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Blood Barrios reviewed in the Spectator

on Thu, 11/23/2017 - 11:50

The Spanish journalist Alberto Arce worked for Associated Press in Honduras in 2012 and 2013.

After a year, he says: ‘My wife and daughter left me. It was the right choice.’ Arce stayed on in the capital, Tegucigalpa, ‘fighting against addictions, sadness and depression’.

He believes he ‘won’ that fight, ‘but only because each morning I counted down the days until I could leave’.

So: Honduras, says Arce, is bad. How bad? He tells us that ‘Tegucigalpa is the most dangerous capital city in the world without a declared war.’ And that ‘in 2012 and 2013, more people were murdered in Honduras than in Iraq, even though the population in Honduras is three times smaller’.

Also that in 2012, there were 7,100 murders. That’s 598 per month, or ‘20 daily homicides,’ in a country with a population of 7,000,000. London, with a slightly higher population, has around one murder per day. Almost all murders in London lead to a trial. In Honduras 91 per cent don’t.

Why is this place so violent and lawless? Partly because, in 1998, Hurricane Mitch smashed the country to pieces, and partly because, soon afterwards, the Colombian drug cartels began to use Honduras as a useful depot on the way to Mexico. Lots of drugs, lots of guns, lots of blood.

As a foreign correspondent, Arce wrote what he calls ‘red journalism’. When he sees a body on the street, he says, ‘you smell the blood’. He sees two bodies in a car: ‘Blood is spattered on the window, the steering wheel, the shirt.’ The other body is ‘less bloody’: ‘A little red dot at the temple.’

Arce keeps seeing blood, talking about it, thinking about it. At the hospital, there’s so much blood it never gets cleaned up. In a pool hall, he sees bodies lying in blood, and directs the photographer Esteban Felix to the scene. Felix’s picture wins an award. At one point, Arce is in a taxi, idling in traffic. A man pulls a gun and demands his phone. Arce runs. Back home, he writes: ‘I’ve dreamed of this scene… My blood would splatter over the taxi seat.’

Why is Arce doing this? Standing with voyeurs — and a photographer — at a murder scene, he says: ‘We’re sick. All of us.’ He tells us about the time when the guys from the morgue handle the bodies and bag them: ‘For a crime photographer, these moments are like a landscape painter’s sunset.’

Arce is morbid. He’s an artist. He’s looking for something, for the bigger picture — not just the bodies, but the whole unwieldy mechanism that produces the bodies. The authoritarian gangs, the police gangsters, the extortionists, the kidnappers, the death squads.

Read full review here

Blood Barrios: Dispatches from the World's Deadliest Streets
Alberto Arce
Zed Books Ltd
ISBN 9781786990495
Paperback, £10.99

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