Violence, gangs cast pall over life in Honduras

People crowd next to the coffin with a young person in a blue shirt with a tear in their eye, during her funeral, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras in July.

Ana Luz, sister-in-law of Ronald Blanco, looked on grimly as neighbors of the murdered Honduran man washed away the rills of blood left where his bullet-ridden body had lain outside his house in a troubled barrio on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa.

Relatives and friends of Ronald Blanco are shown in the street, a pair hugging and another wash the blood from the crime scene.
Relatives and friends of Ronald Blanco wash the blood from the crime scene.Edgard Garrido/Reuters

It was just one of many scenes I witnessed this year while on assignment in Honduras, where thousands of people sought to escape violence and poverty by joining with other migrants in the hope of making it to safety across the Mexico-US border. The problems in this small Central American country grabbed international attention as US President Donald Trump cracked down on illegal immigration.

A group of children are shown in the distance looking toward a crime scene with police in te near ground in soft focus.
A group of children look toward a crime scene, where a man lies dead, after a shooting in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Honduras has for years been one of the world’s most murderous countries. Though official data show the homicide rate has fallen sharply, it continues to be a highly challenging environment in which to work.

Several police officers are shown with high-powered riffles taking aim while on patrol .
Police patrol in a neighborhood occupied by gangs known as El Hoyo.

According to Honduran government figures, the homicide rate reached 86 per 100,000 people in 2011-2012. In 2018, the rate should end below 40 per 100,000, the security ministry says. This compares to the latest statistics in the United States, where there were 5.3 murders per 100,000 in 2017, according to the FBI’s most recent report.

Danger in Honduras is never far away.

A woman is shown weeping surrounded by four other women near the coffin.
A woman reacts near the coffin of a man, who, according to the police, was kidnapped and killed, outside a morgue.Edgard Garrido/Reuters

During my roughly three months spent in Honduras in 2018, I photographed mothers waiting at the morgue for the bodies of murdered sons and daughters, police keeping watch over corpses left lying on streets after shootouts and families wailing over the coffins of loved ones.

Blanco, 37, lived in the Japon neighborhood, a breeding ground for gang violence, according to local authorities. It was here that I experienced the most tense moment of my time in Honduras, as I moved between police, soldiers, gang members, forensic experts, hearse drivers and pastors.

Relatives and friends of Ronald Blanco are shown walking out of a blue house on a hill overlooking Tegucigalpa, carrying his coffin.
Relatives and friends of Ronald Blanco carry the coffin during his funeral.Edgard Garrido/Reuters

At Blanco’s funeral, I was stopped by a young man with piercing eyes, one green and one blue. He demanded to know why I was there.

I explained that I was a journalist taking photographs of the event. But the youth kept pressing me with questions about what had brought me to Blanco’s funeral. As I continued taking the photos, I felt increasingly uncomfortable.

Finally, the tension eased when one of Blanco’s friends intervened, saying that the grieving family had authorized my presence.

A young girl is shown standing next to two wooden coffins wrapped in plastic wrap.
A girl stands next to the coffins containing the bodies of Blanca and another victim of the violence during a wake inside a garage, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.Edgard Garrido/Reuters
A group of people play soccer in the distance as soldiers are shown in the near ground lined up.
People play soccer as soldiers line up in a neighborhood occupied by gangs known as El Hoyo in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.Edgard Garrido/Reuters
The facade of a building without windows or doors, occupied by Barrio-18, is seen in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The facade of a building occupied by Barrio-18, so-called Crazy House, is seen in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.Edgard Garrido/Reuters

By Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Reporting by Edgard Garrido; Additional reporting by Delphine Schrank; Writing by Daina Beth Solomon and Julia Love; Editing by Diane Craft.

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