Cross-posted from Consortium News
A flood of Central American children seeking safety in the United States has created a political and humanitarian crisis for border states and left President Barack Obama lecturing the parents not to send their children off on these long dangerous journeys as he requests $3.7 billion in emergency spending to step up border security and speed up deportations.
But the crisis has a long back story, including the U.S. militarization of Central America in the 1980s and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's support for an anti-democratic coup in Honduras in 2009 which ousted a populist president and increased the exploitation of the population.
DB: We are hearing a lot that the kids are coming, many from Honduras, from a very violent situation. Maybe you could just give us a little background ... your thoughts in the context of knowing so much about Honduras, and being there so much in this last year.
AP: Well, indeed Honduras is generally recognized as the most violent country in the world and that's in the homicide rate, over 90 per 100,000. Which just to give you an idea, country number two is in the 60's. So it's well above and beyond. The risk of being murdered is far higher than any other place in the world right now. But that only tells a partial story, of course.
The most important part of the context to understand why not only the homicide rate, but the rate of so many other forms of violence is so high, is to understand the coup that happened in 2009. A coup that was carried out by military forces trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. And which was, in effect, supported by the United States which refused to follow the unanimous decision of the OAS [Organization of American States] at the time, to not recognize the usurping government, and instead negotiated with it and has continued through all of these years to send massive amounts of military aid, military and police aid, to a government that, in effect, has militarized the country and is murdering and terrorizing its citizens, both through this militarization and direct violence and through the more indirect violence, if you can call it, of neoliberal policy, which for many people isn't indirect at all.
It includes the usurping of lands, indigenous peoples' lands, of campesinos' or peasant farmers' lands. It includes the destruction of any notion of sovereignty and Honduran peoples' control of their land, of their water, of their sub-soil rights, and of their government itself. So there are conditions of extreme violence in Honduras. You will hear politicians saying "Well, this is all the fault of the gangs."
But the reasons why there is so much violence has to do with these bigger structural forces. Of course, the gangs are very dangerous but if young kids had work opportunities and had a chance to live a decent life, these gangs wouldn't be threatening people in the way that they are.
DB: Talk a little bit about the situation on the ground in terms of the social setting, the level of poverty, the way in which all this violence unfolds.
AP: Well, it's hard to explain. I've just come back from a year of living in Honduras. I was there teaching at the National University, and you live a constant embodied state of terror in Honduras. And, it's hard to exaggerate it. Because everybody is always afraid.
I'm perhaps the only person I know who has lived a significant period of time in Honduras and has never been assaulted. So I'm very lucky, in that sense. But everybody, every Honduran I know has been violently assaulted at one point or another. And by that I mean with a gun, and it's happened in front of me in several occasions, as well.
So it's something that you become used to and expect. And just a month ago I walked by a man who had been killed in a targeted assassination, ten minutes earlier, and was lying there on the ground. So this sort of violence is day to day, and then even, more immediately for anybody who owns a small business right now, there's what is called war taxes. Which is basically bribery from local gangs who, in many cases, are affiliated with the police, and also bribery on the part of the police basically. "You pay us this money" -- like protection money -- "and we won't kill you." And they will kill people if they don't pay the money.
In one neighborhood, for example, Flora del Campo, in the past few week, three taxi drivers were killed for not paying their war taxes. Bus drivers pay phenomenal amounts of money. What generally happens is that businesses end up closing because they are not able to afford their war taxes and their business costs.
The environment on the ground is one in which there are very few businesses open, except in malls. So you are seeing an extreme privatization, and sort of closing off of public spaces, because they have become so dangerous. Complicity between the police and the military police, which was set up by the current president who won in extremely fragile elections last year -- he set up a new military police force and re-militarized the country -- and the gangs that are involved in all of this business. Perhaps the most powerful actors in the country are the drug traffickers who also happen to be very deeply involved in the financial sector and in the government.
So it's a situation on the ground of day-to-day embodied terror. And all the United States seems to want to do -- or rather what the State Department seems to want to do -- is pour more money into a military apparatus that is terrorizing people, and defending the neoliberal vultures who are really stealing Honduran land and Honduran young peoples' possibilities for a future and for survival.
DB: It sounded like this to me that President Barack Obama and various officials of this administration are sort of lecturing the parents of Central America and of Honduras, telling them that they need to keep their children home. That they will be in danger and they will be deported. It's almost as if these parents don't love their children, and they just want to let them go. Do you want to talk to the life of the child and why a parent might let go or somehow try and get their kid out of there?
AP: I think it's really cynical that governments, both Honduran and the U.S., have been blaming the parents for this situation because Honduran parents love their children as much as parents anywhere do, which is to say a whole lot. And if they are desperate enough to agree to let their kids go -- and in many cases, kids decide to go on their own -- it's not that the parents send them. But if the parents agree to let their kids go, it's because their life is at risk in Honduras. And by their calculation, their life will be at less risk even with the massive dangers, in particular, on what they call the death train through Mexico, to the northern border of Mexico, the southern border of the United States.