As we move toward November 4th and head to the polls I wanted to share a perspective that is often left out of the mainstream media. Jerry Large, columnist for the Seattle Times, drawing on the work of Professor Dana Frank, offers another look at the more than 68,000 children that fled to our border just this year. Professor Frank and Jerry Large offer us a glimpse into the worlds edited from our nightly news. As we get ready to select a new group of leaders who will make decision on issues like immigration, it can be helpful to hear the voices typically left out of the conversation.
“U.S. Has Hand in Honduran Mess” (Reprinted from the Seattle Times)
Things have gotten much worse since Dana Frank had an opinion piece published in The New York Times with this headline: “In Honduras, a Mess Made in the U.S.”
This year, more than 68,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended after crossing the southwestern border of the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The vast majority are from three Central American countries, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Frank, a history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says the U.S. is partly to blame for the flood of youngsters.
I spoke with Frank last week before she spoke about the situation at the University of Washington. She lived in Seattle in the 1980s when the headlines about Central America were about wars that raged between U.S.-supported right-wing forces and leftists backed by the Soviets and Cubans.
She thought we’d learned some things from our involvement there in the 1980s, but we are back. Last time the Cold War was the justification and this time it’s the War on Drugs, and it seems, she said, that the more we support a government, the worse conditions get. Not surprising because we always seem to be in bed with the worst sort.
Her research focus has been on Honduras, which she said has been most tied to U.S. influence. The U.S. is particularly intent on preserving that relationship, she said, because in recent years some countries in Central America have elected left-center governments that are exercising more independence from U.S. influence.
Frank was researching a book on Honduras in 2009 when the elected government was overthrown in a military coup. The current president is Juan Orlando Hernandez, whom she calls “a dangerous Machiavellian thug.”
Frank said the coup changed her life and the direction of her work. People she knew were being arrested and mistreated. “I asked myself, what can I do? What powers do I have? What is my moral responsibility?”
Before the coup, Frank had researched labor issues. Her first book was “Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement.” She’d first gone to Central America at the invitation of women in banana-worker unions.
But after the coup she started paying attention to U.S. policy in the region, studying it in detail and building expertise. She knew how to gather and analyze facts, and how to present them in academic papers, books, newspaper articles and public testimony. She put all of her skills to use.
In recent years she has testified before Congress, the Canadian Parliament and the California Assembly about human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras.
She told me those children at the border aren’t coming in search of economic gain or in pursuit of the American dream. They are fleeing the brutality of their homelands. The numbers of children and adults fleeing grew rapidly as Honduras became the murder capital of the world, she said.
Their well-being is threatened by drug gangs, by the police and the military. The U.S. sends at least $25 million a year in aid to the government and yet, she said, drug dealers are present at every level of government.
Most of the people fleeing are coming from Honduras, and the Obama administration’s response has been to offer the government there more help and to try harder to seal our own borders.
Frank says we shouldn’t see the children as a threat to us, but ask instead whether we have helped disrupt their lives.
She believes Congress can be persuaded to push for change in our Central America policies if people here become aware of the situation there, and the role the U.S. plays in it, and then press their representatives to act.
Hondurans wouldn’t leave in droves if their country were economically stable and more humane. U.S. trade policies and financial support for the police and military are part of the problem.
And, she said, we could more effectively deal with drugs though legalization and treatment here.