Visiting the most dangerous nation in the Western Hemisphere

By K. Mennem - April 6, 2015

By most accounts, Honduras is the deadliest nation in the world that is not experiencing some type of war or internal conflict. In 2014, the nation’s largest city, San Pedro Sula, was named the deadliest city on the globe for the 4th consecutive year. The capital, Tegucigalpa, rose to 5th.

The United States media became formally acquainted with the violence in Honduras and its neighboring nations after over 50,000 of their minors fled to the U.S. border in 2014. Guatemala and El Salvador tend to be grouped in with Honduras and dubbed as the Northern Triangle.

Like neighboring El Salvador, Honduras puts most of the blame on its homicides on street gangs. The infamous Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 (M-18) kill each regularly due to a long standing feud. Street gangs occupy most neighborhoods and hold basic affiliations with other clicks across the nation.

Killing someone in Honduras can be done with almost absolute impunity as violence is rarely prosecuted. Violence against women runs rampant, as 630 were murdered in 2013. Less than 2% of these homicides were investigated. Even less was prosecuted.

In November of 2014, Miss Honduras Maria Jose Alvarado was murdered days before she was to compete in the Miss World competition. She was murdered alongside her sister Sofia after attending a birthday party.

Reporting on violence has slowed extremely in Honduras, as it has become one of the most dangerous nations for journalists in the last decade. 37 journalists were killed between 2003 and 2014; another unofficial tally is at 45.
Attorneys are even more at risk than journalists in Honduras, with 83 murdered since 2010. Attorneys are often threatened and killed for prosecuting gang members, as well as unsuccessfully defending gang members

I spent time in Honduras in late 2014, immediately after traveling to neighboring El Salvador. There are a number of tourist type areas that a few foreigners still visit, specifically the island Roatan, but I opted to head straight to the rough and tumble capital.

I have visited a lot of dangerous places across Latin America, but I must admit I was a little nervous about visiting the capital of Honduras. Everyone that heard of my visit gave me a real “what the hell are you thinking” talk.

After arriving at the airport, I got off to a bad start by having to intensely haggle with taxi drivers on getting to my first destination. I finally said fuck it and agreed to their high price. I figured it wasn’t worth ending up decapitated in a ditch for being a dick over a few bucks.

My first stop was actually just outside of the capital, a small town named Santa Lucia. The sleepy town was to be a stark contrast to the violent capital.

On the weekends locals from the capital flock to Santa Lucia to wander the cobble stone streets and soak in the sight of the city lights from its high altitude location. Practically no travel guides in English exist for the town, so I recently took the time to write one after my journey. The town has no ATM’s, very little hot water, not a single person who spoke English, and only one or two police officers. Everything was calm, peaceful, and beautiful. My mind was blown.
At this point I was highly impressed with Honduras and what it has hidden from the world. I began to dread heading back into the city and having to face the exact opposite.

Getting back into the city was an absolute cluster fuck. The highway was full of construction and wrecks. It was clear why many chose to use motorcycles to wind in and out of the traffic. I took a bus this time to the city center, where I had to get off and get a taxi to my hotel.

My taxi driver, who was high as a damn kite, decided to cram more passengers into the car, which I strongly opposed. After getting out of the car and almost knocking the guy out, he somehow convinced me that it was ok. It was a bad idea for me to continue on, but I did, and eventually made it to my hotel.

Like San Salvador, my hotel strongly suggested that I take private cars instead of using street taxis. Taxis have been known to kidnap and hold passengers for ransom.

My first mission in the capital was to walk to the main cemetery. Doing so would take me through the main marketplace. Two things I need to check off my list.

For the first time ever I got lost in a street marketplace. Unable to find the side street to the cemetery and carrying a $1,500 camera shoved into a futbol shoe bag, I opted to get the hell out of there. The hectic streets of people yelling, fighting, bartering, and stealing, actually got to me for once. I have been to some of the roughest mercados in Latin America, but this one had a different feel to it.

I headed towards the city square to setup and take photos because I was never able to find a place in the marketplace where I wouldn’t have been killed for my camera. I was able to make the trek by foot, and was surprised to see a mix of families and young adults strolling the downtown streets.
I was a little confused when I saw a KFC facing the city’s main cathedral and square. The square held a nice mix of families listen to the public sermon, military police carrying automatic rifles, prostitutes strolling, and cocaine dealers offering their services. Unlike the marketplace, where I didn’t see a single police officer, this place had more automatic rifles walking around than an army base. As they kept an eye out for agitated gang members, it was clear old hookers and fresh blow was the last thing on their mind.

Despite the sketchiness of some of the crowd and the recent massacres that have occurred in the square, the families seemed to feel safe. It was obvious that going out in public in the capital was a crap shoot on whether you may witness a gun battle, but much of the public has come to accept that.
After speaking with many people I encountered, it was clear that few living in the city haven't personally known someone who was murdered, had a family member flee for the U.S., and been personally mugged themselves at some point. The average person in Honduras makes $2,180 a year, making it impossible for most to flee to safer areas or travel to the U.S.

The U.S. has however recently broadened its application acceptance of asylum seekers from Honduras, finally recognizing how broad the danger is in the nation. But the truth is that most that need that asylum will never have the capabilities of getting their hands on one of those applications, or even know the process exists.

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