The American migration crisis is homemade. The United States has made a practice to pass policies that retain American interests irrespective of the effects on other nations.
For decades, these very policies have affected Central American states and damaged their way of life both directly and indirectly through many means. One nation of particular focus is Honduras. It is there where one can see the complex nature of the American migration crisis. Whether it be for tourism, terrorism, coffee production, or even crocheted clothing, the United States has made a practice to pass policies that retain American interests irrespective of the effects on other nations.
In her essay “Tell Me How It Ends”, Valeria Luiselli explores the struggles of child migrants from Central America coming to the United States and attempts to answer the question: what makes migrants give up everything for a new life in another country. While there is no universal answer, Luiselli tries to define it as “the unthinkable circumstances the children are fleeing: extreme violence, persecution and coercion by gangs, mental and physical abuse, forced labor, neglect, and abandonment.
” Central American countries have not always been a breeding place for violence and terror nor did they turn into that on their own accord, but rather these countries have become the victim of a way more powerful nation, the United States of America. In particular, American policies have damaged Honduras to such a high degree that citizens see no other way than to leave everything they know behind and risk their lives in order to migrate to the United States.
Honduras, a nation of over nine million (“Central America: Honduras”), shares more than just borders with El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala; they are also one of four of the ten poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere (GPD per capita (current US$)). Despite being rich in natural resources, Honduras has an extreme poverty issue. 18.9% classify as poor, meaning their income barely covers sufficient nutrition and rent (Gindling and Terrell 911). Even worse, 47.4% of Honduran households classify as extremely poor— their income falls below the price of a diet that provides sufficient calories.
Like many other nations with natural resources, the Honduran economy has been mainly agrarian. To this date bananas are one of the country’s most imported goods (Merrill, ed.). In the early 1900s, United Fruit Company, known today as Chiquita Brands International, was the single largest importer of fresh fruit in the United States with bananas being one of the pillars of their business. At that point in time, these fruits started becoming so important for Honduras and its economy that “throughout the first half of the twentieth century, [it was] usually depicted as a ‘banana republic’” (Fenner 613). By 1914, American companies owned more than one million acres of land just in Honduras or roughly four percent of the entire nation.
Land and plantations naturally meant an immense investment for these American corporations; therefore, they wanted to see them protected. Sometimes, this meant that companies took measures themselves. For example, the United Fruit Company made a deal with the Honduran government that would allow them to receive funding for building a railway network. Honduras wanted to build a nation-wide network with the help of the American know-how of United Fruit Company, who in return just planned to enhance its distribution network. For Honduras, this meant that immense amounts of money—that was supposed to help the country out of poverty—disappeared without any direct use for the country.
The influences and subsequent projects were not always reciprocal. American companies were known to bribe important Honduran officials. In one particular instance United Fruit Company bribed one official with 1.25 million USD in order to ensure low banana export taxes (Peed). Another example of deals that were not mutually beneficial to actual Honduras citizens, was when the United States sought an ally in Honduran president Tiburcio Carías Andino. Shortly after his inauguration in 1933, he started to act more like a dictator with no interest for human rights who used “the institutionalization of violence as a political tool” (Hawkins 538). Any sort of protest was brutally suppressed and political opponents disappeared. For the promise of stability and control in Honduras, the United States turned a blind eye to Carías’ crimes against his own people.
In the 1980s, the United States was in the Cold War, therefore the 1981 rise of Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua resulted in tremendous concern for them. The United States at that time was a nation both internally and externally terrified of any semblance of Communism (Mukherji 112). The National Security Planning Group decided together with the Reagan administration on a $19.5 million covert program to strengthen local opposition organizations called “contras” (Scott). In its belief to save Nicaragua from Communism, the United States bought into the Honduran military, so they could expand the battle grounds of the Guerilla war the contras were fighting against Sandinistas to Honduran soil. Through an investment of over two billion dollars coming from Washington, the United States built a military infrastructure that “made the already-powerful military the dominant institution in Honduran society a small, relatively peaceful nation […] was transformed into what critics call ‘the USS Honduras’”, Scott argues. When the Nicaraguan war ended in 1990, American interest in Honduras ended abruptly and funding dropped to just two million dollars in 1994 (LeoGrande). This left the Central American country once again in an extremely fragile state – military groups that have been funded and trained for years were suddenly cut off and left to themselves, which led to the formation of gangs, who “often cast a long enough shadow to cover a significant level of […] violence” (Forde 11). These groups worked against human rights activists, journalists, and participated in organized crime. Many Hondurans have been violated by these gangs and therefore see them as a big contributor to their own personal exodus.
Almost 30 years later, in 2009, Honduras found itself on the way to recovery. The people democratically elected a new left-wing President, Manuel Zelaya. After passing reforms, like subsidizing transportation and raising the minimum wage, Zelaya expressed interest in a referendum about a new Honduran constitution to replace the current one, which was passed by an U.S. backed military government in 1982. Soon thereafter, by order of the Honduran Supreme Court, the presidential residence was stormed by soldier and the president was sent into exile in Costa Rica. Roberto Micheletti, former speaker of the congress, was chosen to take his place. This coup d’état was led by Honduran General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez who not only was the leader of this coup but was also trained at a United States Army training facility.
“Zelaya’s advisories […] know there is a strong popular demand to rewrite the constitution”, Main argues, which brings up the question why the Honduran government would want to overturn a popular and democratically elected president over a non-binding referendum. In the aftermath, U.S. officials refused to use the term “military coup”, as this would have resulted in an immediate termination of any funding and programs. At the same time, only very mild economic sanctions were passed, which contradicts how the U.S. responded to other recent coups. While almost all other states proclaimed that they would not accept the outcome of new elections as that would validate the coup, the U.S. announced that it supports new elections as they believe that to be the best thing for everyone (Main).
All signs point towards the fact that the United States had interest in keeping Zelaya out of office. For the Honduran people, that meant that they were robbed of a president who was modernizing the country and making strides in the “people’s historic struggle to achieve its freedom and independence”. The United States has influenced Honduras and Central America in many ways. Their government and corporations have not only sought to retain American interests in the region but also have sought to maintain America’s Hegemonic status. Honduras’ people and other nations’ peoples’ lives have been damaged to a point where their misery is so great that they see no other way than to leave and turn to the country that has hurt their home so badly.
Luiselli states that “It is not even the American Dream that [migrants] pursue, but rather the more modest aspiration to wake up from the nightmare into which they were born”. Migration is not solely a Honduran or South American problem, and neither is it a problem that is easy to fix. It is so tightly intertwined with the United States that one cannot be examined without the other. Luiselli’s quotations and this research reflects how Honduran migrants do not search for something they do not have but for something they had before American intervention.