From the September-October 2014 issue of News & Letters
by Eugene Walker
Demagogic Republican politicians, Tea Partiers and others—as well as supposedly humane President Obama—proclaim a “crisis” around Central American youth without papers entering the U.S. Both sides want to deport as many youths as quickly as possible. They don’t mention that this youth exodus has complex roots within Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and in the U.S.’s long history of exploitative, militaristic relations with these countries. Violent street gangs often associated with narco-trafficking, corrupt government officials and politicians, and extreme poverty all play a role in youth fleeing these Central American countries.
Take Honduras: its capital Tegucigalpa, and its second largest city, San Pedro Sula, have as high a murder rate as any city in the world outside of a war zone. Youth are forced into gangs on penalty of death if they refuse, forced to deal in drugs. Young women—children, really—are forced into prostitution. These are not huge metropolitan centers, so how did the cities become so out of control?
U.S. RESPONSIBILITY FOR ‘CRISIS’
The U.S. bears great responsibility. First, gangs and gang violence increased dramatically in the 1990s when the U.S. deported large numbers of violent gang members residing in the barrios of Los Angeles—the 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha gangs—to El Salvador and Honduras. This connection with drugs and gang violence was our export to Central America.
Second, as the U.S. carried on its “war on drugs,” concentrating on Colombia and the Caribbean corridor, the drug traffickers developed routes through Central America. It is estimated that close to 80% of cocaine-smuggling flights to the U.S. pass through Honduras.
Third, and most decisive, has been the U.S.’s continued support for those that overthrew the democratically elected Honduran government of José Manuel Zelaya in 2009. That coup has led to continual state-sponsored repression.
Opposition elements have been eliminated, many murdered by state forces. The coup makers organized a phony election, and the new president, Porfirio Lobo, was quickly recognized and supported by the U.S. Ever since, Honduras has been in a downward spiral of gang violence and drug wars. In the half decade since the coup, poverty, inequality and unemployment have all increased; gang violence and drug trafficking have exploded.
AID USED TO CRUSH OPPOSITION
Meanwhile, the government prefers that its military and police focus their attention on crushing any opposition from campesino movements and other social activists rather than intercept the narco traffic and stop gang violence. The U.S. barely says a word, and continues its enormous aid to the police and military in the name of the war on drugs.
Faced with this reality, what choice do Honduran parents and youth have? To be forced into gangs, drugs, prostitution, to die in the streets or to flee? Is it any wonder that they try to escape such a life, and not necessarily only to the U.S., but to poverty-stricken, but relatively peaceful, Nicaragua?
The “crisis” is not that of a few tens of thousands seeking shelter in the U.S. The real crisis, the real tragedy, is the willingness of the U.S. to deport as many of these children as possible. Leaving them to face questions of life and death, of crime and drugs, of rape and prostitution, of poverty and misery, alone.
July 31 demonstration in Lafayette Park prior to a civil disobedience action at the White House in Washington, D.C.