Growth in Honduras is due to remittances and strong export performance. Nevertheless, over 59% remain below the poverty line and 36.2% in extreme poverty. Bank and government work together to reduce vulnerabilities and create opportunities for all.
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They were born in three different countries -- Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico -- but their stories are so similar that it is hard to believe they did not grow up in the same neighborhood, or even the ... Show More +same home. A dysfunctional family, poverty, a lack of love and opportunities and a need for acceptance led them all into a life of crime.They formed part of an army numbering 70,000 youths throughout Central America, according to several sources. They learned to use weapons at a young age. And they used them against other people. They also stole and sold drugs, besides consuming them, of course. But one day they decided to abandon the gang and try to repair the damage they had done, although they admit that some things cannot be fixed.The three work in their respective countries to prevent children and young people from viewing gangs as an escape from poverty, as a way to find acceptance and gain respect. The three are participating here in a continental conference to identify solutions to the problem, which has already become a regional epidemic affecting mainly youth. The slogan of the participants and of the conference: Forging generations of youth without violence (#JóvenesSinViolencia). The initiative has gained the support of experts and governments alike.Below are the stories of how the three left gang life behind and devoted themselves to preventing violence.Thief of smilesCecilio Torres Juárez’s mother threw him out of the house when he was just 10 years old. Without a home or a family, he lived on the streets until a drug dealer in his Honduran neighborhood took him in. Soon he was also selling drugs. He bought his first pistol at 13.“It was bigger than I was,” he recalls. “It didn’t even fit in my hands, but it earned me the respect of the others. Or fear. Actually, I think it was fear. I felt important because they respected me,” he says.He used that gun many times during his life as a criminal. “I not only had drug enemies. The police also wanted to kill me,” he says.But when he was 17, two things happened that led to his transformation. One was that he survived an attack with assault weapons. The attackers shot at close range but he managed to escape. When he found a safe place to hide, he saw that the bullets had only grazed his clothing.But then something even more decisive happened. “One day I met this baby girl. She was just three months old and her parents were giving her away. Even know I lived in that ugly, dangerous world, I decided to adopt her and give her all the love I never had. That awakened a love of life in me, as well as a fear of dying and the will to change.”The transformation process was long and difficult. But today Cecilio runs a folkdance school and practices sports. His best friend is a former member of a rival gang who ended up a paraplegic due to a bullet. Now his mission is to keep kids from seeing gangs as an option.“Living with them awakened the inner child in me,” he says. He says that recently he had to appear in court for a legal problem pending from his criminal days. He told the judge: “I have changed, but I’m still a thief: A thief of smiles because I work with children.”Repairing the damageAgustín Coroy also grew up in a poor, dysfunctional home. He says that the first time he can remember someone showing him affection was when a neighborhood drug dealer asked him to buy him a soda.His life with the gang, surrounded by drugs and weapons, began to change one day when he was being tortured in jail. He promised God that if he let him survive that torment (the jailers were pulling off his toenails), he would devote his life to preventing youth from turning to a life of crime. “I did so much harm to my country, Guatemala, to so many young people, so many families. So it was time to repair all the damage. I began to work with organizations,” he says.Thanks to a program for former gang members, he found a permanent job, but he soon realized that he was not fulfilling his promise, so he left the job to work with his community.One of his first activities was to organize a soccer championship. “The ball cost us 95 quetzales (approximately US$ 11), but with that small investment we prevented young people from dying. For eight months, there was no murder in the community,” he says.Thanks to that job, Agustín became one of the founders of Jóvenes Contra la Violencia, an organization established in Guatemala in 2009 and that now has chapters throughout Central America. Eradicating violence “is not going to be easy; all organizations must work together,” he says.Peace gang“We were victims of violence as kids and then in our adolescence and youth we became perpetrators of violence,” says Carlos Cruz. He founded Cauce Ciudadano together with other former gang members in Mexico City. The movement works with children and young people, as well as with jails and several communities.“At 16, I was trafficking weapons and dynamite, and robbing homes. It was a phenomenon that we carried over from the violent life in our neighborhood and families, and also because of the lack of institutions. Of the 23 people my age in my neighborhood, only three of us have survived,” he says.In 2000, his friend was murdered. That led Carlos and other gang members to begin to think about changing their lives. “We began to value who we were as people and to realize that our life experiences could serve as a lesson for others,” he says.In the process, they decided to renounce violence as a life option and began to address problems associated with poverty, the lack of opportunities and the fact that they themselves were victims of violence. Several organizations supported them in this process.Today Carlos Cruz says he is still a gang member, but he belongs to a gang that builds peace. He claims that a future without violence starts in the community rather than in the family. “Children and teenagers belong to everyone. We have to take care of them. That is what we are doing.” Show Less -
Violence is an epidemic and there are forms of treating –and possibly eradicating—it, in the same way other endemic diseases are treated or have been treated.That may sound revolutionary, but the chal... Show More +lenge is to propose solutions to the problem of violence in Latin America, the region with the highest rate of per capita homicides in the world: more than 10 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).Andrés Villaveces is an epidemiologist. Along with other World Bank experts, he is participating in a conference that has brought more than 450 delegates from Latin America and other locations together in Guatemala to attempt to launch a continental effort to help protect victims and perpetrators of this epidemic: young people.Question. We have 9% of the global population but 30% of all homicides. Are we facing an epidemic of violence in Latin America?Response. Yes. According to the WHO’s definition, in the case of violence, a rate of over 10% is an epidemic. Most Latin American countries have far higher rates. So, yes, it is an epidemic.Q. Currently, the epidemic in the headlines is Ebola in Africa. We have seen that there are very clear protocols in place to fight that type of epidemic. Are there also protocols for the epidemic of violence?R. Without a doubt. The strategies for studying violence, for understanding it, as well as the methods for evaluating it and explaining what works and what does not, are very similar to those used to understand other epidemics. Clearly, the interventions are different, but there are a variety of potential responses. Actions can be implemented at the individual, household, school, community or municipal, sub-national or national levels. They all complement one another.Q. Who is responsible for implementing those actions?R. At the national level, we can talk about the adoption of a law that restricts the carrying of weapons or access to firearms, for example. In Latin America, we have examples where restriction has reduced homicide rates. The same thing occurs with alcohol. Restricting alcohol is even more effective in reducing homicides: in some cities, a two-hour reduction in access to alcohol led to 25% fewer homicides. At the institutional level, there are responses we can develop in terms of the production, dissemination and collection of information that is more reliable, that clearly shows how violence is distributed and what populations it affects.We can work on creating more pro-social environments within the family, preventing domestic violence and child abuse, for example. We have school activities where we can create a more productive, creative environment. Then we have strategies and interventions that we can implement at multiple levels and which can also give us benefits at multiple levels. These are all complementary and desirable, especially in environments vulnerable to violence.Q. What about repression? Is it also part of those actions?R. Control activities are necessary and important, but they are not the only ones and they are not the best solution. Prevention really is the best strategy from an economic and social standpoint. All violent actions produce a series of consequences that create a cascade effect that socially and economically harms the individual and his family. Clearly, prevention offers many more long-term benefits than do repressive and control activities by themselves. Undoubtedly, police control activities and improved justice systems in terms of efficiency and response capacity are essential and complementary, but prevention is key.Q. Why the focus on young people?R. Young people commit more violent acts and are also the main victims of violence. Particularly men. That is a significant reason; it is the population most affected by violence, not just in Latin America, but around the world. So they should be our focus. Moreover, when we work with young people, we have more opportunities to correct and prevent the problem over the long term than when we work with adults who have already learned violent behaviors. The earlier we intervene in the youth population, the better long-term effects we will achieve. A third element is that young people are in a better position to earn income for their families. If they are the people most affected by violence because they become permanently disabled or die, families are going to face severe economic difficulties, leading to a cycle of poverty. We want to prevent this from happening. While this of course must be accompanied by increased access to employment and education, curtailing that cascade of violence gives young people the opportunity to do something more productive for their societies. Show Less -
According to the UNODC’s (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) own statistics, the country registers the highest homicide rate in the world.But violence in Honduras is also experienced in people’... Show More +s daily activities, in the streets controlled by maras, in schools where ‘war bonds’ are collected and even in the private lives of the young women gang members choose as partners.Nevertheless, just as you have soldiers of violence, you also have warriors for peace.‘Francisca’, ‘Celeste’ and ‘Elena’ are three of them (they use aliases to protect their identities). Like many others, they have personally suffered the violence that each year causes the flight of thousands of fellow citizens seeking a better life. Despite knowing that their lives are in danger, these warriors for peace have decided to fight for their future, especially a future with #JovenesSinViolencia [Youth without Violence].Fourteen years ago, Francisca left for the United States, leaving her two children, aged 8 and 9, with her mother. With what she earned there, she supported her family and paid for her children’s tuition. In this way, she became one of the more than one million Hondurans immigrants in the US.But in 2007 the violence that Francisca thought she was safe from touched her very personally. After witnessing the murder of a classmate, her son was threatened. “He went home, took all the money I had sent for food and left for Mexico.” He then crossed the border into the US.One year later, her daughter was forced by a gang member to become his partner. “The day after she called me I signed my voluntary deportation at the airport and landed in Honduras,” she tells us.Six years later, her children live in the United States, but she is one of thousands of deported Honduran migrants; according to data from the Returned Migrant Attention Center published by El Heraldo newspaper, they number 31 thousand people this year alone.Not wanting to give up, Francisca turned to her community. “I finished primary school in 2012, I admit it, and I now work with children,” she explains. Her personal experience made her realize that something must be done for Honduran children, before they are forced to deal with the dilemma of emigrating or being murdered.Gang Members at SchoolThe harsh truth about the violence being experienced in Honduras has convinced many women such as Francisca to tackle the issue and try to do something for the youngest.Celeste, for example, is a teacher at an institute in La Ceiba, the third most important city in Honduras, located on the Caribbean’s coastal plain. In her neighborhood “robberies and violence are very common.” So common that they sometimes enter the classroom. “I have had 7th grade students collect a war tax (money to finance maras), she says.A teacher by calling, Celeste took up the challenge of providing her students with more opportunities. “There are many children that are not good at studying but are capable of painting or cutting trees. We need to be able to offer them this, otherwise they will be stigmatized,” she explains.Precisely in order to promote the idea that opportunities exist, Celeste organized so-called student patrols, as well as professional workshops and art activities.Teaching in a violent environment is also not easy for Elena, who hails from El Progreso in Honduras’ northwest. Her school adjoins three streets besieged by maras, and another street ruled by hired killers.Educating under these circumstances has become a challenge. “Enforcing discipline is very difficult because they respond badly and their parents are soon in school asking that their children get promoted and not reprimanded,” Elena explains.In order to fight against this, they created guidance and counseling committees which allowed them to follow-up on conflict children and support some parents. “We give talks on how to improve education at home, we organize campaigns and recreational activities,” she says.The fight of these three women intends to bring hope to a country with a homicide rate of 90.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), from 2012. In total there are more than 6 thousand homicides per year, according to that organization.A Model worth ImitatingBecause of the dedication to their community, Celeste and Elena were chosen as community leaders and members of the Safer Municipalities project at the Honduran Government’s Under-Secretariat of Security in Violence Prevention, which is supported by the World Bank. The initiative offers activities such as parental training, organization of extracurricular activities and job training for youngsters.“This project can be seen as a model worth imitating throughout Honduras, not just in these three cities,” points out Marcelo Fabre, WB Project Manager.“The initiative will be strengthened as the community begins to get involved,” says Mario Rene Pineda, minister of the Water and Sanitation Community Development Institute (Idecoas, in Spanish), the body in charge of the project. “The most important thing for them is to realize that they are the engines for change,” explains Josue Mejia from the Under-Secretariat of Security in Prevention, Government of HondurasThese three warriors for peace, Francisca, Celeste and Elena, are aware that it is precisely community involvement, the participation and conviction that violence can end, that will make Honduras offer a better future to its children. Show Less -