SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — Honduran military police led the way on a drive through territory torn apart by gang warfare.
We're in Chamalecon — Ground Zero in the fight to take back neighborhoods controlled by violent gangs.
The strategy involves resorting security and sprucing up an area that has become a virtual ghost town.
Volunteers with the Mennonite church are clearing weeds surrounding abandoned homes, all under the watchful eye of military police.
Our guide is a captain in the new police unit created this year to restore law and order. The goal, he says, is for people to live peacefully in their own homes.
We visited what's known as a "casa loca," or "crazy house" that once belonged to a family; now it looks like it’s almost been demolished.
There was rubble all over the floor. Everything has been torn from the walls. So what happened here?
Families were forced to flee from the area. Whoever lived here was given two hours to get out by gang members, who then seized the property and used it for criminal activity.
Some Hondurans flee not just their neighborhoods, but their country. Authorities say gangs like MS 13 and Mara Salvatrucha are major reasons behind the mass migration of kids, who are faced with a terror-filled choice: stay and join the gangs or flee to the U.S.
The military police arrived in this neighborhood in May. Slowly, gang graffiti is being replaced by messages of peace.
But this is just a beginning. Real progress, Hondurans say, won't happen until people feel it’s safe enough to come home.