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  • Associated Press Members of a migrant caravan bound for the southern U.S. border crowd a road after federal police briefly blocked their way outside the Mexican town of Arriaga on Oct. 27, 2018.

  • Murillo

  • The Honduran Consulate on West 36th Street in Manhattan where many refugees desperately seek a new life.

Sunday, October 20, 2019 1:00 am

Homeland insecurity

Hondurans endurecaravan's uncertainty, hardships over nation's dismal economic realities

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

This month marks the first anniversary of the migrant caravan, a swell of thousands of men, women and children fleeing their Central American homes on foot – many of them leaving ancestral lands.

The danger and suffering ravaging nations such as Honduras outweighed anything the refugees could imagine at the U.S. southern border, despite unwelcome messages from President Donald Trump.

During this past year, U.S. policies and behavior have included children pulled from mothers' and fathers' arms, erratic deportations, an expensive and unsightly border wall under construction, and filthy detention centers.

But little has been said about Honduras and its government, who also bear accountability for this disaster.

Honduras, the geographical size of Louisiana, has about 9 million people. A million or so Hondurans live in the United States, about three quarters undocumented – “illegal,” as some Americans prefer to identify them.

In Allen County, the number of Latino residents increased to 7.2% of the population – from more than 21,600 in 2010 to about 26,500 in 2017. Most are Mexican.

According to census data, Allen County had 148 Hondurans in 2010. Hondurans fall into the “other” category that includes all Latinos except for Mexican, Puerto Rican and Cuban. That “other” number grew from 3,462 to 5,192 between 2010 and 2017.

We count on these immigrants to do the same backbreaking jobs they've done for years – agricultural, construction, unskilled manufacturing, cleaning and caregiving for children and older people – many of those jobs rejected by Americans. They are grateful for the opportunity.

Meanwhile, back in Honduras, settled by the Spanish crown in the early 16th century, little has changed. One percent of the population, roughly 90,000 people, are white, many of them descendants of the conquistadors, and they are still in firm control.

One rainy day last November, I walked through the doors of the Honduran Consulate on West 36th Street in New York City, intent on getting some answers to questions I've had for years, ever since I started covering the immigrant population in Morristown, New Jersey, more than a decade ago.

Hundreds of poor people stood in line or sat in folding chairs as they waited for their educated, white countrymen to look over their papers.

Overseeing this operation was Lidice Alexa Gonzalez Murillo, a 39-year-old Honduran who was surprised to have an American journalist requesting an interview, but she found a half hour or so to talk to me. She had lovely manners and a sweet smile.

In her second floor office overlooking the crowded room of freedom seekers, we talked about the caravan. It was obvious how much she liked the current Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernandez Alvarado. Every response seemed to start with his name.

What did Lidice and the Honduran government think of all the citizens walking out of the country? I asked her.

Leaving Honduras was a personal decision, Lidice stressed. “We respect that.” She repeated several times respecting an immigrant's decision to leave Honduras.

What about the gangs, so often cited as the reason people leave Honduras, even more than the terrible poverty that, according to the CIA World Factbook, more than half the country's population endures along with “one of the world's highest murder rates”?

Juan Orlando was taking steps, she said, to build more maximum-security prisons.

In fact, a teleSUR article dating from February quotes the Honduran president – JOH as he is known – complaining that his country's jails were “insufficient.” He suggested building more jails in remote areas, where the indigenous population lives.

When I asked Lidice about the indigenous people, she described them as “peaceful” and “very good people.” Those “peaceful” people suffer an even higher poverty rate than the rest of Honduras, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The Honduran government traveled alongside the caravan, she said, providing water, food, medical help and a ride back home for those who so desired.

The ruling class failed to show the same concern for the indigenous population before they fled Honduras.

It wasn't until Manuel Zelaya was president from 2006-09 that public education was available to everyone, per an article in the New Statesman.

At the same time, Zelaya, a wealthy one percenter whose family made its money through timber and ranching, improved the lives of the poor by providing subsidies to small farmers, lowering bank interest rates, raising the minimum wage by 80%, guaranteeing school meals for more than 1.6 million children from poor families, and integrating domestic employees into the social security system.

Poverty was reduced by almost 10% during Zelaya's two years of government, with 200,000 families in extreme poverty benefiting from state help and free electricity supplied to some of the needy.

The reforms were too much for the ruling elite, who removed Zelaya in a coup. He was replaced by a strongman, Roberto Micheletti, and misery increased.

“Ever since the 2009 military coup, Honduras has failed (as) a state to provide for its citizens, enforce the rule of law and function as a vehicle for democratic decision-making,” Dana Frank, University of California Santa Cruz professor emerita and foreign policy expert on Honduras, told the teleSUR news service. “Since the coup, underemployment, unemployment and sub-employment have doubled and now account for 63% of the population, and education spending is down.”

Lidice called the situation with Zelaya “complicated.”

“Juan Orlando Hernandez is working for the people.”She pointed to a government plan for micro-business loans.

“All the countries have their problems,” said Lidice, 39. Not sure of my agenda, she confided that she is a single mother.

She also wanted to make sure her boss' reputation was intact, despite the claim from Trump that foreign aid money was being stolen.

“Juan Orlando Hernandez has a good relation with the U.S.,” she said.

I'd finally arrived at the point where it was time to ask my final questions, the ones I'd been so keen to ask.

“Are you embarrassed that so many people want to leave your country?”

“We respect their decision to leave,” Lidice once again told me.

And then my last question which, I believe, gets to the heart of the country's inequity.

“Are you 100% Spanish?” It would have been a question I'd have been very careful to answer, although maybe Lidice didn't think Americans paid attention to things such as that.

“Oh, yes,” she replied with a bright smile.

 

Jamie Duffy is a metro reporter for The Journal Gazette. She can be reached at jduffy@jg.net.