What’s Driving the Children of Honduras to Come to the U.S.?

July 21, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On July 14, the U.S. government loaded a plane with 12 women and 21 children between the ages of 18 months and 15 years old who were being deported back to Honduras. These people are part of the tens of thousands, many of them children, who have made the dangerous trek across thousands of miles from Honduras and other Central American countries to come to the U.S.—and then are caught at the border and treated like criminals. Obama has vowed to speed up the deportations of the more than 57,000 children who have fled from Central America in recent months. The day after the first planeload of Hondurans was deported since Obama’s pledge, his spokesman cold-bloodedly said that people from Central America should know “they will not be welcome to this country.”

Honduran police frisk a man as they break into a home in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, June, 2013. Photo: AP

The story in the mainstream media is that the children, alone or with their mothers, are coming to the U.S. to escape the gang violence in their countries. As we wrote last week in “Why Do Children from Central America Come Here?”: “There is truth to this. Children in countries like Honduras are forced to flee in order to escape gang violence. But there are other, underlying reasons these children are leaving their homes to make a dangerous trip to come to the U.S.”

In a July 17 interview on Democracy Now! and a July 9 piece on huffingtonpost.com, Dana Frank—a history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz—brought important insight into the question of what is driving children and their mothers to flee Honduras.

The current regime in Honduras came to power five years ago after a coup that overthrew the elected government of Manuel Zelaya. As Frank explains, “We keep hearing the fact that people are fleeing gangs and violence, but there hasn’t been an analysis or discussion of why is there so much gang activity and violence in Honduras. And the answer is this tremendous criminality that the 2009 military coup opened the door to when it overthrew the democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya. The coup, of course, itself was a criminal act, and it really opened the door for this spectacular corruption of the police and up-and-down, top-to-bottom of the government. And that, in turn, means it’s possible to kill anybody you want, practically, and nothing will happen to you. It’s widely documented that the police are overwhelmingly corrupt...”

In addition, as Frank notes, there has been a dangerous militarization of the whole country under current president Juan Orlando Hernández: “Not only does the regular military now patrol residential neighborhoods, airports, and prisons, but Hernández’s new 5,000-strong military police force is fanning out across the country. The judiciary and prosecutors are often corrupt as well... ‘Perpetrators of killings and other violent crimes are rarely brought to justice,’ reports Human Rights Watch. As a result, post-coup Honduras now boasts the highest murder rate in the world, according to United Nations figures.

“[T]he police and military themselves kill and beat people with impunity. Human Rights Watch has documented widespread allegations of killings of land rights activists by security forces....”

The 2009 coup was carried out with U.S. backing—and, as Frank points out, “The U.S. government continues to support, even celebrate the regime.” In the name of fighting drugs, the U.S. sent $25 million to the brutal Honduran security forces in 2013, and additional funds to the army and police come from various U.S. agencies and programs.

Further, as Frank explains, “When we talk about fleeing the gangs and violence, it’s also this tremendous poverty. And poverty doesn’t just happen. It, itself, is a direct result of policies of both the Honduran government and the U.S. government, including privatizations, mass layoffs of government workers, and a new—in Honduras, a new law that’s now made permanent, that breaks up full-time jobs and makes them part-time and ineligible for unionization, [a] living wage, and the national health service. And a lot of these economic policies are driven by the U.S.-funded lending organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, which itself is funding the corrupt Honduran police.”

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the world and, like many poor countries, is caught in a web of debt to imperialist powers and financial institutions. In 2000, Honduras was put under a group of countries classified by the International Monetary Fund as “heavily indebted poor countries.” Its economy is reliant on export of bananas and coffee as well as on maquiladoras—sweatshop factories where tens of thousands of Hondurans work for very low pay while the foreign owners reap huge profits.

The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which went into effect in 2005 and reduced or eliminated trade tariffs between the U.S. and Central American countries, has led to even more intensified devastation of the economies of Honduras and other countries. For instance, CAFTA immediately reduced the taxes paid by U.S. corporations to Honduras by $148 million—a relatively small amount for the U.S., but a huge sum for a small, poor country like Honduras. (See “Why Do Children from Central America Come Here?” for more on the effects of CAFTA on the Central American economies.) During the period 2010-12, the Honduran government reduced spending on public housing, health, and education, while extreme poverty rose by over 26 percent.

Frank says, “With this poverty that we’re seeing that people are fleeing, it’s not like people are like, ‘Let’s go have the American dream.’ There are almost no jobs for young people. Their parents know it. And we’re talking about starving to death—that’s the alternative—or being driven into gangs with tremendous sexual violence. And it’s a very, very tragic situation there. But it’s not like it tragically just happened. It’s a direct result of very conscious policies by the U.S. and Honduran governments.”

As Frank notes, “In this overall scenario, children indeed die. With few jobs and without a functioning criminal justice system, truly terrifying gangs have proliferated, and drug trafficking engenders spectacular violence, including multiple massacres of children in April and May splayed all over the pages. According to Casa Alianza, the leading independent advocate for homeless children in Honduras, ‘in May 2014 alone 104 young people were killed; between 2010 and 2013, 458 children 14 or younger were assassinated’.”

These are the brutal, intolerable conditions that have forced tens of thousands to flee. And the U.S. is now deporting these children and their mothers right back to the same hell of killing violence and poverty—a hell that the U.S. rulers had a big hand in creating in the first place.

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