In early January, Michael and his friends had just left a protest in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, when they were apprehended by Honduran security forces.
Michael (a pseudonym to protect his safety) was a twenty-one-year-old law student at the National Autonomous University of Honduras and a member of the leftwing political party Libre. He and his friends had participated in a rally where they had tried to close a busy street in defiance of the allegedly fraudulent 2017 presidential election. Afterward, as he tells it, he and his friends stopped at a small store on their way home to purchase a few drinks and sit along the road. A truck bearing the insignia of the Honduran military police arrived. The young men were quickly surrounded by military policemen and forced, at gunpoint, to pose for incriminating pictures.
"We were doing nothing, but they took out eight Molotov cocktails from their patrol and put them in front of us and told us not to move or they would shoot," Michael recalls in a recent interview from a safe location. "They took photos, videos, and our names. They told us that if they found us in another protest, they would 'disappear' us."
Days later, Michael says, military police wearing black ski masks showed up at his home, looking for him. He was not there, and he hasn't been since, for fear of what might happen to him or his family. His parents paid $7,000 in U.S. money to a coyote, or migrant guide, to help him make it to the United States. He is now making his way to the United States, where he will stay with relatives. But Michael is unhappy about being forced to leave school.
"They took away all my dreams in life to study and the sacrifice of my mother to allow me to study," he says. "Everything for nothing."
Michael is one of tens of thousands of young Hondurans who have taken to the streets to protest the re-election of rightwing National Party President Juan Orlando Hernandez. They believe the election was stolen from Salvador Nasralla, a business owner, popular sports commentator, and politician with the opposition party La Alianza.
"We are protesting because we know that our president is Salvador Nasralla," Michael says. "We all know there was fraud in our election. We cannot permit an illegitimate government to govern our country."
The opposition forced a recount of nearly 5,000 polling stations. But the Supreme Electoral Tribunal declared Hernandez the victor, and the Trump Administration said it was satisfied with that result.
"We did look at the circumstances of the election. We concluded it was conducted fairly," said then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in response to a question put to him after a February 1 speech at the University of Texas at Austin.
But in the months since the November election, an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty has fallen on Honduras. The fear of violence driven by the U.S.-backed Hernandez administration is driving many Honduran youths to seek safe haven in the United States. As Michael puts it, "If the United States continues approving of an illegitimate government, of a narco-trafficker like Juan Orlando Hernandez, then they must prepare for more migration of youth from Honduras."
Ahead of Hernandez's inauguration, the military police and Honduran national police launched...