Fleeing the Honduras Nightmare | Sarah Stook
‘They are not seeking the American dream, but fleeing the Honduras nightmare.’
This quote, from Honduran opposition member Jari Dixon, is in response to the current migrant situation going on. A so-called caravan of migrants set off from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, the second largest city after the capital Tegucigalpa, in an attempt to cross the Mexican-USA border. As their journey went through other countries such as Guatemala, migrants from other countries joined them. Though we do not know for sure how large the caravan is (at the time of writing, they are in Mexico), it is rumoured to be at around seven thousand- larger than the one thousand who set off on foot in Honduras. There is a very simple reason for this flow of migrants: they want to get to the USA to make a home.
As one can imagine, the political fallout is widespread. Donald Trump has been fierce in his criticism, calling it a political move and threatening a withdrawal of aid to countries who fail to stop the flow. Others on the right have called for more action, seeing the migrants as a threat to the country. Those on the left believe in a little more compassion in this case, arguing that withdrawing aid would cause even more problems in troubled nations. As we lead up to the midterms in the USA, both parties seek to capitalise on a variety of voters’ emotions in order to win. Such events as these cause a stir that both can want.
Went interviewed, many say that they are refugees fleeing violence, poverty and a desolate life. They want safety in the USA. Some argue that they are actually refugees because the countries they are leaving are unsafe. The opposing view is that they are economic migrants, seeking a better monetary situation in order to send money back to loved ones at home. Whatever the case, if the caravan gets to the USA border (all reports indicate it will, given Mexico’s inaction), something will be done. They are unlikely to get in, but how will the government secure the border?
The caravan is a very new innovation. Previously, migrants would travel alone or in small groups, often vulnerable to coyotes and other cruel people. As the caravan was essentially advertised on social media, it is no wonder that it became a large group of people, adding to the fact they were joined by others. For the migrants, it makes sense- in a very large group, they are protected and many not suffer many of the hardships as they did if they went alone. The caravan was organised by a refugee advocacy group, taking away the fees that people smugglers usually ask for. For women and children, the most vulnerable migrants, they are less likely to be on the receiving end of rape and abuse. Though not entirely singular in its usage, it is still a fairly new phenomenon.
To go back to Mr. Dixon’s tweet, there seems to be a reason why there is a mass emigration from certain Latin American countries. The world’s largest displacement doesn’t come from war torn Syria or unstable South Sudan, but Colombia, with 7.5 internally displaced people and 340,000 refugees abroad (UNCHR). Venezuela’s numbers aren’t quite as high, but the huge economic downturn and unstable political regime has led around 1.5 million to flee, the vast majority going to neighbouring Colombia. El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras- three countries which make up most of the caravan- have seen fifteen hundred percentage increase in asylum applications from nationals. Mexicans make up 60% of Latin Americans in the USA, though they are not necessarily refugees. In this article, we will explore Latin America, from crime to poverty in order to understand why the caravan exists.
Crime in Latin America is at an extraordinary rate. Of the top 50 cities with the highest murder rate, 41 of them are in Central or Southern America (the other three countries that make up the list are the United States, South Africa and Jamaica). The highest rating was in the Mexican city of Los Cabos, at 111.33 per 10,000 in homicides. Compare this to London, with a rating of 1.2 per 10,000. Now, we hear all the time of the tragic stabbings and shootings in our capital, so one cannot imagine the violence in Los Cabos and other places.
The vast majority of crime in this case is through gangs. With a lack of public services and incredibly corrupt government officials, the gangs are able to control cities through intimidation, bribery and other methods. In many cases, they are preferred over officials because of policies such as feeding the poor. Still, the gangs are incredibly violent and their role in society is cataclysmic. People are killed for a variety of reasons- disrespecting the leader; as part of an initiation, being a part of the wrong gang; doing something the gang doesn’t like; suspected of being a snitch; being in the crossfire by accident; the list is endless. A majority of killings are by firearms, many being illegally smuggled with no control. Many drugs are made in Latin America, with Escobar and El Chapo filling many minds, another contributor considering how many are forced into growing it by gangs under the threat of violence. With low conviction rates, contributed to by an inept police force, bribery and a broken justice system, many criminals are free to re-offend without worry.
Another huge issue in Latin America is rape and violence against women. The machismo culture creates dominance, when women are assigned in gender roles- mother, wife, homemaker, girlfriend etc. Various sources have it between that ten to fifty percent of women are physically assaulted by a male partner. Many attacks, however, are classed as misdemeanours as opposed to felonies. One hugely tragic case occurred in Heydi Hernandez, a Honduran lady in an abusive relationship. When she tried to leave, her partner ripped off her legs in a machete in front of their daughters. Instead of being locked up for life, he was charged with grievously bodily harm and would be out within months. Only 3% of domestic abuse cases are ever taken to court in Honduras. Another widespread issue is femicide, especially in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The bodies of hundreds of females have been found dumped around the region, many having come to violent ends and having been sexually assaulted. Though the number is unknown, it is believed to be very high. Nearly all of the perpetrators have gotten away with it, with the police being very inactive and many activists being murdered.
Overall, the crime in Latin America is at extraordinary levels.
- The Economy
For many, there is no hope in terms of economic success. Many migrants are low-income, coming from rural and impoverished areas where gangs control them and they are forced to part with money under threat. The gap between rich and poor is hugely significant, with the wealthy living in the security of gated communities under armed guard as the poor struggle with violent living. Brazil has the second highest income inequality in the world after South Africa, for example, showing a clear disparity.
Economically, the region varies but it is far from the top economic area in the world. Argentina, a country with a fairly good economy by Latin American standards, is currently going through financial hardships and will be receiving an IMF bailout in the coming weeks. In other countries, the standard of living is not pleasant. The percentage of people living under the poverty line is roughly 38.2% in El Salvador, 59.3% in Guatemala and 60.9% in Honduras.
The one that everyone is jumping to talk about is Venezuela.
By the end of the year, its inflation rate will hit one million percent. Images of empty supermarkets, starving children and angry mobs fill the airwaves. After years of terrible economic policies and awful politicians, the average Venezuelan is unable to get medicine or get paid. For those who did GCSE history, think of an even worse Weimar Germany hyperinflation- 1kg of pasta is currently at 2.5 million bolivars. Thousands upon thousands of Venezuelans are fleeing from the country in every way they can, heading to surrounding countries in order to escape the brutality and economic uncertainty of their country. Democratic protesters have been beaten and fired upon by government forces for daring to question the very questionable 2018 presidential election. Many have rushed to neighbouring Colombia, hardly the picture of stability itself. A punch line for conservatives nowadays, it is still nevertheless a tragic set of circumstances.
For many, arriving to America is fulfilling a dream of a better life. They will be protected from lawlessness and gangs (hopefully), whilst making a better living than they do in their native countries. Even low paying jobs are more stable than some of theirs. For those not fleeing with their family, they may save up money to send it back to them or earn enough in hopes of having their kin join them (though chain migration is under threat in the Trump administration). NGOs, international organisations and others have clammed together to ask for mercy, wanting a more relaxed border policy for what they perceive to be refugees.
On the opposing side, arguments are made that they are merely economic migrants seeking to violate United States laws. Some are concerned by the perceived wealth of the migrants, the vast majority being men and whether they can properly be vetted. They are yet to arrive in the US but when they do, one knows that Trump will not sit around. Whether there will be a diplomatic resolution or government forces will step in no one knows.
Regardless of your side of the argument, you cannot deny that Latin America has become somewhat lawless and economically downtrodden in its time. Escaping countries such as Honduras is a natural instinct, fair methods or not. When talking about migrant crises, it is essential to discuss the human factors behind them in order to make a fair decision. In many cases, the factors are far too complex for it to be a black or white situation. Many reading this will see it as black and white, though the grey will filter through for some readers. The question of them being allowed in is not up to the Mallard readers, but to powers much higher than our own. With this in mind, we will see a resolution that may not please everyone, but will be factored in by what has just been written.