Honduras: US deports migrants; violence continues
A plane chartered by the US government carried 38 Honduran deportees from an immigration detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, to the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on July 14. This was the first US deportation flight entirely dedicated to mothers and children: eight mothers, 13 girls and nine boys were scheduled for the trip, although two couldn't travel because of illness. Reporters, Honduran officials and Ana García de Hernández, the wife of President Juan Orlando Hernández, were on hand for the flight's arrival. President Hernández's government promised the deportees job leads, a $500 stipend, psychological counseling and schooling, but a returning mother, Angélica Gálvez, told the Los Angeles Times that in the end she and her six-year-old daughter Abigail didn't get enough money to pay for the three-hour trip to their home in La Ceiba. "They haven't helped me before," she said. "Why should I believe them now?"
The publicity around the flight was apparently part of a US effort to reduce a recent increase in unauthorized immigration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, mostly by unaccompanied minors and women with their children; some 57,000 unaccompanied child migrants have been detained at the Mexico-US border since October, 35,000 of them Central Americans. An unnamed official from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) described the deportation flight as "just the initial wave." "Our border is not open to illegal migration, and we will send recent illegal migrants back," the official said. (LAT, June 14)
Other US government efforts to discourage immigration include commissioning songs that stress the dangers of attempts to enter the US without authorization. This started in 2004 when the Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a DHS agency, sent a five-song CD to radio stations throughout Mexico. Currently 21 Guatemalan, Salvadoran and Honduran radio stations are playing a CBP-commissioned cumbia song, "La Bestia," named for the notoriously dangerous train Central American migrants often ride to get through southern Mexico; migrants call it "The Beast." The song, which the radio stations play without any reference to its US origin, is reportedly very popular. (The Daily Beast, July 12)
Honduran critics of US policies charge that these efforts don't address the causes underlying the wave of departures from the country. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate; with a population of about 438,00, San Pedro Sula, the home of many of the people heading north, had 778 homicides in 2013 and 594 so far this year, the municipal morgue reports. According to Hugo Ramón Maldonado, vice president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH), some 80% of the people emigrating from Honduras are fleeing criminality or violence. He blamed the government's failure to pursue criminals and dismissed the government reception of the deportees on July 14 as "a political show with our returned migrants." "What is happening in this country is a great tragedy," he added. (LAT, July 14)
In an interview published July 14 by the Mexican daily Excélsior, right-wing president Hernández blamed the violence on US drug policy. "The root cause is that the US and Colombia carried out big operations in the fight against drugs," he said. "Then Mexico did it." This "drug war" policy pushed drug traffickers into the northern Central American countries, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, he indicated, "creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration." However, Hernández is apparently seeking US funding so that he can start similar operations in his own country. (Reuters, July 14, via Huffington Post)
In fact, drug traffickers appear to operate quite openly in parts of Honduras. On July 17 a group of heavily armed men seized some 20 members of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), a leading organization of the Garífuna ethnic group, in Vallecito in the northern department of Colón. Some OFRANEH members managed to escape and mobilize supporters, with the result that the gang eventually released the captives, who included OFRANEH coordinator Miriam Miranda. The Garífuna's right to the Vallecito territory was recognized by the government's National Agrarian Institute (INA) in 1997, and the Supreme Court of Justice upheld the group's claim against cooking oil magnate Miguel Facussé Barjum's attempt to seize part of the land the next year. More recently, drug traffickers invaded Vallecito and built a landing strip there. The Garífuna regained control in 2013, but the gang appeared to be trying to restore the landing strip this July. The OFRANEH members were investigating when they were seized. They noted that their kidnappers didn't bother to hide their faces; as of July 18 there had been no arrests. (Adital, Brazil, July 18; Rebelión, July 19, from Lista Informativa Nicaragua y Más (LINyM))
Meanwhile, Honduran police agents continue to be accused of major crimes. On July 14 three agents of the National Directorate of Special Investigation Services (DNSEI) were indicted in connection with the murder of two women, Yury Fabiola Hernández and Gessy Marleny García, at a restaurant in a Tegucigalpa suburb on July 9; they were also accused of wounding a third women, who is now a protected witness. Agent Marvin Joel Gallegos Suárez was charged with the murders, while agents Fredy Gerardo Mendoza Arriaza and Gregorio Alexander Anariba Meraz were charged with complicity in the murders and with violation of their duties. (Latin American Herald Tribune, July 13, from EFE; El Heraldo, Tegucigalpa, July 15)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 20.