San Pedro Sula (Honduras)
Some names have been changed to respect their anonymity
The piñata is swinging on a rope which is hanging on a tree. Almost a hundred kids surround the piñata very excited, jumping, screaming, expressing their feelings. They have been waiting for this day the whole year. “I won’t be able to sleep because I am too excited” said Norma last night.
She is a 10 years old girl. She said that opening her eyes with emotion and biting her lower lip with impatience. Today is Children’s Day in Honduras, a very special one because kids are allowed to eat a lot of candies, a little bit like Halloween in the U.S. It is also a tribute to the smallest ones, sometimes the most vulnerable.
Laura, Norma’s younger sister, is also around the piñata. She is 7 years old and her hair is curly. Laura is very free and emotional. She usually expresses her feelings easily but today she has spent the whole day jumping and running around, asking a thousand times: “when will we do the pinata? will you wait for us until we get out of school?”
Her greatest fear is that the great event, to blow out the pinata, happens without her being there.
The piñata is a colorful aeroplane full of candies. It is so heavy. Time is coming. A teeneager makes the piñata go up and down with a rope while Carmen, Laura and Norma’s smallest sister, tries to hit it with a stick.
They always start with the smallest ones to give them chance to play. It will reach a point when the surviving law will take over the game. When candies will fall down the fastest one will get more candies than the others. Whoever will give more elbows and will show more bravery of being in this pile of kids trying to get the candies more rewards will get.
It is a fight. And indeed, the smallests kids always get less candies.
When it comes the oldest kids’ turn their eyes are blindfolded to get more excitement.
Niñito is Laura, Norma and Carmen’s cousin. He is 13 years old but he looks like 7. He is short and thin and his voice sounds like a small kid’s voice. He is in charge of organizing the turns to hit the piñata.
Leaning on a tree, in a corner, his brother Norberto is staying. Even though he is a year younger than Niñito, Norberto is tall and very strong. He speaks fast and has an inquisitive look. People who are around the piñata have to watch out because easily the kid who is hitting the piñata with his eyes covered can accidently get confused and hit someone’s head.
Norberto dodges a blow with a fast body movement. Classy. “It happens,” they say. Actually, you haven’t experienced a truly Children’s Day if you haven’t been hit by accident.
Being a child in Honduras is not easy.
Almost forty per cent of the population are children. Some of these kids who are giving blows to the piñata and have been waiting for this day with great emotion don’t go to school and they already work. Many do not know their parents. Many are afraid of being killed in a violent society. Many of them have to go to work to help their moms to feed siblings. Some of them will have to migrate to the United States alone to seek a better life for themselves and their families or to flee gang violence.
This summer the Customs and Border Protection counted nearly 20,000 undocumented Honduran children, a big increase over the 7,000 who entered in 2013.
For this reasons, Children’s Day is so special, because being a poor child in Honduras has nothing to do with the idea of being a child in other countries.
Although children work hard, being a kid in Honduras is also fun.
Children help their families and are always running errands. “Kid, go to the grocery store and bring tortillas,” said an older family member. Children do not protest. Run as fast as they can and then bring whatever they have been asked for. Children do not reject food and play with anything they find. Their imagination has no limits because as have many fewer toys than other children in the world, with any object they invent toys. If you give them something to play with, they do not despise it, they never despise anything because having too many toys or too much food is not something they are used to.
Being a child in Honduras is like living in summer camps perpetuity. They play to catch, hide, jump rope, cops and robbers with neighbors, cousins, whoever. Adults do not watch them. They run free between trees, whispering secrets, hiding, crying, jumping … and of course playing football. Without shoes. And dancing. Children in Honduras dance.
Efren is near the orange tree that holds the piñata and occasionally replaces “Chele”, his cousin, to raise and lower the piñata. Actually “Chele” is called Johnatan but they call him “Chele” because his skin is white and in Honduras those with fair skin are called “cheles”. Efren is very tall and thin and is a great dancer. He dances punta (the Honduran traditional dance), salsa and reggaeton but mainly he is very good at dancing breakdance.
He is 14 years old but is almost the tallest in the family. He is also a very good soccer player. He usually plays goalie but he likes to be frontier. He is a big fan of FC Barcelona. Efren has a great personality and a great sense of humor. He is very affectionate and always asks questions. He says whatever comes to his mind, when he wants to dance, he just dances, and sometimes he gets very angry.
He is a teenager.
Efren loves to dance but if you’re a teenager Honduras is dangerous to go on parties. Gang violence in the country is primed with teenagers. According to the National Commissioner of Human Rights of Honduras in 3 years at least 458 children like Efren and younger died in violent circumstances.
Away from the noise of children around the piñata, in the opposite house where Children’s Day is taking place, Doña Lupe has been left alone. She is Efren’s mother, and Laura, Norma, Carmen, Norberto and Niñito’s grandmother.
She’s a tall brunette woman with a deep look and a warm smile. She always dresses in many colors and wears very large earrings. Everyday wears a different color. Doña Lupe has not been feeling well lately.
She has preferred to wait at home.
Being a woman in Honduras
Doña Lupe never tells how old she is but probably she is much older than she looks like. She has 9 children, one of them was adopted and a baby girl died when she was little. So many people though consider her their mother because she always helps everybody. She owns a natural medicine store in El Negrito. Her nickname is “la beliciana” and she is very known in the area.
Everybody knows her.
She doesn’t like to talk about her past, when things turned out hard. She was a victim of sexism. She got married with a man who abandoned her alone with 7 kids and without any money. Now her economic situation has improved. She owns a house which is in the process of buying. She has food and supports financially three kids who go to school and sometimes helps a daughter who is already married but with financial constraints.
It is so hard to find a job in Honduras.
The unemployed population in Honduras is about 4% but the reality is that more than half of the population are underemployed which means they have spontaneous jobs, without any kind of job security or minimum wage paid guarantee.
Carlos is the partner of Doña Lupe’s eldest daughter, Lara, who is Laura, Norma and Carmen’s mom. Carlos has jobs sometimes but most of the time is unable to find one. He is not considered unemployed but underemployed even though he can’t support a family with such intermittent job.
Carlos’ situation is very common in Honduras. But the situation is even more difficult for women.
Earlier this year the newspaper La Prensa published that people who find work, 80% were male and 20% female. As Doña Lupe, so many women are left with their children while they are the family’s breadwinners. That means that if being a woman makes it harder already to find a job, you will be also responsible of your kids on your own. One of the Doña Lupe’s neighbor, for example, lives alone with her children and has trouble feeding them.
Her house is falling apart, says with a sad and tired look.
It is a common mindset within men that if they have children they are not responsible for them. The father orphan’s rate is much higher than the mothers orphans’ rate or both parents’ rate. In the country sexism is very strong, keeping male and female roles traditionally defined.
This mindset within the widespread impunity that exists in implementing laws protecting women, makes very hard that men keep up with their responsibility while society deduces that women are the ones who ultimately must take care of the children.
Although things are changing with new generations, in Honduras a woman is valued for her virginity and for being a good housewife and a good girl.
While man is pushed to have many relationships with many women to prove their virility, a woman is required to set aside virgin and killing her sex drive. Neither homosexuality is accepted or being transgender.
Lara is Doña Lupe’s second daughter. She got together with her ex-husband to be able to leave the house where she lived with her mother.
This was the fastest way to get independence.
Lara lived with her ex-husband and had three children. But her husband didn’t treat her well, which is pretty common in marriages.
For some men, women serve to fulfill their sexual desires and to prepare food and do chores. Men can be jealous and unfaithful. Women have to endure sometimes abuse, sexual abuse and contempt.
Violence against women is very high. The killings of women increased by almost 300% from 2005 to 2013.
Also sexual violence against women is very high.
A report of feminist organizations in Honduras “Situation of Violence against Women in Honduras” claims that in 2013 a complaint of sexual violence was filed every three hours. Justice has done little to ensure the women’s rights because 94.6% of the reported cases have gone unpunished.
Lara decided to separate from her husband but after that he decided to stop taking care of his daughters. He didn’t even help her financially.
Lara is unprotected under the law even though her husband has to pass a pension for his daughters. To report it is useless because it is likely that justice will do nothing. Also because so many men work underemployed they officially justify that don’t have a job so they can’t pay but the reality is that they get paid in cash.
Another fundamental problem that directly affects the lives of women is the access to resources to prevent contraception. If a woman is raped in Honduras can not access the “morning after pill” to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
The pill was withdrawn from the market in 2009. President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted from power in a coup the same year, made the “morning after pill” available for women when he came to the power in 2006.
Carmen, Lara’s youngest daughter, is wearing a blue princess dress. She and her mom got up early in the morning to get her ready for the school march that they are having on Independence Day. She was so excited to wear that dress but now she looks sad and upset. The dress is skinny from the breasts and opens up until the foot. She wears a blue high heels shoes and a blue crown.
She is wearing makeup in her eyes and lips. Black eyes and red lips.
The dress has accessories that go with it like an umbrella. It is hot in Honduras and the umbrella helps her to protect from the sun. She was so excited to wear that dress and the shoes but now she looks like she is not enjoying it.
Stefani is just 6 years old but she already knows she wants to be a model. She likes makeup and walking on heels.
Women walk in high heels on unpaved roads with dangerous holes. The roads get very muddy in the rainy season.
Carmen likes to dance a lot as most of the kids in Honduras. She dances as she sees on TV. Moving her hips in a sexual way as if she was dancing in a club. If it wasn’t for her height you could see a young woman dancing. While she is moving her hips very fast she raise her arms touching her hair and looking out of the corner of her eyes very suggestively. She is just 6.
Lara’s eldest daughter, Laura, is only ten years old. Walking down the street, Laura and the other young girls got catcalled and lechy looks from a man riding a bike. The man is drunk. He looks like he is in his 40’s. The girls seem scared and look confused like they don’t know what’s going on but somehow they know.
Back home the TV is on in Efren’s room, also Doña Lupe is watching TV on her daughter’s room. Efren watches soccer. Doña Lupe watches la telenovela (TV show). In Honduras soccer and telenovelas are very common entertainment for people. One of the Doña Lupe’s sons is reading the Bible.
Traveling by bus there is a TV to entertain passengers during the trip. They are showing musical videos from the most popular music in the country: reggaeton. That is a mixture of Jamaican reggae and hip hop very popular in the Caribbean and Latin America. They are playing one of the hits of year called “Socadita” by Eddy Ranks.
On the TV appears an almost naked woman wearing a bikini swimsuit and a big boy wearing clothes looking at her. The man is boxing with another man while the woman is walking making sexual moves and dancing shaking her ass. The lyrics goes “Se te nota que la tienes socadita” (I can feel you have it tight.) In this kind of videos women are scantily-clad and high heels, close-asses and breasts.
The bus stops. A short man wearing glasses, with a Bible in his hands, gets on the bus. He starts talking about God and how important is to be solidary with the others. He is a pastor. After talking, he asks for donations. Meanwhile the music goes on: “yo quiero jugar contigo como Nintendo” (I wanna play with you as if you were Nintendo). On the screens the woman gazes her ass on the man lap doing very explicit sexual movements. She is half naked. He is dressed.
Frijoles: once food for the poor, now luxury item
San Pedro Sula boils and it’s dirty. Downtown streets are full of small businesses. They sell all kind of products: colorful shirts, summery sandals, pans, plates, big and large earrings…
There are a lot of spots to eat from baleadas to the traditional pollo con tajada. You can buy licuados (smoothies) of banano with corn flakes, mango, tamarindo, melon, pineapple or coco. Street vendors offer all kind of snacks like alboroto (candy popcorn), pastelitos de piña, tableta de leche, tajadas fritas, colados, agua y coco…
The streets are full of people. Music sounds everywhere. When music gets louder it means there is a CD’s street vendors with the latest reggaeton’s blockbuster. So often the music mixes with the amplify voice from one of these cars that sell products. They announce their products: “camisetas por 50 y 100 lempiras!!” (shirts from 50 and 100 lempiras!)
Within the market the streets are narrow and are covered by awnings establishments. The merchandise is spread generously on the counters. All kinds of fruits and vegetables: cassava, avocados, carrots, cabbage, onions, jalapenos, green peppers, guineos, bananas, coconuts …
All kinds of fish arriving from Seiba, the seaside resort of the Department of Atlantida. There are cangrejos (crabs). They are still alive. There are frijoles (beans), lots of frijoles. Seeing this market you feel you’re in the land of plenty, full of natural goods and delights to the palate.
But the reality is that few people can buy in the markets.
Inflation in Honduras has soared dramatically in recent years. The basic basket has increased 300 lempiras (12 dollars) in six months according to the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise. In July 2014 the basic food basket cost an average of 5,366 lempiras (253 dollars).
It increased two and a half dollars in a single month.
Normally a Honduran gets paid about $ 5 a day.
The biggest problem that has generated this rapid increase in the basic basket is the rising price of frijoles.
The red frijol is one of the staples in the diet along with rice, corn tortillas (sometimes flour tortillas) and eggs. The frijol crop was ruined at the end of last year because of droughtiness that the country experienced. The government decided to import beans from Ethiopia to provide citizens.
Nevertheless, the price has risen so much that people can not buy them.
“Los frijoles cost now about 25 lempiras per pound when usually cost 8 lempiras,” says Doña Lupe who hasn’t been that affected as other people because one of her friends gave her a bag full of frijoles to show gratitude.
This rocketed price is shaking families’ budget.
Because Doña Lupe’s financial situation is better than her neighbors’, usually she feeds extended family and neighbors who stand by her house during eating time. Hondurans are so good at solidarity. Food is shared within those who are in the house at the eating time.
As the crop was ruined government decided to collect all the frijoles that small producers had. Unlike other goods in Honduras, like coffee, frijoles were under control of small producers and microfunds. But the government took away all the seeds saying that they need to divide up equally within people.
Even $ 5 million reward was offered if people reported against those who hoarded bags of frijoles. Small producers think that this was the excuse to seize their seeds of beans and control prices. T
The government announced last summer a plan to reactivate the agriculture bonding with small producers and setting up a plan to grow massively frijoles. The government loans money to the producers through the Honduran Bank for Production and Housing and private banks. This money is borrowed at 8% interest. Usually producers guarantee that they can pay with their own land so if they can’t pay, the government and the banks will get the land.
In the market one feels that all kind of smells and noises storm you. All five senses are vigilant. But not only to appreciate the visual, olfactory and loud richness of downtown, but to be watchful.
The chances of being mugged or killed while walking downtown streets are very high. “Be careful. Don’t stay in places where there is no people around.” This is the advice from Hondurans. “Everything happens so fast” they say.
San Pedro Sula is the most violent city in the world.
Sicarios, maras and corrupt cops
The name San Pedro Sula grabbed US newspapers’ covers last summer with the well known “Border Crisis” or the “crisis of unaccompanied children.” The number of immigrant children who flee from Honduras soared.
The two cities that top the list of immigrant children who were fleeing are San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the two most important cities in Honduras and among the most violent in the world.
Every hour and eighteen minutes, a person is killed in Honduras.
This is the country with the highest murder rate in the world since 2010.
There are over one million firearms but only 282,000 are legally registered. The black weapons market is very large.
Norberto likes to exaggerate things when he tells stories. Waiting at the bus stop going to Morazán he explains that once, while sitting in the same bus stop with a señora who gave him a fresco (soda), they saw a car passing with some guys on from a gang with machine guns and pistols firing randomly. They got so scared and fled behind the pulperia (grocery store) for shelter.
He says the bullet grazed his face and he dropped the fresco. The woman got shoot. He opens his eyes widely while he explains this like if he was trying to create suspense. He makes gestures with his hands and his body. He also explains how normally people are assaulted in here and what people should do in case they get assaulted.
Pretending that he has a gun in his hand, he points someone in the head, frowning, mimicking a deep voice. He recommends that the person gives all he has.
“Here you get killed for a computer or a mobile phone,” he says.
The violence mainly affects the young. Only in the first three months of this year, almost three hundred kids and young adults under 23 years were killed, according to Casa Alianza association.
It is very common for young men in Honduras to belong to a “mara” or a “gang.” There is literally little less to do.
Maras and gangs are like a group or community of people who share the same values and the main goal is to commit violent acts like murders and extortion. There are rituals and proofs that a person has to show or to go through in order to become a member. Sometimes that can mean to kill someone or to get beaten.
This phenomenon was originated in the 80’s when at least a quarter of Salvadorans fled from their country, due the civil war that lasted until 1992, and settle down in the U.S.
These immigrants suffered from racism, disdain and violence in the poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles and New York.
They started to organize into maras to protect themselves, using the way and the methods they had learned in the war: respect comes from being strong, aggressive and violent. The most known maras are “mara 13” and “mara 18.” “Mara 13” was originally constituted by Salvadorans even though later they accepted Hondurans and Guatemaltecos. They used to fight against Mara 18 which was constituted by Mexican immigrants.
Maras started to grow and get more power. They performed assault, extortion, murder, kidnap, smuggling, robbery, selling weapons and narcotraffic. When maras got that much power that became dangerous for the U.S., the FBI tried to destroy them but they were too widespread that was not possible.
In the end, they decided to deport immigrants back to their countries.
Young deported Salvadorans, some of them had been born in the U.S., found themselves in a new country and in a different society where there wasn’t room for them. The unemployment rate and poverty of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala was so high and there were a few chances they could re educate or reintegrate. They started to organize the maras there. And because the poverty situation left many young men without anything to do, they recruit more young people willing to belong to something.
According to journalist Dwan Paley in her book “Drug War Capitalism”, there is a connection between violence peak, trade agreements between Latin American countries and the U.S., and the U.S.’ efforts to fight the “drug on wars.” In her book she quotes William Brownsfield, assistant secretary of the US Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) saying that “Just as Plan Colombia helped push the focus of criminal activity and presence north to Mexico, so has the impact of the Merida Initiative pushed some activities into Central America itself.”
San Pedro Sula is nowadays the most violent city in the world.
That was in 2013 when Porfirio Lobo was the president of the country. At that time poverty had raised from 59% to 65% and following the FMI recommendations he cut back in public expenses and devalued the currency, lempira.
Also, during Porfirio Lobo government, the ciudades modelos (model cities) were proposed as an option to supposedly create employment. Model cities are specific places in the country that have absolutely autonomy and they have their own currency and laws. Lobo’s government sold this recipe, taken from American inversionist Paul Romer, as a way to create jobs and reactivate the economy. But the opposition saw this as a way to give the land to corporations and foreigners investors.
Even though maras have existed for a long time, it is a recent trend the vinculation between maras and gangs with narcotraffic in Honduras. In 2006 Mexico elected president Felipe Calderon, who was accused to have won the elections fraudulently.
To reassure his legitimacy he promised to fight hard against narcotraffic in Mexico. As a consequence of his politics, the narcotraffic then moved down to Honduras, being this country the one where more narcotraffic is happening proportionally with the increase of violence.
Also, roads in Honduras are poorly asphalted leaving some places really unconnected and isolated. These places are very convenient for narcotraffic activities.
Even though the U.S. has had a big military presence in Honduras since the 80’s with military bases around the country, it was during Lobo’s government that three more were built with the goal of fighting against narcotraffic, between 2010 and 2012. For some people, U.S. military presence in Honduras under “narcotraffic fear” is a way to control the politics of the country, which has been a long time an ally of the U.S.
According to the New York Times, the methods used during Iraq and Afghanistan’s war are being implemented in Honduras to fight the war on drugs by the military and the DEA (Drugs Enforcement Administration). Some Human Rights organizations have shown their concern about some operations that take place with any kind of social and political control as the one that happened near the town of Ahuas where 4 people were killed in an allegedly crossfire during a smuggling interception.
Niñito is watching TV and he looks sad. On the screen there is a coffin, a medium size coffin. “There is a kid in there. They killed him” he says with his high pitched voice. A crowd of people follows the coffin and a woman is crying and screaming leaning her head on the coffin. The camera takes a close shot of her desperate face. Niñito explains that this young boy was killed by a gang and they are burning him. This is the ceremony. Niñito says that this happens all the time in his country. He looks sad. He looks at it like if he was watching cartoons. There is frustration in his look.
It is very common for young men in Honduras to end in a mara or gang.
Vidanueva, the “ghost town”
Doña Lupe is laying on the hamaca. She has a sad look in her face. She is concerned. She has to live always worried about what can happened to her sons as other mothers. Almost all mothers in Honduras share the drama of having lost a kid due to violence.
She always remembers what happened to her oldest son, Mike, who was killed because he was part of a gang. That happened in 2009 but she can remember each detail as if it was that day.
While she is on the hamaca remembering Mike, she sees the sicarios car passing by the house, going to the neighbor’s home.
She stands up suddenly and says: “Dios Mio! this is the sicarios car, they come to kill someone at Vicenta’s house!”
She is very agitated and nervous. She can’t breath. Her son helps her to recover while the neighbor, Vicenta, comes to the house crying out of control announcing that Ángela, a 19 years old young mom, has died.
She hasn’t been killed, she died of a heart attack. Her son was three months old.
Doña Lupe use to live in Vidanueva neighborhood for 10 years. He owned two houses. Now she lives in El Negrito.
She had to leave because Mike, her son, was killed there and the whole family was in danger of being murdered. Mike belonged to a group of thugs and allegedly had killed someone. For revenge they killed him and Dona Lupe and her family were in danger if they stayed in Vidanueva.
Vidanueva is now a ghost town.
The weather is dry and hot and the roads are dusty. It feels uncomfortable.
It used to be a lively town some years ago but maras and gangs made it a death place where so many people were killed.
They spread terror.
“For sale,” walking around the town almost all houses are empty with signs fro selling them. People with little resources are forced to live in places like Vidanueva because rents are cheaper. In addition, they are forced to live under the fear of getting murdered.
It’s hard to sell a house, nobody wants to live in a place where the risk of being killed is very high. The main problem is the struggle between the mara that controls the lower part of the colony and the gang who control the high side. They kill each other.
The rules are clear. It is better not to walk when it gets dark. It is better to be in good relationships with maras, gangs and sicarios.
Trying to capture an endless moment, Tomas takes a picture. The house has no furniture. It is messy. His three sons look at us shyly, leaning against the wall, half smiling. They seem happy to have guests.
Behind Tomas, the kitchen can be seen, empty.
There is nothing to eat.
“Somedays there is nothing to eat,” says Tomas half smiling trying to hide a sad look. “I used to take more pictures before, but now, with the digital cameras, people don’t want to wait until I develop them and I can’t develope them until I finish the film and that depends on how many pictures I take.”
He is a photographer. His nephew, who emigrated to the U.S., bought a camera to him as a way to help him to provide for his children.
In Vidanueva neighborhood, where so many people has left because of the brutal violence that has happened, Tomas has no option but staying. The kids go to school and they love it. They work so hard in school.
Usually in Honduras women remain alone with kids but that is not Tomas case. Tomas is an exception. His wife left him with the kids and now he is raising them. He has a bike that take him to places.
He is so tall and thin. He says he has been sick lately. He looks exhausted but he is smiling all the time.
His smile contrasts with the tension that one feels in Vidanueva. There is a strange silence. There is a need to not want to stay.
Crisis in hospitals: sick, a luxury for the rich
Doña Lupe has an appointment for a checkup in the private hospital of El Progreso. She is one of the luckiest who can afford a surgery in a private hospital because her son emigrated to the U.S.
The waiting room is cleaner than other places. There is a woman doing the cleaning.
It is a spacious room with a beautiful reception and the bathrooms look way better than you usually see in Honduras.
While Doña Lupe is waiting, a mean who can’t almost walk, comes in to the hospital. With his left hand he touches his lower back, he can’t almost breath and each movement is so difficult for him to be done.
He is almost out of his head because of the pain.
His relatives say that some days ago he got a really bad back pain and that any hospital can know what he has. It seems like a sciatic atac. Probably the man doesn’t have the money to pay the treatment that he will need.
Doña Lupe’s doctor says that in the public hospitals “you won’t be attended if you don’t buy what you need to be treated, even the gloves to get the surgery done.”
In Honduras to get sick has become a luxury that only rich people can afford.
The country has public and private hospitals, but in the public system the patients have to buy the medicines and treatments when the hospital doesn’t have them. Lately the government has given less and less money to the public hospitals, leaving the country in a very serious situation: if you don’t have money for medicines and medical treatment you won’t be treated.
A good example of this can be seen in the public hospital Mario Catarino Rivas, the biggest hospital in San Pedro Sula where in July this year a patient died because of the lack of resources.
Some days after this, the government took the decision to militarily intervene the hospital.
Unlike the private hospital of El Progreso, the Mario Catarino Rivas hospital looks like a big abandoned building.
A few could guess that inside the dirty white walls, full of wet marks, there are a bunch of patients gathering in hallways, laying in rusted stretchers, doing endless lines.
A few people could think that under the blackness that covers the highest part of its walls, where you can see the years passing by, the dirtiness and the lack of maintenance, there is a hospital without medicines.
This hospital leaves its patients neglected if they can’t afford all what they need to be healed.
A hospital that doesn’t fulfill its purpose.
The hospital is dirty inside and outside. There are patients sitting on the floor, on the corners. The bathrooms are dirty and neglected.
It smells bad.
It smells sickness and dirtiness.
The doctor who supervisors nursing is in charge of the hospital during the weekend. She prefers to keep her name under anonymity. She says that the hospital is full and there are patients abandoned, naked, that they shower with water if they can even shower: “they are abandoned and dirty”.
“The laundry machines don’t work anymore because they are broken and we had to cancel surgeries because we don’t have clean clothes,” she says. In the hallways, you can see patients with their own sheets from home because the hospital can’t provide sheets to its patients.
But not only laundry machines are broken and there are no sheets.
The hospital is facing a big problem of medical supplies and medicines: “There are no medicines and if there are no medicines and the patients can’t buy them we can’t treat them, we can’t do anything.” For instance in the men’s room there is no thermometer, tells the doctor. In pediatrics, there is no oxygen tube, says one of the resident doctors that attends this area.
The doctor thinks that one of the most likely options is that they will privatize the hospital.
This situation obligates doctors, nurses and hospital staff to work under very difficult conditions. The doctor says that “it generates a lot of frustration” among the professionals who they need to come up with all kind of back up plans to treat the patients the best way possible.
For instance, the resident doctor that helps in pediatrics explains that a month ago a patient was having an appendicitis attack. The doctor had to wait until his parents could buy the sutures, the gloves and all the material needed to perform the operation because there was no material in the hospital.
“In the situation where the patient can’t pay the expenses we try to find the way, the last resource that we have to help him, for instance we perform the surgery with worn out sutures that is left” says the resident doctor.
The government has stopped giving money progressively, says the doctor, and the hospital relies on the private donations at this point.
This situation triggered so much tension between the government, the population and the health care professionals. The controversy was set off this summer when a patient died full of worms in his body after he was hospitalized because a gang beat him up.
The patient was treated and hospitalized during 14 days but his wounds were exposed for too long and got infected, according to La Tribuna.
The patient’s family alleged medical malpractice while the doctors made the government accountable of the precarious situation they work.
“The blame on doctors for medical malpractice as if we were working in the same conditions of any other hospital in the western world. They never say in which real conditions we work, we can’t work without material,” says the resident doctor in pediatrics.
The doctor explains that the government fired professionals without any reason and because they didn’t accept their responsibility in the issue: “Ten people were unfairly fired just because they went to work.” The situation has become as critical that according to the doctor “people insult and responsibilize doctors for what is happening.”
A few days after this incident, the government decided to take over military the hospital because it was said that the direction of the hospital was being corrupt. According to what the minister of health said, Yolanda Batres, the hospital was under mafias’ control. There is even some information about funerary services that banded together with doctors to cause terminal patients in order to make money of out it.
The informations in the Honduran press about this controversy is conflicting.
While the newspapers more in tune with the government, like La Prensa, make the doctors accountable, in other newspapers less governamental leaded specify information like the nurse who was in charge of this patient and who allegedly caused the malpractice was attending 60 patients by herself at a time.
Professionals and the hospital administration say that the responsibility lays on the government because the hospital has a lack of resources to treat its patients well. In solidarity with the fired workers, there were resignments and strikes. (Explain anecdote with the army)
The reality in the Catarino is not the one that the newspapers portrait.
While you can read news like the budget and resources for hospitals is increasing, inside the hospital, people who work there have another point of view about it.
Assistants and hospital staff get paid every 4 or 6 months.
Nurses also get their payments delayed.
According to the doctor, they are talking about get rid of the free food for doctors and hospital staff.
Medicines shelves are empty. There is literally nothing in the hospital pharmacy.
The doctor showed us the medicines that had received from the government lately and they all fit inside a medium size closet.
Hallways and rooms in the hospital are full.
Today is Sunday morning. In internal medicine emergency they tell us that today a person has died, and that usually 1 to 5 people who can be attended die daily. Nurses and assistants have a book where they write manually the deaths, like a death register.
There is a 42 years old man in a stretcher in a hallway. He got sifilis, HIV, candidiasis and more sexual transmitted deseases. He has no money to pay for the treatment and he will die without treatment.
The nurse says that they will likely have to send him home where he will die.
Pediatrics emergency is a small room packed of kids. Newborns and older kids. The lack of room is obvious. There are babies sharing beds.
One of the doctors who works in this section is a doing his residence. He says that for the whole department of pediatrics emergency there is only a shared nurse with other departments, resident doctors and postgraduate doctors.
There isn’t any doctor who is not a student.
Because it is a weekend, there is a specialist doctor for the whole hospital. This is the most important hospital in San Pedro Sula.
In order to overcoming the situation and take as much advantage of the space and the resources, the doctors have organized the small pediatrics emergency room into 4 zones:
SERIOUS: Here there are the ones in the worst conditions. It would be as an improvised Intensive Care Unit (ICU). There is only one ICU with 3 beds for adults and 3 beds for kids in the whole hospital. When the patients whose condition is so serious that they should be in the ICU but they can’t because of the lack of room, they are placed in this part of the room.
HALLWAY: They call it hallway because literally the patients are placed in the hallway. These are patients whose condition is pretty serious.
NORMALS: The normal ones are those who are in the emergency room and they take part of the space with crowded beds.
PRENATALS: They were born before time. THey have two rooms for them. The capacity is 6 patients but sometimes there are up until “26 patients.”
The residence doctor claims that they try to manage well one way or another to treat all patients that come to pediatrics emergency room. Sometimes the doctors themselves buy medicines. Usually, “the samples that the companies give to the doctors are used to help kids, also the medicines that medicine school students can get from the school,” says de resident doctor.
Amparo is 11 years old and has a brain paralysis and colon problems. She needs oxygen. She has been hospitalized for a month. Her dad, who works in a bank, neither help to pay for his treatment nor gives her emotional support.
Her mom, Marisol, says that he abandoned them when he knew about Amparo’s health problems.
Travelling from San Pedro Sula to the small town called El Negrito. The bus stops in different cities in our way, street vendors offer all kind of foods: tajaditas fritas, agua y coco, cacauetes (peanuts)… some of them sell from the streets through the windows, others get in the bus, screaming what they offer, throwing deals.
A very tall man get into the bus. He is not a street vendor. He wears a cane.
Looking at passenger’s eyes tells that he needs urgently a hernia surgery but he has not money to pay for it.
He is asking for donations to be able to raise money to get the surgery because in the public hospital there are no enough resources to attend him.
Without money there is no surgery.
Surprisingly, passenger’s solidarity is amazing. Almost everybody opens their wallets and gives money to him. Again, Hondurans know very well about solidarity.
The poor ones stay out of classes and without snack
Laura and Norma’s school is the public school of El Negrito, where the kids from 1st grade to 6th grade go. Today is Children’s Day and it is a big event in the school.
Kids run excited through the hallways, the classrooms and the playground. In some classrooms there is music playing and kids are dancing. There is a pinata hanging in the playground and a group of kids is trying to blow it up.
In Evelyn and Jocelyn’s classroom, kids are getting ready to blow their pinata. There is cake and soda for everybody. Elisabeth, the teacher, has 28 kids under her control from a diverse range of ages. The classroom has a medium size and has a big blackboard.
This year they were able to do the pinata thanks to parents’ donations. According to the teachers, the government hasn’t given almost anything to celebrate Children’s Day.
Aurora Ochoa Cloter is a teacher since 1993: “This year the government didn’t give anything to celebrate Children’s Day.”
But not only candies is what the government is not giving to kids. The school’s director Celso Nolasco explains that the government shut down the free registration four years ago and this has resulted in a decrease of kids able to attend school.
“The government is not investing in public schools. They don’t invest neither in infrastructure nor school supplies,” he says.
According to Ochoa the problem “are the same people who are in the government.”
The current president of the country is Juan Orlando Hernandez, who supposedly won the elections in december 2013 running for the Partido Nacional (National Party.) The elections were very controversial because first they declared his opponent Xiomara Castro de Zelaya from Partido LIBRE the winner. But lately the results turned out against Xiomara and gave the victory to Hernandez. The opposition called the elections a fraud.
Manuel Zelaya was the president of Honduras after he won in 2006. But in 2009 he was overthrown of the power by a coup d’etat. He was kidnapped in pijama at night and took by helicopter to Costa Rica. For some people, Zelaya’s illegal dismissal was Obama’s first coup d’etat. Hillary Clinton was secretary of state at that time and held so much responsibility.
Zelaya was a threat for corporations and businesses, according to one of Doña Lupe’s sons. He thinks that policies that he implemented as signing deals as ALBA and PETROCARIBE (deals to buy oil to Venezuela) were seen as a big danger. Honduras has seen a U.S. ally since the 80’s. From Honduras the United States fought against sandinistas in Nicaragua. With Zelaya that was changing. He also reduced poverty and increased the minimum wage.
Asking people in Honduras about Zelaya’s government, most of them think that he was a good president and things were better with him. Some other people think that his politics created instability in the country.
It is well known between the teachers and people in education that Manuel Zelaya’s government invested in education and it was a good time for the children, according to Ochoa: “teachers got salary increases and there were funding for schools.”
Nolasco says that wages has been frozen since 5 years, approximately when Zelaya was overthrown of the power in 2009.
Alba Concepcion Morae is a teacher since 1988. She says that before she could give free copies of school material to kids but now the teachers have to pay for them because the kids don’t have money for it.
Since Marlon Escoto took education ministry, teachers lost their right to organize, strike and protest: “with this government I don’t see any future, it seems like they want to hang us”, says Morae.
Nolasco says that the worst fear that teachers have is that the government decides to privatize education: “ the government has asked for a minucius inventory of all the material that schools have.” “It looks like they want to privatize the education system and that would be the worst thing to happen because it would lead to a chaos. It is going to push the analphabetism, the unemployment, the corruption and the lack of opportunities,” says Nolasco.
“The government of el Partido Nacional (Porfirio Lobo and Orlando Hernandez) has been very bad for education, “ thinks Nolasco, “now so many kids have to go work and can’t go to school.”
There was very common during Zelaya’s time that the school provided snacks to kids. There was known as merienda escolar (school snack). The government provided for children because in Honduras so many kids don’t get anything to eat.
Nolasco thinks that “would be very important to get back the merienda escolar.”
Nolasco thinks that the big problem in Honduras is that “the country is in the hands of a few rich families and also in the hand of narcotraficantes.
The country where kids dance in the morning
Music everywhere. Music always. In Honduras people learn how to dance before they know how to talk. Kids dance instead of going to school. They know how to enjoy life and on the surface it may seem they are so happy all the time. However, it is a bittersweet happiness. A happiness that can disappear the minute before when news start to spread: a neighbor got killed last night. Music keeps sounding. Loud. Very loud. It might be 5 am in the morning. But the Hondurans don’t look happy anymore. Even not sad. A layer of frustration starts to cover their faces. Frustration and fear. Music keeps playing. Always.
After popping the piñata a dance is organized in the dining room of the Lara’s house. Children and adults are dancing while eating candies.
The piñata is already busted and lying on the ground. They have so many colors but is busted. As always in children’s face in Honduras, behind the dancing and the smiles there is a look of despair.
Niñito is suspecting someone has grabbed his candy bag from under the bed. It is the Children’s Day hangover. Maybe Laura or Norma, he thinks. Who knows. Being a kid in Honduras also means fiddling around to get what you need, to achieve what you don’t have.
There will no longer be piñata until next year.
And who knows if things will have improved.
Meanwhile, children keep dancing. Always.