Archive for the ‘Caravans of Migrants’ Category

‘They put a gun to my head,’ says Honduran mother

 
Elquin Castillo is seen near Casa Betania Santa Martha June 29, 2019, in Salto de Agua, Mexico. (CNS photo/David Agren)

TENOSIQUE, Mexico (CNS) — Maribel — a Garifuna woman from Honduras and mother of six children, ages 6 months to 16 years — only wanted to work.

She baked coconut bread and sold it the streets of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, until a gang started demanding a cut — roughly 20 percent of her earnings. After threats and violence and futile attempts at negotiating with the gang, she fell behind in her payments. Gangsters eventually showed up at her daughter’s school to send a message of intimidation, forcing Maribel and her family to flee the country.

“I was being pursued,” she said from a shelter run by the Franciscans in southern Mexico. “I’m scared they’re going to come looking for me here,” she added, noting that gang members were now threatening her sister in Honduras and asking about her whereabouts.

Maribel’s plight highlights the despair and desperation of many migrants, who flee violence, poverty and, increasingly, drought and the early effects of climate change in Central America.

Mexico has sent members of its National Guard to stop migrants at its southern border, and stories of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions in U.S. and Mexican migration detention centers have surfaced.

U.S. President Donald Trump — who threated Mexico with tariffs on its exports if migration was not stopped — has praised Mexico for its increased enforcement, telling reporters July 1: “Mexico is doing a lot right now. They have almost 20,000 soldiers between the two borders. … And the numbers are way down for the last week.”

But the migrants streaming out of Central America seem undeterred due to deteriorating conditions at home.

Few migrants grasp the geopolitics at play, focusing instead on seeking safety or escaping hunger at home. Staff at shelters in southern Mexico say the flow of migrants has remained high.

At La 72, the shelter in Tenosique, director Ramon Marquez reported receiving more than 10,000 guests so far in 2019, putting them on pace to break the record of 14,300 migrants welcomed in 2013.

Militarization, however, forces migrants to take paths less traveled to avoid police and soldiers, and this puts them more at risk, say shelter directors.

“Migrants don’t come here because they want to. Migrants leave their country because they don’t have any other alternative,” said Franciscan Sister Diana Munoz Alba, a human rights lawyer and a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who works at a migrant shelter in Chiapas. “(There’s) a paradox of risking their lives to save their lives, and this militarization (of Mexico) is not going to stop migration.”

Maribel, whose name was changed for security reasons, fell victim to criminals shortly after crossing into Mexico from Guatemala in late May. Three hooded assailants spotted her and her family walking along a rural road and robbed them of their meager possessions.

“They threw us face down … the kids face down. They were scared, crying,” she recalled.

Maribel said she had never thought much about migrating, despite the difficulties of life in the Atlantida department on the Honduras’ Atlantic Coast — an area populated by Afro-Hondurans, who have been abandoning the country in droves.

“I can’t go back to Honduras. These gangs have people everywhere.”

After her husband suffered a disability in his construction job, Maribel started her own informal business, harvesting coconuts and baking coconut bread in Honduras.

She sold $60 of bread daily, but had to hand over 20 percent daily to the Calle 18 gang. There were other expenses, too, she said, such as the cost of sending her children to school, even though education is supposed to be free for children in Honduras.

In December, the gangs made greater demands, which she refused. As she worked one day, “They put a gun to my head and took all I had,” Maribel said.

She eventually stopped paying. Then the gang came looking for her 16-year-old daughter. Maribel saved her money and left Honduras with her family.

Violence has sent thousands fleeing from Honduras. But observers say other factors are driving migration, including poverty and political factors. Migrants speak of the sorry state of services such as health and education.

“That’s why we’re looking to migrate, because the economy is so bad,” said Elquin Castillo, 26, who left a fishing village with his pregnant wife, infant daughter and 20 relatives in June.

Javier Avila, 30, gave up after drought in southern Honduras wiped out his melon crop for the second consecutive season. He borrowed $82 to rent a small plot for his crop — which was lost — but could not find the funds to sow again in 2019.

“It used to be normal that it rained in the winter, but not any longer,” he said from a migrant shelter.

Maribel expressed similar pessimism over Honduras. She was hoping to receive a document to travel freely through Mexico, though she was uncertain how much longer she would have to wait.

Into the heart of Father Melo, Jesuit priest and journalist whose life is threatened in Honduras

Melo Moreno SJ, Director of Radio Progreso and ERIC (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

Iván Benítez   July 03, 2019

 

Uncle Ismael! Uncle Ismael! “Maria opens the door of the house and throws herself at the waist of her uncle, who has come to visit the family. The girl clings to his hand and pulls him. The house is located at the foot of a majestic jungle mountainside. Ismael enters the room and looks for the back of his mother who is sitting in a wheelchair. He hugs her from behind. Doña Lita, who is blind and treasures almost a century of life, takes the hand of her son and brings it to her face. Then he goes to the room where his younger sister, Ines, is bedridden due to a degenerative illness. He kisses her repeatedly on the cheek. She does not move or speak. He places the palm of his hand on her forehead and remains silent. Silences that scream! Ines has been his confidant since childhood.

 

Melo with his mother Doña Lita and sister Raquel (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

In the family Melo is not just “Ismael Moreno Coto”, the journalist and Jesuit priest threatened with death for denouncing the violations of human rights that are committed daily in his country. In grade school as often happens a nickname was given by others – “Melo” and later it became “Melito! Melito!” as high school classmates scoffed. At that time it was hurled as a mockery of one from a lower class. Today, on the contrary, he feels identified with the nickname. When he was a child, in his city of El Progreso­ there were two high schools: that of the poor and that of the rich. The municipal government awarded two scholarships for the best students and Melo won one. Later as a young man he lived in Mexico City, where he studied Philosophy, and then, in El Salvador, he studied Theology. Since 1995 he has dedicated himself to journalism, and today, at 61, this round-faced man with a gray mustache, deep circles and a contagious smile, sometimes mischievous, has become one of the main opposition leaders in the country. He is rooted in the peasantry. In Honduras 60% of the population live below the poverty line, with more than four million in extreme poverty.

Scrambled eggs with corn tortillas

Ismael Moreno Coto, known as Padre Melo, is the most visible head of Radio Progreso and the “Reflection, Research and Communication Team” (ERIC), a Jesuit institution that opposes big business projects that threaten the rights of indigenous people, and investigates and challenges government corruption. He sits in front of a microphone and denounces the human rights violations committed in his country every day. He travels to a hidden village in the

Melo being offered coconut water (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

mountains to listen to the peasants, and then leads a protest march against the government in his city. Melo has travelled to the United States and Europe to receive international awards for the defense of the freedom of expression. But he is more comfortable visiting the sick in hospitals in his city, or sitting with team members in the courtyard of their home sharing a beer wearing casual shorts and his flip flops.  He collaborates with the most prestigious media outlets at an international level, while being very present to care for his mother, Doña Lita or his sister Inés. (Inés died two weeks after this report was written.) With equal ability he prepares an intellectual discourse for any scenario in the world, but he is equally comfortable rolling up his sleeves in the kitchen while preparing some scrambled eggs with corn tortillas for his friends. Melo can be timid while at the same time be capable of a few jokes, familiar, solitary, unpredictable and often unpunctual. It is characteristic of his commitment to life and simplicity, while remaining a staunch enemy of double standards and false praise that can be directed towards him. Melo does not feel like a superhero in such a dangerous country in Central America: Honduras had the second highest per capita number of murders: 3,682 in 2018 or 40/100,000. (Insightcrime.org)

The 5 men of Honduras

March of the Torches, Melo walking with his people in El Progreso (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

According to the Forbes list of 2018, five people in Honduras accumulate the equivalent of the minimum annual salary of two million of their population. “Honduras remains hostage to a small group that rubs shoulders with the richest people in the world,” says Melo. “225 are in control of all economic and political decisions. And this is what causes the origin of the migrant caravans.” Of the nine million inhabitants, one million live outside of the country and six million live with precarious futures in health and housing. “Honduras possesses the conditions of wealth which would enable its people to live with dignity, for this generation and the next, but the small handful of people who concentrate the wealth have created a triple alliance with which they protect themselves” Melo continues. “There is a triple alliance formed by a corrupt political bureaucracy, an entrepreneurial elite and multinationals. And whoever touches this triple alliance is threatened with a premature death. That’s why they threaten to kill us”. “A triple alliance” he stresses, “protected by the United States, organized crime and the military.”

March of the Torches, weekly protest march in El Progreso (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

For the past two months (May and June), another social and political crisis has been detonated in Honduras as the threat of “privatization initiatives” in education and public health care has alarmed the population. “In reality, this crisis is nothing more than the accumulation of conflicts that are rooted in the coup d’état of 2009, the illegal and fraudulent elections of November 2017, the corruption, the impunity and the links of President Juan Orlando Hernández with drug trafficking” clarified Melo’s team (ERIC) this week. “The social and political pressures continue to rise, and the escalation of repression and systematic violation of human rights is very serious”, they have warned. To all this is added the government plan to “criminalize” Human Rights defenders. Diario de Navarra has had access to a document in which the government puts Father Melo in the spotlight, pointing him out as one of the “political leaders behind the planning of marches, riots and looting” with the express aim according to the document to “disaccredit” him.

15 days at Melo’s house

It is very difficult to keep up with Melo’s pace on any day. On May 2, for example, Melo himself is the one who picks up a journalist from Diario de Navarra at the San Pedro Sula airport. That morning, on the way to the city, Melo is obviously showing concern about something. “They want to prosecute Radio Progreso and me. They want to do it anyway”, he says, before arriving at his house, located on the very edge of a neighborhood controlled by gangs. “In ten years nothing has ever happened to me, even the neighbors tell us if there are strange people hanging around”, he reassures, pushing the gate. A mango tree full of fresh fruit welcomes the new guest.

Melo in the broadcast cabin of Radio Progreso (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

The next day, Friday, May 3, which happens to be “Freedom of the Press Day”, Melo opens his eyes at five o’clock. Even though it is still night, he comes down from his room dressed in blue and white, with flip-flops and a cream-colored brimmed hat. He limps due to a sharp pain that accumulates in his joints, the same illness that afflicted his younger sister. Melo walks towards the entrance gate, opens the padlock, always facing the threat of the night, and in an invisible gesture sweeps the darkness. Then he drives to the radio station. It is a habitual trip, deceivingly simple, with an underlying of risk. Two surveillance cameras record everything. At about one o’clock in the morning shots were heard not far away. And three hours later, a daily ritual is repeated as three agents of the National Police park their vehicle in front of the Jesuit residence, and then emerged to take a selfie with their assault rifles.

Melo’s fingers are tough as leather. They stretch and contract as they stroke the steering wheel on the way to the station. A current of pain flows like an internal torrent. Pain, he describes while circulating, which helps him to remember at every moment the suffering of the people. Any motorcycle that stops near the windows of the car is reason for some discomfort. Melo tries not to show his nervousness. With the arthritis he suffers, the pain bombards from the inside.

Freedom of the press

Senator Tim Kaine (secord from left) from Virginia with Jesuits in El Progreso 2016

A slight smile escapes Melo when speaking about freedom of the press. “To exercise freedom of expression in our situation is a permanent task. Here in Honduras, we celebrate this day while living in a country that is at the service of the elite. Freedom of expression as a right of the press has ceded to a demand to be at the service of the strong. We cannot say that we enjoy freedom of expression. Freedom of expression becomes a huge challenge and an affront to adverse conditions. We risk our lives and risk our personal safety and that of our team.”

The car winds through the empty streets of the city of El Progreso. At this early hour it is already 25 degrees Celsius (77 F). “Since 2009, after the various threats that we have had, we were accepted by the Inter-American Commission to merit precautionary measures,” Melo continues. “Each year these measures have been renewed, and ten years later we continue to merit these measures. The State has the obligation to implement protection measures for people at risk”. “To do this”, he clarifies, “the State sends to our home a police patrol at nine o’clock at night and at four o’clock in the morning. But it happens that the police themselves are contaminated by organized crime. Therefore, they fulfill a double function. Ostensibly they protect us, but in reality they watch and control us. I do not think they’re going to kill me. What they are now seeking is to discredit us. They try to connect me to one issue or another. That’s why they watch us, videotape us and even listen to our conversations.”

Armored crystals

Recipients of the RAFTO Norwegian [Alternate Nobel) Award

At 5.15 am, the gate to Radio Progreso opens. A security guard, who does not carry a weapon, watches the entrance. The silence of the empty streets is left behind. The priest places his fingerprint on the door security system so that he and the journalist visitor can enter. The station is protected by bulletproof glass. Melo opens the palm of his hand and leans against the wall. He must climb the stairs sideways, pulling his body up the stairs. They walk through a first room, a small library which exhibits a book edited by the Rafto Foundation that awarded Melo in 2015 the prize for the “defense of freedom of expression”. This was a huge international recognition which recognized “the legitimacy of millions of Hondurans and Hondurans who yearn for a real and profound change in the social, political and economic situation that affects us as a society.” The Foundation highlighted in 2015 “that justice and the reason for this popular clamor to stop once and for all the thousands of abuses suffered daily by the peasantry, the indigenous peoples, the Garífuna communities and rural towns and communities in the face of the voracity of the interests of extractive and transnational companies in Honduras.” Since 1987, the Rafto Foundation has recognized and awarded human rights and democracy advocates, including people who later received the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Good morning, God gave us this day”

Melo in his office (photo credit Iván Benítiz)

Once in the radio booth, Melo embraces the morning announcer, Letty, with a “good morning sister”. He takes off his hat and sits in front of the microphone and the bulletproof window. It is 5.30 am: “Good morning, God gave us this day!” is the morning greeting and the name of the program. After the half hour program, Melo shut himself in his office until seven in the morning. He then returned home for breakfast. Yami, the woman who helps with household chores, had prepared breakfast.

Caravan of Migrants – refugees from the violence and poverty in Honduras

In the same house there are two young men in formation to be Jesuits, Aquiles and Jerson, and Father Martín, a Guatemalan who works on the audiovisual content of the web. The five take their breakfast at the kitchen table: scrambled eggs, fried plantain, fresh cheese and avocado, always with aromatic Honduran coffee. They talked about what’s happening. Melo joked with the young men. At one point, Jerson spoke about a 7-year-old boy who died in the Rio Grande, on the border with the United States. “He was trying to cross with his uncle on a raft … That child was my neighbor in my community …”, he commented, obviously distressed. “I still remember when he hugged me one last time and spoke to me in English. His parents had emigrated two months before and he was happy because he was going to meet them again.”

“If the migrant is not your brother, God is not your father”

Martín and Jerson decide to visit the grandparents of the little boy, little Ezequiel, in the community of Nueva Esperanza. They will take the opportunity to record an interview for the radio. Melo nods. As director of the radio station, he is aware of the risk faced by his team of reporters. Some leave home in the morning wondering if they will return alive. This is admitted by one of the threatened journalists, Gerardo Chevez, father of four children, who has been assaulted twice by the police. A patrol of the National Police also appears at his home at dawn. This is the daily reality of working for the teams of Radio Progreso and the Reflection, Research and Communication Team (ERIC.)

 

 

 

“You will be the next”

The martyrs of the UCA

Since childhood Melo has had to learn to deal with death before its time. His father, a peasant leader, was murdered in 1974 in a violent robbery that Melo “suspects” had other objectives. Melo also knew Ellacuría, his thesis professor. The Basque Jesuit was killed by the Salvadoran army in November 1989 along with five other priests of the same order and two women employees of the Central American University (UCA). Melo had a warm friendship with the woman who cooked for the Jesuit community and her daughter. He had just invited them to spend Christmas at his family house in El Progreso.

The news of this brutal assassination caught Melo while he was in the mountains, celebrating a mass with a peasant community. Upon receiving the news, Melo first went to his family home to be with his mother. He sought Doña Lita’s embrace, her consolation, and he cried. Doña Lita, then, whispered to her son: “You will be next. Have courage.” Those words of his mother cemented the strength that today holds firm. Years later after these words from his mother, in 2016, Berta Cáceres was murdered. She was an indigenous woman leader who opposed the government’s “extractive” model of development. Berta had received numerous death threats because she could not be bought by the corporations and political parties. Berta Cáceres knew what she faced.

Melo and Berta Caceres in Rio Blanco (photo credit Lucy Edwards)

Thus, whenever Gerardo Chevez, one of the main investigative journalists from the radio station, picks Melo up at the airport or accompanies him from one place to another, Melo somewhat jokingly reminds Gerardo: “Roll down your window so the gunmen do not confuse us and kill you instead.” At a protest in Rio Blanco three years before she died, Berta asked Father Melo who of the two would first be assassinated. “Who will go first, Melo, you or me?”

Carlos Mejía – murdered in 2014 Marketing Manager of Radio Progreso

 

 

 

 

On April 11, 2014, Carlos Mejía, who was the marketing manager for Radio Progreso, was murdered. Mejía was in theory also protected with mandated precautionary measures by the “Inter-American Commission on Human Rights” because of the threats he had received.

 

Lesly, a 32-year-old journalist with 12 years of experience with Radio Progreso, admits that “the situation is very complicated.” She recognizes that “we are an easy target if you do not work in a corporate environment. But it is also rewarding. Melo tries to project honesty and dignity. We have to break so many molds in this country. It demands a very strong commitment.”

 

One night, returning in his car from San Pedro Sula to El Progreso after visiting a hospitalized friend, the journalist from Diario de Navarra asked: “Melo, how would you describe yourself?” After a long silence, he replies: “I have lived through three wars in Central America: Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That is why, because I have lived through these wars that I defend peace.” As the journey and the conversation continued, Melo allowed some memories to surface to seek the answer to the question.

Melo visiting Chabelo Morales at the prison of El Porvenir Chabelo, a farmer from the Aguan, was a political prisoner and released with the legal support of ERIC (photo credit Phil Little)

 

He remembered those years when he as a Jesuit priest accompanied the peasant indigenous population, in the midst of a genocide conducted by the Guatemalan army which had been trained by the Israeli military. The military burned to the ground the peasant villages. On one occasion the military had them surrounded in the middle of the forest. “It was Christmas. We did not have food. We had not eaten for days. But on Christmas day someone managed to break through the siege and brought us some soda crackers. Carefully these were sliced ​​and distributed equally in tiny portions. Then, I discovered the meaning of Christmas.”

Caravans are the new and tragic identity of the poor – Honduras

“It’s worse to stay in Honduras,” said a family of seven traveling in the caravan. “On the road we risk getting assaulted or killed, but in Honduras we’re already condemned to die.” “Blame me, I’m leaving because I can’t stand my life here,” said another woman traveling along the way. But there’s no reason to look for someone to blame. People come together and with just a little encouragement they head out, pushed by winds that blow only North.

Ismael Moreno, SJ

Honduras has become the country of the caravans, a reality not explainable by just one factor. Many years went by of small groups of poor Hondurans silently and constantly exiting through the border until what was small grew huge. Today multitudes of people are just waiting for a little push to set out on the highways that will take them North.

Worldwide news


The first of the large caravans left Honduras on October 13, 2018. Another large one left in December and another on January 15, 2019. Many are asking who’s encouraging Hondurans to leave their country and join the caravans.

The US Embassy’s commercial attaché in Honduras has broadcasted publicity spots promoting the idea that strange agents are manipulating Hondurans to do this in order to makie the Honduran and US governments look bad.

So many pro-caravan factors are being argued that the caravans are now surrounded by an air of “mystery.” But is a “hairy hand” really organizing them? Whether or not that is the case, and whatever power such a hand may have, the caravans are a social phenomenon that has exceeded all predictions, turning them into worldwide news. Migration from Eastern Europe, Syria and parts of Africa were already international news. Now Central America, Honduras in particular, has been added to the agenda of newscasts around the world. Never have we seen in our country so many international media that never before reported on Honduras now coming together to cover an “event of the poor” like the January 2019 caravan. Reporters came from Japan, Russia, Norway, Arab countries… Today Honduras is in the mews because of its poor, but not because of the causes that impoverished them.

The caravans are a phenomenon that has overwhelmed churches, NGOs, in fact all civil society organizations and governments. It’s a growing and uncontrollable phenomenon. Most of the common folk who watch Hondurans go by respond with simple gestures of generous and spontaneous solidarity. At the other extreme, Trump’s government has threatened them with a military response and the Honduran regime tried, unsuccessfully, to create a police barrier at the border between Honduras and Guatemala.

Three hundred people
leave every day


The caravans are a social phenomenon with the improvised leadership of rural and urban impoverished people. It has no more organization than is needed to keep them alive and determined to trudge on until they reach the United States.

In April 2017 there was a smaller caravan of about 800 Central Americans, 75% of them Hondurans. With this new caravan, the unorganized movement increased, with about 300 Hondurans crossing the Aguascalientes border between Honduras and Guatemala daily for several years, even if many got off along the way.

Last October, news sprang up in San Pedro Sula, a city on Honduras’ Atlantic coast, that a caravan of thousands of people was being organized. San Pedro Sula has the international reputation of being one of the most violent cities in the world; researchers and analysts often call it “Ciudad Juaáez of the South.” A group of about 200 Hondurans announced that they would be walking in a caravan towards the US. leaving from the local bus terminal on Saturday October 13.

“It was Bartolo”


At first, that caravan was identified with the name of Bartolo Fuentes, a social leader in the city of El Progreso, who simply said in an interview with local media that he would be joining the caravan for a few days.

Bartolo Fuentes had accompanied the previous caravan of April 2017 as a journalist. As he was also a member of Freedom and Refoundation (LIBRE), the Honduran opposition party founded by Mel Zelaya, Bartolo Fuentes was quickly scapegoated, accused of being the “brains” behind the caravan. In a press conference, the minister of foreign affairs, accompanied by the minister of human rights, said “Bartolo Fuentes is to blame fpr this caravan; claiming he organized and instigated many people to manipulate them and lead them on this dangerous journey.” He called on the Public Ministry to proceed with charges against Fuentes. As tends to happen with things in our country, once the caravan was gone on its way north, Bartolo’s name was soon discarded in favor of other scapegoats more powerful than he.

By the time the caravan crossed into Guatemala at Aguascalientes it had already grown to about 4,000 people. They managed to break through the barrier set up at the border post by both Honduran and Guatemalan police. The caravan continued to expand as it crossed through Guatemalan territory and approached the Mexican border.

“Returnees”


The Honduran regime, surely with financing from the US government, conceived a plan to convince migrants to return to Honduras. Each one was promised immediate help and a package of services later. A few hundred accepted. Those who yielded to the plan were transported back by bus or plane. Witnesses say many of the returnees were National Party activists, serving as bait for the regime’s publicity campaign.

Many more, however, continued the journey, By the end of October, some two weeks after departing, about 10,000 people had made it to the border state of Chiapas in Mexico.

Positive changes are
happening in Mexico


By the time the second wave of caravans started in January 2019, the Mexican political scene had changed. Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s new government had taken office.

Tje discrimination and rejection of the previous government were replaced with welcoming policies of respect for human rights. Humanitarian transit visas were granted to all the migrants. By the end of January, less than two weeks after this caravan’s departure, about 17,000 people, most of them from Honduras, were waiting for their visa.

Who’s really to “blame”?


The caravans and their massive sizes are of special concern to the US government. But not only to it. Many from outside, xaught up in conspiracy theories, also want to interpret this unstoppable reality. Since President Trump has blamed the Democrats from the onset, some believe that adding their voices will buttress his arguments for building his beloved wall on the border with Mexico.

For its part the Honduran government blames its own opposition and organized crime groups for inciting the caravans with destabilizing political aims. These speculations elude reality. The caravans of Honduran and other Central American migrants express the desperation level of people for whom it’s increasingly risky to live in countries that deny them public security and employment and pushes them to live in a permanent state of bare subsistence.

The explosion of
a pressure cooker


The caravans are the explosion of a pressure cooker that the Honduran government, in association with a small business elite and transnational corporations, have been heating up for at least a decade.

Those responsible for this explosion are the governments that have abandoned public social policies, replacing them with public relief programs, while consolidating a development model based on investing in extractive industries and privatizing public assets and services.

More and more people find themselves unable to deal with life in Honduras. Those traveling in the caravans all say the same thing. In the January 2019 caravan, there were dozens of entire families, young and old, all walking.
One family of seven, from parents to grandchildren, said: “It’s worse for us to stay in Honduras. We run a greater risk there than on this journey.” Another family said, “On the road we risk getting assaulted or killed, but in Honduras we’re already condemned to die.” Si, there’s no reason to look for a scapegoat to blame for organizing anything. People come together and with just a little encouragement head on out, pushed by winds that blow only towards the North.

“Blame me!”


The Honduran government is in the hands of a group of politicians who believe public services are a business and the State is their booty. They are people who have ransacked public institutions such as the Honduran Social Security Institute, the health system, the electricity company and many more. Then, after doing so, they cover it up and protect each other through political control over the judicial system.

The individuals and families leaving have been progressively experiencing helplessness and abandonment. Those feelings were reinforced with the November 2017 elections. when Juan Orlando Hernández was reelected in violation of the Constitution, awarded a victory that some 70% of the population believes resulted from a well organized fraud.

People have stopped trusting politicians, the government and big business. The caravans express this distrust, but they express even more the desperation and anguish of people who stopped believing that someday they would find solutions in their own country. They’re taking justice into their own hands…and feet.

In denying this reality, the Honduran and US governments seem to need someone to blame for the crisis. “Blame me,” said a woman in the caravan while being given water from some neighbors in solidarity, “I’m leaving because I no longer can stand this life I live here. I can’t pay my electric bill, and can’t even pay for my own food.”

Those at the top don’t believe
in those at the bottom


Those at the top are always seeking someone to blame for their problems. These elite despise those at the bottom and never give them credit for their initiatives. Given their classism and racism they assume these people can’t think, don’t have the capacity to decide, and are simply influenced by external factors manipulating their decisions. Anything that comes from people who aren’t like them is seen as a threat. And something as massive or unusual as the caravans is seen not only as a threat, but as a crime.

Obviously, the magnitude of the caravan phenomenon also moves different sectors to seek to benefit from them. Opposition sectors in Honduras, perhaps in the US also, try to benefit from the instability produced by such a massive movement. But that doesn’t change the truth of what’s happening, which is that the poor are being moved by their own unbearable daily reality, which is not only one of poverty, but also of violence. “I’m leaving because if I stay my husband will kill me,” said a young woman carrying her eight-month-old baby.

Violence against women is another burden added to their difficult economic situation and lack of public safety.

Shameful individual exoduses
and dignifying caravans


For those who can see, the caravans have shown a bright light on the harsh reality of most of our population. But the caravans are only part of the phenomenon. There are also daily migrations of individuals, families or small groups. Surely as many people leave Honduras individually in a month as do in masse in one day. The daily exoduses over time have been silent, discreet, invisible… even shameful. Now, with the departures happening in large numbers, the caravan has become loud, public, visible…and even dignifying.

This phenomenon has a dose of dignity because it has unveiled the fake discourse of prosperity and safety in our country, making evident the failure of official policies. It has eroded the triumphalism that claims Honduras is improving. It has shown that the social relief programs not only solve nothing, but actually deepen the precarious state of most of society. And it has uncovered that a society that only includes 35% of its population in its formal economy isn’t sustainable.

Hondurans have gained dignity because through the large caravans they can express the massive rejection of a cruel model of social exclusion. It’s not so much that they want an alternate model to capitalism. In fact, the caravans don’t have so much as a hint of being an anti-system movement. It’s more a massive protest against the high levels of exclusion by “Honduran-style” capitalism. People are abandoning the capitalism that abandoned them in their own country and are deciding to seek another capitalism that they believe will offer them jobs and opportunities.

A reality they can’t control


The October 2018 caravan that opened the doors to those that followed startled the political sectors and business elites awake. They were used to having control over everything that happens in the country to avoid undesirable surprises. Experts in dealing with unrest, protests and complaints from the poorer sectors, they were left without explanations when these social sectors pulled up stakes and quietly left.

The elites have forever enjoyed the privileges given them by the State and only react when their large profits are threatened by consistent opposition as is happening in communities where people are organized against extractivist projects and concessions granted to national and transnational companies. That’s why they reacted by killing Berta Cáceres in March of 2016.

Their self-aggrandizement
has taken a big hit


The elites’ self-love has also taken a hit after so long living the good life and justifying the enjoyment of their privileges. The reality of the excluded has ripped off their masks. Doing so wasn’t an intent of the caravans, it was just collateral benefit.

The elites and Juan Orlando Hernández’s regime have invested millions to advertise a country heading down the right path, one whose economy is healthy and whose social programs are making people happy. Then suddenly thousands of citizens appear fleeing the country they’ve been promoting, taking on a huge risk in the search for another country, another economy…Neither the elites nor the regime can react any other way than by accusing the opposition, seeking scapegoats for this media and reality failure.

The American dream


The caravans didn’t only unmask an unjust model. They also revealed traits of the collective self-identity of the part of Honduran society buttressed by the injustice lived and borne by the others.

The first trait is an historical and extreme dependence on the exterior. Seeking outside the country solutions to needs and problems originating within is a mentality that has been accentuated in Honduran society ever since the banana enclave was implanted in our country at the beginning of the 20th century.

The US is the Promised Land as much for these elites as for the migrants, as much for the rich bosses ans for their poor laborers. It’s the authentic “land that brings forth bread” as Honduran poet Rafael Heliodoro Valle once described it. Looking north with expectations and taking on the journey to the US is a dramatic mental routine for a society that has configured its own dream around the “American dream,” wanting to be or at least be like a US citizen, to have their dollars to buy what they buy, earn what they earn… It’s the fantasy they cling to in the face of the nightmare they live in Honduras.

It’s an intra-system avalanche of the dispossessed who continue stubbornly looking up to the North, for what they don’t have in their land. These starving migrants don’t know that their initiative is shaking the system, but even not knowing it, they’re making it happen.

The logic of surviving


A second and contradictory trait of the Honduran collective self-idwentity is the mindset brought about by living trapped in the logic of pure and harsh survival. Barely eking out a few crumbs from the system every day, searching on one’s own, without questioning that system, tends to forge a particular way of thinking and acting and deciding.

Each person individually rummaging for solutions joins others doing the same. They may be traveling together, but aren’t organized. A caravan is a mass of thousands of individuals who only come together to journey along the same route, each of them carrying their own personal project in their knapsack. That route is the only thing that unites them. Each migrant, each family individually draws up its own plans.

This trait of Honduran society’s mentality and behavior, which encloses people within their own problems, is a political disease. Everyone’s searching and rummaging, engrossed in their own world, maybe convinced of the truth of that popular saying that “a lonely ox can lick itself fine” or another that says “everyone only saves their own skin.”

The failure of collective responses


The logic of survival is that everyone seeks to solve things alone, making commitments with anyone who can help move that individual project forward. Beyond that, other people only get in the way; joining together to search for common solutions is only a hindrance. Everybody rants and raves about what’s happening, about the rising prices of fuel, water, and electricity, for example, but when it comes to looking for solutions together…they leave that to others. The massive exodus towards the North reveals how people don’t trust each other, the community, collective or social organization. That mistrust is also expressed by their rejection of organizing.

Paradoxically, collective migration is the failure of a collective response. It is inistead a triumph of individual scavenging. The caravans, however collective they may appear on the outside, are the extreme expression of individual responses to a structural and systemic problem with no solution. In an environment like that, whatever comes from above or outside is accepted and received.

This mentality also explains why people vote for those who crush them when they are in power, and promise them “solidarity” handouts when they are outside. In a society trapped in a hand-to-mouth personal economy, clientelist charity programs are very successful while the structural problems remain intact and the privatization policies and concessions for large corporations deepen. Thus, life continues to get worse and ends up exploding into caravans of desperate people.

The search for caudillos


A third trait of Honduran society’s collective self-identity revealed by the caravans is the repeated option for top-down relationships.

Those who join the caravans walk looking both upward and at the road taking them out of the country. They quit looking at those traveling at their side. This is the result of the “banana republic” syndrome sown by the US, which left many waiting enthralled for the return of the banana companies. In the caravan are thousands who take the same steps and travel the same route, but when they reach the finish line they disperse. They were born into individualism. It’s what they learned and how they were raised And it’s how they’ve suffered and continue suffering.

Social relationships in Honduras are based on rigid verticality. We are taught to depend on those on top. It’s the paradigm of power: the patriarch in the family and the caudillo in politics. The one on top is the one who can solve my problems if I in return offer submission, unconditional loyalty.

The US is the maximum “caudillo” in this collective vision, the total patriarch, Uncle Sam. The option for top-down relationships is bolstered by weakening horizontal relationships, those of equals among equals. The horizontal becomes so faint it’s almost invisible. At most we look at each other to see who’s achieving more from those on top. It’s hard to see each other as equals because everyone is looking for someone they can follow. When they get tired of being deceived, one frequently hears people say; “What we need here is a strong leader who can resolve things, who can tell us what to do.”

Top-down relationships


The top-down mentality has strongly permeated social organizations, community organizations, NGOs and their respective leaderships. And of course it’s enthroned in the political parties, with their illustrious examples of verticality and their inexhaustible source of caudillos.

Vertical mentality is also found in international cooperation. Bilateral relationships tend to be top-down, but even with the best intentions they are inherently unequal power relations based on a dependence by those who receive the resources, usually grassroots organizations, and those who dispense them. This top-down mentality has distanced the NGOs from the people and limited their influence in the promotion of horizontal relationships.

This verticality is even more enthroned in churches, where people find greater justification, because God is after all the Almighty, above everything and everyone. People see God represented in the powerful leaders of the churches. This deified verticality is very far from the promotion of a culture of hospitality among peoples, far from the good Samaritan ministering to those who are traveling, tending to them, listening, healing them and informing them of their rights, the dangers of the journey and the mirages of a dream goal.

The real “axis of evil”
is in Honduras


The “axis of evil” that US politicians speak about so much is not outside of Honduras, it’s inside. It’s made up of alliances between a small group of both oligarchic business elites and political elites entrenched in the State who use public resources as if their own. The country’s politics and its economy are managed through this alliance, as minor partners of transnational capital. This threesome, which excludes most of the population, is the real Honduran government. And it is backed by three other powerful actors: the US embassy, the armed forces and well-known people from organized crime, some public, others in the shadows.

This six-part alliance is Honduras’ Axis of Evil. They are the ones responsible for Hondurans leaving. They are the explanation for why the caravans attract thousands of our fellow citizens.

Ismael Moreno, sj, is the envío correspondent in Honduras.