Once the most dangerous non-warring country on the planet, the Central American nation of Honduras has recently made progress in combating violent crime. By establishing community centers, after school activities for at-risk youth, and other public works projects administered and partly paid for by the central government have proven only partially effective. Issues of unemployment, lack of investment, and poverty persist in Honduras, as it does in much of the developing world, an issue which only makes putting a stop to the violence all the more difficult.
The reasons for “the exodus,” as many in Honduras have begun referring to the recent mass migration, go far beyond violence. The economy is a shambles, with nearly two-thirds of the labor force either unemployed or underemployed. Endemic corruption and political instability have also been major factors.
“We’re seeing an accumulation of crisis upon crisis upon crisis,” said Lester Ramirez, director of investigations at the Assn. for a More Just Society, a nonprofit that has received U.S. aid for its anti-violence work. “A lot of people have just lost hope.”
Among Hondurans deported from the U.S. in 2016, 96% cited economic hardship as a main reason for migrating, according to the Pew Research Center.
A 2018 poll by a Honduran think tank, the Reflection, Research and Communication Team, found that among those who had a family member leave in the last four years, 83% said the reason was economic insecurity, compared with 11% who said it was violence.
“The caravan has exposed the reality of poverty, unemployment and repression,” said Honduran economist Hugo Noe.
The best available measure of illegal immigration to the United States is how many people are caught at the border, and from fiscal year 2011 to 2014, the number of Hondurans who were detained by the U.S. Border Patrol each year increased from 11,270 to 90,968. Many were children traveling on their own who said they were fleeing gangs.
In response, the U.S. government dramatically increased aid to Honduras as well as to Guatemala and El Salvador, which were also sending large numbers of migrants, appropriating $2.1 billion since fiscal 2016, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The largest share has gone to crime fighting. In 2016 and 2017, Honduras received nearly $204 million for violence prevention, anti-drug efforts, improvements to the justice sector and other security measures, according to the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.
By comparison, $112 million funded economic growth, rural and social development and food security.
The security aid was especially welcomed by President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who had campaigned on an anti-violence platform and then ordered the military and the police to intensively patrol high-crime neighborhoods.