I have worked doing vision and eye care in many developing countries. One of those places was Honduras with a non-governmental organization called Salud Juntos, Health Together. Perhaps more than any other place I have been, Honduras was uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t only that we were there in June, one of the hottest and most humid months. It was the overall feeling I got there. The people were hard working, generous, and warm-hearted. The tropical jungle was beautiful to experience. But we flew into San Pedro Sula, which was considered to be the most dangerous and violent city in the world. We traveled as a convoy. We were asked to stay in the hotel compound when not doing eye exams. When we went out we went as a group.
Honduras was the classic Banana Republic with businesses directed toward sales and export to the United States, mostly bananas, coffee, and clothing. The only presence I could see from the Honduran government was in the form of a police state, men in fatigues with M-16s. Even the cultural environment seemed impoverished. The way it was explained to me was that Honduras did not have a culture of its own so it borrowed its culture from its more developed neighbor to the north, Mexico. Mariachi bands frequented the local restaurants.
As you may have read, there is a group of about 4000 migrants moving north through Mexico toward the United States. This is one of those stories that could easily fade away in the constant barrage of new headlines. What are the odds they will make it 2000 miles through Mexico? The group has already faced Mexico’s military at its southern border but apparently they continue to regroup and progress.
Trump is portraying the migrants as thugs and criminals. He has already threatened to close the US – Mexico border and call in the military. He says he will cut aid to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. From the Republican perspective this would make sense. The moderate Democrat’s response would be strikingly similar. We must respect the border, they will say.
Think about it for a minute. Four thousand people with little to no money and very little food are walking across Mexico headed to our doorstep. They are scavenging plastic to protect themselves from the rain. They have suffered sprained ankles, foot injuries, and falls. What in the world could possible motivate them to do this? It’s crazy, right? If you ask the migrants they will say poverty, corruption, and violence have given them no choice. They must leave. And where will they go? They will head toward the economic promised land, toward freedom and security, to the United States of America.
It’s not clear to me if they really know what they are headed into. Do they know that the US is more isolationist now than ever? Do they know they are feeding into the paranoid rhetoric that fuels the right with images of hordes of brown people threatening to invade? Do they know that they would almost certainly be met with Trump’s military at the border with tear gas first then rifles and cannons?
What I do know is that this is an important occurrence. I know that the United States bears some responsibility in the social and economic injustice created in these countries. Americans from the Central Region work for a dollar or two a day with no benefits to provide food and clothing for Americans from the United States. US policies have fueled civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador. These policies have created the violence, corruption, and poverty they are fleeing. And yet most Americans from the United States remain largely ignorant of the policies and the effects of those policies promoted by both Republican and Democratic administrations for decades.
We eventually had to stop our vision development work in Honduras. We had teams of health workers there, undergraduate students from US colleges and universities, and stray bullets hit their small home in the community. Reports were that the national security situation was declining. So we made the reluctant decision to work elsewhere until there was a more stable security situation. It turns out, we might not need to go back, because the poor people of Honduras are coming to us.