Departing Honduras (Part 2)
By: Elizabeth Perkins
“We can have 100 children, but one can’t take the place of another,” said one of the Honduran mothers participating in the “Caravan of Central American Mothers in Search of their Disappeared Children in Mexico” during a press conference in Tegucigalpa on Thursday. Thirteen Hondurans, mainly mothers searching for their children, will participate in the caravan this year. The entire caravan is hosted by the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement (link to their website in Spanish) and includes 60 people from El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Starting in Mexico on Monday, October 15, and leaving that country November 3, the caravan will cover some 4,600 kilometers through 14 states and 23 towns in the migrant route.
The Ministry of Human Migration (Pastoral de Movilidad Humana, PMH), the national organization organizing the Honduran portion, got involved with the caravan in 2008, but it originally began in 2000 through the efforts of the Committee of Families of Disappeared Migrants of Progreso (COFAMIPRO), explained Lidia Mara Silva de Souza of PMH. Over time they have added groups from other Central American countries and their route has changed as migrant’s entry points into Mexico have changed. In 2011 they began entering the country through Tobasco. Typically, one year the members of the caravan begin a search for individuals and the following year family members are reunited. This year there are three migrants from Honduras who will be reunited with their families on the caravan.
The majority of Hondurans on the caravan come from the town of Progreso through the organization COFAMIPRO. I was able to speak with some of those leaving with the caravan before the press conference.
Justina’s son has been gone since 2001. He left because there it is very difficult to find work in Honduras. His mother says that he was after the “American dream.”
Dorca’s son has been gone for 10 years. He also left looking to better his financial situation. “In the United States there is opportunity. Here in Honduras even if you have a degree there are no opportunities,” she said. Many of the other women I spoke with cited poverty at home as the reason their family member left. They went north in search of financial opportunities that would allow them to aid their families in Honduras. Carlos from Choluteca carries 51 photos of families in his area who’ve asked them to look for their family members.
One of the major challenges for these families is the lack of search mechanisms they have access to. Silva de Souza spoke of an Argentine group working to identify bodies of migrants recently discovered in Mexico. The problem, she says, is that when authorities bury unidentified migrants they document no forensic evidence and often bury them in mass graves (in some cases with animals), making it even more difficult to identify individual remains. She says the team also takes blood samples from family members searching for loved ones in an effort to match remains. Silva de Souza cites a need for laws that create search mechanisms so families looking for disappeared migrants have a place to at least begin to look. She shared that the International Red Cross has begun talking with governments in Central America and Mexico to encourage the creation of such legislation.
Sociologist Ricardo Puerta talked about the larger issues behind the caravan. According to Puerta, Honduras has little cause to want change in immigration policies because the country’s economy depends heavily on remittances. Honduras receives US$2.8 billion annually in remittances. “It is an industry,” he said. Because of this, Honduras has a “default immigration policy.” Working to change U.S. immigration policy, he commented, is much more effective. “There is a structural problem in the economies of developed countries. They have to fill certain jobs with migrants,” he said. “The U.S. cannot expel 12 million immigrants all at once. The economy needs these people. Migrant workers are needed because they do work that U.S. citizens will not do.” He added that migrants have the financial incentive of the minimum wage in the U.S. being 15 times what it is in Honduras. He shared that of the 12 million immigrants that are currently in the U.S. 400,000 of those are Honduran. “The cruelest thing is the separation of families,” he added.
The problem of families separating goes even deeper. Corporate-driven trade agreements like DR-CAFTA that significantly reduce viable work opportunities in Central America drive people in large numbers to look for work elsewhere; work that will allow them to support their families at home in places like Honduras.
These issues are all under the surface of this caravan. The participants are simply looking to reunite their families. “You are the protagonists of your own story,” they were told at the end of the press conference. Many of the women echoed this saying they can’t sit still and cry and despair. Their message was one of hope. Some of the women who will leave with the caravan have found their children after looking for years. One of these has been searching since 1999 and in 2010 found her son in Mexico. She continues working with the caravan to support the others who go looking for their loved ones.
The Nicaraguan part of the caravan will met the Honduran group in Tegucigalpa on Friday and continued on to collect participants in El Salvador and Guatemala before following the route that many of their family members took into Mexico. We plan to speak them upon their return in November.