- Home in Honduras Snapshots of life after deportation
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Since September 2017, I’ve been living in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, conducting research among recent deportees for my doctoral thesis in anthropology. After years studying Central American transit migration through Mexico, I came to Honduras to get a firsthand look at what is driving people to flee this country in steadily increasing numbers. In the process, I’ve been able to see how those who were sent back negotiate life after deportation.
She didn’t know there was a thing called asylum. She just knew she had to go.
Maribel left Honduras three weeks after accidentally witnessing the disposal of a body. A recruiter for Avon, she was making her rounds in the neighborhoods outside of Choloma, a city in the far north of the country, when she saw a group of young men carrying big, heavy bags. At first she didn’t realize what she was seeing, but it dawned on her quickly. She averted her eyes and walked away as rapidly and inconspicuously as she could. Maribel is striking. She is tall by Honduran standards and has a distinctive look, with bleached hair and dramatic eye makeup. She’s someone you would likely remember. She couldn’t be sure they’d noticed her notice them, but she was worried.
Then, about a week later, she saw the same young men hanging around the entrance to the community where she and her family live. They had no reason to be there. Maribel lives in a residencial, a gated community located next to one of the big factories outside of Choloma. It’s not an upper-class gated community; the almost miniature houses are packed in tightly next to each other. Still, it’s a relatively safe neighborhood and is not controlled by any of the gangs or organized crime groups that operate in many of the areas nearby. The sight of the boys there terrified her.
After speaking to her husband, who works in the factory next door, Maribel took out a $3,000 loan, sent their 4-year-old son to stay with her mother, and left for the United States as soon as a coyote could take her.
Her husband stayed behind. His job at the factory was too hard to come by for him to walk away from it, and they figured he wasn’t directly at risk.
Maribel suspected, for good reason, that the boys with the body were members of a mara, one of the criminal street gangs that have become notorious in Central America. In the poor neighborhoods in and around Choloma, different maras engage in violent turf wars, sophisticated extortion rackets, small-scale drug dealing, and, in some cases, murder for hire. And while the president of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, has touted a major reduction in crime since taking office in 2014, Choloma has not experienced this almost-miraculous turnaround.
With a population of around 350,000, Choloma recently became Honduras’s third-largest city. Nearly half of its population is considered flotante, having come to settle from elsewhere in the country. This growing city is made up of 83 colonias, most of which started as informal squatter settlements that were eventually incorporated into the municipality.
In 2012, when Honduras made global news by becoming the country with the highest homicide rate in the world, Choloma had a rate of 78.3 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, which is alarmingly high, but well below the national average of 93 per 100,000 people. By 2016, however, while the country as a whole boasted of bringing that rate down to an estimated 42 per 100,000 people, Choloma’s [End Page 113] murder rate increased to 92.6. According to statistics kept by the National Police, Choloma had 220 reported homicides in 2017, and 46 additional people were wounded by firearms. It has become the most homicidal municipality in the Sula Valley, outpacing San Pedro Sula, which was the world’s deadliest city in 2012.
Much of the violence in recent years can be...