoz Alba, a human rights lawyer and a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who works at a migrant shelter in Chiapas. “(There’s) a paradox of risking their lives to save their lives, and this militarization (of Mexico) is not going to stop migration.”

Maribel, whose name was changed for security reasons, fell victim to criminals shortly after crossing into Mexico from Guatemala in late May. Three hooded assailants spotted her and her family walking along a rural road and robbed them of their meager possessions.

“They threw us face down … the kids face down. They were scared, crying,” she recalled.

Maribel said she had never thought much about migrating, despite the difficulties of life in the Atlantida department on the Honduras’ Atlantic Coast — an area populated by Afro-Hondurans, who have been abandoning the country in droves.

“I can’t go back to Honduras. These gangs have people everywhere.”

After her husband suffered a disability in his construction job, Maribel started her own informal business, harvesting coconuts and baking coconut bread in Honduras.

She sold $60 of bread daily, but had to hand over 20 percent daily to the Calle 18 gang. There were other expenses, too, she said, such as the cost of sending her children to school, even though education is supposed to be free for children in Honduras.

In December, the gangs made greater demands, which she refused. As she worked one day, “They put a gun to my head and took all I had,” Maribel said.

She eventually stopped paying. Then the gang came looking for her 16-year-old daughter. Maribel saved her money and left Honduras with her family.

Violence has sent thousands fleeing from Honduras. But observers say other factors are driving migration, including poverty and political factors. Migrants speak of the sorry state of services such as health and education.

“That’s why we’re looking to migrate, because the economy is so bad,” said Elquin Castillo, 26, who left a fishing village with his pregnant wife, infant daughter and 20 relatives in June.

Javier Avila, 30, gave up after drought in southern Honduras wiped out his melon crop for the second consecutive season. He borrowed $82 to rent a small plot for his crop — which was lost — but could not find the funds to sow again in 2019.

“It used to be normal that it rained in the winter, but not any longer,” he said from a migrant shelter.

Maribel expressed similar pessimism over Honduras. She was hoping to receive a document to travel freely through Mexico, though she was uncertain how much longer she would have to wait.

How ‘femicide’ drove the caravan
An Honduran migrant woman and their children, who are taking part in a caravan towards the United States, are pictured at the "Casa del Migrante" (Migrant's House) in Guatemala City, on October 17, 2018. - A migrant caravan set out on October 13 from the impoverished, violence-plagued country and was headed north on the long journey through Guatemala and Mexico to the US border. President Donald Trump warned Honduras he will cut millions of dollars in aid if the group of about 2,000 migrants is allowed to reach the United States. (Photo by ORLANDO SIERRA / AFP)

An Honduran migrant woman and her children, who are taking part in the caravan towards the United States, stop at the “Casa del Migrante” (Migrant’s House) in Guatemala City in October.

Violent clashes at the US-Mexican border, with refugees throwing rocks and police firing tear gas, are the latest sign of intensifying trouble in Central America. Why are its people fleeing? Some of the reasons are easy to identify. Decades of exploitation by US-owned corporations left a legacy of political oppression and weak coffee-and-banana economies. Militarization in the 1980s suffocated democratic movements. Gang violence has spread. Climate change is eating away at natural resources.

One of the most important factors fueling this crisis, however, is also among the most overlooked: gender-based violence. In recent years, this plague has reached dramatic proportions. “It is taking on a magnitude and a level of cruelty that is devastating Central America,” a United Nations official asserted in 2016. He spoke as the UN released a report showing that among all countries in the world that are not at war, the three with the highest rates of violence against women are Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Many of the Central American refugees now making their way toward the United States are female. They have special reasons to flee. In Honduras, which is the size of Ohio, a woman is murdered every 16 hours. El Salvador has reached an even grimmer position on the horror list: world’s highest rate of “femicide.” A survey concludes that one in every four women in rural Nicaragua, and one in five who live in cities, has been physically attacked. The attorney general of Guatemala, where the murder of women is a daily occurrence, estimates that half of the female victims have been lured or forced into the sex trade, and then killed for some reason — or for no reason at all.

Many female victims in Central America are assaulted or killed by gangs that roam where law has lost its grip. Societies that have long been harshly patriarchal revert to their worst instincts when people can be killed with impunity. That is the effective reality in large parts of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

Women in Central America who escape the clutches of criminal gangs often face violence at home. Rates of adolescent pregnancies are among the highest in the world. Public health workers say this reflects a culture in which some fathers, stepfathers, and neighbors feel free to molest girls. A UN representative in El Salvador recently called the sexual abuse of children there a “very profound, difficult, and serious” problem. That applies to much of Central America. “It’s huge,” a judge from the Nicaraguan town of Leon told a recent interviewer. “Every day we process sex crimes.”

Two prominent Central Americans represent the forces arrayed against women there. The most obvious is President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, whose stepdaughter has accused him of sexually abusing her for more than a decade beginning when she was eleven. Ortega’s permanence in power is a potent symbol of the immunity that protects sexual predators in Central America.

At the other end of the spectrum — on the receiving end of violence — was Berta Caceres, the environmental activist who was murdered in 2016 as she waged a campaign against the construction of a dam in Honduras. Her case attracted worldwide attention and resulted in rare arrests and convictions, but those who ordered her killing remain at large. They join a growing number of men in Central America who take advantage of the fact that they can kill women with little fear of punishment. That has a political impact, since in much of Central America, women are emerging as leaders of social movements. Many are young, among them Valeska Valle, a 22-year-old accounting student who is helping to direct anti-government protesters in Nicaragua, and Lenina Garcia, who last year became the first female president of the student body at Guatemala’s most important university and is using her position to organize marches against corruption and impunity. They have given a distinctly feminine face to political protest, turning political repression into another form of gender-based violence.

These threats to Central American women — assault at home, abuse at the hands of criminal gangs, and violent punishment for those who protest — propel many to flee. “Sexual violence is the major push factor,” concluded a study conducted at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. When researchers asked female refugees why they fled, most cited rape, gender-based violence, and fear of sex trafficking.

As these women take to the unarmed road of flight, they risk other forms of abuse. They are easy prey for predators on both sides of the law. Experience has prepared them for it. A plague of violence against women is spreading through Central America. As long as it rages, mothers and daughters will keep fleeing.

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

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.

Los riesgos de ser mujer y luchadora social en Honduras

Publicado el Jueves, 10 de Marzo del 2016 en

Los riesgos de ser mujer y luchadora social en Honduras
Mujeres símbolo de lucha, justicia, inclusión e igualdad. Foto: TMCF
Honduras. Sin duda que el flagelo de la violencia e impunidad en delitos  contra las mujeres   ya era un tema de relieve y recurrente en lo relacionado a la seguridad e integridad física de las personas en este país.

En febrero de 2016 el Ministerio Público y el instituto de la mujer crearon una unidad especial para investigar la muerte violenta de mujeres por razones de género, donde 4.018 féminas han sido asesinadas entre 2014 y 2015 y el 96 % están impunes. Sin embargo los resultados de la gestión aún son imperceptibles.

La evidencia de este cáncer, conceptualizado en el código penal con la figura de feminicidio, violencia doméstica e intrafamiliar, se aprecia a diario en los medios de comunicación masiva  nacionales.

El informe de las organizaciones feministas, denominado “Situaciones de la Violencia Contra las Mujeres en Honduras”, presentado en 2015 ante la relatora especial de las naciones unidas, indica que  desde el 2005 al 2013 la muerte violenta de mujeres ha aumentado en un 263.4%.

En el año 2013 cada 13.8 horas una mujer  fue asesinada en el país; al final de ese período anual se contabilizaron en total de 636 feminicidios en honduras.

Entre los factores que desencadenan esta lamentable situación asisten los altos niveles de inequidad económica y desigualdad, pobreza, corrupción y militarización social.

Según este informe elaborado por asociadas por lo justo, el Centro de Derechos de Mujeres (CDM), Centro de Estudios de la Mujer-Monduras(CEM-H) y el Foro de Mujeres por la Vida y la Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos de Honduras, el 27% de las mujeres denuncian sufrir violencia física en algún momento de sus vidas.

Asimismo, en 6 años las denuncias de mujeres desaparecidas pasaron de 91 en 2008, a 347 en 2013, con un aumento de 281% en casos de mujeres, niñas y adolescentes reportadas a nivel nacional.

A esto se suman 155 denuncias más por delitos de desaparición, privación injusta de la libertad, secuestro y tráfico de personas.

En 2013 hubo 2,851 denuncias de violencia sexual, cada 3 horas se interpuso una denuncia aunque la estadística solo es una fracción del problema cuando las estimaciones que prevalecen en esta materia pasó, de 4.6 en 2008 a 8.6 en el 2010.

Otro estigma que persigue a las mujeres es la impunidad, un velo que impide el acceso a la justicia debido a que el 94.5 por ciento de los crímenes quedan sin resolver en instancias judiciales del país.

Las niñas también se exponen a las perores formas de trabajo infantil, al empezar su jornada laboral a edades tempranas; reciben menos remuneración por su trabajo; cumplen largas  jornadas laborales y esa relación sucede de manera clandestina o no reglamentaria.

Sin embargo, el asesinato alevoso de mujeres erigidas en símbolos de lucha,  justicia, inclusión e igualdad, como el de la dirigente campesina Margarita Murillo, en agosto de 2014, Janeth Kawas, en febrero de 1995 y el de Bertha Cáceres, la madrugada de este jueves, todos en similares circunstancias, resaltan de las frías estadísticas por la impunidad imperante en honduras.