Yesterday I read an interesting blog entry on the “surge” of Central American child and adolescent migrants in the US by a young man working and living in La Ceiba. Read it here.
Mateo has first hand experience of the life of the poor there, especially the young, and provides an interesting perspective.
He notes that much of the commentary from the US concentrates on the high levels of violence in Honduras as the “push” for the migration. However, his experience and mine (albeit limited to a barrio in La Ceiba in his case and to a rural area in my case) is that many young men (14 and up) leave mostly seeking for a better life. They experience life here – in their barrios (urban neighborhoods) or aldeas (rural villages) – as a dead end.
Yes, there is major violence in Honduras, especially in the cities of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. This does push many to leave and seek refuge abroad. They are truly refugees from violence, compounded by poverty.
But there are other causes.
One thing Mateo noted is that there are many families with one or both parents in the United States. Is it a wonder that children seek to connect with their parents, especially as economic and social conditions deteriorate in Honduras? As the numbers of adult migrants has increased, is it not understandable that many young people seek to connect with relatives who seem to have achieved a better life in the US?
The causes are many and complicated. Mike, on Central American Politics blog, summarizes an article on the complexity which has a fascinating graphic. Read it here.
Yet as I reflected this morning on the situation I wondered whether reducing the causes to violence may be a way of avoiding a careful analysis of a crisis that is rooted in injustice and oppression, in injustice in which the US is complicit.
The US has been involved in Honduras economically and militarily for many years, going back to the banana companies and US military invasions in the last century and a half. It has included the establishment of a military base here in the 1980s (which now is claimed to belong to the Hondurans, though about 500 US troops are there and other troops arrive throughout the year). It has included aid to governments with very questionable human rights records. It includes aid which militarizes the police.
I also am concerned that reduction of the causes to violence deflects any consideration of the roots of the crisis in the policies and politics in Honduras where the police and justice systems are dysfunctional, to put it mildly. Calls by the president of Honduras for more aid to Honduras may hide the need for real reform of the political and economic systems of a country with one of the greatest indices of economic inequality in Latin America.
Furthermore, the emphasis on the violence of gangs and drug traffickers obscure the violence of daily life and the lack of a functional justice system, which I addressed a few months ago in a blog entry, available here.
Yes, the immigrants are fleeing violence, but they are also fleeing poverty. They are fleeing situations of injustice, of structural injustice that can only be dealt with by real changes in US and Honduran policies, not just about migrants but also about such issues as free trade, human rights, militarization, and more.
In the meantime, young people will leave, seeking a better life.
And so I will continue to try to dissuade them and work to find ways for them to live decent and full lives here.
I want these elementary school kids in Plan Grande in the photo below to grow up to a life which is full of love, in a community in which they can develop and use their God-given gifts to serve and build up a real community of solidarity and justice.
--- Slightly edited on August 12, 2014.