For many kids in honduras, the options are flee, join a gang, or train with the military electricity laws in india

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Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world and suffers from endemic gang violence, unemployment, grinding poverty, and political repression. Tens of thousands of people flee the Central American country each year, mainly to the US. The Guardians of the Homeland program is intended to give kids from poor, crime-ridden communities in this country of 9 million an alternative to joining gangs while learning about self-defense, self-esteem, and the fear of God.

The program is a long-term bet by the country’s ruling party, which argues that it will help stabilize Honduras. “We are building the country that we have dreamt of,” said Gen. René Orlando Ponce Fonseca, the head of Honduras’s armed forces. The program, he added during an interview this month in his wood-paneled office in downtown Tegucigalpa, the capital, is “boosting patriotic fervor.”

But critics say Guardians of the Homeland is instilling a dangerous brand of nationalism in the country’s youth, winning over future recruits who will be loyal to President Juan Orlando Hernández and increasing militarization in a country where the army has all but substituted the police. They argue that the program underscores the state’s view that young Hondurans will join one of the many gangs in the country if they do not come under the control of the state. Some parents also worry the army is turning their children into informants by asking them about gang activity in their neighborhoods, putting them at risk of retaliation.

Honduras is the US’s closest ally in the region: It receives funding for its security forces — $49 million in aid last year — and hosts a US military base that houses more than 500 soldiers. But many US lawmakers are critical of this arrangement, arguing that the US is effectively funding a repressive regime led by Hernández, who recently won a second term in the face of violent protests and accusations of fraud. “It’s hard to see how our money has contributed to making Honduras a safer and better place,” Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who traveled to Honduras in 2009, told BuzzFeed News.

The State Department said it does not provide direct funding for the program, but Gen. Ponce Fonseca told BuzzFeed News that “maybe they provide some consulting.” Last year, US Marines “worked with the ‘Guardianes de la Patria,’” according to Diálogo, a digital military magazine.

Getting kids to take part in the program has been easy for the same reasons thousands of people are fleeing Honduras, many of them joining so-called caravans to go to the US. The country is so dangerous that there are few public places available for children, and there are few jobs to be had — and therefore little money to pay for school with. A handful of graduates from the program get scholarships from Grupo Intur, a Honduras-based conglomerate of fast-food franchises that includes Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, and Baskin-Robbins.

Military involvement in nearly all facets of life has grown significantly under Hernández, who has turned ordinary policing into a military affair, helping him remain in power. The Supreme Court, one of the many institutions he has stacked with loyalists, ruled in 2016 that he could run for a second term despite the constitution prohibiting it.

Violent street protests followed his reelection in November, eight years after a US-backed coup orchestrated by Hernández’s party ousted former president Manuel Zelaya. At least 23 people were killed in post-election violence, some by security forces, according to a UN report. Given the number of irregularities that occurred during and after polls had closed, the Organization of American States and some members of the US Congress called for a repeat election.

Despite this, the US decided to stand by its ally. Then–secretary of state Rex Tillerson signed a document certifying that Honduras was supporting human rights two days after the election. The State Department congratulated Hernandez on his victory 26 days after the election.

Reports of human rights abuses committed by the military police have piled up. In 2015, a group of US lawmakers sent a letter to then–secretary of state John Kerry urging him to reassess security cooperation with the Honduran government and requesting an itemized report on the use of US funding sent to Honduras.

The family’s rented house overlooks their neighbors’ rusted corrugated-metal sheet roofs, tightly packed along a hill on the outskirts of the capital. Dany is not allowed to speak to the boys living nearby — his mother, Emma Enriquez, worries they will try to recruit him into a gang.

Games, food, and company are rare for Dany, and he has not missed a day of the three-month-long program since it began. Every Saturday since February, he has sprayed his “Superman” children’s cologne on his neck, leaped down the steep concrete steps leading from his house into a winding, garbage-filled valley, and run past the soldiers standing outside the school gates.

Enriquez likes that her son’s mind is occupied for one more day of the week. It’s a welcome break for him from the whispers of neighbors being forced to pay a “war tax” to gangs, or the news of murdered neighbors and friends, she said. The homicide rate fell from 85.5 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 42.8 in 2017, but people continue to live in a constant state of fear.