Honduras: AFL-CIO blames trade policies for crisis

US political and trade policies "play a major role" in worsening the poverty and violence that are root causes of unauthorized immigration to the US by Hondurans, according to a report released by the AFL-CIO, the main US labor federation, on Jan. 12. The report, "Trade, Violence and Migration: The Broken Promises to Honduran Workers," grew out of the experiences of a delegation the union group sent to Honduras in October following a sharp increase in migration from the country by unaccompanied minors the previous spring. The report notes that Honduras is now "the most unequal country in Latin America," with an increase in poverty by 4.5 percentage points from 2006 to 2013. "[T]he percentage of those working full time but receiving less than the minimum wage has gone up by nearly 30%."

One cause of poverty and violence in Honduras, according to the report, was the June 2009 coup that removed former president José Manuel ("Mel") Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009), with only token objections from the US government. "Since the 2009 coup, the ruling governments have failed to respect worker and human rights or create decent work, and instead have built a repressive security apparatus to put down dissent," the authors wrote. Another principal cause of the country's problems was the implementation of the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). The delegation found that CAFTA-DR's "architecture of deregulation coupled with investor protection allowed companies to outsource labor-intensive components of their supply chains to locations with weak labor laws and low wages." The agreement "accelerated free market devastation," Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and a participant in the delegation, told a reporter. He noted "constant violations of organizing rights…that included everything from the murder of [union] leaders to the collapse of bargaining rights where they once existed."

"Failed trade and migration policies continue to exacerbate Honduras' problems," the report concludes. "The US government criminalizes migrant children and their families, while pursuing trade deals that simultaneously displace subsistence farmers and lower wages and standards across other sectors, and eliminate good jobs, intensifying the economic conditions that drive migration. This dynamic is enhanced in countries like Honduras, where the government's own policies leave workers and families vulnerable to abuse." (National Catholic Reporter, Jan. 28; The Nation, Feb. 6; Equal Times, Feb. 10)

Probably the best known of the displacements of subsistence farmers occurred in northern Honduras' Lower Aguán River Valley, where campesino groups struggling to regain their land have been victims of violence by the military and private security forces since 2009. A recent example was the forced disappearance of Cristian Alberto Martínez Pérez, a young activist in the Gregorio Chávez Campesino Movement (MCGC, also referred to as the Gregorio Chávez Collective), as he was riding his bicycle the evening of Jan. 29 near his home in Panamá community, Trujillo municipality, Colón department.

Human rights groups and several campesino organizations quickly responded to Martínez Pérez's disappearance by joining together in an intensive search. The youth was found alive—but tied up and dehydrated—a few meters from the Paso Aguán estate the morning of Feb. 1, about 62 hours after his abduction. He said he had been seized by a soldier and a security guard and confined to a vehicle, where he was questioned about his group's leaders and possible plans for an occupation of the estate. Paso Aguán is owned by Honduran entrepreneur and landowner Miguel Facussé Barjum and is guarded by soldiers and security employers of the powerful Corporación Dinant food-product company, which Facussé founded. At least two deaths have been reported on the estate in the past; the MCGC is apparently named for one of the victims. (Defensores en Línea, Feb. 3; Honduprensa, Feb. 5)

The Aguán campesino movement is the subject of a new documentary, Resistencia: The Film, which is premiering in Montreal on Feb. 20.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, February 15.