TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – It took two years of negotiations, but the most violent soccer hooligans in Honduran soccer signed a peace agreement to end the aggression that had occurred in and out of stadiums nationwide for decades.
The deal revolves around two rival fan bases: “Ultrafiel,” staunch supporters of Club Deportivo Olimpia and “Los Revolucionarios,” who back Motagua Club. But after years of hostility, the two sides have joined forces to stop violence and crime from destroying the country’s most popular sport.
The sides reached a deal with the help of numerous organizations and institutions, including the National Program for Prevention, Rehabilitation and Social Reintegration (PNPRRS), the National Police (PN), the National Youth Institute (INJ), a few NGOs and the media.
“We have made a commitment of honor for peace and harmony,” reads the pact, which was signed in May. “We, the members of the Ultrafiel Barra Brava and the Revo [Revolucionarios], have agreed to sign a peace agreement to guarantee that the [games] are played harmoniously. We are committed to complying and boosting our club as [peaceful] fans.”
It’s estimated at least 10,000 between the ages of 12 and 25 are members of barras bravas in the nation’s capital of Tegucigalpa, with 65% of them belonging to Ultrafiel, which supports Club Deportivo Olimpia, the country’s most popular and successful team. The Motagua Club, the country’s second-most popular team and rival of Club Deportivo Olimpia, also has a large fan base, led by the notorious Los Revolucionarios.
Of the close to 100,000 who belong to barras bravas nationwide, 25,000 are youths, according to the National Police for Prevention.
“We’ve always been demonized as the dregs of society, but they never emphasize the work we do,” said Melvin Servellón, an Ultrafiel member who emphasizes the group has created training programs and done social work for its members during the past two years. “All [that society] did is point to us as the worst.”
Servellón added: “We do community work, like cleaning up lots, repairing sports fields in the poorest neighborhoods in the city, and we help at nursing homes. We also hold soccer tournaments to keep the youngest kids away from drugs and crime.”
Iván Flores, a member of Los Revolucionarios, said his barra brava also is perceived in a negative light since the group’s work in the community, which includes painting schools and celebrating the birthdays of cancer-stricken children at Hospital Escuela in Tegucigalpa, often goes unnoticed.
“Sometimes you work and no one acknowledges what you do,” he said. “It’s true that these fan groups [create] a violent environment, but all the media focuses on is the negative aspects.”
Officials said they realized they needed to put an end to violence at soccer games about three years ago after fights between barras bravas led to seven deaths in as many days.
“In Honduras [the conflicts between groups occurred] out of ‘love for the team,’ [but] the fight was transferred from the stadium to the poorest neighborhoods in the city, perhaps driven by certain antisocial groups,” said Gustavo Sánchez Velásquez, who has a doctorate in Sociology and is a member of the Honduran government’s Ministry of Security.
Sánchez also said criminals are using time spent with barras bravas to commit crimes.
“The barras bravas are the perfect niche not just for gang members but for any kind of criminal group, since 30% of the members are minors and 65% are under the age of 25,” said Sánchez, who has studied these groups for 15 years. “I want to stress that not every member of a barra brava is a gang member. I estimate about 10% of the people involved in barras bravas commit crimes, [such as] misdemeanors, but some have been captured who participated in organized crime and also some who have infiltrated the fan groups from gangs.”
The Honduran government said the best way to fight the barras bravas’ violence is to help their members, not arrest them.
“We have offered workshops, training, and awareness campaigns to these young people, and we have had positive feedback from them,” said Nolvia Cruz de Alvarenga, executive director of PNPRRS. “This is a very good step for them.”
Minister of Security Oscar Álvarez added: “We are glad that these boys have opted for this measure, although we know, and have identified, the rebels and criminals who have infiltrated these groups.”
Marco Midence, who is in charge of INJ, agrees with Álvarez.
“I am very happy because our interest is to have this peace agreement go down in the history of national sports,” he said. “We no longer want to have a bad image. [But] this can’t end here, we cannot halt the process and we must double our efforts with the work that has been done up until now.”
Servellón acknowledges there are criminals within Ultrafiel.
“We can’t control them all and it is not easy to manage 7,000 people,” he said, adding the club asks those identified as criminals to denounce their membership.
Servellón added: “The Ultrafiel group didn’t get started in Las Lomas de Guijarro [the wealthiest area in Tegucigalpa]. The fan group is present in each of the poor neighborhoods in Honduras, where violence happens every day. It is logical that there will be criminal acts committed, but we work to avoid them.”
Juan Robles, a leader of Los Revolucionarios, said his club has the same policy.
“We don’t belong to gangs. [Are] we criminals just because we support a team? Although we do know there are people who infiltrate our group,” he said. “If we identify them, we expel them.”
Congressman Antonio Rivera Callejas, who was president of the Professional National League in the 1990s, said unruly fans must be punished.
“We have to punish [the fan groups’ criminal acts] as stipulated in the Law of Social Harmony and make the Penal Code’s sanctions more harsh [against those found guilty],” he said. “We need more preventive than repressive actions.”