From 6-22-12 Port Huron Times Herald
“Children Traveling Solo Across U.S. Border Face Dangerous Trip.” So headlines the NPR story of June 6, 2014. The children of Central America are piling up on our border in unprecedented numbers. They are refugees of increasing gang violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The militarization of their homelands began in earnest during the “Iran-Contra” “low intensity” wars we fought there by proxy in the years of the Reagan administration. We were fighting against purported Communist incursions at our borders. Profits from drug smuggling, that our CIA at times facilitated, were used to bring down leftist governments, and displace suspect peasant communities.
At present the descendants of these violent campaigns are being displaced by this legacy. Some were leftist guerrillas, many more were trained by our School of the Americas as counter-revolutionary fighters, given lots of money and weapons to do so. [for an organization dedicated to its closing—SOA Watch] When the eagle eyes of war turned to Afghanistan and Iraq, they and their children were left with devastated communities, schooled in violence, but bereft of benefactors. The drug trade, that had helped sustain the Iran-Contra era wars, flourished in the aftermath.
The Forward Operating Bases of our current U.S. supported War on Drugs -- from NYT map
Honduras was a central base for the U.S. military to train Central Americans to fight communism on their own turf. Nicaraguan, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan leftists were the main target. [The diocese of San Cristobal in Chiapas, Mexico where I’ve worked in a medical clinic, was a major refugee center for those who fled these 1980’s wars in bordering Guatemala.] Now Honduras is plagued by drug gang violence which according to the NPR report cited above [please spend the 5 minutes], reaches right into the grade schools where students are directly threatened by the gangs. They come right into the school yards and say, “if you don’t join with us we’ll kill you and your family.” Often enough they follow through on their threat. Some kids join, many are leaving alone on the long trip “al Norte” with the blessing and distraught hopes of their families.
hey’re stopped at our border, and now swell to overwhelming, our detention facilities. Commentators, including our Representative Candice Miller, suggest that this is primarily a problem of lax enforcement of immigration law, allowing too many from these countries to hope that our borders are open to an influx of illegals. They argue we’ve left the impression with policies, such as the “Dream Act” [makes higher education available to children of families that have entered illegally], of increasingly unfettered welcome to the children the countries to our south. The number of these children has increased ten-fold in the past three years, to 60,000/yr, and is expected to climb above 100,000 in the next year.
Congresswoman Miller’s approach is to further strengthen the wall on our Southern border by calling out the National Guard, mounting a “don’t come” PR campaign in the Central American countries, and deporting those children that have made it so far, as soon as possible. “Congresswoman urges Obama to send National Guard to border.” Washington Times 6-16-14. Not realizing the danger these children face, she hopes they can be convinced, not to try to come here in the first place. I’ll urge her and you to listen to the NPR program, and see the film Sin Nombre which tells the tragic story of what these kids face in their home barrios, and on journey north [has a few terribly realistic, violent scenes.]
There are certainly economic reasons for these people to leave their homes to seek the USA, but the militarization that coincided with drugs trafficking we tolerated to help the cause of anticommunism, has transformed into a full-scale war on the drug networks themselves. In Honduras we concurred with a military coup of their democratically elected President Zelaya in 2009. There followed an upsurge of U.S. and Honduran army activity. The latest weapons and tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan were imported. The drug cartels matched us weapon for weapon, [dollar for dollar—paradoxically earned in the U.S illegal market for drugs] and a new battle is on. The people and their children suffer deeply in between.
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (June 2, 2014) -- Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez -right front- speaks to U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly,commander of the U.S. Southern Command -left front
We won’t solve our immigration problems until we gut the money from the illegal drug trade. Abstinence, the courageous strength received in prayer, creative work for all here and south of our border, and a cogent form of legalizing and controlling the abused substances, are the necessary anti-drug culture strategies. No amount of military technology, hardware, or training can turn the tide. No signs saying “Children abused in the war on drugs—Turn back!” are helpful.
From the NPR interview, “…we are spending $18 billion per year on border enforcement. That's a lot of money. And many people who study this say that if we put a fraction of that towards targeted economic development it would slow the flow much more than that 700 mile-long wall would. So I think it's a matter of how you spend your money.” And Fox News and the AP had the Drug Wars cost-benefit right, “After 40 years, $1 trillion, US War on Drugs has failed to meet any of its goals.” But militarizing this war has driven the economic and human costs through the roof.
The Flight into Egypt was a flight from violence, the violence of a Herod obsessed with the protection of his throne and its lifestyle. For this he was willing to sacrifice the Holy Innocents infant children of Bethlehem, perhaps hundreds. We are called to reverse this, putting on the mind of Christ, and offer refuge to those who flee suffering and injustice.
One way to help. Contact Casa Juan Diego, a Catholic Worker community in Houston, Texas. They have been serving the needs of these refugees for decades.
Illumination by Kathy Brahney
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/special/cia.html [be sure to read to intro’s final paragraph--and beyond if you’ve the time]
More references -- with exerpts
“Inside San Pedro Sula – the most violent city in the world”
“City in Honduras has a murder rate of 173 per 100,000 residents, reportedly the highest in the world outside a war zone
Violence began to flare in the early 2000s and has risen steadily since the country took on a bigger role in the drug routes from South America to the US. About 80% of the cocaine headed for America passes through Honduras, according to the US state department. An already frail state has been further weakened by the infiltration of organized crime and a 2009 coup, after which reports of human rights abuses against supporters of the deposed president rocketed. At the same time rival street gangs known as maras – many of whose members were deported from US jails – battle to control local drug markets and extortion rackets.”
“The homicide rate is stoked by the rivalry of the brutal street gangs, mostly descendants of gangs formed in Los Angeles and deported to Central America in the 1990s. Mara Salvatrucha — MS. The 18th Street gang. Their ranks are fed by the economic disaster that is Honduras and emboldened more recently by alliances with Mexican drug traffickers moving cocaine through the country.
The mayhem is compounded by political killings, mostly of leftist activists and those demanding land rights in this throwback semi-feudal country, and vigilante slayings by some police units.”
Pope Francis at Wall of Seperation--, Bethlehem, West Bank, 5-25-14 Catholic News Service
“Lessons of Iraq Help U.S. Fight a Drug War in Honduras” NYT 5-6-12 - excerpts
“Honduras is the latest focal point in America’s drug war. As Mexico puts the squeeze on narcotics barons using its territory as a transit hub, more than 90 percent of the cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela bound for the United States passes through Central America. More than a third of those narcotics make their way through Honduras, a country with vast ungoverned areas — and one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world.
This new offensive, emerging just as the United States military winds down its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and is moving to confront emerging threats, also showcases the nation’s new way of war: small-footprint missions with limited numbers of troops, partnerships with foreign military and police forces that take the lead in security operations, and narrowly defined goals, whether aimed at insurgents, terrorists or criminal groups that threaten American interests. …
But the mission here has been adapted to strict rules of engagement prohibiting American combat in Central America, a delicate issue given Washington’s messy history in Honduras, which was the base for the secret operation once run by Oliver North to funnel money and arms to rebels fighting in neighboring Nicaragua. Some skeptics still worry that the American military might accidentally empower thuggish elements of local security forces. …
The third forward base, at El Aguacate in central Honduras, has sprung from an abandoned airstrip used by the C.I.A. during the Reagan era. Narcotics cartels, transnational organized crime and gang violence are designated as threats by the United States and Central American governments, with a broader consensus than when that base was built — in an era when the region was viewed through a narrow prism of communism and anticommunism.”
“Honduran Villages Caught in Drug War’s Cross-Fire” NYT 5-23-12
Young people have also started developing a taste for the “narco life.” Drug use was once unheard-of on the Mosquito Coast. Now it is surging. More disturbingly to some, in a country with the highest homicide rate in the world, teenagers are developing a taste for weapons.
“Ousted Leader Is Set to Return to Honduras” NYT 5-11-11
Mr. Zelaya was ousted by the military in a dispute over his efforts to change the Honduran Constitution.
“The bystanders of Honduras are not fair game in America's drug war” The Guardian, 5-21-12
“One month after relinquishing control of night raids in Afghanistan, a raid in Honduras led by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has shed light on how the US is beginning to shift resources from its wars in the Middle East to its ongoing drug war in the Americas.
In the pre-dawn hours of 11 May, the DEA and Honduran police (in concert with the US Navy) were tracking a group of suspected cocaine smugglers along the Patuca River, near the village of Ahuas. Using a fleet of US state department helicopter gunships, piloted by Guatemalan military personnel and temporary contract pilots, the operation followed the smugglers to a boat dock, at which point a firefight broke out, killing four.
The raid, or "small-footprint mission", is part of a new counter-narcotic offensive in which the DEA, along with various segments of the US military, is applying tactics developed in the Iraq and Afghan wars to combat cocaine smuggling throughout Central America. The offensive thus far includes the construction of three new military bases in Honduras, which house some 600 American soldiers. This expansion of the US's presence was agreed upon shortly after former president Manuel Zelaya was deposed by the Honduran military in 2009.”