It’s hit the international headlines in the last week or so, creating quite a polemic divide of opinions. In short, around three thousand Hondurans grouped together to join a caravan which swiftly grew with momentum in the hope of reaching USA, which I believe has since risen to somewhere around seven thousand with many Guatemalans and El Salvadorans joining, as well as a fair few Nicaraguans considering the recent troubles there. The media has been following its progress, capturing the imagination of millions throughout the region, while also becoming a political debate with national leaders Donald Trump, Juan Orlando Hernández, Jimmy Morales and Andrés Manuel López Obrador all having a say on the matter, with varying levels of emotion and reaction.
The last I read, the caravan was entering Mexico, where many Hondurans were reckoning the journey might end, as it does for hundreds of thousands of other Central American immigrants traveling alone. As far as I know, different parts of Mexico have varying reactions to immigrants, especially those traveling upon la bestia, also known as The Train of Death, something I have written about before (one should watch Which Way Home to understand more about the journey). Some Mexicans are very accommodating, providing food, lodging and medical care; some are hostile, throwing stones and rocks; while closer to the Mexican/US border, it becomes downright dangerous with street gangs, bandits and narco groups becoming a life threatening. But all along the Mexican leg of the journey, the authorities, which deported children in Casa Alianza told me, are mercilessly tough.
You can understand why Hondurans were worried/raised doubts about their fellow countrymen on this part of their journey.
To those who have read my blog for any length of time, you’ll know immigration is a very personal topic for me. Working at the Refugee Council in the UK brought me into contact with many people from different nations who had suffered tragedy in their native lands, as well as en route. Many came with trauma, mental scarring and horrendous injuries, many times through torture. I always admired their perseverance and persistence to keep going, using their resources to try and build new lives while trying to survive amid the hostility, immigration red tape, natural elements and cultural shocks, so vastly different from what they’re accustomed to. Working with kids in Casa Alianza also raised my awareness of the hardships of living in poverty, with little hope and opportunity and just living to survive, watching their friends and families suffer around them, living on barely livable income while the threat of violence lies very, very close to home. In the meantime, the sueño Americano lies 3,000 miles up north, where a family member might live, while every day seeing images of the American lifestyle, of luxury and opportunity, earning a wage five times greater than what you’re earning for doing pretty much the same thing, or at least, something similar. Tell me, would you risk everything, when what you have is very little, and in so many cases, life threatening?
Lastly, I too am an immigrant. I’m a white middle-class British version, where the same rules don’t apply, who just has to negotiate lawyer fees and mind-numbing paperwork than with aggressive border officials and coyetes. Unjust? I regret to say yes it is. Yet I comprehend the emotional turmoil one feels of leaving everything you know behind; be it friends, family and cultural norms. It leaves a lot more than a lump in your throat every time you have to say goodbye at airport departure lounges or missing a birthday, a Christmas, a wedding or a funeral back home, especially when you don’t have the economic resources to return as frequently as you’d like. I can only imagine it’s more difficult for less affluent immigrants who come from Latin American families where the family nucleus is even more bonded through the Catholic or Christian faith, but also having less access to technological means such as Skype.
Now, back to the caravan.
In recent years, in Europe we’ve seen an exoduses of people leaving Syria and other places of conflict in search of safety in Western Europe. The right wing have used these images to spread panic and fear throughout the masses, dehumanizing refugees by labelling them swarms as though they were locusts, which unfortunately much has come from the British media. This in turn has seen a rise of far right groups, which it seems to me has crept into the minds of the majority especially with the mistrust of immigrants and questions of how to control the borders with even tighter measures, using the rhetoric, “There’s too many of them [foreigners]”. At the same time, Donald Trump has come to power using a similar rhetoric but more in the form of “Make America Great Again”, with the promise of building walls while also implementing legislation to make remittances more costly and dismantling the TPS and DACA, making life for immigrants especially from this part of the world already living in the US that much harder. I can only imagine that images of the caravan, of seven thousand tired immigrants making their way to the US, has only added fuel to the fire amongst certain groups. This, from the second the caravan left, was always going to be politicized, even by myself. The human suffering is demoted to second or third point in the list of concerns, and that to me is very disappointing, but I guess it represents today’s values.
Of course, as hinted above, Trump has had his say on Twitter, threatening to cut aid if Honduran authorities don’t dismantle the caravan. This prompted the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, to ask the immigrants to return. This, as anyone can imagine, has brought a furious reaction amongst millions of Hondurans claiming he’s being bossed around by his US daddy instead of supporting the people he represents. It’s the world’s worst kept secret that the US backs Juan Orlando, which was very evident in last year’s presidential elections, still fresh in everyone’s memory. While JOH has retained power in what many people feel was through very dubious means, his popularity and trust has taken an absolute battering, especially after even more unpopular policies with recent increases of car taxes. The term fuera JOH still sits on millions of Catracho tongues, and is by far the most used hash tag on social media, far out-weighing the opposing #vivaJOH which currently appears muted.
It has also raised questions about the level of security in Honduras. The JOH propaganda machine claim it has improved, yet thousands of Hondurans still cite violence and lack of security as their main reasons immigrating. It is very hard to judge from my middle-class Tegucigalpa bubble, but when I ask children at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, many of whom come from poor backgrounds where violence is a part of everyday life, they look at me rather bemused. Without doubt, JOH has helped topple a few high profile narco traffickers in the war against drugs, but to who’s gain? I’m no expert, but the narco trade still seems to be thriving, with Honduras still being a stop off for drugs point en route to more affluent lands. The US has provided the JOH administration with millions of dollars to train military and improve security, but has this improved the lives of everyday Hondurans? I write with raised eyebrows.
Sure, there have been efforts to improve education, and USAID are trying to implement programmes in conjunction with the Honduran government that provide Hondurans with opportunities, rather than wanting to leave. In some cases, I’m sure it has worked, but I’m beginning to wonder if the US is wanting better results, without this exodus of Hondurans, or whether it actually cares, and that their meddling in Honduras is just to prop up JOH for their own interests, so a left wing regime doesn’t come in and dismantle billions of dollars and years of US investment in the country, unlike failed projects in Venezuela and Nicaragua, where we can all see the greed of power between the left and right has left the people and the country in a state of disaster, almost civil war. My opinion swings like a pendulum on this matter.
The left wing party LIBRE has publicly backed the caravan, which I’m also very skeptical about. Is it for popularity, sniffing out an opportunity to further weaken JOH’s popularity, or do they actually give a f–k? I’ve another pendulum ticking in my head (any more ticking and I’ll have to seek therapy). The mainly right-wing press have blamed former Honduran president Mel Zelaya, the main face of the LIBRE party, for creating hysteria about the caravan, while yesterday there was a march of solidarity for the immigrants in Tegucigalpa. There was some muted outrage when one of the caravan organisers was detained in Guatemala, and I believe the Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales was supporting Trump in trying to stop the caravan, although as it enters Mexico and the Guatemalan military is reportedly standing aside at roadsides, it seems to have passed with relative ease. Meanwhile, I have read that Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the Mexican president elect, has promised working visas, though I assume not for all seven thousand immigrants, because I imagine a fair few Mexicans might have something to say about that.
I have asked Hondurans for their individual opinions about the caravan, and bar one or two, they collectively have a strong empathy for the immigrants. However, there is a big divide of opinions in the practicality of it. Many feel that the authorities in Mexico and the US are going to be very well-prepared for such a vast amount of immigrants traveling all at once, using all sorts of military techniques to break it up and send people back, while also hoping they defy the odds and make to the US. This is echoed by US friends who work with me at NPH, who feel somewhat embarrassed by their government’s stance, but not quite agreeing with the practicality while having empathy at the same time (I’ve always said, one must separate the people from their government’s actions, whether it be a democracy or something else. It doesn’t represent the people, and I use the farce in the handling of Brexit negotiations as an example).
Other Hondurans believe that the vast amount of people might actually work in their favor in terms of strength in numbers. Would the Mexican military really take on such a large group of immigrants? What sort of global image would that give Mexico? One that attacks vulnerable people? Maybe being labelled the one tag that Mexicans hate, Malinche? (To those not in the know, Malinche was an Aztec Indian woman who is seen as supporting the Spanish conquistadors instead of her own people: a traitor so to speak. Anyone called that is seen as a Mexican, or Latino, who helps a foreign power in place of their own people). Safety in numbers is also important if confronted by gangs and bandits too. We’ll have to wait and see how the caravan reacts when it reaches the banks of the Rio Grande.
Certainly, this is a heated debate. I have laid out many opinions which you may not agree with or feel I have missed out on. Please join the debate, though do so with courtesy.
Have a nice day.