In mid-July, the first planeload of women and children who had fled Honduras and found themselves in the center of a refugee controversy at the US border were sent back into the same dire situation they risked their lives to leave. They were dropped off at Palmerola Airforce Base, a base north of Tegucigalpa jointly controlled by US and Honduran military and given 650 lempiras, or $30, to get back to the towns and villages they had fled.
The individual stories of those fleeing Honduras are varied, but most have the rampant violence in their country as a common denominator. As Nelson Arambu, an LGBT community organizer from Honduras recently told me, “The wave of migrants from Honduras are no longer coming here to work, they are coming to save their lives.” Since the military coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, violence and repression have continued to increase. Honduras currently has the highest murder rate in the world. The current refugee crisis at the US border is a foreseeable and understandable consequence of this violence.
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Unfortunately, after playing a widely criticized role in legitimating Honduras’s post-coup government, the US government is now using this crisis to further entrench its alignment with one of the most corrupt and violent police and military forces in the hemisphere. Couched in language about bolstering “security” and “prosperity” in the region, both the White House and the Senate have proposed yet more US “investment” in the very Honduran security forces that are responsible for the violence, human rights abuses and lawlessness that are contributing to the flight of tens of thousands of Hondurans.
This past April, José Guadalupe Ruelas, the director of Casa Alianza, a well-regarded organization that advocates for homeless children, presented a report on violent deaths of children in Honduras during the first few months of the new government. He noted that some of the killings were extrajudicial executions committed by Honduran state agents. Weeks later, he ended up in intensive care at a hospital after being brutally beaten by Honduran Military Police and jailed overnight without medical attention. The police claimed he’d been in a traffic accident.
Casa Alianza is part of an extraordinary civil society in Honduras that has formed a network of sectors documenting systematic human rights abuses at great risk, while tirelessly building a movement that envisions a new path forward for Honduras.
As large landowners and corporations work to dispossess small farmers in the Aguan Valley, farming cooperatives are organizing to defend their land and continue supporting their families so they don’t have to leave their land or, potentially, their country. They do this despite threats and violence against them. Scores of farmers have been murdered in Aguan for their resistance since the coup.
Garifuna and indigenous communities are on the front lines of protecting land from mining and hydroelectric dam projects that are being approved throughout the country without the required community consultations. They, too, are facing attacks and threats, but keep at it so they aren’t forced off their land and potentially onto the dangerous journey northward.
In response to a government and private sector that has consistently failed to respect and enforce labor protections, undermined organizers and openly attacked strikes, labor has organized as one of the most significant sectors opposing the present government. Members are trying to ensure that workers can continue to make a living in Honduras so that they don’t have to seek work outside the country.
LGBTQ, feminist, student groups and others are at the forefront of a movement for what they call a refoundation of the country and a new constitution. They face violence in the streets, routine threats and frequent assassinations and kidnappings in their effort to create a country where people can stay and live with dignity.
It is a great irony, then, that many millions of dollars going to Honduras from plans in Congress to address root causes of migration in the region may end up funding the very police and military forces that have consistently attacked the movement that represents Hondurans’ best hope for prosperity and security.
A fundamental shift in Honduras that prioritizes the rights and safety of workers, farmers, indigenous communities, women, children, LGBTQ people, the Garifuna and human rights defenders can stop people from fleeing. The United States could play a role in making this happen, but it would require an overhaul of its disastrous policy in the region. The United States could begin by withdrawing its financial and diplomatic support from Honduras’s repressive government.