In August 2002, seven months

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    In August 2002, seven months after Maduro’s War began, I went to visit Rebeca and her daughters in La Lima. They had moved to a new house, and Sabrina came to meet me at the town square to take me there. I followed her through the streets of La Lima in a direction I hadn’t expected to go. “You are living in La Mesa again?” I asked incredulously. “But what about the gangs?” After Sabrina and Omarito had been shot by the carro asesino in February 2000, Rebeca had barred her children from entering La Mesa–the poorest and most dangerous barrio in town (despite the fact that they had been attacked in one of the wealthier neighborhoods). At that time Rebeca’s daughters had described La Mesa to me by quoting the saying “Entre si quiere, salga si puede” (“Enter if you want, leave if you can”). In addition to its problems with poverty and violence, La Mesa abuts territory belonging to the San Pedro Sula International Airport, the fields of which have been engineered to drain straight into that barrio during heavy rain. Flooding occurs nearly every year in La Lima, with low-lying La Mesa getting the brunt of it, its rivers of aguas negras (raw sewage) mixing freely with floodwaters.

    In response to my query, Sabrina told me the gangs weren’t a problem these days. I asked when the last flood had hit. “Last year. The water was up to here for six days” she said, drawing a line across her chest. Sabrina’s family lost all their furniture yet again. In my notebook I jotted down, “sometimes I wonder why they don’t just give in and go plastic.”

    At the house, I tried to get a better explanation of how La Mesa had become safe. I wrote in my field notes:

    I asked Rebeca how things were around the barrio and she told me that they were tranquilo, much better than before, that Maduro’s “Zero Tolerance” policy had worked, that there were no more gangs here. The problem now, she said, is with the [new wave of U.S.] deportees. “But how can that be?” I asked her. “There were so many gang members. What happened to them all?”

    R: They killed them all.

    A: Who? Who killed them all?

    R: The same group of people killed all the different gangs.

    A: But who were they?

    R: A private group. Nobody knows. Everybody sees them do it, but nobody knows who did it. And they’re in league with the police.

    Rebeca told me how once the year before, her son Omarito had been hanging out with some friends at a neighborhood store when they were stopped by two armed men. All three of the boys were told by the men to lift their shirts. On seeing that he (and the others) had no tattoos, the gunmen said to Omarito “te salvaste chico,” (“you saved yourself kid”) indicating that had it been otherwise, he would not have survived. Neither Sabrina’s bullet wound nor this episode shook Rebeca’s faith in cero tolerancia. It was, according to her, Sabrina, and everyone else I asked subsequently, an unequivocally good thing that these neighborhood children, many of whom had retained good relations with Rebeca and her family, had been slaughtered for the sake of security.

    Still incredulous at the radical change in a town I had once found familiar, I persisted:

    A: All of them? They killed every single one?

    R: Yes, they’re all gone.

    A: What about la negra, the one who was in la Dieciocho?

    R: Ah, that Melisa … Melisa moved to San Pedro when they started killing them all. She started going to church and everything.

    A: [excited] So she didn’t get killed!

    R: No. They went and found her. They killed her too.

From: Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras

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