U.S. military presence in Honduras and the roots of Honduran migration to the United States are closely linked to sex trafficking of human slaves into the USA.
It began in the late 1890’s, when U.S.-based banana companies first became active there. As historian Walter LaFeber writes in “Inevitable Revolutions: The USA in Central America,”
American companies “built railroads, established their own banking systems, and bribed government officials at a dizzying pace.
Hundreds of U.S. soldiers were stationed at the Palmerola Air Base at the time. Many of them would frequent Comayagua, particularly its “red zone” of female sex workers.
As a result, the Caribbean coast “became a foreign-controlled enclave that systematically swung the whole of Honduras into a one-crop economy whose wealth was carried off to New Orleans, New York, and later Boston.”
By 1914, U.S. banana interests owned almost 1 million acres of Honduras’ best land. These holdings grew through the 1920’s to such an extent that, Honduran peasants “had no hope of access to their nation’s good soil.
Over a few decades, U.S. capital also came to dominate the country’s banking and mining sectors, a process facilitated by the weak state of Honduras’ domestic business sector.
This was coupled with direct U.S. political and military interventions to protect U.S. interests in 1907 and 1911.
Such developments made Honduras’ ruling class dependent on Washington for support. A central component of this ruling class was and remains the Honduran military. By the mid-1960’s it had become, the country’s “most developed political institution,” – one that Washington played a key role in shaping.
This was especially the case during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s. At that time, U.S. political and military policy was so influential that many referred to the Central American country as the “U.S.S. Honduras” and the Pentagon Republic.
The Reagan years also saw the construction of numerous joint Honduran-U.S. military bases and installations. Such moves greatly strengthened the militarization of Honduran society. In turn, political repression rose. There was a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations, “disappearances” and illegal detentions.
The Reagan administration also helped deregulate and destabilize the global coffee trade, upon which Honduras heavily depended. These changes made Honduras more amenable to the interests of global capital. They disrupted traditional forms of agriculture and undermined an already weak social safety net.
These decades of U.S. involvement in Honduras set the stage for Honduran emigration to the United States, which began to markedly increase in the 1990’s.
Still, liberalizing tendencies of successive governments and grassroots pressure provided openings for democratic forces. They contributed, for example, to the election of Manuel Zelaya, a liberal reformist, as president in 2006. He led on progressive measures such as raising the minimum wage.
Zelaya also tried to organize a plebiscite to allow for a constituent assembly to replace the country’s constitution, which had been written during a military government. However, these efforts incurred the ire of the country’s oligarchy, leading to his overthrow by the military in June 2009.
The 2009 coup, more than any other development, explains the increase in Honduran migration across the southern U.S. border in the last few years.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in particular, sent conflicting messages, and worked to ensure that Zelaya did not return to power.
This was contrary to the wishes of the Organization of American States (OAS), the leading hemispheric political forum composed of the 35 member-countries of the Americas, including the Caribbean.
Several months after the coup, Clinton supported a highly questionable election aimed at legitimating the post-coup government.
Since the coup, a series of corrupt administrations has unleashed open criminal control of Honduras, from top to bottom of the government.
Washington’s longstanding willingness to overlook official corruption in Honduras as long as the country’s ruling elites serve what are defined as U.S. economic and geopolitical interests.
Organized crime, drug traffickers and the country’s police heavily overlap. The frequent politically motivated killings are rarely punished.
What will happen to the thousands of people now moving northward? If the recent past is any indication, many will likely stay in Mexico.
The Conversation.com / ABC Flash Point News 2019.