On Saturday, March 31, President Donald Trump angrily tweeted that the Mexican government is laughing at the United States by doing nothing to stop Central American migrants from crossing Mexican territory to get to the U.S. He stated that this puts an end to all efforts to find a solution for DACA beneficiaries in the U.S.
He also hinted that he might unilaterally pull the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which represents a “cash cow” for Mexico.
Trump’s latest tantrum appears to be related to news in the mass media that a large caravan of more than a thousand refugees from Central America, eighty percent of them from Honduras, is moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, and that officials in Mexico have been reluctant to stop them. Some people in the caravan are actually hoping to join relatives living legally in Mexico; others want to do the same in the U.S., or to ask for political asylum here.
Though Mexican authorities are reported as unprepared to intervene against the caravan, the current Mexican government is well known to be not always so gentle with undocumented immigrants.
How does this caravan relate to the issue of DACA? It doesn’t. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a program created by President Obama which allows people brought into the U.S. without documents as children to stay and work here. Trump is in the process of abolishing it, but his move has been delayed in the courts. There is no way that new migrants from Central America could qualify for the program. So Trump is lying as usual.
In a fair world, the claims of Hondurans for asylum in Mexico or the United States or both would be seen as highly meritorious. Since the military coup of June 2009 (in the first months of Obama’s presidency with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), the situation of political dissidents and other categories of people in that impoverished Central American country has deteriorated sharply. What can only be called a dictatorship, under President Juan Orlando Hernández of the right-wing National Party, has consolidated power by means of violence and fraud. Especially at risk are labor union, student, women’s rights, LGBT, Afro-descendent, Indigenous and environmental activists and their families.
The international organization Global Witness counts 120 environmental defenders who have been murdered in Honduras since 2010. These have included Indigenous and environmental leader Berta Cáceres,killed two years ago as she led protests against the Agua Zarca dam which was threatening the livelihood of her Lenca Indigenous ethnic group. There have been arrests in the murder of Cáceres, most recently of Roberto Castillo, an executive of the company that is building the dam. But many in Honduras, including Cáceres’ family, think that the culpability goes much higher and is being covered up. Numerous peasant activists have been murdered in land disputes in the Bajo Aguán region, where powerful landowners have taken over farmers’ croplands to develop the lucrative African palm industry. Journalists and others have also been targeted.
The presidents who came to power in the wake of the 2009 coup are also mired in accusations of fraud and corruption. Hernández’s predecessor, Porfirio Lobo, also of the National Party, is now accused of ties to drug cartels, and his son has been given a long prison sentence in the United States for the same type of thing. Lobo’s wife has been arrested for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds. President Hernández’s sister has been accused of siphoning money away from a government institution meant to provide health care for the poor.
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Things got worse after the national elections this past November 26. Hernández had packed the Supreme Court with his supporters, who thereupon declared the constitutional rule that presidents can’t be reelected to be invalid. Hernández ran again in defiance of the constitution, and on election night, as the returns started coming in, the joint opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, appeared to have won. But the election authority’s computers suddenly “went down,” stayed down for a shocking period of several days, and when they “came up” again showed Hernández to be re-elected.
This series of events cast so much doubt on the electoral results that even the Organization of American States, seen by nobody as a defender of the left, criticized the process and the results. Mass demonstrations led to many deaths—at least 32 that we know of—at the hands of militarized Honduran security forces. Many active opponents of the government have been jailed or have had to go underground. The response of Hernández’s government has also been to accuse the opposition of criminal connections.
Internationally, only the Trump administration has come out in full-throated support of the budding Honduran dictatorship. When Trump announced that the U.S. would move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Honduras was one of the few countries which not only applauded the move, but announced it would also move its embassy. Since that time two other authoritarian right-wing regimes, in Guatemala and Paraguay, have followed suit. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley went out of her way to thank the Honduran regime for this move. The U.S. continues to provide the Honduran regime with funds, including for the training of police and military forces who are repressing the country’s population, in spite of the worry of many that by doing this, the U.S. is abetting brutal violations of human rights.
On March 23, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights released a damning report on the human rights situation in Honduras since the coup and particularly since the fraudulent elections. The UN report details how poverty has increased in Honduras since 2009, when the military overthrew legally elected President Manuel Zelaya, and also how human rights and personal security have declined. The report relates these setbacks to the aggressive efforts of big landowners and transnational corporations to push Honduran farmers off their land so it can be turned into profitable corporate farming for export, or invaded and transformed by environmentally damaging hydroelectric projects.
Unfortunately, the Honduran regime and its backers are unlikely to pay the slightest intention to the UN report and its list of recommendations for improvements.
This is the context in which the immigrant caravan is taking place, and the reason that it is doubly shocking that Donald Trump has reacted the way he has. Shocking—but not surprising.
Top Photo | Central American migrants arrive to a sports center during the annual Migrant Stations of the Cross caravan or «Via crucis,» organized by the «Pueblo Sin Fronteras» activist group, as the group makes a few-days stop in Matias Romero, Oaxaca state, Mexico, Monday, April 2, 2018. (AP/Felix Marquez)
Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.
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