By Ben Anson
It was quite simply a melancholy day. That’s the word I’ll use – ‘melancholy’. As people say here:
“En Honduras se mira unas cosas uno”… “In Honduras one sees some things”…
One also hears some things too. A certain story that I was told only assisted the low mood of the day. A friend of mine had left his motorbike parked outside of my house. To our immense joy, the shit-piece Vespa of his had decided to stop starting up at around eleven o’clock the night before. My friend; known locally as ‘El Negron’ or ‘El Rasta’ (‘the big black man’ and ‘the Rasta man’) was not at all amused. Nor was I.
Having to stand outside in the mosquito-ridden night whilst he played around with his motorbike was not what either of us wanted to be doing at 11 pm… He was forced to leave his bike there until the next morning. The Rasta, after having a laugh at the situation with me, then stormed off cursing in mixed Jamaican patois and Spanish.
“Pussyclaat motorbike, no good piece a’ shit… ¡Que moto más mierda esa hijeputa!”
The next morning I caught him lying in the hammock outside my front door.
“Ben bruddah, good morning. How you go bwoy? I didn’t want to wake you – my cousin is down der fixing up de motorbike”.
Sure enough he was. I myself, had to go and run an errand in the centre of the town. I therefore told them that I’d return quickly. The centre of Tela, however, quite sadly, had a most melancholy feel. On arriving in the centre, the atmosphere was as such. Dead. No smiles on faces. I entered a nice coffee shop at one point where a very friendly young lady works. She seemed to be in the blues however. I had never seen her like that before. Everyone I came across appeared to be down. What was going on? Was I transmitting death and darkness?
I doubted it. I had come out in a very bold, blue, floral shirt, which should have made at least someone laugh. It did not though.
On returning to my place, as I stepped out of the taxi I noticed a concerned look on ‘the big black man’s face’. What had occurred? Why did my friend appear as such?
His cousin, an older fellow, skinny and oil-stained from his work as a mechanic, looked me in the face and said quite flatly: “mil quinientos Lempira.”
“One thousand five hundred Lempira” (US$60 roughly). That’s what it would take to repair the Vespa. A week’s salary for the Rasta who works as a painter for a local hotel resort. A steep bill in Honduras. It was at that point that the cousin then said, “Could be worse you know, you could be my nephew”.
What was that supposed to mean?
“Ahhh vos?” responded the Rasta. A Honduran way of saying ‘explain yourself’. The cousin was able to speak some English – not bilingual like the Rasta – so he told the story in ‘Spanglish’.
“My nephew went to Mexico. He wuh tryin to get into United States illegal you know…”
Leaning ourselves up against a whitewashed wall, we made ourselves comfortable for the tale ahead. Crossing his arms, the Rasta continued with “hummmm….” This sound is to be done with a raising of the eyebrows, another Honduran mannerism, which means something like ‘where is this going?’ or ‘this sounds interesting’…
The cousin continued, “My nephew was crossing Guatemala into Mexico where he get caught by dem Mexican scum – Los Zetas. Dey charging his family four thousand dollars for the boy’s release…”
We all stared at each other. Could it really be true? That this man’s nephew was being held by one of Mexico’s most infamous cartels. Los Zetas – “The Zs”. Regarded as the most dangerous in fact of the many cartel groups operating out of Mexico, ‘The Zs’ operate in drugs, sex and arms trafficking. Alongside other nasty rackets. Their origins date back to the late 1990s, when Mexican Army commanders deserted their ranks and began working as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel.
Kidnapping is a favoured activity, with beheadings, torture and indiscriminate massacres, all being trademarks of these vicious thugs.
“Esos hijos de puta no juegan… si su familia no manda las varas se lo van a pelar.” He now continued in Spanish. “These sons of bitches don’t play… if his family doesn’t send the money they’ll kill him.”
The mere thought of being held by such animals, is indeed a terrible one. The cousin further explained that the nephew was carrying his Honduran phone in Mexico and was therefore able to contact his family back in Tela. His family had then contacted their family members that were already in the US. According to the mechanic, there was a lot of inner conflict as those in the US had flatly refused to send any money as they said they didn’t have that amount and that it was even the boy’s fault for taking the dangerous migration route.
Criminal groups such as Los Zetas prey on Central American migrants, raping women – putting them to work as prostitutes and extorting male migrants. Scum.
Whilst I agreed with the Rasta that it was an awful idea to have just gone out on a whim across Guatemala and Mexico with a vague hope of reaching the US, it was by no means deserving for a young man to find himself in such hell.
“Entonces ¿qué? ¿Van a mandar el billete o no?” asked my friend.
“So what? Are they going to send the money or not?”
“Se parece que no… nadie lo tiene,” responded his cousin.
“It seems not… no one has it.”
The Rasta turned to me and said… “Ya lo mataron.”
“He’s dead already.”
“It kill me to think how dey gwan kill him,” muttered the mechanic.
My friend, wiping the sweat of his forehead, responded as kindly as he could with “I wouldn’t think about dat…”
The skinny fellow then bent down and went back to studying the motorbike. As he explained what parts needed buying I noticed some tears streak down his withered little face. My friend the Rasta looked up at me making a face as if to say ‘pretend not to notice’. I did just so.
Stood out there in the fierce morning sun, I sipped the coffee that I’d bought in the centre – my head overrun by thoughts. Living somewhere like Honduras, as a European, one sees and hears things which just aren’t encountered ‘back home’. The way in which Hondurans can discuss such things as death, murder and torture is almost haunting. Here we had shared a casual conversation of how a young man was on the brink of being savagely murdered for four thousand dollars. His crime? An attempt to enter the United States in search of something better.
Sometimes I just sit and wonder: how does there exist such evil in the world?