Written by Daniel Edgar exclusively for SouthFront
The latest ‘migrant caravan’ to depart from Honduras has been broken up by Guatemalan police and military forces and most of its members forcibly repatriated to Honduras. However, a significant number eluded the efforts to block their path and are determined to continue northwards in small groups. Meanwhile, their efforts risk further inflaming the political inferno that is engulfing the United States, where immigration policy, and the treatment of illegal immigrants in particular, is one of the most divisive and polarizing topics being disputed.
Background – Who is joining the migrant caravans?
Migrant caravans have been departing from ‘the northern triangle’ of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) for the United States for the last several years, with their participants willing to risk everything as they flee the suffocating poverty and violence ravaging their native lands. Most of the people that have joined the caravans are from Honduras, which together with El Salvador and Guatemala has one of the highest rates of homicides per capita in the world (El Salvador has the highest rate in the world with over 80 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, Honduras has the second or third highest rate of around 56 homicides per 100,000 people).
It is not just the armed gangs and organized crime that have made life unbearable for many people in Honduras; the political and economic marginalization and oppression enforced by State ‘security forces’ is equally brutal and deadly, and it appears that in many areas there is a symbiotic relationship between the armed gangs terrorizing the communities and many members of the police, military, and political and economic elites that reign over the country from their barricaded luxury suburbs and rural properties, insulated from the horrors that are occurring in the rest of the country. LINK1 LINK2
Why are so many people fleeing from Honduras?
In June 2009 the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, was kidnapped by a rogue military operation and forced to leave the country. Zelaya had undertaken a modest program of economic and social reforms during his term, including the introduction of a minimum wage, and attempting to resolve numerous longstanding land disputes between farmers and rural communities against agri-business interests and mega-project proponents.
Zelaya had also expressed his intention to join Venezuela’s Petro Caribe program which would have provided Honduras access to petroleum at much reduced cost, and attempted to initiate a non-binding referendum proposing a constituent assembly to review and suggest amendments to the Constitution. Both initiatives were cut short by the rogue military operation during which heavily armed soldiers stormed the president’s house on 28 June 2009 in a midnight raid to capture him. He was then placed on a military plane and forced to leave the country.
The military operation was supported by the National Congress, which was controlled by political parties representing the country’s traditional political and economic elites, the Partido Liberal de Honduras (Liberal Party of Honduras) and Partido Nacional de Honduras (National Party of Honduras), which between them ruled the country throughout the twentieth century.
The next day the National Congress installed an interim regime made up of politicians from the traditional ruling elite (headed by the then Speaker of the National Congress, Roberto Micheletti).
The military action was also encouraged and endorsed by the country’s Supreme Court, and the coup regime formed by the traditional ruling families was subsequently bolstered and protected by the military high command, which together with the police brutally oppressed the mass demonstrations which followed expressing support for President Zelaya and demanding his reinstatement.
The crackdown on mass demonstrations resulted in dozens of deaths (a government-appointed commission later claimed around 20 people were killed by security forces quashing the protests, protestors claimed the figure was much higher), and many thousands of people seriously injured and imprisoned.
Members and supporters of the political party subsequently founded by Zelaya (who returned to Honduras in 2011) and his supporters (Partido Libertad y Refundación – Libre, Liberty and Refoundation Party), as well as other social and environmental activists and rural and Indigenous community members in areas coveted by agri-business, mining and other mega-project proponents, have since been subjected to widespread cases of intimidation, torture, arbitrary arrest and targeted assassinations. LINK
The kidnapping of Zelaya and usurpation of power was widely condemned as a coup and countries throughout Latin America demanded that Zelaya be reinstated to finish his term, a position that was also adopted by the United Nations, European Union, and even the Organisation of American States (OAS) – which subsequently suspended Honduras from the organization.
However, the United States tacitly supported the coup, and facilitated the transition to a post-coup government which has since been a staunch US ally and received substantial US ‘aid’, including to the armed forces and police which have continued to protect and serve the interests of the US and the political and economic elites in Honduras, immediately quashing by brute force any sign of political demonstrations and dissent.
The US posture was later described by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
In her autobiography Hard Choices, Clinton stated that the head of the National Congress at the time, Roberto Micheletti, and the Supreme Court “claimed to be protecting Honduran democracy against Zelaya’s unlawful power grab and warned that he wanted to become another Chavez or Castro.
“Certainly the region did not need another dictator, and many knew Zelaya well enough to believe the charges against him.”
… “In the … [days following Zelaya’s kidnapping] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere … We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.” LINK
Moreover, two of the main enablers of the coup – General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez of the armed forces, and General Luis Javier Prince Suazo of the air force, responsible for transporting the ousted president to forced exile in Costa Rica – received training at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas. LINK
The US has a long history of military invasions and interventions throughout the region in order to advance its economic and geostrategic interests. In 1935 former US Marine Corps General Smedley Butler wrote a book on his time in the armed forces (War is a Racket), including his participation in numerous military invasions in Central America, surmising that “during that period I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and for the bankers.” LINK
The documentary ‘The Secret Government’ produced by Bill Moyers following the ‘Iran-Contra affair’ also provides a succinct analysis of the legacy of US interventions in the region.
Since the 2009 coup the National Party of Honduras has consolidated its control over all State institutions, winning elections in late 2009 (Porfirio Lobo), 2013 (Juan Orlando Hernández) and 2017 (Juan Orlando Hernández), all of which were certified by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and Supreme Court – both stacked with associates of the National Party and Liberal Party – despite featuring widespread intimidation and oppression of opposition parties (including dozens of selective assassinations), procedural irregularities and fraud. LINK
The number of people leaving Honduras for the United States surged dramatically after the 2009 coup. In October of 2014 the United States Border Patrol announced that of 47,000 children apprehended during the year for trying to enter the US illegally, over 13,000 were from Honduras, more than twelve times the number apprehended in 2009. LINK
In the most recent elections held in November 2017, Salvador Nasralla – the candidate of a coalition (the ‘Opposition Alliance against Dictatorship’) formed by several leftist and anti-corruption parties which included former president Zelaya’s political party (Libre) – was leading the preliminary vote count, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announcing he had a 5% lead over Hernández (45% to 40%) with 57% of the votes counted.
All announcements by the electoral tribunal were then halted for nearly two days; when they resumed they purported to show Hernández steadily closing the gap before taking the lead just before the count was concluded. The following months of massive demonstrations and protests were again subjected to lethal oppression by the police and military, and by mid-December at least another 16 protestors had been killed and more than 1,600 imprisoned.
The crackdown against all political opposition against the coup regime and its successors, as well as human rights and environmental activists and rural communities constituting an obstacle to agri-business, mining and hydro-electric projects, has occurred in the midst of a generalized surge in organized crime and homicide rates and a catastrophic decline in economic and social conditions for most of the country’s citizens.
While the Honduran economy has grown steadily over the last ten years, the concentration of land ownership, wealth and income are extreme, and GDP declined by an estimated 18.5% in 2020. GDP per capita has also increased over the last ten years, but remains around $2000 per year, the second or third lowest in the Americas. In 2016 the National Institute of Statistics estimated that almost 66% of the country’s population lived in conditions of poverty, of which 42.5% lived in extreme poverty. LINK
Then, last year, the pandemic hit the country. In November, two hurricanes tore through the country killing almost 100 people and inundating thousands of homes and much of the country’s agricultural land.
The deterioration in living conditions has reached the point where many families now find it impossible to obtain food and other basic necessities, impelling thousands of people to embark on the perilous journey to try to reach the United States in the desperate hope that they will find some way to feed themselves and their families, rather than ‘stay home’ and endure agonizing starvation and oppression with no prospect of relief.
The migrant caravans and the US response
There have been numerous ‘migrant caravans’ from Central America since 2017, one of the largest of which departed from Honduras in October of 2018 and grew in size as it progressed to comprise almost 7,000 members at one point, around 5,000 of whom eventually reached Tijuana near the US-Mexico border after a month-long journey. However, its members were denied entry to the US in the midst of violent confrontations with the authorities.
The Trump administration negotiated agreements with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to coordinate policies to stem the flow of illegal immigrants, ensure that those seeking asylum in the US remained in Mexico or further south while their applications were being processed, and pre-empt or at least dissuade the formation of migrant caravans in the future.
The strategy has been partially successful in this instance, as the military and police in Guatemala were rapidly deployed to block the latest caravan’s path, and the Mexican government has also deployed additional National Guard units to the southern border to impede a possible influx of illegal immigrants.
Although several thousand of the would-be immigrants were detained on Monday (18 January) and sent back to Honduras, many have continued northwards splitting up into smaller groups and taking several different routes to elude detention and forced repatriation. Guatemalan authorities estimate that of the approximately 6000 caravan members that left Honduras, around 1,500 are still in Guatemala. According to local media reports at least several hundred of the latter have managed to reach the Mexican border since Tuesday. LINK
The shift in strategy demonstrates that the increased regional coordination to deter and impede illegal immigrants will not stem the flood of people seeking to enter the United States from Central America illegally, as long as so many people in Central America are mired in conditions of violence, political and economic inequality and crushing poverty.
The blocking, detention and dispersal of the latest migrant caravan, formed at least in part to try to improve the security of the would-be immigrants during the immensely difficult and dangerous journey, will simply force them to revert to attempting to cross the intervening countries in small groups, absolutely exposed and vulnerable to the depredations of criminal gangs, people smugglers, bureaucrats and ‘security’ forces along the way.
The tumultuous political climate in the United States
Meanwhile, north of the Rio Grande, conditions there also could not be less auspicious for the migrant caravan’s ambitions. The US has by far the highest death rate in the world from the pandemic, the economy is imploding, and the country is being wracked by the most incendiary and divisive political conflict in modern times following almost a year of widespread social unrest, mass protests and riots.
Many in the United States (most of those who voted for the Democrats or against Trump) are convinced that Trump and some of his supporters attempted to instigate a coup on the 6th of January to perpetuate his presidency.
Many others (most of those who voted for Trump or against the Democrats) are just as convinced that Trump has been trying to prevent the culmination of a coup perpetrated by the Democrats, achieved primarily by way of massive vote-rigging during the voting process.
No doubt quite a few of the various allegations made by the respective sides are accurate, with representatives and operatives from each faction resorting to devious and extra-legal tactics and methods to try to improve their prospects of gaining control over the White House and the Congress.
A genuine non-partisan investigation would have to determine not whether Trump & co or Biden & co committed irregularities, but which side committed the most irregularities, frauds and other crimes and how this affected the electoral process.
Amidst the speculation, hysteria and confusion, and the multitude of partisan Deep State v’s Rogue State investigations, committees and special counsels promoting one narrative or the other, there is no possibility of a rational and detailed analysis and debate of what transpired in the lead-up to, during and after the erratic and chaotic 2020 presidential and congressional election campaigns.
As the inter-factional conflict between the political elites intensifies, immigration policy is likely to become one of the most inflammatory topics as the Democrat power brokers set about consolidating their control over the commanding heights of the State.
In this context, Biden’s stated intention of not only legalizing the status of up to 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the US but of also initiating and fast-tracking a process whereby they will be able to gain full citizenship (including the right to vote) within 8 years is certain to further infuriate Trump supporters, who will interpret this as another ploy to increase the Democrat constituency.
More generally, many in the US are concerned that less restrictive immigration policies will encourage a flood of both legal and illegal immigrants into the country. While reasonable arguments can be made both for and against accepting large numbers of immigrants into the country, the respective merits of each side’s arguments in the development of policy on immigration and related matters will be irrelevant in the context of intense factional conflict. LINK LINK
Meanwhile, it is uncertain how the escalating conflict between the elites will impact upon the upsurge in mass protests, demonstrations and riots that erupted last year, but which were not capable of elaborating a cohesive program of objectives and strategies beyond demanding limited reforms to policing and asking them to be less brutal and racist.
In the current environment, the controversy over immigration policy may prompt some – particularly well-armed militia groups – to resort to more extreme actions to thwart the imposition of measures they see as designed to further destroy what is left of the fabric of society and perpetuate the rule of the Democrats, while destructive and violent flash mobs with no apparent agenda, purpose or objective may return to make life even more unbearable in the cities.
Throughout the turmoil, no civil society or alternative political leadership has emerged that might offer a way out of the spiralling deterioration in living conditions, as the political and economic elite set about increasing their already vast fortunes and cynically manipulating the relatively few people who are prepared to make a stand for what they believe to be the best path for the country to take.
In these conditions it is quite possible that a violent confrontation between rival groups or demonstrators – or a staged provocation – could set off a cycle of conflict and violence that would be very difficult to contain.
It is not that the US is completely void of potential leadership material. There are many who would make admirable leaders absolutely committed to improving the conditions of all Americans, whether south or north of the Rio Grande.
In the interests of getting the ball rolling, I would suggest Jesse Ventura and Catherine Austin Fitts as two such people. The former – as president, vice-president or Secretary of Defense – would almost certainly command the respect and loyalty of the majority of the armed forces, as well as many others. The latter would make an excellent Secretary of the Treasury, to begin the Herculean task of fixing the fraudulent, rotten and predatory financial and economic systems.
Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders would make great elder Statesmen to guide the process and offer invaluable counsel from their many years of experience operating in The Swamp.
No doubt there are many others – maybe the readership could make some constructive suggestions of their own?
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