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Why Are Hondurans Fleeing Their Country? Read The New York Times “Pay or Die” by Sonia Nazario

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The New York Times just published a heartwrenching deep-dive piece by the acclaimed Sonia Nazario. She exposes the corruption and violence that plague Honduras, which in turn, drives migration to the U.S. 

In short, the gangs in Honduras are slowly but surely coming to dominate communities, sectors of the economy and even infiltrating government as officials. 

Anyone interested in understanding why so many people are abandoning their homes to seek safety in America must read this extraordinary article.

Sonia Nazario’s “Pay or Die” is excerpted below and available in full here.   

A bus owner wearing a red knit hat waits for the call he’s gotten every Monday morning for 10 years. That’s when Honduras’s gangs began charging anything with wheels — buses, taxis, motorcycle taxis — a “war tax.” Just here in the capital, the owners of these businesses pay an estimated $23 million to gangs each year.

Nonpayment equals death.

Since 2010, more than 1,500 Hondurans working in transportation have been murdered — shot, strangled, cuffed to the steering wheel and burned alive while their buses are torched. If anyone on a bus route stops paying, gangs kill a driver — any driver — to send a message.

…I SPENT A MONTH REPORTING IN HONDURAS EARLIER THIS YEAR. What most pushes people to despair about the country’s future — and ultimately drives them to leave — is corruption, the sense that everything is rotten and unlikely to get better. The corruption is what allows all the other bad things to happen. It allows gangs to impose a reign of terror. It allows nine in 10 murderers to get away with their crimes. It fuels poverty: Politicians steal 30 percent to 40 percent of all government revenues, by some estimates, crippling schools, hospitals and highways.

And it is rocket fuel for migration. The number of Honduran migrants apprehended at the southern United States border has surged from 47,900 in 2017 to 205,039 in just the first six months of this fiscal year.

…If the United States wants to slow migration from Central America, that’s the swamp we must help drain. Instead, the Trump administration failed to protest when Guatemala kicked out the head of a United-Nations-sponsored anti-corruption mission last year and ordered it closed altogether this September. Its Honduran counterpart, the Mission in Support of the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, could get booted from the country when its mandate from the Organization of American States ends in January.

The administration has slashed foreign aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to punish the countries for failing to do enough to stop the migrants. The Association for a More Just Society, the Honduran arm of Transparency International, which relies heavily on American support to fight corruption, has been told that the money will be spent only on drug enforcement and blocking migration. Barring any new resources, by January the group will have to cut its staff of 140 to 40.

This is especially frustrating because the fight against corruption in Honduras really revved up only four years ago, in response to enormous street protests by fed-up citizens called “indignados.” The investigations and revelations by anti-corruption groups that followed have actually driven up despair, by highlighting both how big the problem is and how few of the bad guys end up in jail.

…IF THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION WANTS TO KEEP FAMILIES LIKE THESE FROM FLEEING to the United States, it has to start acting like it cares about what’s going on in Honduras.

First we have to recognize that the United States shares some responsibility for the corruption. In 1975, in what was called “Bananagate,” an American company paid a $1.25 million bribe — promising double that — to Honduras’s president in exchange for lower taxes on banana exports. In the 1980s, the United States paid Honduras hundreds of millions of dollars with little care for who pocketed the money as long as the government agreed to host the contras battling leftist Nicaraguan Sandinistas. And of course much of the carnage today stems from cartels and gangs battling to control turf to move drugs to the biggest buyer in the world: the United States.

President Trump now says that sending money to Central America is like flushing it down the toilet. But that’s not true: I’ve seen programs funded by the United States reduce violence in the worst neighborhoods in Honduras.

If we do it right, we can use aid to reduce violence, poverty, corruption and impunity and to bolster good governance. The money should go to vetted international aid and Honduran civil society groups instead of directly to the government, but we can pressure the government by setting clear benchmarks for progress and cutting the money if they are not met. For example, on violence, we should establish targets for reducing homicides, femicides and domestic violence, and for increasing murder convictions. Doing this will take a long-term commitment — 10 or 20 years. But in the end it will be far cheaper and more humane to fund change in Honduras than to spend billions locking up asylum seekers at our borders.

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