Phillip Sherwell of The Telegraph went to Honduras to report on what might be the most dangerous country in the world. The country appears to have been taken over by the drug cartels and rival gangs. The nation has the highest murder rate in the world.
At first glance, it would appear to be a typical playground scene from anywhere in central America. The young girls play pit-a-pat and the boys charge excitedly after a half-deflated football across a makeshift pitch of caked mud.
But amid this familiar school tableau in a hillside slum overlooking the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, there is a new and jarring sight. And that is of soldiers, armed with assault rifles, strolling around the school grounds.
For the rickety wooden classrooms here have just been assigned a second role as the barracks for one of the new military units recently dispatched into the country's most violent districts; a last ditch effort to stem the daily toll of death and bloodshed.
It is a sign of desperate times in Honduras, the most dangerous country on the planet outside a full-fledged war zone. The murder rate reached an unenviable global high of 85 for every 100,000 residents last year, and is on course to reach 90 per 100,000 in 2013.
The question of how to tackle this epidemic of gang and drug violence, which exploded after Honduras became the key staging post for cocaine smuggling from South America to the US, is the overwhelming issue facing the candidates in next Sunday's presidential elections
The drug gangs threaten the very viability of the Honduran state, but it is unclear whether any of the presidential contenders really has an answer.
This week, The Telegraph witnessed the scale of the problems at first hand after accompanying one of the new military patrols through some of the toughest slums of the capital, Tegucigalpa, a sprawling jumble of neighbourhoods that stretches across a bowl-shaped valley.
"These areas were in the hands of the gangs," said Col Jose Lopez Raudales, a veteran army commander whose men were given a crash course in policing strategy before their deployment last month.
The maze of shanty homes - where dirt tracks pass for roads and open sewers run along walls daubed with gang graffiti and threats to kill informants - used to be a no-go zone for the security forces. The police were too scared, too ill-equipped, too inefficient and often too complicit in gang crime to venture there.
Col Raudales has 100 troops under his command at the school, part of 1,000 military police involved in the crackdown. Speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, the school's headteacher welcomed their arrival in her classrooms, recounting how her pupils used to have to take shelter under their desks when gun battles erupted outside.
One of the unit's first tasks upon being deployed to the district last month was to remove the corpse of a man shot 12 times in the head, but Col Raudales said there had been no deaths there since their deployment. "Our operations will continue until we clean crime from these areas," he insisted defiantly.
That, however, is a formidable mission in a country of 8.5 million where 20 people are murdered a day, five times the rate in America's most violent large city, Chicago.
Sandwiched between Nicaragua to the south and Guatemala to the north, Honduras has the dubious distinction of being the original "banana republic", a term coined by the American writer William Sydney Porter, known by his pen name O. Henry, who fled there in the 1890s to escape embezzlement charges. But while Porter used the phrase to describe a country in hock to unscrupulous fruit corporations, today it is a trade of a far more ruthless nature that dominates the landscape.
Some 80 per cent of the cocaine that reaches US soil is now trafficked via Honduras, either spirited there by sea or flown into remote air strips carved out of the jungle in the inaccessible wilderness of the north-east