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#1451 – Gangs, Murder and Migration in Honduras

From poverty to gangs, this episode of Latino USA takes a deep dive into the root causes of why people leave Honduras to travel through Mexico and to the U.S.


Photo by Marlon Bishop

Honduras, from banana companies to gang rule

We start today’s episode at El Edén—the center in San Pedro Sula, Honduras where child migrants are processed after being deported from Mexico and elsewhere. Outside the walls, its a surprisingly festive environment, as family members wait to receive their relatives. You can learn a lot about what it means to live in Honduras waiting outside those walls.

Then, before diving into the reasons why Hondurans leave for Mexico and the United States, Maria Hinojosa and Latino USA producer Marlon Bishop talk about some of the history of Honduras. From fruit companies and their role in making it a “banana republic,” to the elite families that run the Honduran government, we start to learn the context behind the current Honduran migration wave.


The Economics of Extortion

The economic motor that supports gangs in Honduras isn’t drug trafficking, kidnappings or prostitution rings, it’s something much more simple and insidious: extortion.

No sector of the economy suffers from gang extortion quite like bus and taxi drivers. If you are a bus driver, there’s something that will happen every so often where you are stopped at an intersection, and a kid will come up to you and hand you a cell phone. The guy on the other end of the line will say, “Hi, I’m calling from such-and-such a gang.” And if you want to keep driving this route, you have to pay me money every single week. Or else we will kill you.”

Every month in Honduras, there are probably a few million dollars that come out of hard-working people’s paychecks and into the pockets of gang members. Over 40 bus drivers were murdered by gangs this year alone for not paying up.

On top of the terrible human toll,  extortion is a major drag on the Honduran economy. And it’s getting worse and worse. Marlon Bishop reports on this bloody industry from Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

This story was produced in association with Round Earth Media. German Andino, in Honduras, co-reported this story with Marlon.


For migrants, a safe place to lay your head in Mexico

For Central American migrants traveling through Mexico, Catholic-run shelters offer safe haven on an increasingly dangerous journey. Most migrants pass through briefly. But for the more vulnerable ones – women, children and the injured – a shelter can become a temporary home. Maria Ines Zamudio takes us into one such shelter.

Their reporting was made possible by a fellowship with the International Center for Journalists, sponsored by the Ford Foundation.


A road more dangerous

This is not the first time this Honduran woman has tried to run away.

She’s asked to remain anonymous, because she’s fleeing domestic violence, and has a death threat against her. From her husband.

“My husband beat me. I couldn’t stand that he did it in front of our kids,” she says. She left home in Honduras once, but returned because she was worried about her kids who she left behind. When arrived at her home, her husband shot her in the foot to teach her a lesson.

She waited until she could walk again. One day, she pretended she was taking the kids on an errand. She told her mother-in-law she’d be right back; she even left a child’s back pack behind, as a decoy. Instead of going to the store, she started traveling north with her two children. Her ultimate destination was the U.S.

The woman, who is 27, was part of this year’s influx of Central American migrants. Most media coverage has focused on the estimated 60 thousand minors who were detained at the US Mexico border. In reality, human rights workers and activists report that most minors who are leaving Central America do so with adults, often with their mothers.

The problem is the routes they’re taking to avoid anti-immigrant crackdowns in Mexico are so dangerous, migrant women can barely protect their children.

Mark Bosk, head coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Mexico, explains that this is largely because of Mexico’s “plan frontera sur” – the southern border plan. The Plan has kept thousands of people off “La Bestia”– the freight train migrants ride as stowaways to get to northern Mexico.

But for those migrants who do make it through, Bosk says, reports of violence and exploitation have increased. “The fact that they cannot use the train, and they have to start taking alternate routes, exposes them to organized crime and human trafficking networks more than before, back when people knew a route and where they had to go.”

In the playground of a shelter, the kids say their journey to Mexico City was cold, long, and the train they rode was scary– because that’s where gangs and drug cartels kill people. “My kids endured hunger, they endured the cold. By the time we got to Coatzacoalcos, they were very sick… We were out on streets. It was raining, and I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t even have anything to cover up my kids with.”

Coatzacoalcos is an industrial city run by the notorious Zeta cartel; it can be like a spiderweb trapping Central American migrants who are desperate to go further north.

The woman says she was lured into danger by a Mexican man who told her he ran a shelter. The man kept her and her children there for three days, and every night, he raped her, while the kids lay in the same bed. The man also fondled her daughter. The woman thinks he was a sex trafficker.

“I don’t even know how I escaped. The woman who cleaned his house left a door kind of open. I left all our things in there.”

With no money and no belongings, the Honduran woman and her kids rode the freight train, all the way to Mexico City, where they found a real migrant shelter. When she got there, the first thing she asked for was an HIV test.

Sister Magdalena Silva Renteria runs the shelter, and she says, when women are victimized, the children suffer too. “You can see it in these kids faces,” she says. “They’ve witnessed abuse, rape and the uncertainty of watching their mothers bring them with no food, no money. This is not easy.”

Eventually, some of the kids show signs of trauma. The Honduran mother says her daughter still has nightmares about what happened on their journey. Her son has violent outbursts.

Technically, the Mexican government does have refugee visas for migrants fleeing danger. But they are nearly impossible to come by. From January to September of this year, the Mexican government had 1525 applications for refugee status. But it accepted only 247.

The woman knows her chances of getting one of those visas are slim. She’s exhausted and her kids are homesick. So she’s decided to go back to Honduras.

“Lately I feel tired. No more. I don’t want this any more. No more. No more.

Still, she keeps remembering her husband’s warning about what would happen if she ever left home again. “He came to me and said, ‘Do it. When I find you, I’ll kill you.’ He said he’d kill me.”

Photo above is of a man helping a mother and her toddler get off “La Bestia”. Later on this train derailed while travelling from Arriaga to Ixtepec, the first leg in the the route for migrants traveling north.

Photo by Encarni Pindado.

For teen migrants, being deported home is the scariest journey of all

Johan and Carlos, two teenage brothers from Honduras, decided to migrate after they were threatened by local gang members. The gang told them they had to join, or they’d kill the brothers and their family. Less than two weeks later, they were deported from Mexico back to Honduras.

Last year year, Mexico deported 36,000 Hondurans, most of whom were trying to make it to the U.S. Those deported migrants are in many cases being sent back right back into the perilous situations that compelled them to leave in the first place. Johan and Carlos are so scared to be back in Honduras, they plan on never leaving their house until they get an opportunity to migrate again. Our producer Marlon Bishop reports.

Sabiduría: Why They Leave

For this week’s Sabiduria – or Words of Wisdom – Maria brings back producer Marlon Bishop to talk about personal reflections from his recent reporting trip to Honduras.

#1450 – Quality Control

Latino USA takes on questions of quality and how it’s controlled—from the kinds of people who visit US national parks to the way farmworkers factor into our food supply.


Photo by Lars Plougmann via Flickr – Depicts a portion of Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals. 

Gael García Bernal talks Music

This week’s show is themed Quality Control. So we had Gael García Bernal, whose latest role is an eccentric conductor on the Amazon Prime show Mozart in the Jungle, tell us how he learned to appreciate quality in classical music.

California Drought’s Effect On Farmworkers

California has suffered a drought for three years straight, but there’s a stark disparity between those who feel it and those who don’t. For those living in San Francisco or Los Angeles, where water flows freely from the taps and grocery store shelves brim with fruits and vegetables, the crisis can feel very far away. But in the state’s rural Central Valley, where much of this produce is grown, it’s a different story.

The Central Valley produces a quarter of the nation’s food, and close to half of its fruit—citrus alone brings in $2 billion. But there are dozens of acres of empty land in the Valley where growers have ripped out their orchards. Some trees are pruned to the nubs to keep them alive on scant water, while many others are simply dying.

Vanessa Rancaño reports from the Tulare Basin in the southern end of the valley, the area hardest hit.

Photo above is of Adela Perez, of East Porterville, picking grapes in Ducor, CA, on Oct. 13, 2014. Perez wears a scarf to mask herself from the pesticides, dust and sun while working long hours in the fields. After three years of drought in California most growers didn’t have the resources to water sufficiently leaving most crops thin resulting in less work for the pickers. California is in the third year of a severe drought, which has resulted in over 800 million in crop loss in 2014 alone. 


Farms surround the town of East Porterville, on Oct. 10, 2014. Most of the town’s 7-thousand residents rely on personal wells of which many have run dry.  



Fred Beltran, of Porterville, fills a portable water tank during a weekly free water giveaway in East Porterville, CA, on Oct. 12, 2014. The 300 gallon tanks are made available through the Porterville Area Coordinating Council where they a filled onsite or delivered to homes. Over a thousand homes are without water after a severe three-year drought in California has left the towns mostly shallow wells dry. 

Mexico Daily Life

Shriveled grapes hang from a vine at a farm in Ducor, CA , on Oct. 13, 2014. California is in the third year of a severe drought, which has resulted in over 800 million in crop loss in 2014 alone. 


Young citrus trees grow in Ducor, CA on November 8, 2014. Because adult citrus trees require a lot of water some farmers have opted to pull out old groves and replace them with saplings that require much less water in the hopes that water will be less scarce in the future. 


Gustavo Carranza, of Terra Bella owns 100 acres of mostly citrus farms. California is in the third year of a severe drought, which has resulted in over 800 million in crop loss in 2014 alone. If the drought continues, says Carranza, he will go out of business.


Photos/Sean Havey


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