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Thousands of self-organized Hondurans fleeing violence and poverty are marching to US/Mexico border. Trump threatens to stop money for Honduras and send troops to border

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Mark Steiner. It’s great to have you with us.

Trump, once again, is in panic mode. A caravan of over 4000 migrants from Honduras are crossing the border into Mexico on their way to the U.S.-Mexican border. They’re fleeing the gang violence, the state violence, and the abysmal poverty they face in Honduras. Some call this caravan of migrants a threat to the United States. He threatened through tweets to, quote: “Stopping all payments to these countries which seem to have almost no control over their populations. I must in the strongest terms ask Mexico to stop this onslaught. And if unable to do so, I will call up the U.S. military,” and in caps he writes, “CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER.”.

Will these 4000 migrants in the caravan make it all the way through Mexico? We have to ask a number of questions, including why are they marching to the border given the violent reactions of our American government, including separating children from their families who attempt to cross the border? Hundreds of thousands have been stopped at the border already. Is this more symbolic? Or are we seeing a new confrontation that will unveil, or begin to unveil, all the contradictions that have led to so many fleeing poverty and violence to our borders?

We are joined today by Adrienne Pine, who is a militant medical anthropologist who’s worked in Honduras, Mexico, Korea, the United States, Egypt, and Cuba. She wrote the book Working Hard, Drinking Hard: On Violence and Survival in Honduras, and is an associate professor of anthropology at American University. And Adrienne, welcome, good to have you with us.

ADRIENNE PINE: Thank you, Marc.

MARC STEINER: So this caravan- I have to ask the question first, you know, I remember covering some caravans on the border, and Americans and different church people had organized these caravans in the past. So what do we know about this caravan? How did it start? Is it organized? Where does it come from? What do you know, what do we know?

ADRIENNE PINE: Well, this caravan is really indicative of what’s going on in Honduras now in that it is not formally organized by any sort of group with any political motive. Instead it represents what’s going on, which is almost everybody in Honduras right now has a plan to leave because of how horrifying and dangerous and unlivable the situation is.

MARC STEINER: I want to take a step back for a second. I mean, you know a lot about Honduras. Last time we talked was years back. But you had just come back from Honduras. Talk about what you mean by what you just said. What is happening in Honduras that’s forcing people to flee?

ADRIENNE PINE: Well, I’m trying to figure out how far back to go, because you can really start early. I’ll start with 2009, the military- the U.S.-supported military coup that really brought Honduras in a very dangerous new direction from where it had been going. And that was that it accelerated the neoliberal restructuring of the country, which meant that all of the public institutions were really destroyed. Public education, public healthcare, infrastructure. And also job protections. The little that there were at that time were destroyed as well.

So it left people with a government that was really ruling by force, was very unpopular, but supported by the United States, and progressively carried out these reforms that made people more and more vulnerable as the years went by. In 2013, through massive electoral fraud, the current president was elected to his first term. That’s Juan Orlando Hernandez. And he has played a key role in further militarizing the country, institutionalizing the militarization through the establishment of the military police, which receives tremendous U.S. support and training, and economic support. And by a whole wide variety of crackdowns on civic rights in Honduras.

So then in just, long story short, he in 2017, just about a year ago, illegally ran for a second term in office, and through even more massive fraud that was condemned worldwide, seized power following that election. It was very clear that his opponent Salvador Nasrallah had won. And so there were massive protests in the street following that theft, that electoral theft. I think it was upwards of 40 people were murdered by military police, and police and the military, who are protesting against that fraud in the months that followed. And dozens of people were taken political prisoners. Some of those people, including my my dear friend Edwin Aspinall, are still being held prisoner in maximum security prisons that were built with U.S. aid and support, and are run by the military.

So there is a situation where there’s just, there’s just terror. There are no jobs left. There’s no chance for people to get education. There is no opportunity to get healthcare if they get sick. And organized crime has taken over the country. So you have a narco state that’s propped up by the United States. Activists have been demanding an end to U.S. aid to the Honduran military and police, which is basically the only place where it’s going, for years. So actually, Donald Trump’s threat to end that support I think would be welcomed by a lot of people, because it’s only, it’s only harming Hondurans. You know, they’re very clear about that.

MARC STEINER: Let’s go back to the original question. I apologize for digressing, but I thought it was important to give some background here. But what do we know about who has organized this? Is this being organized by clergy, churches from the United States, people who are resisting the immigration policy in America? Who’s organizing this march? How did it happen, what do we know?

ADRIENNE PINE: Yeah. I mean, this was a very organically organized march. People, as I mentioned, are desperate to leave. Almost everybody I know in Honduras is thinking about leaving, if they haven’t left already, just because of how dangerous the situation is for people right now.

So what happened in this case is, basically, if you don’t have the money, a whole lot of money, many thousands of dollars, which is far more for a Honduran than it is for someone in the United States given the levels of poverty, then it’s very, very dangerous to make the trip through Guatemala and Mexico if you’re going to the United States as your ultimate destination. So the only way for people who don’t have that money but who are trying to save their lives by fleeing Honduras to travel safely is to travel in larger groups.

And so basically it started with a number of people in the same region, just through What’sApp. You know, making a plan to leave together so that they could travel safely. As people heard about this initial group of 200 or so folks who were who were planning to travel to the Guatemalan border, many people who already have their own individual plans to leave for more or less the same reasons, the violence and the economic despair, they decided to join on to this caravan for the safety that it represented.

So it doesn’t have a central organizer. And that’s an important note that I think a lot of the mainstream media doesn’t understand, and certainly Donald Trump doesn’t want to understand, that that this is actually an organic movement of people fleeing desperate situations rather than some sort of political ploy.

MARC STEINER: We might also see the Mexican government, which has said they’re going to stop people, either deporting them, give them the option to go home, or put them in jail for 90 days and then send them home. I haven’t heard reports yet about what exactly happened in southern Mexico with these 4000 migrants from Honduras that have already crossed through Guatemala. But that could happen, too. They may not even make it to the border.

ADRIENNE PINE: Yeah. I mean, I think that also speaks to the level of desperation that people are feeling in Honduras, because they know the governments that they are going to, of the countries that they have to pass through, they know how hostile they are to Honduran migrants. And you know- and in particular, they are very clear, they know crystal clear what’s going on here in the United States with concentration camps for children, with the separation of parents from their children. You know, with horrible human rights abuses that are occurring. Hondurans all know that that’s going on. And even knowing that, they are facing such danger in their home communities that they are willing to risk traveling north.

And I think in Mexico, I mean, one important point is that the incoming president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has actually stated that he recognizes the situations that Hondurans coming are coming from, and would grant these migrants work visas and and assist them in their living situations. But unfortunately he is not going to become the new president for a couple months.

MARC STEINER: Right. So his not being president, he can’t- I mean, the president, he will cooperate as much as he can, I think, with the United States, the president of Mexico in this. So you know, I think that Trump is using a lot of fear tactics here, saying these, this is a group full of gang members. These are Honduran gangs coming in to wreak havoc on the United States. When the reality is, as you know, as someone who knows Honduras well and these migrants well, that if they’re there, it’s a small minority of these people. These are families fleeing oppression and poverty in Honduras, trying to make their way.

ADRIENNE PINE: Exactly. And you know, I mean, Trump paying all this attention to this is really a midterm electoral ploy on his part. It’s, you know, part of the same fearmongering that has riled up his base, and has no attachment whatsoever to the realities that the Hondurans are facing.

MARC STEINER: So I’m curious were you think this will go. I mean, it does show a level of desperation on the part of people making this trek; 4000 people crossing three countries, their own, Guatemala, Mexico, to get to the United States, where they may not get it at all. And if they do get to the border, you know that Trump’s forces will come in, separate families, put them in camps, and then send them back. So where do you think this takes us in our battle over immigration in this country?

ADRIENNE PINE: Well, you know, I think the reason why we’re paying attention now is because these people are traveling in a group. But there are hundreds of people leaving Honduras every day in any case. So this is really just highlighting the situation that already exists and the people who would have left anyway, but are taking advantage of this moment to leave with slightly greater safety in numbers.

It’s hard to say where this will lead. You know, I can’t imagine how terrified the members of this caravan are. At least one of the members has been, was disappeared by Guatemalan police, and then deported to Honduras. The former lawmaker Bartolo Fuentes. [Correction: Bartolo Fuentes still being illegally detained in Guatemala without charge.] And you know, he’s being called an organizer of the march. That’s not true. He was accompanying people on the march. But you know, there’s a real danger that a lot of people are going to see serious consequences, that there are going to be political prisoners as a result of this.

And you know, and we’re seeing this militarization of all of the borders. There was a militarized response when people tried to cross into Guatemala. They were able to do that because of their numbers, despite the police that were there. But you know, Mexico has had more time to prepare their militarized response, you know, that corresponds with Pena Nieto’s subservient relation to Trump. And you know, I fear for them. I think it really is going to require a large grassroots movement of support for migrants within Mexico, and also of course within the United States, to ensure the lives of these people are protected.

MARC STEINER: We’re going to be watching what happens with this march and keep on top of this. And Dr. Adrienne Pine, I really appreciate you taking time with us today, and I look forward to talk to you again as we follow the trek of these 4000 Hondurans towards the United States, and we’ll see what is happening here. Thank you so much for being with us here on The Real News.


MARC STEINER: Pleasure to talk to you again. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. We’ll be talking together soon. Take care.

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Adrienne Pine is a militant medical anthropologist who has worked in Honduras, Mexico, Korea, the United States, Egypt, and Cuba. Her current research focuses on the intersections of nursing and democracy in Honduras, Cuba, and the United States.