José Alvarado lies in front of his own front door, killed. He was alive not long ago; his knees are still bent around the hanging hammock. He’s dressed in light blue jeans, a green jacket and sneakers with yellow laces. His face is covered by a with cloth.
A small group of people have gathered at a distance. All we hear, are hushed voices and raindrops tapping on a tin roof. A police car siren casts brief flashes of red and blue on the vegetation around the house. In a yellow pickup, a woman sits quietly behind the wheel, staring. Her eyes are fixed on the dead man on the ground.
In Honduras, 43 619 homicides were registered between 2009 and 2015. The country’s two largest cities, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, are both ranked among the ten most violent cities in the world. There is an endless stream of dead bodies appearing in ditches and allies. Victims are found in their beds, behind the wheel, in trunks and out in the open, on the street. Lifeless and bloody, in most cases shot.
- I live in constant fear. You cannot trust anyone. Not the government, not the police, not people in the streets. Outdoors, I am always looking over my shoulder. I never know if I will return home alive.
This is how Osmira Carabajal Gonzalez (74) described life in San Pedro Sula when we met in 2012, on my first visit to the city. This night, in February 2016, José Alvarado is the latest victim so far. A camouflage dressed solider is standing next to the corpse. He keeps his finger on the trigger and is staring out into the darkness.
Every time the police are called out to a homicide in this part of town, Lomas del Carmen, they are reinforced by heavily armed soldiers. The police too not drive here alone. It is too dangerous.
The chances of the police uncovering why this man had to die, let alone solving the murder case, are minimal. People in the neighborhood heard shots and warned the police. Apart from that, the circumstances remain unclear. The response form possible witnesses is always the same. No one saw anything. No one heard anything.
- In certain areas, people are more afraid of the police than they are of the criminals. Police corruption is among the main reasons for deep social issues, says the city’s bishop, Rómulo Emiliani.
Human Rights Watch states in their review of the country that perpetrators rarely are brought to justice. For the police unit we are riding with, José Alvarado’s home is the third crime scene this evening.
A few days later, in a dazzling sunlight in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Carlos (31) has reluctantly agreed to show us his neighborhood, Flor del Campo. We are standing on a stone paved street with low brick houses on both sides. He turns around and points approximately fifty meters fathers up the street from his home.
- Less than a year ago, two men were killed there within months, he says, and indicates to spots a few meters apart.
- There, and there.
We continue our walk. Carlos soon raises his arm again.
- Three brothers were shot over there while the mother and sister were watching, he says, pointing towards a house. We have only walked a few meters more when he points again.
- Over there a lady was shot.
His accounts are confirmed by local media reports. By a precipitous cliff leading down to an almost desiccated river, Carlos makes a stop:
- This is the place where they dump the bodies.
«They» are often the gang called Barrio18, who’s territory we are in now. We walk past a wall where the number «18» is painted in green.
The reasons for the epidemical violence are complex. Corruption, poverty and impunity give rise to different types of organized crime. Ruthless street gangs have recruited thousands of youth, and Honduras is an important point of transit for cocaine being trafficked to the U.S.
We have only walked a few blocks, but Carlos wants to go home. He’s afraid to continue. Back in the house again, his childhood home, the tv rack is filled with framed family portraits. An American news channel is showing pictures of Hillary Clinton.
- How do you cope with living here?
The 31 year old shrugs.
- I stay outside as little as possible, he says.
- Many of those I grew up with and went to school with in this area are dead now, there are few who have made it. i often hear gun shots at night when I try to sleep. And I always ask myself: Who was killed this time?