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January 21 2014

Gender-Based Violence Epidemic Hits Sex Workers in Honduras

Despite the fact that sex work is legal in Honduras, many groups and individuals view their actions as immoral. Those who murder sex workers believe they can literally treat these human beings as garbage to be disposed of. Such violence takes place against the broader backdrop of widespread gender- and sexuality-based violence that imperils women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) persons all through Honduras.

At least 9 sex workers were killed in San Pedro Sula in less than a month, according to a report by Amnesty International. The organization has released an Urgent Action calling for “exhaustive investigations into these attacks.”

January 10 2014

The Press in Honduras Confronts Violence

This article was written by Ana Arana and Daniela Guazo for Fundación MEPI. This is the third part in a series about crime reporting in Honduras. Read the first and second installments for more information.

Journalists protesting in Honduras.

Journalists protesting in Honduras. “Murderous bullets will not silence us”. Photo by Lilian Caballero shared by Esther Vargas on Flickr under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Why has superficial crime reporting that relies on bloody photos and spreads, gained some much ground in Honduras? Few journalists and analysts understand it. But MEPI's content analysis and interviews with reporters and editors drew out multiple reasons: little access to timely official reports by the authorities,  a lack of government-media implemented safety mechanisms to protect journalists, and fear of retaliation,  if stories appear to have too much context and insight.

To elucidate the danger, one reporter told us, “A few years ago, in Tegucigalpa there was a bandit who was well known and was called The Black Cat.  The man controlled all drug sales in Tegucigalpa. If any reporter identified him in a story, he would go to the news outlet and demand to know who wrote the story.”

Many newsrooms forbid their journalists from reporting in low income neighborhoods controlled by violent youth gangs around San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, The media also shuns reporting trips to the departments of  Olancho, Atlántida, Puerto Cortés and Colón, centers of drug trafficking activity—most stories related to these territories appear in news briefs. “It is difficult to report on crime in our country,” said one editor in Tegucigalpa. “Relatives of crime victims do not want to talk to the press. And for our safety, we don't follow up crime stories.”

A debate on how to stop the media from using graphic pictures and reporting on crime has caused much discussion in Honduras.  “(Their reporting style) is related to the lack of training,” said a member of the Honduran Human Rights Commission who did not want to give his name because he was not authorized to talk on the record.  “They use bloody pictures to sell more newspapers.  They don't care.”

A poll conducted by DLA Consulting Group in March of this year backs this assumption.  The survey found that four out of 10 persons polled said that they were left “in fear, nervous and concerned” after reading the Honduran press.

Business groups and civic leaders have also complained about the press and the reality they paint of Honduras in their stories. Early this year, the Mexican pollster Mitofsky rated President Lobo, number 18—next to the last place—in a poll that ranked 19 presidents across the world. Lobo's approval rate is down to 27 percent of all Hondurans.   Lobo capitalized on the debate over too much violence in the media. He proposed to regulate content in the media, and issue sanctions if a news outlet published news that were deemed to promote crime, obscenity and any other element that attempted against “morality and good manners.” The law proposal was strongly criticized by the Honduran media and international freedom of the press organizations. Media owners reacted quickly and in May, representatives of all mayor newspapers and broadcasters agreed on a self-regulation code of ethics that would forbid the news media from publishing photos and broadcasting video that promotes “immorality and violence.” The President still accuses the media of making a profit out of promoting violence.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Last july, body parts of a man which appeared to have been partially burnt, floated on a small lagoon near sugar cane fields in San Pedro Sula.  It was the body of Aníbal Barrow, a television commentator who had been kidnapped by armed commandos two weeks earlier, with his family and a driver.  The driver and family members had been freed earlier by the gunmen.

Barrow was a close friend of President Lobo and was the second journalist with known links to the President murdered violently in the last two years. In May 2012, police found the body of Ángel Alfredo Villatoro, also a television broadcaster who had been kidnapped two weeks earlier.  His body was found dressed with a police special forces uniform.  Nobody understood the uniform and the message.  A few days before Villatoro was kidnapped, the police had taken away bodyguards that had been assigned to the reporter because of death threats.

Sound investigations on why reporters are getting killed have not been reached on any recent case.  ”We have examined some cases deeply but can never reach any conclusions,” said one editor. Part of the reason many journalists are afraid to dig too deep in the cases of their dead colleagues is because they fear that in these cases, as in others in Honduras today, the authors could come from political, journalistic or police sectors, who may be operating in tandem with members of organized crime.

Official Communiques

A reporter's job is made more difficult because of a lack of government information that could explain the wave of violence. According to reporters and editors in both San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the Coroner's Office and local and national police agencies do not provide statistics or comprehensive reports. The lack of official information is due to various reasons. One is the alleged collusion between members of the government and police sectors with organized crime, as reported in the U.S. State Department's Human Rights report as recently as last year.

But safety is also a concern for police officers and  government officials. More than 120 police officers have been killed violently in the last three years, according to the Human Rights Office and police reports. Even top government officials run into trouble if they delve in too deep.  In December 2009,   six months after former President Zelaya was deposed, the then anti-drug Zar, Arístides González was gunned down in Tegucigalpa just days after he announced that the government was going to take measures against several clandestine landing strips it had discovered in the department of Olancho in northwestern Honduras. González had ordered an investigation of a group that was working with the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel. The order to kill him was carried out by a local Honduran trafficker.

January 09 2014

‘Just Bloody Pictures': Crime Reporting in Honduras

Reporter in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Photo by Carlos R. Ordoñez. Copyright Demotix

Reporter in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Photo by Carlos R. Ordoñez. Copyright Demotix

This article was written by Ana Arana and Daniela Guazo for Fundación MEPI. This is the second part in a series about crime reporting in Honduras. You can find the first part here.

When reading most Honduran newspapers, readers go away with little understanding of what is occurring in the country. Most crime stories are written without context or explanation and are accompanied by bloody, gory pictures. Local media write these crime stories purposely, as a safety mechanism because of entrenched fear and trepidation among local reporters and editors, according to interviews with reporters and editors and a review of various newspapers in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula by Fundacion MEPI, a regional investigative journalism project based in Mexico City.

Number of journalists killed in Honduras

Number of journalists killed in Honduras. From 2010 to 2013, 28 journalists were killed in the whole country. Click on image to visit article with interactive graph

MEPI's analysis found that the news media reports extensively about youth gang criminal activities, but they seldom write about the presence of international organized crime groups and their connections in Honduras to the security forces and to business and political sectors. In private interviews, editors, reporters and news analysts, who asked for anonymity recounted strategies applied in newsrooms to protect their staff of violence. Twenty-nine journalists have been murdered in Honduras in the last four years, with 16 of them were killed because of their work, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ. MEPI has completed similar investigations on how the media works under threat of violence in the Mexican regional press.

The newspapers in Honduras

Click on image to visit article with interactive graph

The content analysis by MEPI showed that seven out of ten stories about crime published in both San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa media did not include details about the victims, nor the possible reasons for the crime. Gruesome pictures were often spread across the pages with headlines such as: “Found dead after visiting his Mother,” “Three men are executed and placed in plastic bags,” or “Transvestite is taken out of his house and killed.”

MEPI's content analysis found that the media has been correctly reporting on a wave of violence of great proportions and premeditation. According to the stories, 80 percent of the crimes were committed with firearms and 20 percent of the victims were tortured before and after they were killed. Many of the bodies were found tied up and packed inside black garbage bags, a practice also favored by Mexican organized crime groups.

Click on image to visit article with interactive graph

Click on image to visit article with interactive graph

In March 2012, newspaper accounts described an escalation in the number of victims found decapitated or with their bodies cut to pieces. None of the stories, however, provided reasons as to why the new killing method was introduced in Honduras. A crime reporter told MEPI that the new killing methods could be tied to the Mexican organized crime group, Zetas, former military special forces-turned bandits, who built up a reputation for their brutality in killing opponents, and who have a presence in Central America. “About a year and half ago, bodies in plastic bags started appearing. The government won't accept it is linked to the Zetas,” he said.

Click on image to visit article with interactive graph

Click on image to visit article with interactive graph

Like in Mexico, criminal groups also leave messages at the crime scenes. Some of the messages are carved out in the victims’ bodies. Other messages are scribbled by hand in cardboard signs that are placed next to the bodies. In 2012, several victims were found in both Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula with a hand or foot missing. The message was cryptic to the uninitiated. But a criminal investigator in El Salvador said that often those mutilations have specific meanings. A missing hand means the victim stole; a missing foot, he fled. Both are messages to the victim's friends.

In Mexico, several media leaders were critical of the media when it published the messages left at crime scenes, and most newspapers and television news programs have stopped publishing or broadcasting them. The media agreed that they were becoming messengers in criminal groups’ vendettas. The Honduran press, however, continues to publish the messages.

More than 70 taxi and bus drivers were killed in 2012. They are the two top jobs and occupations that are high risk in Honduras today. But MEPI did not find any stories explaining to readers why these jobs have a higher probability of violence on the job. The stories also do not explain if the government has any program to improve security for workers in these occupations.

Similarly, five out of each 10 murders in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula in 2012 were carried out by men who rode as passengers in motorcycles, although there is a law prohibiting two riders in a motorbike.

Stay tuned for the third and final instalment in this series about crime reporting in Honduras.

January 08 2014

Honduran Journalists use Sensationalised Crime Reporting as a Safety Measure

Man reading a newspaper with the headline

Man sitting in a park in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, reading a newspaper with the headline “Gunmen kill husband of President's secretary”. June 9, 2007. Photo by Gabriel Vallecillo on Flickr, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was written by Ana Arana and Daniela Guazo for Fundación MEPI. We will publish the whole article in a series of three posts. This is the first post in the series.

San Pedro Sula: Colon is prime farming and cattle territory in the Honduran Caribbean coast. Its geography extends across eight thousand plus kilometers through mountains, rivers and thick vegetation. It is a strategic territory and middle transit point for drug transshipments from South America to Mexico and the United States. At the helm of these operations are Mexican and Colombian traffickers, according to Colombian and Honduran police reports. Plantations of African Palm conceal clandestine landing strips, which were previously used by crop fumigation planes and where today small planes laden with cocaine land unrestricted, according to the Honduran Armed Forces.

The local chieftains are Javier and Leonel Rivera Maradiaga, brothers and former cattle rustlers who today oversee a multimillion-dollar empire. Their organized crime group is called Los Cachiros, which allegedly picks political candidates and has close links to local police, according to the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Access Control, OFAC.

Until recently, few Hondurans knew about Los Cachiros. Journalists did not dare write about their activities. In fact, few reporters visit Colon, their territory, or other northern territories in this Central American country, where dozens of narco chieftains have built profitable drug trafficking networks with little scrutiny from the local press.

In June of this year, Hondurans finally read in the local press about the Maradiaga brothers and their organization. Something similar occurred with José Handal Pérez, a prominent businessman in San Pedro Sula, owner of a retail empire, which includes clothing stores, auto part shops and restaurants. Local media wrote about Handal Pérez in April, following the release of another report by the OFAC, which identified him as a drug transporter and money launderer.

“We published (the story) because the United States gave us information,” explained without hesitation a local newspaper editor who asked not to be identified in this article. “To investigate such matters in this country is very difficult. We can't take the risk. Also no local authority would provide us with such evidence.”

Honduras has become the ideal transit spot for international drug traffickers. The country and its government institutions are mired with government corruption and ineffective or compromised public security forces, according to a September 2012 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), “Transnational Organized Crime in Central America and the Caribbean.” In the last four years since President Manuel Zelaya was deposed and President Porfirio Lobo was selected, an institutional crisis has hit the country, creating a power vacuum that has been exploited by local and international organized crimes groups, according to UNODC. Today Honduras has the highest per capita murder rate in the world with 91 murders per 100 thousand inhabitants. The crime statistics are higher in northern territories, where drug trafficking networks operate. The country also has one of the highest numbers of journalists killed, or attacked, in a country not at war.

The Mexican cartels—Zetas, Sinaloa y Gulf—have had a presence in Honduras for quite some time. Two Colombian criminal bands, The Rastrojos, who have a working relationship with Los Cachiros, and the Urabeños, have a presence in the country. Maras or organized youth gangs—MS13 and Mara 18, which originated in the nineties with deported gang members who grew up in low-income barrios in California—control barrios in some of the country's most important cities. In La Ceiba, a Caribbean resort town that has a reputation as an important drug trafficking corridor, and where civil society is desperately trying to rebuild its tourist flow, youth gangs have proliferated and even determine who can live in their areas of control. Youth gangs throughout the country work as low-level level drug distributors and are sometimes subcontracted by the cartels as foot soldiers or enforcers, according to Honduran police and the UNODC.

However, when reading most Honduran newspapers, readers go away with little understanding of what is occurring in the country. Most crime stories are written without context or explanation and are accompanied by bloody, gory pictures. In the next post in this series we will look at how news media reports about crime in Honduras.

December 03 2013

Electoral Authority Agrees to Recount Vote Tallies in Honduras Presidential Election

Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro from left-wing LIBRE party has been calling for a recount of the votes from the country's recent presidential election. According to official results Castro won 29% of the votes, placing her second after conservative candidate Juan Orlando Hernandez with 37%.

RNS in Honduras Culture and Politics explains that there will be a recount:

The Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) head David Matamoros agreed to a public recount of the Actas: not the votes themselves, just a recount of the votes as recorded on the tally sheets.

This, of course, is a compromise.  Ballot boxes will not be re-opened; individual votes will not be recounted.

He concludes:

It's a step in the direction of transparency. But not the kind of recount that would put to rest, ultimately, the kinds of doubts that have been raised.

November 27 2013

Forte suspicion de fraude au Honduras

Bien que porté par une organisation populaire impressionnante et donné en tête des enquêtes d'opinion pendant de nombreux mois, le parti Liberté et refondation (Libre) — créé à la suite du coup d'Etat qui, le 28 juin 2009, a expulsé du pouvoir le président de centre gauche Manuel Zelaya —, n'en a pas moins abordé les élections générales du 24 novembre avec une inquiétude latente, parfois exprimée à demi mots : « On est sûrs de gagner, mais… pas certains d'obtenir la victoire. » Le coup d'Etat a laissé des (...) - Americas / Amérique latine, Élections, Parti politique, Politique, Amérique centrale, Honduras

November 26 2013

Global Voices Partners With Fundación MEPI

Global Voices has launched a new partnership with Fundación MEPI, an organization that promotes regional investigative projects in the Americas.

MEPI was founded in 2010 in Mexico, where news outlets’ lack of financial resources and attacks against journalists have stifled investigative reporting. In response to these challenges, MEPI seeks to promote freedom of the press and support “the development of the next generation of reporters in Mexico and Central America.”

Fundación MEPI

The MEPI website further explains:

The contemporary reader needs to understand how governments, public actors and agencies really work. It is these explanations that provide citizens of a democracy with the insight required to make informed decisions and procure a free and fair government. But the cost of producing quality information is rising and with the use of technology, so too is competition. With the help of donors, supporters and partners, Fundaciòn MEPI is committed to producing regional and cross-national investigations that use technology to illuminate corrupt practices, sleight of hand and impunity.

As part of their mission, MEPI aims to “link stories between the United States, Mexico and Central America and help explain transnational movements to readers across the globe.” MEPI's vision matches Global Voices’ mission to “build bridges across the gulfs that divide people, so as to understand each other more fully.”

Global Voices and Fundación MEPI will exchange content regularly. Sometimes we will break down their long-form investigations into series. We kick off this partnership with the article Machismo and Old Prejudices Keep Mexican Rape Victims Silent, which is also available in Spanish.

Honduras: Over 600 Femicides in 2012

A woman is killed in Honduras an average of once every fourteen and a half hours according to the Violence Observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras. The group concluded that 2851 women were killed in Honduras between 2005 and 2012 and there has been a steady increase in femicides over the past eight years.  (175 women were killed in 2005 while 606 died last year).

Erin in The Latin Americanist writes about femicides in Honduras. She adds:

In recent years the government has taken some steps to combat gender-based violence including the creation of Special Prosecutor for Women in 2008 and the approval this year of a law incorporating femicides into the penal code.  Yet Honduran judge Ramón Enrique Barrios highlighted how a small proportion of crimes against women actually go to trial and an even smaller number end in convictions.  He deemed the lack of proper investigation and impunity as the “major Achilles tendon of the Honduran judicial system.” 

She also shares this video of a national campaign against femicides in Honduras:

November 25 2013

Competing Candidates Claim Victory in Honduras Presidential Election

Juan Orlando Hernández from the ruling conservative National Party is currently leading the presidential vote in Honduras, according to results released by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). But his main rival, left-wing LIBRE party candidate Xiomara Castro, has also claimed victory and her party has declared that they don't recognize the results released by the TSE.

Xiomara Castro is the wife of former president Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a coup in June 2009.

Twitter users shared reactions and reports throughout Sunday, November 24, with the hashtags #HondurasDecide (Honduras decides), #EleccionesHonduras2013 (Honduras 2013 elections), #HondurasVota (Honduras votes) and #Honduras, among others:

Freelance writer and consultant Boz from Bloggings by boz explained that both parties quoted exit polls that claimed they had won the presidential election.

Xiomara Castro claimed her victory on Sunday night. She tweeted:

With the exit poll results that I have received from around the country, I can tell you: I am the president of Honduras.

But the early results released by the TSE placed National Party candidate Juan Orlando Hernández in the lead:

First results from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Juan Orlando Hernández declared his victory soon after these early results:

Thank you God and thank you Honduran people for this victory!

Headlines: Unbelievable, Honduras debuts two presidents, both celebrate victory.

Later that night, the bloggers behind Honduras Culture and Politics shared the last TSE results of the day, which still had Juan Orlando Hernández winning the election:

Xiomara Castro's LIBRE party did not recognize these results, as human rights and anti-mining activist Karen Spring explained:

Radio Globo, a radio station known for its opposition to the coup in 2009, had reported earlier that Xiomara Castro was the winner of Sunday's election:

Radio Globo Honduras: “We didn't lie during the coup. We won't like to you now. Xiomara Castro is winning around the country.”

Meanwhile, US ambassador in Honduras, Lisa Kubiske, declared:

It has been a “transparent and regular process” the ambassador of the United States in Tegucigalpa declared regarding the Honduran elections.

Laura Raymond from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) questioned the ambassador's statements:

CCR released a statement on Monday:

Yesterday’s election in Honduras and subsequent statements by the U.S. Ambassador characterizing the election as “transparent” and accompanied by only few acts of violence are reminiscent of the 2009 election, where the U.S. rushed to validate and help push forward a process as it was being contested by Honduran civil society. There must be an opportunity to do a full and accurate count and fully investigate reports of irregularities and intimidation and threats by authorities.

Meanwhile, on Twitter some are talking about electoral fraud:

It smells like fraud. Political crisis with 2 self-proclaimed candidates and a third candidate not recognizing TSE results.

And user Horacio Torres referred to the coup that overthrew Zelaya:

If they carried out a coup with complete impunity, why would they not be able to organize a fraud?

The Americas Blog has been keeping a live blog where they share violations of electoral regulations and other inconsistencies.

Furthermore, the Honduras Solidarity Network released a report by the ‘Council Analyzing Human Rights Violations in the Honduran Electoral Process’ which says that the elections were “taking place in an atmosphere of suspicion.”

The report lists the information the Council shared with human rights lawyer Luis Guillermo Pérez Casas and Judge Baltazar Garzon, including reports of “intimidation against members of the voting tables [...] the buying and selling of votes and credentials” and “irregularities in the electoral registry.”

The Council added:

We remind the people of Honduras that we are not alone, for we are being accompanied by hundreds of international defenders of human rights here in our country, who are taking note of the injustices and violations of basic rights, so that they can submit timely reports to their respective countries.

To conclude, we reaffirm our demand that human rights are respected, in particular the right to life , integrity, and freedom, rights which are systematically violated in this country.

Boz from Bloggings by boz posted “Five points on the Honduran elections“, where, among other things, he discusses the slow vote count:

4) Could the vote count be any slower? While I think the TSE vote counting process will eventually deliver an accurate result, it's also way too slow for the age of Twitter. The delay in counting the vote is partially why both leading candidates jumped the gun in declaring themselves president. It's why two of the candidates are now claiming fraud and manipulation. This is something that must be fixed by the next election. There is no reason that at 7AM the morning after the election, only about half the votes have been counted.

Boz concludes:

5) It's clear the presidential winner will obtain less than 40% of the vote and potentially under 33%. The Congress is going to be far more plural and more divided. No candidate or party has a significant mandate. Honduras's institutions should try to reflect that divided country, yet should also focus on being productive, not continuing to fight the political battles of the election. That's idealistic of me. It's much more likely that Honduras is going to see some protests.

Stay tuned for more updates on this contested election.

November 21 2013

Hondurans Hopeful Ahead of Elections

Adrienne Pine in her blog Quotha writes that “there is an incredible amount of hope right now in Tegucigalpa,” as Hondurans prepare to elect a new president on November 24, 2013:

It's palpable, in the central park, in cafés, on the streets, in my classrooms. It feels to me like there are equal amounts of hope and terror, with one gaining as the other loses ground, and then reversing direction. But my interlocutors tell me I'm wrong. They tell me it's all hope (though they then often fall back into talking about their perfectly legitimate fears). [...] Because when people I know come up to me to exclaim that on Sunday they are finally going to be LIBRE/libre (as several did today), they are talking about so much more than the party.

“Libre” in Spanish means “free”, and it is also the name of the political party under which Xiomara Castro de Zelaya -wife of former president Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup in June 2009- is running for president in the upcoming elections.

November 14 2013

PHOTOS: Humans of Latin America

“She laughed, laughed and laughed while she waited for inter-provincial transportation. Tiraque, Cochabamba”.
Photo by Mijhail Calle for Humans of Bolivia, used with permission.

Inspired by photographer Brandon Stanton's blog Humans of New York (HONY), professional and amateur photographers across the world have created blogs and Facebook pages where they collect images and stories of people from all walks of life –and Latin America has not been an exception.

Stanton's idea has inspired Latin American photographers who want to showcase their country or city through portraits of its diverse people.

This is a brief overview of some of the “Humans of…” projects in the region.

Humans of Buenos Aires

“Come and visit me whenever you want. I'm sorry I can't offer you mate [local beverage] but I have no place to heat up water.” Photo by Jimena Mizrahi, used with permission.

Freelance photographer Jimena Mizrahi started Humans of Buenos Aires in May 2012, and her Facebook page has attracted over 11,000 likes.

Her project also caught the attention of a city official, which resulted in the first Humans of Buenos Aires exhibition. The Argentina Independent reports that “the exhibition ‘Micro historias del Microcentro’ featured displays of portraits of individuals who live or work in the city’s central business district”.

Jimena told The Argentina Independent that she does Humans of Buenos Aires “not only because I simply love interacting with people, but because each of these interactions is a lesson. Every person is a world.”

“-I can't believe it! A woman cab driver!
-Of course, do you think that women can't be taxi drivers? It's time to stop being surprised when women do things that aren't common for their gender, there aren't things for men or women.”
Photo by Jimena Mizrahi, used with permission.

Humans of Colombia and Humans of Bogotá

“A Wayuu girl, daughter of a restaurant owner in Uribia.”
Photo by Gábor Szentpétery, used with permission.

Humans of Colombia was created by designer Maurent Roa and architect Gábor Szentpétery. During their travels the couple met Mauricio Romero, who has joined the project and contributed some photographs. While traveling, they also noticed that many people didn't know much about Colombia or had a negative perception of the country; with this project they aim to show a different side of Colombia.

“The idea is to represent Colombia through its people because ethnic diversity in Colombia is incredible. It is a mixture of Amerindians, Spanish and African descendants, and that's what we want to show the world,” Maurent explains.

“Carmen Lorena grew up on a coffee plantation estate about three hours from Bogotá, but she thinks the city life is not for her, she prefers the countryside where she will stay after finishing her studies.”
Photo by Mauricio Romero, used with permission.

“What is your perception of love, and your favorite way to love?”
-”I think that love is everything, it makes up everything that surrounds us and I'd say that my favorite way to love is…breathing”.
Photo by John Cardona, used with permission.

For more photos from Colombia, you can also visit Humans of Bogotá, a page created in August 2013 by John Cardona and Jonathan Arévalo.

John and Jonathan are motivated by the response they've received, and by the chance to meet new people and hear stories that they can show the world through their page. They say that this movement “shows how we can all identify with someone, no matter how far they live.”

“One wish?
-Safety in all of Bogotá.
-Equality
-Tranquillity and peace”
Photo by John Cardona, used with permission.

Humans of Bolivia

“In Sipe Sipe – Cochabamba, the man said ‘take this abroad'. Then he began playing his charango.”
Photo by Mijhail Calle, used with permission.

Created on November 3, 2013, Humans of Bolivia is one of the newest Facebook pages to mirror Humans of New York in the region. Estelí Puente and Mijhail Calle want to create the same empathy they saw in the New York project and similar projects like Humans of Amsterdam, “the feeling that humanity is formed by individuals with their own stories.”

Although Mijhail takes most of the photographs, they are reaching out to other photographers who can share images from different parts of Bolivia. “This dynamic is also allowing us to create a space to share and discuss the role of the image and photography in the construction of our identities, so for now it looks like this will be more than a series of portraits. We want it to be a reason to reflect about ourselves,” Estelí explains.

“There are not many amauta women, it's hard to be one, but I am. Now I'm part of the union”.
Photo by Mijhail Calle, used with permission.

Humans of Honduras

“My biggest desire is for politicians to turn a blind eye to the colors of their parties, and for their focus to be solely on the betterment and unity of their country. This is the only way in which Honduras will be able to move forward.”
Photo by Claudia, used with permission.

Claudia Elvir and Daniela Mejía “invite you to get to know Honduras through its people” on their Facebook page Humans of Honduras.

Claudia started following Stanton's blog and was impressed by how he not only “captured impressive photographs, but also used them to capture the humanity behind each portrait, and how each photograph told a story that resonated in the hearts of the readers.”

Her friend Daniela conducts the interviews. Claudia and Daniela want to change the violent and negative image that the world has about Honduras, and they also want to change the way Hondurans see their own country.

Through their photographs and interviews, Claudia and Daniela hope to show that Honduras is a country “full of hard-working people, people with dreams, ambitions, joys and sorrows just like in every corner of the world.”

“I asked him to smile and very amiably he said, ‘I would like to, but in this job you have to be serious.’ and with that he demonstrated how appearances are deceiving.”
Photo by Claudia, used with permission.

Humans of Guatemala

“Slow but steady! Yes, it´s a long way to go, but I will make it.”
Photo by Elmer Alvarez, used with permission.

Elmer Alvarez had already been taking photographs of people around Guatemala before starting the Facebook page Humans of Guatemala in September 2013. Wendy Del Aguila, who now writes the captions, told Elmer about Humans of New York and he felt motivated to start a similar page about Guatemala.

Elmer and Wendy seek to capture “spontaneous moments of these extraordinary people reflecting their smile, passion, curiosity, hard work, shyness, kindness and most important their uniqueness!”

La Teacher-

La Teacher-”Let Your Smile Change The World”
Photo by Elmer Alvarez, used with permission

More “Humans of…” projects

“Every morning Don Pedro has opened his taqueria in this small village for two years. He has the usual clients and he gives out free tacos to all the minibus drivers who stop their minibus near his stand. “
Photo by Humans of Mexico, used with permission

The image above comes from Humans of Mexico, a page created in March 2010. Also from Mexico, Humans of Mexico City seeks to create a “photographic census of Mexico City. One street portrait at a time.”

Humans of Costa Rica, a page created in July of 2013, has more than 1,700 likes.

In Brazil, the Humans of Rio de Janeiro Facebook page is one of the most active in the region, and has over 9,000 likes.

Some Facebook pages -like Humans of Nicaragua, Humans of Panama, and Humans of Santiago, Chile- ask users to contribute photographs to the project. Others -like Humans of Quito, Humans of Lima, Humans of Peru, and Humans of Asunción- have been created less than a month ago.

Have we missed any “Humans of…” projects from South or Central America? Let us know in the comments!

October 24 2013

One Month Until Honduras’ General Election

Mike Allison from the blog Central American Politics shares links to English-language posts on the November 2013 elections in Honduras.

Mike recommends blogger Hermano Juancito's post “about the breakdown of the two-party system”; a post from the blog Honduras Culture and Politics on the newest poll results; and a post on “political violence leading up to this year's elections” by Alex Main on The Americas Blog for the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

He also recommends an article from the Christian Science Monitor.

October 11 2013

Mexico, Panama, and Honduras Seeking a Spot for Brazil 2014 World Cup

Foto de Hefebreo en Flickr, bajo licencia Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Photo from Hefebreo on Flickr, under a Creative Commons License (CC BY 2.0)

With Costa Rica and the United States qualified for the next World Cup, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Jamaica are playing for their last opportunities to take part in the Brazilian festivity in 2014.  

The Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) awards three and a half spots to attend the World Cup: the first three places proceed directly and the fourth place would participate in a playoff game against New Zealand.  

The picture is painted differently for each of the participants, who must play perfect games in order to maintain their chances intact. 

Mexico vs Panama

Mexico is known as the Concacaf giant. It is the country with the most qualifications to the World Cup but is nonetheless about to be eliminated after a disastrous season in which it has barely won one (away) game and has failed to win at the legendary Estadio Azteca, formerly a headache for visiting teams.  

Mexico will play its possibilities before Panama, a team that has never managed to qualify for a World Cup and is barely competing for the second time in hexagonal standings. Panama is tied with Mexico in points (8), but unlike the “Tri”, Panama can boast about having its best race to the World Cup (in the other hexagonal standings that Panama participated in, it could barely get two points).   

Panama has an uphill battle ahead; on the two occasions it has visited the Estadio Azteca, it ended up destroyed (7-1 and 5-0). Nevertheless, it is enjoying a brief period of hope, based on Mexico being unable to beat Panama the last four times they came face to face (two ties and two victories [es] for the Panamanians). 

Roberto Chen, a young, promising talent for Panamanian football, talks about the team's hopes in an interview with FIFA [es]:  

“Se puede sacar un buen resultado si hacemos las cosas bien. Honduras ya demostró que se les puede ganar en su casa. Es un partido crucial, pero hay que estar tranquilos y pensar en positivo. Se puede lograr la clasificación en el Azteca”, remata. No sería matemático pero un buen resultado en la cancha del Tri daría un impulso tremendo a los canaleros en el camino a Brasil.

“We can get a good result if we do things right. Honduras already proved that we can beat them on their home field. It is a crucial game, but we have to be calm and think positively. We can qualify at the Azteca,” he concludes. It would not be mathematical, but a good result on the Tri field would give a tremendous boost to the Panamanians en route to Brazil.

On his Twitter account, Mexican journalist David Faitelson posted a stark analysis of the game, where Mexico, by tradition and hierarchy in the area, should impose itself on a growing Panama, being the only country of the six participants that has never qualified for a World Cup:

If you are not capable of beating Panama on a Friday night at the Azteca, you're better off dedicating yourself to something else.

Álvaro Martínez is confident that the optimism reflected in Panamanian fans could be a reflection of Friday's results:

Official: 84.8% of Panamanians believe that the national team can bring the #Aztecazo [beat Mexico at the Azteca stadium]. There is positivity in 3.5 million people.

Panama has sought all kinds of support to arrive at this game in the best way possible, including having “summoned” three great national figures to cheer on the players, as Univisión [es] states:  

Rubén Blades, Roberto Durán y Mariano Rivera son las principales inspiraciones panameñas. De ellos, el recién retirado lanzador de los Yankees es esperado en la concentración del equipo canalero en cualquier momento del cierre del Hexagonal para incrementar los niveles de motivación.

[...]

“Hasta el momento el jugador convocado es Mariano Rivera, para cerrar el partido”, bromeó el entrenador Julio Dely la semana pasada, ante una pregunta sobre su lista de foráneos.

Rubén Blades, Roberto Durán, and Mariano Rivera are the main Panamanian inspirations. Of them, the recently retired Yankees pitcher is expected to visit the Panamanian team at any given moment during the Hexagonal closing to increase levels of motivation.

[...]

“As of now, the player we have summoned is Mariano Rivera,” trainer Julio Dely joked last week responding to a question about his list of players who play abroad.

Singer Rubén Blades accompanied the national team and sang “Patria”, which is considered by some a second Panamanian national anthem, with them.  

Fanny Cardoze shares a photo of the singer with the footballers. 

Rubén Blades With the National Team!!! Great motivation for our players!

The truth is that on Friday, October 11, Panama and Mexico will take to the field and play for the possibility of making it to the World Cup. The team that loses the game is basically eliminated, while a tie favors Panamanians, who have a better goal difference.

Honduras vs Costa Rica

On Friday, Honduras is welcoming the already qualified Costa Rican national team in San Pedro Sula. The game has dramatic indications as Honduras needs a win to ensure third place, but games between “ticos” (Costa Ricans) and “catrachos” (Hondurans) are always high voltage and is considered a “classic match of Central American football” 

Costa Rica, despite having qualified, has the odds of three other teams (Panama, Mexico, and Honduras) in its results, although according to the words of Luis Marín for El Universal [es], they aspire to occupy first place in the qualifications (they are now in second, after the United States):  

‘En este momento no pensamos en lo que beneficia o no a Honduras, a Panamá o a México, estamos pensando en nosotros y en buscar la primera posición', declaró en conferencia de prensa Luis Marín, asistente del seleccionador, el colombiano Jorge Luis Pinto.

‘At this time we are not thinking of what is beneficial or not for Honduras, Panama, or Mexico, we are thinking about ourselves and seeking first place’ Luis Marín, assistant coach to Colombian Jorge Luis Pinto, said at a press conference.

Nonetheless, Honduras is playing at home and only needs one win (and a tie between Panama and Mexico) to ensure its consecutive participation in the World Cup and the third in its history. ‘Pase al vacío’ remembers these possibilities: 

If Honduras wins against Costa Rica on Friday, and Mexico and Panama tie, the Hondurans will be in Brazil 2014

After Friday's games, we will get a clearer glimpse into who will go to Brazil and if Central America will send three participants to the World Cup for the first time. 

October 08 2013

Honduras Creates Military Police to Fight Crime

A new military police has been approved for duty in Honduras in an attempt to fight rampant crime and violence. But this new strategy has raised concerns among human rights defenders and citizens who see the new military force as a setback.

As Themla Mejía reports for news agency IPS, “Ramón Custodio, the national human rights commissioner or ombudsman, said he was staunchly opposed to the new body on the grounds that it violated the constitution and virtually ensured the demise of the national civilian police, re-established 15 years ago when the military began to yield power to civilians.”

Honduras passed a law to create the Military Police for Public Order (Policía Militar del Orden Público, in Spanish) back in August 2013. In Upside Down World, a website that covers politics and activism in the region, Rosemary Joyce and Russell Sheptak explain that “the draft law called for the new force to ‘carry out the takeover of zones, neighborhoods, residential developments, and human settlements or public spaces where gangs or organized crime exercise their illegal activities'”:

Ironically, despite the emphasis on how this new military presence in the streets of Honduran cities should change the security situation, a command decision was taken not to announce when these troops will actually be on patrol in their war against…what?

Journalist Lilian Caballero shared a photo of the military police on October 3:

Military Police take oath. Starting today they can fight crime.

Gabo Giron in San Pedro Sula said he spotted the police on the streets that same day:

Writing for the blog InSight Crime, Marguerite Cawley explains that “the national police are notoriously corrupt and a large percentage are thought to have organized crime ties“, but she argues that creating a military police “fails to address the need to reform the existing police.”

While the creation of a militarized police force may be a better alternative than placing the military directly on the streets, the line between the two is hazy and the force ultimately cannot replace the need for an effective national police force. The decision also raises human rights concerns regarding the potential use of military tactics to improve citizen security.

Joyce and Sheptak in Upside Down World add that “there is no political pressure to take a less hostile approach to urban crime” and that according to most polls, “majorities of the Honduran public want military police in the streets, presumably imagining this will cure crime without bringing the kind of violence against bystanders that critics fear”:

For many election cycles, a staple of presidential campaigns has been claiming that your party will improve security; for the Partido Nacional, which according to a recent poll is locked in a statistical tie with LIBRE for the November election, getting the troops out provides a visible sign of how decisively they will act if elected–unlike the current president, also from the Partido Nacional, seen by Hondurans as completely ineffective, and thus an impediment to the election of his party's candidate, Juan Orlando Hernández, the motive force behind this new law.

Hondurans will go to the polls to vote in presidential, parliamentary and local elections next month.

The article in Upside Down World continues:

Which brings us back to the actual deployment of the first 1,000 of a projected 5,000 new militarized police, rushed into service in just over a month, serving as political propaganda if nothing else. If the target size is ever reached, the new force will be one-third the size of the existing civilian police. Better paid and better armed, these new forces may well change the game in cities where the civilian police have been ineffective. However, there are already signs that their missions may take a more troubling turn even then making some of Honduras poorest neighborhoods fire-fight zones.

On Twitter, Carlos Mejía replies to a tweet [es] by political party Partido Anticorrupción (PAC) which says that to eliminate crime there needs to be more jobs and opportunities:

Creating jobs is indeed necessary, but the military police is also. We need to feel safe. Opinion.

Josue Banegas shares a photo:

Ready to fight crime, 1,000 military police

And Armando Rene Boquin asks:

To fight crime or to repress the people?

Meanwhile, Frank Alley wonders:

Ready to operate. Will they bring the security that we need? Are they the solution?

September 04 2013

Derailment of ‘La Bestia’, Another Tragedy in a Broken Immigration System

Migrants on

Migrants on “la Bestia”. Photo by Peter Haden on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

On August 25, 2013 a cargo train derailed in southern Mexico killing 11 Central American migrants who were hitching a ride on top of the freight cars. At least 250 Central Americans were estimated to have been riding on the train before it derailed, injuring another 18 migrants.

Each year thousands of Central Americans hitch rides on northbound Mexican freight trains for a chance at reaching the U.S. border in search of work and a better life. Migrants often ride the trains to escape Mexican immigration officials who scour buses at checkpoints in search of Central Americans to deport.

Known among migrants as ‘la bestia’ (the beast), the Mexican train offers Central Americans an alternative way of reaching the U.S., but it is a route fraught with dangers. Gangs and corrupt Mexican officials maraud the train lines and extort or kidnap migrants, oftentimes capturing and forcing them to work for organized crime groups.

While train derailments of la bestia are common, the biggest challenge, which many migrants passing through Mexico face, comes from the gangs who prey upon their vulnerable situation. For most Central American migrants, the vast majority of whom come from Honduras, currently the country with the world’s highest murder rate, their experience with gang-related violence often begins before they even leave their countries of origin.

In the last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a small migrant shelter in Mexico City. Last March, we received a Honduran woman at the shelter, named Juana Morelos, who was traveling on la bestia with her seven-year-old son. Juana left Honduras because a local gang who extorted money from a small store she owned began making death threats on her family when she could no longer afford to pay them off. Afraid for her life, Juana fled from Honduras with her son and started hopping Mexican freight trains north towards the U.S. border.

Juana and her son spent several months in Mexico City, during which I gave her a crash course in basic English, before she and her son continued their dangerous journey towards Texas. When Juana finally arrived at the U.S. border, we received news at the shelter that she had tried crossing with a coyote [people smuggler] and was deported. I was concerned about Juana’s safety, but once I heard she had arrived at the border, where the threat of kidnapping often increases, I became even more terrified.

Juana reached the border two months after the “Gang of 8” senators released their proposal for a new comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed in the Senate last June, and includes an increase of 3,500 Border Patrol agents and 4.5 billion dollars to add new surveillance systems, aerial drones, and the construction of more fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead of addressing the reasons why Juana and the hundreds of migrants on board the Mexican train that derailed last week migrate north to the U.S., the current immigration reform bill offers them a closed door in their attempt to flee violence largely caused by America’s consumption of illegal drugs.

The current immigration reform bill greatly resembles the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which legalized almost three million undocumented migrants in the U.S. and quintupled the number of Border Patrol agents to almost 22,000. Today, an estimated 11 million people live in the U.S. without legal residency, signifying that IRCA did little to solve the problems which force people to migrate in the first place.

While visiting a small town in the central Mexican state of Querétaro this year, I met an 81-year-old man, named Jose Ramírez, who gained U.S. citizenship through IRCA. As a young man, Ramírez would spend half of each year doing farm work in the U.S. and return home to visit his wife and children. When crossing the border became more costly and dangerous, Ramírez could no longer justify returning to Mexico as often, so he moved his entire family to Florida. The increase in border security over the last half-century that was supposed to keep people like Ramírez out of the U.S. became exactly what motivated him to resettle his family to Florida.

While it’s true that many people from Mexico and Central America enter the U.S. without authorization and settle permanently, it doesn’t mean that they want to. Like most men and women from small town USA, Latin American migrant workers often come from rural areas where locals value home and family. If you offered most residents in rural America a job that paid up to seven times their current income, but that involved relocating to a foreign country with a different language, and risking your life by walking through a desert to get there, most would probably opt to stay home. But for people like Juana Morelos, lack of economic opportunities and violence caused by the drug trade often leave them with no choice.

Increasing security along our southern border will keep many future immigrants out of our country, but it won’t stop them from trying to enter it. During my research on migration in Mexico over the last year, I met many Mexicans who worked decades in the U.S. with fake documents just to save enough money to buy land and start a business back home. What if instead of investing billions of dollars in drones and fences, we used some of that money to partner with the Mexican government and create loans for these would-be entrepreneurs to start small businesses and employ their neighbors?

A truly comprehensive immigration reform bill should also include a plan to decrease the violence in Central America which forces many locals to migrate. Honduras and El Salvador currently have the highest murder rates in the world. This violence is mainly caused by cartels that have begun using Central America to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

Photos of migrants standing alongside the overturned train at the site of la bestia derailment last week are an easy story for media outlets seeking a gripping response from their readers or viewers. But the train accident is just one incident in a vast chain of violence and increasing danger which follows migrants from Central America to the U.S. border. It’s an issue which many U.S. politicians currently want to solve by militarizing the southern frontier, but just like when IRCA became law 25 years ago, the real problems that must be addressed remain far away from the U.S. border.

Several days after Juana was deported, she and her son tried crossing the U.S. border again. Back at the shelter in Mexico City, one of Juana’s relatives told me that his time they made it safely to Houston.

As the House prepares to vote on immigration reform later this year, thousands more migrants, like Juana and her son, continue to enter the U.S. with smugglers. If the current immigration reform bill passes the House, it will offer citizenship only to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. in 2011 or earlier. Without a change of focus on how our nation approaches immigration in the future, the derailing of la bestia will continue to be just a small incident among a much greater tragedy, and Juana and her son will become part of the next generation of undocumented immigrants forced to live in our shadows.

Some names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Levi Bridges is a journalist and Fulbright Scholar based in Mexico City. He writes at www.bridgesandborders.com and tweets @levi_bridges.

August 14 2013

#YoViajoPara: Why do Latin Americans Travel?

Latin Americans love to travel. They might travel for fun, for work, or even for love -the reasons are endless.

There are many intrepid travelers in the region, many of them brave enough to explore any terrain or climate.

With the hashtag #YoViajoPara (“I travel to”, or “I travel for”), travelers started an online discussion, sharing the most common reasons why they are passionate about traveling.

Travelers in Oaxaca. Picture taken by the author of this post.

Travelers in Oaxaca. Picture by Andrea Arzaba.

Maria Boa (@_mariaboa) [es] from Mexico expressed her passion about learning when going abroad:

I travel to live, dream, feel and discover different worlds, every trip is an adventure and with it a new responsibility, knowledge #happy

Honduran user Queenmarielos (@queenmarielos) [es] wrote that her favourite thing about travelling is discovering different food and drink:

I travel to eat different dishes and to drink local beverages from every city and country

Global Voices contributor Julián Ortega Martínez (@julian_ortegam_) [es] from Colombia confessed that he travels to see his loved one:

 I travel to fulfill the dream of seeing you

Elizabeth Rivera (@elimaguire) [es], also a Global Voices contributor, wrote about her interest in moving around to discover new places:

I travel to connect with the world. This planet is too interesting to stay always in the same place.

Francisco Diaz (@Frank_FDP) [es] from Mexico described his passion for traveling as a unique way to find out how people from other cultures understand the world:

 I travel to try to understand how the world thinks

Brazilian Twitter user Transeunte (@transeunte_bsb) [pt] tweeted about his desire to get out of his comfort zone:

I travel to change the context!

Mariana (@MEspinozaE) [es] from Mexico said that traveling is the best way to spend her time:

@Lolawm it has helped me to expand my horizons, and think outside the box.. the best way to spend my time 

Chef and Global Voices contributor Melissa DeLeon (@cookingdiva) [es] from Panama wrote that she travels for work, but also to enjoy local food:

I've been traveling since I was very young, today I travel for work but I always find a chance to enjoy leaning about the culture and the local gastronomy

Why do you travel? Share your stories, reasons or thoughts with the hashtag #YoViajoPara.

July 18 2013

Mitt Romney, la diplomatie à la pointe du fusil

Epargné par la tentation isolationniste qui, en cette période de déficit budgétaire, gagne son parti, le candidat républicain à la Maison Blanche propose de « renforcer les engagements militaires américains à l'étranger ». / États-Unis, États-Unis (affaires extérieures), Indonésie, Idéologie, (...) / États-Unis, États-Unis (affaires extérieures), Indonésie, Idéologie, Multinationales, Parti politique, Honduras, Dictature, Diplomatie, Coup d'État - 2012/10

July 16 2013

Honduran Indigenous Leader Killed

This is a story of exploitation of Honduras’ natural resources, and of popular opposition to their destructive effects, largely ignored outside activist media outlets.

RAJ in Honduras Culture and Politics blogs about the murder of Tomás García, an indigenous Lenca COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) leader. COPINH has been demonstrating against the construction of a dam by a Chinese company.

April 30 2013

Campesino Resistance in Honduras

Chavelo’s voice was quiet but unwavering as expressed his gratitude that we traveled all the way from the U.S. and Canada with the human rights and solidarity organization Rights Action to hear his story. [...] Chavelo recounted briefly how he ended up in the prison, emphatically stating that, “I have been in in prison for five years for a crime I did not commit. I am not a thief or an assassin. I never took anything from anyone.”

Upside Down World shares Lauren Carasik's article: “The Criminalization of Campesino Resistance in Honduras: Chavelo’s Story”

April 27 2013

#FLISOL 2013: Hundreds of Latin Americans Installing Free Software

Flisol 2013 Banner.

Flisol 2013 Banner.

From the Patagonia to Havana, hundreds of computer users across Latin America are choosing freedom over control by installing free software on their computers. On April 27th, groups of free software enthusiasts will be installing free software in dozens of cities across Latin America as part of FLISOL [es], the Latin American free software installation festival.
(more…)

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