Twelve-year-old Christian was recently faced with a choice. It had nothing to do with what video game to play, or what social media account to set up. It was a life-or-death decision.
Christian said in Spanish that in Honduras "no vale la vida" -- meaning there is a lack of value for human life. Drug trafficking death squads and thieves preying on victims for cash regularly leave blood pooling on the streets of San Pedro Sula.
Honduras has the world's highest homicide rate -- exceeding Syria and Afghanistan -- according to United Nations reports. Christian knows that a journey to the United States alone is like playing Russian roulette. His grandmother Santana Quijada said that staying in Honduras may be just as dangerous.
"There is a lot of delinquency," the boy said in Spanish.
Reports show that this year there have been 3,432 homicides. Police officers are often outgunned. Hospitals have dying men in waiting lists and soldiers protecting patients. The judicial system is overwhelmed. Over-crowded prisons have turned into gang headquarters. A prevalent culture of vigilantism condones violence and financial transactional politics fuel corruption.
Retired military officers and former paramilitary soldiers with powerful political connections help run criminal syndicates. Catholic priests, evangelical pastors, a kindergarten, soccer fields and the airport are not off-limits.
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Poverty plays a role. The majority of the killers are agile hit-men in motorcycles, who get paid about $100 to kill, police said. Gangs prefer to recruit teenage boys in need. They are more willing to risk their lives for paid jobs. Teenage boys and girls in gang controlled neighborhoods are required to side with one of the two most powerful gangs --- Barrio 18 or Mara-18 and Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13.
"They have very little probability of studying or to advance, because many of the gangs recruit them and those who don’t want to join the gang get killed," Honduran National Guard Capt. Marco Trochez said.
Families have been forced to flee from their homes and leave all of their belongings behind, Trochez said. After gangs take it all, Trochez said, the neighborhood sections look like "ghost towns." The few who stay behind have gotten used to sleeping on the floor to avoid getting shot at night.
Both gangs force business owners to pay extortion fees known as a "war tax." Honduran soldiers were first deployed to ride in public buses in 2012, because gangs were robbing passengers and extorting drivers. Taxi drivers and street fruit vendors also had to pay cuts. Executions with single shots to the head are one of the consequences for those who refuse to pay.
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The gangs work for drug cartels. Honduras is a major transit country for cocaine and some chemicals used for heroin and synthetic drugs, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent said. Drug-carrying flights and maritime traffic are common in the Caribbean coastal region, because of weak law enforcement.
The cocaine is then moved on the on the Pan American Highway or flown north in other flights. Honduras has agreements to fight trafficking with the U.S., Belize, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, and Spain. In 2013, Honduras seized more than $800 million they said was drug-related.
The national guard and other elite units patrol "hot areas" of the city, as they do in Tegucigalpa. That hasn't been enough to significantly reduce the endemic violence, or to keep Quijada from being afraid every time her 12-year-old grandson Christian is outside.
"It's really scary here," Quijada, 65, said in Spanish. "You can’t go out anywhere, because there is a lack of security ... there is unemployment ... you can't live here in Honduras."
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Christian recently told the One and Only Local 10 News reporter Christina Vazquez that after much thinking, he decided he was going to attempt to cross the borders of Guatemala and Mexico to enter the U.S. illegally.
Quijada said Christian hasn't seen his mom since she moved to Kentucky nine years ago. Christian said he talks to her on the phone everyday and she always tells him that she loves him. His siblings ages 8 and 10 are with her, he said.
Christian's family plans on paying a human smuggler $4,000 to get him through the 1,500 mile treacherous journey. Quijada said she hopes no one gets in his way.
The grandmother said that she is so worried about his future in Honduras that she much rather let him go, and put his fate in the hands of God. That is a better option than living with a permanent sense of fear every time he goes out of the house, she said.
"Sometimes kids get raped … we are afraid they can be kidnapped on the street," Quijada said.
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