Violence from gangs, drug traffickers powers waves of Honduran migrants

World Today

Mexico is dealing with a seemingly unending wave of undocumented immigrants. It said more than 2,000 enter from Central America every day. Many said they’re fleeing violence in their home countries. CGTN’s Franc Contreras reports from Honduras.

For the last eight years, San Pedro Sula in Honduras has been called one of the most violent cities in the world. Scores are murdered every year. Gang violence and drug trafficking are rampant.  

In the dangerous neighborhood of Chamelecon, a mural depicts one of the many massacres that has taken place. It happened on Christmas Eve in 2004, when gunmen opened fire on a public bus, killing 28 people.

Juan Carlos Enamorado has lived here for 13 years; some of his closest friends and colleagues have been murdered. Enamorado heads a local organization that uses rap culture to raise community awareness about the causes of the violence. He said it’s so common that many residents consider it normal.

“We have no peace,” Enamorado said. He’s the director of the Warriors Zulu Nation Honduras. “At ten in the morning, we hear massive shoot-outs just a few blocks from our homes. Honduras is not at war, but there are bullet shells on the ground, and bullet holes in the walls. That’s not normal.”

In 2011, the country’s official murder rate peaked at nearly 87 homicides for every 100,000 residents. In 2017, the government said it managed to cut the murder rate in half, due in part to efforts to dismantle the gangs and purge corrupt police.

But critics said the official murder rate does not take into account the total number of violent deaths that occur in Honduras every year. Nor does it account for the number of bodies that disappear.

Twenty-eight-year-old Belquis Canales lost her older brother to gang violence. Fearing for her own safety, she’s reluctant to say much because people paid by the gangs could be listening.

“When you grow up in a place like this, you have to learn how to stay alive,” said Canales. “The way to do that is to watch out, listen and stay silent, to go to work and act as though nothing is wrong. It’s the only way to live.”

Among the thousands of Hondurans leaving with the migrant caravans, many, who CGTN interviewed, cite violence as one of the main reasons they flee.

“Security is terrible,” said local resident Jonathan Peralta. “If you belong to the gangs, they kill you, and if you do not belong to the gangs, they also kill you. So we have to leave the country to find real opportunities in life.” 

Moments of peace do exist here. But the issue of security remains a constant concern for the more than one million people who call this industrial city their home.