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ON THE SCENE: Two artists fight for justice

April 27, 2017
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

The murder rate in Honduras is twice as high as anywhere else in the world, over 90 per hundred thousand people, most of whom are poor, many are children.

Kwervo, a hip hop composer, producer and first-time filmmaker from Belgium, presented at the Keene Valley Library Sunday evening, April 23, the first public screening of a documentary he created this past fall about Hogar Diamante, a small agency that has taken on rescuing children born into poverty Honduras capital city Tegucigalpa.

Five years ago, Kwervo spent five months during a university semester abroad as an intern at Hogar Diamante, an act that meant risking his life as any westerner was at great risk of being robbed in a manner where their survival would be unlikely. As a consequence, while in the country he spent his time either with a host family or at Hogar Diamante. The notion of going out at night, shopping on his own, or visiting historical sites simply was out of the question.

Article Photos

John Brown Lives! board member Renan Salgado and hip hop artist and documentary filmmaker Kwervo spoke Sunday, April 23 at the Keene Valley Library.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"The first time I saw a murder victim was in Tegucigalpa," said Kwervo. "He had been shot, and his body was lying on the street in the middle of the traffic."

The cause of the high levels of violence are attributed to the confluence of a perfect storm of street gangs, other emerging criminal groups, police and government corruption, repressive policies throughout the 2,000s known as "Mano dura" (iron fist), and the country serving as a route for narcotics, coupled with wealthy businesses and individuals pursuing profits with little regard to the human cost.

In 2009, a report by the Journal of Democracy estimated that 50 percent pf the Honduran police were corrupted by drug gangs. A military coup that year unleashed a wave of political violence that targeted journalists, human rights defenders, women and LGBT groups, among others. Within this context, criminal gangs and drug cartels took advantage of the turmoil to strengthen their situation resulting in a rise of human trafficking, children used as drug mules, and the sexual violation of young girls.

Violence begat violence. In May 2014, UNICEF reported that 24 children were killed in Honduras in one month with many other tortured. More recently, in the Vatican Network (Fides News Agency) reported that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called for the protection of children in Honduras who are victims of violence and give priority to the investigation of recent homicides of children in detention centers in their communities.

The high levels of poverty and violence resulted in many families sending their children north in an attempt to reach the relative security of the United States aware that only one in 10 may get through. Increased security and U.S. payments to Mexico to stop the flow at its southern border have reduced the numbers of children northward, but not the violence against them.

Hogar Diamante is one small agency that's trying, in their case to create a better future for about 80 young boys each year (there are other similar programs with a focus on girls). Founded in 1985, Hogar Diamante is a unit of the Association Renovated Youth that provides a home for young boys and teenagers living on the streets some of whom have a history of drug abuse and participation in street crimes.

They are not classified as an orphanage, as they work with the children and their parents, in many cases a single mother as so many of the male parents have been killed, left the country, are in jail, or caught up in one of the drug cartels or street gangs. Hogar Diamante provides an educational experience as well as instruction in the English language in the morning, plus a full array of arts, sports and vocational instruction in the afternoons. Their goals are four-fold: a sound education; spiritual and moral development; skills that can translate into jobs upon graduation such as a carpenter, plumber, electrician or as a farmer; and the strengthening of the family unit.

Kwervo was introduced by Renan Salgado, a board member of John Brown Lives! and a human trafficking investigator for the Worker Justice Center of New York. Salgado, who works out of Rochester, has created five networks to combat human trafficking in New York state, which includes the North Country. This program includes training and developing responses to crisis situations for victims of trafficking, in additions to his investigations on the ground.

Salgado said he writes and performs hip hop music, an outgrowth of his love of poetry, to help him remain sane and as an outlet for the emotional stress of his job. His music found an audience and he was invited to join an international network of Hip Hop artists.

"I needed a sound, a composer, and that led me to Kwervo, who is now the producer of my albums," said Salgado. "Within our international network, there are members from Belgium, the United States, France, Costa Rica, Mexico and elsewhere. In 2012, we all decided to meet in Mexico, which is when I met Kwervo, who is so talented in everything he does."

Kwervo was impressed with Salgado's work, decided to get an HD camera and do a documentary for Hogar Diamante, with whom he had stayed in contact since graduation and for whom he had organized benefits to raise funds as the agency gets no support from the Honduras government. So last fall he went back and shot the documentary that was screened at the library.

I have a strong bond with the people and kids at Hogar Diamante," said Kwervo. "The job they are doing is necessary. I visited some of the neighborhoods where the kids are from. I know how important their work is and developed a personal connection. I know that people might not expect such an initiative from a pair of hip hop artists, but hopefully, this film can help create awareness and inspire people to be generous."

"There needs to be some international pressure applied to the lack of attention to what is an ongoing catastrophe," said Salgado. "The people from Central America should not be labeled undocumented immigrants; they are refugees from unspeakable violence. They should receive the legal status and benefits of being refugees. The whole dichotomy of refugee versus immigrants is purposeful means of ignoring our responsibilities. Only public and international pressure can help change the circumstances of the people of Central America."

"Seeing the poverty and level of distress just to live in Honduras was eye opening," said Linda Blair of Lake Placid. "It's so impressive that this young man put his life at risk to create this documentary. My gosh! It gives me hope. It's clear that there are good people in the world and, as my son tells me, there are more good people than bad. This film and the people who work at Hogar Diamante are an example of that; it was just great."

"It's just inspiring that people are trying to make a difference and we all have to," said Victoria Celeste. "We need more exposure to some of these things that we don't see in our daily lives and that we don't think about. Certainly, there were a few times that I choked up just thinking about it."

Kwervo and Salgado are developing a GoFundMe site for Hogar Diamante that will be announced on the John Brown Lives! Facebook page shortly.



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