Nate Kleinman Time for a history lesson: The horror of life in Honduras is our fault.

Nate Kleinman
21 hrs
Time for a history lesson:

I intended to write this as soon as I heard Donald Trump begin to vilify this latest migrant caravan from Honduras, but my busy season as a farmer and political activist prevented me from doing so. Now that the anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant roots of the massacre in Pittsburgh have been revealed, it’s even more critical for us in the United States to learn the truth.

The horror of life in Honduras is our fault.

This is not an exaggeration. It’s not “blame America first” hyperbole. It’s a simple truth.

In 1901, the writer O. Henry (real name William Sydney Porter) coined the phrase “Banana Republic” to describe Honduras and neighboring Central American countries. The term has lost most of its punch today (what with being appropriated by a clothing company), but at the time it described a supposedly democratic country in full control of foreign corporations. In the case of Honduras, the main company in charge in 1901 was the United Fruit Company (still ubiquitous, but now known as “Chiquita”).

Big Banana was responsible for coups against Central American governments, for horrible mistreatment of workers, and even for massacres against communities where they did business. They installed favorable governments and then signed 99-year-leases on huge tracts of land for both plantations and railroads. They murdered opponents with impunity. Central Americans called United Fruit “el pulpo”, the octopus, because they had their tentacles in every facet of society. And all of this was encouraged by the U.S. government. It was the definition of economic imperialism.

The “Banana Republic” label stuck to Honduras through most of the 20th Century, even as other industries (especially clothing manufacturing and resource extraction) took hold. Central American democracies were destroyed by a series of military dictatorships.

Now jump forward to the 1970s and 1980s: Economic stagnation and the legacy of decades of imperialism led to leftist movements (both non-violent and violent) fighting against their corrupt and ineffective governments. The backlash led to the notorious “contras” in Nicaragua, U.S.-backed right-wing militias tasked with preventing leftists from taking power by whatever means necessary. Our government used neighboring Honduras as the base of operations due to a favorable relationship with the military dictatorship in charge (and we still have a major military base there).

An American by the name of John Negroponte arrived in Honduras in 1981 to serve as Ambassador. Known today mainly as George W. Bush’s Director of National Intelligence, Negroponte made his career in Honduras through covering up the military’s campaign of abductions, torture, and murder in service to the Cold War. Little was known of the depth of his cynicism at the time, but the release of documents over the past decades has made it all too clear (there are reams of such documents available online if you’re interested). A CIA-backed unit of the Honduran military known as Battalion 316 became particularly notorious for extrajudicial killings and disappearances of leftists, including labor unions, student leaders, and indigenous people.

In 1982, following the Honduran military’s handing power to a new civilian government, Honduras crafted a new Constitution. By all accounts, the military, with John Negroponte whispering in their ear, played a large role in that process. The end result was a document that ensured Honduras would remain a weak country in thrall to the United States and global corporations. One of the keys to this was insisting on a single 4-year term for the Presidency, which inevitably led to instability. Another key was the provision that certain parts of the Constitution (including the Presidential term limit) could never be changed, and that anyone who even proposed changing them could not serve in government. It was that law that resulted in the 2009 coup against the center-left elected President Manuel Zelaya (kidnapped by the military in the middle of the night and left on the tarmac of an airport in Costa Rica), after he proposed a non-binding referendum on the subject of holding a Constituent Assembly to potentially amend the Constitution.

A few months after the coup I had the honor of visiting Honduras as part of a Witness for Peace human rights delegation. We met with leaders of the non-violent resistance, including many (like the organization COFADEH) who had struggled for justice since the 1980s. I met young people who had seen their friends and comrades murdered or disappeared just days or weeks earlier.

We also visited San Pedro Sula, the 2nd largest city in Honduras (after the capital, Tegucigalpa), an industrial port city in the north of the country, which at the time was the most dangerous city in the world. Despite the war in Iraq, it was a deadlier place than Baghdad. Due to its location and the nearby deep-water port of Puerto Cortes (the largest in Central America), San Pedro Sula is the most important city in Honduras for imports and exports, both legal and black market.
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American fast food companies had recently taken hold in Honduras, thanks to tax-free “free trade zones” set up to encourage American businesses to locate there. Across the country we saw newly installed strips of American fast food, a shiny new Domino’s next to a Wendy’s next to a Popeye’s, looking just like they would in New Jersey — even with all signs and slogans in English. We were told that these franchises arrived ready to install in container ships coming from Houston (the nearest major US port) into the port at San Pedro Sula. Hidden among the styofoam containers and milkshake mixes would be flat-screen TVs, high-end clothes, and even luxury cars, all smuggled in tax-free. What’s worse, the same containers would then be sent back “empty,” but were actually full of illegally harvested tropical hardwoods, jaguar pelts, and even bulk loads of earth to be processed in the United States for valuable minerals.

On top of all this corrupt economic activity, Honduras became a key drug trafficking center between Colombia and the US, leading San Pedro Sula to become a shooting gallery as various gangs sought to gain control.

Against the advice of locals, a few of us decided to take a stroll through the city after dark. What we found was surreal. What had been a bustling central square a few hours earlier was like a ghost town. The few people we did run into either eyed us up and down menacingly, or told us to get off the streets as they hustled to do the same. We soon returned to our motel, a decrepit two-story building with about 20 rooms and a rifle-bearing guard in the lobby.

Not long after we returned to the United States, deposed President Zelaya snuck back into the country riding in the trunk of a car. He holed up in the Brazilian embassy as the interim government prepared to hold whitewashing elections in an effort to turn the world’s attention away. For a little while the Obama administration maintained the correct stance (that what happened was a coup, and that Zelaya should be restored to power), but a few weeks before the election we changed our position and sided with the coup regime. It’s no coincidence that this happened after Honduras’ fraudulent leaders hired Lanny Davis to lobby for them in Washington. An old friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton, it was apparently easy for him to get the then-Secretary of State to change her position. And once again Honduras slid back to Banana Republic status.

Now, a few right-wing Presidents later, Honduras remains a weak country, just as we intended. The government is irredeemably corrupt, just as we intended. And the people lack opportunity, just as we intended.

The Honduran people are not ignorant of this history, as most of us are. On the contrary, they know exactly what we’ve done to their country. I have no doubt this is one reason why so many of them want to come here now. Their hopelessness is our fault. They rightly feel we owe them.

The people in this caravan are not simply immigrants or migrants seeking a better life. They are asylum seekers looking for sanctuary. And they are victims of over a century of American imperialism looking for redress, following the only path we’ve left for them.

Shame on Donald Trump for vilifying these suffering people. Shame on the Republican Party for falling for his lies. Shame on the media for failing to report the full story.

And shame on all of us for allowing any of this to happen in the first place.

About Suzanne

Suzanne Lewis, editor and manager Wholisticbodymind.com since 2000. Suzanne is a Planetary Peacekeeper, an Agent for Conscious Evolution, a Spiritual Healer, a Mother, a multi - faceted artist (beads, gems to trade beads; guords star seed art; published author and Lover of Life for the sake of All our Relations.
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