Step off your aircraft and on to the soil of Honduras and within minutes of deplaning you are face-to-face with poverty, crime, and corruption on every level.
Next you notice little children wearing yellow rain boots in the heat of summer. You ask authorities about the yellow boots children are wearing and they explain that parents can only afford a single pair of shoes and those yellow boots are to protect the child during monsoon season.
Enter a residential neighborhood, known in Honduras as a “Colonia” and you see armed guards with shot guns. They are private security guards who stop you and question you about where you are going and who’ll you be visiting.
Barbed wire surrounds almost every home along with a fence 10 feet high. There are no street signs on street corners. Government-operated electrical utilities shut down at dusk. The upper middle class and wealthy families have generators. The wage earners who work at the farms, factories, and fields wait for dawn in their tiny hillside huts built of stick lumber and bricks for the dawn’s light to illuminate their huts.
Honduran laborers earn about $1 dollar per hour and work a 12-hour day. Beans, rice, and tortillas are their meal each and everyday. Few can afford to buy the fruit they pick or vegetables they harvest in the fields of the wealthy Honduran landowners.
Hondurans are a proud and industrialist people. They would give you the shirts of their backs. They are strong and endure many challenges from dusk to dawn.
The gangs in this beautiful country are out of control and police are out gunned . Gang related violence in this tiny Central American nation of 7 million may result in 200-plus killings per month .
Hondurans are allies. They train side-by-side with us. When the Global War on Terrorism began they deployed their military personnel along side us. They marched into harms way too. We educate, train, and equip their soldiers, airmen, and naval forces. While they have a small fighting force they to are great warriors. In part because we trained and equipped them.
Many that know this country well realize that keeping this nation as a friend makes sense for our own national security. When our President and Commander in Chief threatens to cut off military aide and other forms of aid from our State Department it reinforces what communists in Honduras tell residents, “that the U.S only helps when it benefits them and the U.S. calls the shots.” These are the nice things they say.
Americans have been generous with Honduras. Following the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch, trucks, planes, and ships brought supplies. Catholic Charities and other churches sent people and money to help locals rebuild the country. Hondurans are grateful for all the average Americans did to help them recover from that disaster and for American help over many years.
Earlier this year our Secretary of Homeland Security terminated the Temporary Protected Status “ TPS” offered to Hondurans. For two decades Hondurans could legally come here, raise families, and work. With termination of status means deporting/exporting families back to a crime-ridden nation. Children who live outside major cities can’t go to school. Children were brought here legally with parents and some born here. The Secretary says they must all return home. I know first hand this may be a death sentence for many children and parents who fled legally to the U.S.
Working alongside former President Ricardo Maduro you learn things. Hondurans are wonderful people. They work hard and want what we take for granted here in our nation. Safety, security, and for their children to get an education and be more successful than their parents. Seems simple but just not easy in a nation full of poverty and violent crime.
Recent threats by the administration to cut off aid to this allied nation are short-sighted. Helping the Honduran economy grow, helping make the country strong and safe, helping stomp out the drug manufacturing are in the national security interests of us all.
Perhaps expanding the Central American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law during Bush 43’s administration would be a start. This is a trade agreement that has benefited both nations. More can be done to encourage investment and job creation in this beleaguered nation. Americans cannot do it all but we can lead from the front and global leaders will follow.
Spend a single day in Honduras and you’ll understand, without a doubt, why the Catrachas and Catrachos immigrate to our country. Most of us would not last a week on our own in today’s Honduras.
Editors Note: Tom Freeman has worked in Honduras. He currently serves as Chief of Public Policy for Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez.