By Michael Sutherland | United States
The Honduran Migrant caravan has reignited the U.S. immigration debate. Immigration has been an issue for decades but has intensified in recent years. The current migrant caravan is a large group of asylum seekers, mostly from Honduras, planning on immigrating to the United States. This has sparked controversy over the U.S.’ current immigration policy, welfare state, and other supposed problems of immigration.
Many assume that the caravan was created by the poverty and destruction that has overtaken Latin America and South America in recent years. While this is partially correct, the underlying cause of the Honduran crises is the 2009 coup d’état. And like most other coups in that region, the U.S. had a hand in it. However, America’s involvement in that coup was more purposeful inaction than direct causation.
2009 Honduran Coup
Before the coup, the Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, was like the usual South America leader of the time. He was an up and coming socialist and friend of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. His disdain towards the Honduran media, an overt propaganda department for political groups, was the traditional run of the mill authoritarianism. He also massively increased spending on a variety of programs.
Zelaya’s downfall would come when he proposed the idea of altering the Honduran constitution through a national poll. His opposition claimed it was an obvious attempt for him to extend his term since the Honduran President only needed a convention to change eight out of the 375 articles. One of these eight discussed term limits. Zelaya claimed he fully intended to step down after the end of his term, but his intentions are debatable.
The Honduran Supreme Court then ruled that holding the poll was illegal, but Zelaya carried on with it anyway. Since the Honduran military assists with election logistics, Zelaya asked the chief of the military to distribute the ballot boxes. This request was denied and the General, Romeo Vásquez, was fired, which resulted in numerous other generals resigning in support of him.
Then, on June 28, 2009, the military had Zelaya arrested and exiled to Costa Rica. The Honduran National Congress then replaced Zelaya with the Congressional President, Roberto Micheletti. Ever since the coup, the Honduran economy has been absolutely tanked, a majority of the population lives in crippling poverty, and numerous human rights abuses have been perpetrated. Honduras also has the highest murder rate in the entire world. These factors have prompted a mass migration out of Honduras towards the United States.
The U.S. Response
What was the US’ role in the 2009 coup? While not being directly behind it like most other coups in that part of the world, the U.S. State Department played a vital role in preventing Zalaya’s return to Honduras. Following the coup, the U.S. ambassador to Honduras told the State Department that the military action was an unconstitutional coup and worthy of a U.S. response. However, the U.S. response would do nothing to fix the situation, worsen Honduras, and lead to the climate that creates the current migrant caravan.
First, the State Department did not suspend foreign aid to Honduras, which is required when a democratic nation is overthrown in a coup, on the basis of uncertainty over whether or not it was a coup d’état. Then, it was later revealed that the State Department rejected international calls to condemn the coup and use U.S. influence to open negations with the Honduran interim government.
When the UN General Assembly and other international groups demanded Zelaya’ return to office, the U.S. State Department also went against such actions. America instead supported another election, meant to be “free and fair.” However, it was conducted under the Honduran interim government’s military rule and ended in violence, media censorship, and corruption. Attempts by pan-American organizations to not recognize elections conducted by the Honduran de-facto government were also blocked by the State Department.
So while the debate over what should be done about the caravan and U.S. border policy is an important discussion, it is best to keep in mind that these problems are a result of American diplomatic failures. If we are to fix the growing spike in migration and refugees, we must take a look at the U.S. intervention, or in this case nonintervention, that has led to it.
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