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Why Are Honduran Children Leaving?

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The spirited festivities of the Brazilian World Cup qualifying matches Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez enjoyed last week stood in stark contrast to the cold grey Homeland Security buildings where thousands of Honduran children met with U.S. officials to search for next of kin and start deportation proceedings. Instead of advocating for the youth of his country, the Honduran president delegated his wife, the First Lady, to escort these children to Honduras and has ordered inadequate and short-term shelters to receive them.

While the Honduran president enjoys World Cup soccer games in Brazil, over 50,000 children, many Honduran, are detained in detention centers and warehouses on the U.S.-Mexico border. U.S. Republicans and even Hilary Clinton have called for immediate deportation and for these children to be “sent back.” Politicians claim these children are migrating because of DACA or the possibility of gaining legal resident status. While the U.S. media has focused on wild sensationalist stories about kids being told to migrate, their reports obscure that crossing Mexico is perilous and most Central American immigrants face rape, assault, dismemberment, hunger and even death.

But why are so many children coming to the United States from Honduras? Child migration from Central America is not a new phenomenon, in fact, Hondurans, including adults, are migrating and getting deported in droves. But the reality is Honduran children are fleeing a failing country, where they see it as a do or die situation.

The increase in child migrants from Latin America perhaps can be attributed to an intersection of issues, from U.S. Foreign and Diplomatic policy, Free Trade Agreements, Global and local economics, and the rampant violations of civil guarantees. In Honduras this can be attributed to an attack on the education system, a shockingly poor healthcare system, poor incentives, a violence created by drug cartels that the government cannot control, low wages in export processing zone industries, and a rate of inflation that leaves people not being able to afford quality food and goods, what future is there for a working class kid?

The people caught in the middle of this political and social quagmire are young women, and children, both who vulnerably reside at the margins of society. In 2012, there were 600 murders of women and according to the Centro de Derecho de la Mujer’s Women Observatory, in 2013 of the 617 murders of women, 445 were violent deaths with 47% of the murders occurring in the most populated regions where export-processing zones dominate the labor market. With one Special Victims Unit, trained by the U.S. FBI in Honduras, and lack of resources, not one of these cases has been investigated with conclusive determinations of the crime, arrests and prosecutions.  No investigation and no prosecution, is as good as telling criminals they can get away, literally with murder, without trial or jail time. Worse, there is nothing in the Honduran constitution, during this right wing turn, to say any Honduran citizen has civil protections under the law. At least no one takes that seriously.

The social welfare of a nation is measured not just in what they provide to the poor, but how effective they are at providing a safety net for everyone. Children see the dire conditions of their parents, and extended family and country. They see their future will be no different. Just like their parents – who migrated because they saw no possibilities for work or survival, children see no future in Honduras. Despite the draconian U.S. immigration system that denies entry to their parents, children are coming to reunite with their families. But the bottom line is that children are coming in droves NOW because they don’t see themselves in the future of Honduras.

It seems that only the rich can afford to stay in the country, pay for education for their children, afford to buy food and clothing for their families, and the only ones to get Visas to enter the US to vacation or relocate to the US when things get ugly in Honduras. The president himself can afford to stay in the country and even afford a trip to the World Cup for over 8 days.

While the Honduran president was in Brazil to pursue the dreams of a soccer team win at the World Cup, the dreams of children reuniting with their families separated by immigration laws are broken. The fate of an entire generation of young children sits on the balance.

After the 2009 coup d’état that toppled democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya Rosales, a newly formed resistance movement was met with extreme violence and repression, including kidnapping and death threats for labor and political activists, farmworkers and party leaders. Migration has nearly doubled for sectors of the resistance movement who face political persecution, and also children, women, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals. The average citizen cannot find a job or support their family. The post-coup government has further compromised security by not engaging in dialogues towards a gang truce and has refused to capture and prosecute known drug cartel leaders who seem to coexist with government and police sanctioning.

Furthermore, the coup d’état exacerbated local violence against women, children, an invisible violence that goes unreported. Anyone who challenges the illegitimate president and Nationalist political party in office faces severe repression. The police force and now the newly minted military police are some of the most crooked government officials, often times having two loyalties: the frail government that can barely pay their wages or provide basic supplies, and the drug cartels that monitor their routes more effectively and with greater fire power. Instead, the military police attacks citizens, political activists, and LIBRE party members. Even the president of the left-leaning political party born out of the resistance movement that first protested the 2009 coup, the LIBRE party, Manuel Zelaya Rosales, and the LIBRE party congress members were thrown out of Congress during session, after once again, being elected democratically to sit in congress. The right-wing Nationalist party makes their name by controlling every aspect of Honduran life and politics and does not allow dissent. Honduras attacks its citizens in the name of national security while simultaneously letting drug cartels prance through the country unaffected.

The post-coup itself drew from the coffers of the government, which created insecurity, loss of labor rights, loss of real wages, loss of civil guarantees, and widespread repression that sent a message to young people: there is no future in Honduras.  The Honduran state is less effective than, drug traffickers who provide a better organization and delivery system than the government-run public sector programs.

This is dire situation for the Honduran nation, one exacerbated by President Obama’s refusal to call the coup d’état a “coup d’état” in 2009, by supporting illegitimate fraudulent election and now by cowardly putting in limbo the lives of young children migrants (and most of them Hondurans) at the border, refusing them access to humanitarian aid.

One of the principal problems in Honduras is criminal impunity and the silence of those in charge regarding such violence; only 3 of 100 crimes are investigated, people kill people with no consequence, and this of course makes children vulnerable. With an increase of murders of women, children are often orphaned with few options. This criminal impunity and silence are reflected in the Honduran government’s action of virtually expelling children, and the complicity of the U.S. government, who essentially punishes and blames these children instead of looking for the real culprit.

Last year, while campaigning for the presidency, Hernandez ran a political add featuring a small child actor playing himself many years ago. In the advertisement, he promised himself that all children in Honduras would have the same opportunities he had growing up. Hernandez eventually received a scholarship to the State University of New York because of his family´s political connections. However, 90% of Honduran children do not have access to a college education at all, let alone one abroad.

In fact, since the 2009 coup, the Honduran congress has made Hernandez’ supposed dream of opportunity for all Honduran children nearly impossible by the derogation of the only protections teachers and students had in the constitution—the Docent Statute. This statue regulated classroom size, salaries, and curriculum requirements. A push to privatize education and divert funds to bilingual charter schools means investing less on public education in working class communities. Many consider this an effort to break the teachers unions, historically the strongest in the country. Teachers pay is often late, are violently threatened if they strike (a right under labor law), and are often forced to have two or three other jobs to make ends meet. The attacks on teachers affect children in the classroom. A teacher shortage means two grades in one classroom, a lack of resources, and a lack of nutritious food for the nutrition break. Casa Alianza, a youth rights organization has demonstrated that in the Bajo Aguan, a region heavily repressed after the coup with over 70 murders of farmworkers, children face limited resources like books, pencils, desks and other educational resources. According to Casa Alianza’s report, in this region, the largest challenges come from violence and homicides.

Many children in Honduras lack after school programs such as band and soccer or other sports, and often children are disengaged from the education process, because they have to work to help the family survive. With an education system in chaos and confidence in public education undermined by lack of government support, coupled with children who have to work to support their family anyway, many children are completely disengaged from any type of formal education after the 6th grade.

Global local economic dynamics are another factor, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and other trade agreements with mining companies, have exacerbated poverty in the country by dispossessing people of their land and subsistence. These agreements have weakened labor laws and worker rights, and with this post coup government friendly attitude towards foreign companies, even national lands are up for sale. Laws that favor capital have given transnational companies an advantage and power to not respect labor law, oppose unions and challenge the very fabric of the Honduran working class family. When parents are not earning decent wages to afford the basic food basket, or school uniforms and supplies, children suffer.

The U.S. government should realize that they are gaining themselves a long-term problem by militarizing the border and deporting children instead of trying to get to the root of the problem in places like Honduras, where their foreign policy has been disastrous.

When kids are deported from the U.S. they are returning to a country where young citizens have only three options: first, try their best to survive the growing violence and exclusion; a second option is becoming part of the violence joining the organized crime; or the third option is continuously try to enter the United States, they have nothing more to lose, they are under 12 years old and have already been immigrants in detention and survived crossing Mexico.

What will the US do now to alleviate its previous mistake in Honduras? Will they allow shelter and remedy the issue or continue their heinous human rights violations at the border in the name of national security?

Suyapa Portillo Villeda is assistant professor of Chicana/o Latina/o Transnational Studies at Pitzer College. Portillo Villeda’s research and teaching focuses on gender, labor and social movements in Honduras. Since the coup d’état in Honduras in 2009, Portillo Villeda serves as a country expert in the media and for immigration asylum cases to attest to conditions in Honduras and Central America. Suyapa can be reached at suyapa_portillo@pitzer.edu

Gerardo Torres Zelaya is a Honduran journalist who has served as a correspondent for the L’Agence France-Presse (AFP). Torres Zelaya writes about the economy, politics and culture. He is currently the Honduran correspondent for the Iranian Agency HispanTV and is the director of the Honduran edition of Le Monde Diplomatique. Gerardo can be reached at gtorreszelaya@gmail.com

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