San Pedro Sula is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The industrial city of 719,000 on Honduras’ northern coast has one of the highest homicide rates globally and large sections of the city are controlled by criminal groups such as Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13), Mara 18, Los Olanchanos, and others. In addition to the rampant violence which often erupts over territorial disputes between groups, residents of San Pedro Sula face poverty, lack of opportunities for young people, high costs for public services, and environmental degradation.
This Sunday, November 28, the people of San Pedro Sula, as well as the rest of Honduras, will go to the polls to elect their next president, deputies, and mayor. For the mayor, they will have 13 options to choose from, but the front running tickets are from the Liberty and Refoundation (Libre) Party and the ruling National Party. From Libre, Rolando Contreras (holding the spot for Roberto Contreras or “Don Pollo”) is running for mayor with Omar Menjivar as his deputy. Incumbent Armando Calidonio is running for his second re-election on behalf of the ruling National Party.
For Omar Menjivar, a lawyer and the candidate for vice-mayor with the Libre Party, many of the problems facing the residents of the city are rooted in the fundamental fact that successive city governments have not ruled for the masses but for a privileged few. The ticket of the Libre Party wants to change that.
“The most populated sectors are the most abandoned sectors,” he explained. “More than 50% of the population of San Pedro Sula does not have access to the sewage system, for example.” Menjivar explains that this unequal treatment is because “the government looks down on the people. It is not that they abandon them, or that they forget about them. They know they exist but they look down on the people that live in these areas.”
Menjivar declared that this contempt for working class people by the ruling class, manifests in their inability to access basic rights “which have to do with the dignity of a person”.
In this sense, the proposal that he brings to the people of his city to begin to reverse decades of exclusion and marginalization “is not very complicated”. He explains “it is basically to prioritize the needs of these people…in these areas they need schools, they need health centers, they need their roads to be fixed.”
In the neighborhoods of Rivera Hernández and Chamelecon, well known for their high levels of violence, he pointed out that the streets are in an extremely bad state and practically impassable especially after the hurricanes Iota and Eta. He said, “There are streets that are almost impossible for people to go on, but the mayor’s office never came to resolve it. This is fundamental and what the government has to do is really nothing out of the ordinary.”
He added that there are many things that are out of reach of the municipal government as they have to do with structural issues on a national level such as the concentration of wealth in a small sector and exclusion and denial of fundamental rights of the majorities in Honduras. The phenomenon of violence, for example, is deeply rooted in structural inequality, but Menjivar emphasized there are still ways to address it from the local government.
“There are areas [of the city] that the mayor’s office will refuse to enter, even the police won’t go there. So this violence has become accepted, there is resignation,” he condemned. For him there are concrete steps to take to address violence, “I believe that this can be addressed firstly by creating opportunities for people for work, study, getting them basic services of people’s fundamental needs of health, education, recreation, promoting sports, culture, art, and all of that. But above all, generating opportunities for education and work for the people, the majority of those boys [in the gangs] do not have opportunities of that kind.”
He concluded that their proposal for government is “giving priority to these people that most need the support of the government…These people need the state to live with dignity, to ensure that those with power don’t bully them and trample them. We must recover the social commitment of the state.”
The National Party candidate and incumbent mayor Armando Calidonio has promised to “continue the change” that began with his two terms in office. His proposals have focused largely on supporting the entrepreneurial and commercial sectors of the city and rolling out infrastructure projects.