Text by Karla Zabludovsky
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Dozens of young recruits stood in line, timing their punches and kicks as their trainer called out commands. A few feet away, two of them dropped to the floor to do push-ups. A soldier in full camouflage stood off to the side observing the scene, his hand resting casually on the magazine of his M16 rifle.
But this was no military exercise.
Watching on from the bleachers, a group of young mothers took pictures as their children sweated their way through the karate class. After being put through their paces, the 9- and 10-year-old girls and boys stood in line on the school’s main patio to pick up pancakes and hot chocolate. Nearby, several colonels and church leaders chatted among themselves.
The children are among almost 30,000 taking part in a controversial program in Honduras known as the Guardianes de la Patria — Guardians of the Homeland — sponsored and run by the country’s armed forces, with support from the Catholic and evangelical churches.
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