Violence, gangs cast pall over life in Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) - 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.

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 a migrant caravan in hope of making it to safety across the Mexico-U.S. border. The problems in this small Central American country grabbed international attention as U.S. President Donald Trump cracked down on illegal immigration.

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.

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Violence, gangs plague Honduras
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Violence, gangs plague Honduras

A woman reacts near the coffin containing the body of a man, who, according to the police, was kidnapped and killed, outside a morgue in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 8, 2018.

(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

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Relatives and friends of Ronald Blanco, 37, wash the blood from the crime scene where he was shot dead, outside his house, in Colonia Japon, a neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
People stand next to the coffin of Saylin, 14, who, according to the police, was killed by Barrio-18 gang members, during her funeral, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 19, 2018. According to police authorities, Saylin was kidnapped and tortured by her killers.(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Cyntia (L) mother of Saylin, 14, who, according to the police, was killed by Barrio-18 gang members, waits for Saylin's body outside a morgue in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 18, 2018. According to police authorities, Saylin was kidnapped and tortured by her killers. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Concepcion, aunt of Ronald Blanco, 37, looks at his body as it lies on a pick-up truck at the crime scene where he was shot dead, outside his house, in Colonia Japon, a neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 2, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

Relatives and friends of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead, carry the coffin during his funeral, outside his house in Colonia Japon, a neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 3, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A forensic worker takes photos next to the body of a man who was thrown from a car into the street after he was killed, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 6, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Gilberto, father of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house, cries during his funeral, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 3, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Lucia, wife of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house in August, poses for a photograph in her new home after fleeing from her neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, November 13, 2018. On the day of Blanco's funeral Lucia fled from the cemetery with her children, never to return home. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Relatives of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house, react near his coffin during his funeral, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 3, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man lies dead after a shooting in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A forensic worker dusts a pick-up truck door for fingerprints after the killing of a man in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH The body of a man lies on the ground after a shootout in Colonia Japon, a neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 30, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A view shows Tegucigalpa, Honduras, November 12, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Barrio-18 graffiti is seen inside a so-called Crazy House in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 28, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Forensic workers carry the body of a man who was killed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 4, 2018.(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH The body of a man who, according to the police, was kidnapped and killed is seen next to a river in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 30, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
The body of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house, lies on a police pick-up truck in Japon neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 2 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Men play soccer as soldiers line up in a neighbourhood occupied by gangs known as El Hoyo in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 13, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Children cover their noses near the body of a man who was killed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 4, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
The facade of a residential building occupied by Barrio-18, so-called Crazy House, is seen in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 28, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH The body of a man who, according to the police, was kidnapped and killed is seen covered with leaves in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 30, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A woman reacts next to the coffin containing the body of a man, who, according to the police, was kidnapped and killed and found in a state of decomposition, outside a morgue in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 8, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Relatives react next to the body of Marlen, 31, covered with a blanket, who, according to the police, was killed, in Choloma, Honduras, June 4, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Civilians and former gang members gesture inside a rehabilitation centre in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 13, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Relatives and friends react at a crime scene after a man was killed, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 10, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
"El Fresa" (L), a Barrio-18 gang member, sits on a sofa next to another Barrio-18 gang member in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 27, 2018.(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A man is detained during the investigation into the killing of a woman in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 11, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A policeman frisks civilians inside a pool bar in a neighbourhood occupied by gangs known as El Hoyo in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 13, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A policeman points a gun from a so-called Crazy House in a neighbourhood occupied by gangs known as El Hoyo in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 13, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Forensic workers cover with plastic the coffin containing the body of a man who, according to the police, was kidnapped and killed, outside a morgue in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 8, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Lourdes, mother and grandmother of Blanca, 37, and Norma, 18, cries during their funeral, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 12, 2018. According to the police, Blanca and Norma, a mother and her daughter, were kidnapped and their bodies found four days later in an abandoned area on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Policemen work next to the body of a man after a shootout in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 9, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A girl stands next to the coffins containing the bodies of Blanca, 37, and Norma, 18, during their wake inside a garage, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 12, 2018. According to the police, Blanca and Norma, a mother and her daughter, were kidnapped and their bodies found four days later in an abandoned area on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
The body of a man lies on a highway in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 26, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Forensic workers work next to the body of a man who, according to the police was kidnapped and killed, next to a river in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, May 30, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Relatives and friends of Blanca, 37, and Norma, 18, carry the coffins during their funeral, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 12, 2018. According to the police, Blanca and Norma, a mother and her daughter, were kidnapped and their bodies found four days later in an abandoned area on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man looks at the body of Marlen, 31, who, according to the police, was killed, in Choloma, Honduras, June 4, 2018.

(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)

A forensic worker photographs human remains wrapped in a blanket in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 1, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A policeman frisks civilians in a neighbourhood occupied by gangs known as El Hoyo in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 13 2018.(REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A policeman points a gun from a so-called Crazy House in a neighbourhood occupied by gangs known as El Hoyo in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 13, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Cyntia, mother of Saylin, 14, who, according to the police, was killed by Barrio-18 gang members, attends her funeral in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 19, 2018. According to the police authorities, Saylin was kidnapped and tortured by her killers. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Lucia, the wife of Ronald Blanco, 37, who was shot dead outside his house, reacts during his funeral, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 3, 2018. On the day of Blanco's funeral Lucia fled from the cemetery with her children, never to return home. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
People gather around the body of a man who was thrown from a car to the street after he was killed, according to police, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, August 6, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH The body of a man lies on the ground after a shootout in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 9, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
Police patrol in a neighbourhood occupied by gangs known as El Hoyo in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June 13, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A woman reacts after a group of men were killed in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, July 10, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
A group of children look towards the crime scene, where a man lies dead, after a shooting in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, June 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Edgard Garrido)
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According to Honduran government figures, the homicide rate reached 86 per 100,000 people in 2011-2012. For 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 on its website.

Danger in Honduras is never far away.

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.

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.

(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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