My first day in Honduras last week was also my first in a truly “Third World” country, though from what I’ve seen, portions of Russia and the Appalachians could give it a run for the money. Of the nine people on our delegation, I’m easily the least traveled in this part of the world, having never gone farther south than New Orleans. Plus I’m monolingual.
That said, I’ve done my best to read up before getting here, have had ready access to good translations, plus a surprising number of the campesinos are bilingual. Last night I spoke with a man who was part of a land occupation near Progresso. He looked to be in his seventies and had been deported a few years ago. A few days earlier we spoke with a man who was part of a land occupation, who had badly burned his foot while working in Florida. He told us that his boss told him he couldn’t work anymore and then he was deported. One can’t escape the impression that migrant workers are disposable people to the U.S., to be employed when young and healthy, then dumped back on impoverished countries when they’re no longer useful.
Honduras is the third poorest country in the Western hemisphere. After Mexico, it is the largest source of migrants from Central America to the U.S. Due to the frequent attacks on migrants, a road from Tegucigalpa to the Olancho in the north has been dubbed the “Highway of death.” And then they have to traverse Guatemala and Mexico, where Central American migrants are particular marks for thieves, kidnappers and drug lords hoping to use them as mules, followed by the deadly desert crossing at the U.S. border. One of our delegation, Lois Martin, reported that thus far this year there have been close to 200 bodies found in the Tucson border patrol sector alone.
With all the death and violence facing them if they migrate north, one might wonder why people might choose to leave Honduras. The frequency that you see people here wearing clothing in the patriotic colors, blue and white, with little Honduran flags adorning them, rivals the displays at U.S. party conventions. In practically every conversation where the issue came up, people insisted that they don’t want to leave, but often had no choice.
The violence at home has truly gone off the charts since the 2009 U.S.-supported coup. As many have noted, Honduras is now the murder capital of the world — 86 per 100,000 people, a rate nearly five times Mexico’s.
Some of the Honduran government’s attempts to reign in the violence are laughable in their stupidity, and in this are reminiscent of Chicago’s — last summer, some aldermen proposed removing nets from basketball hoops as a remedy for the city’s gang violence. In Honduras, to address a spate of murders by pairs of men riding motorcycles to bump off their targets, a few months ago the government passed a law banning pairs of men riding motorcycles. The response? The murders went co-ed, with male/female pairs doing the dirty work.