Development and Peace – Caritas Canada has sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau to express its concern over the poverty and insecurity that is driving Hondurans to flee their country – a situation that Canada itself has contributed towards creating.
Last October, a group of Hondurans set off on a journey to reach the United States to seek a better life and future, and just in the last few days, a new caravan began a similar trek. Unfortunately, these migrant caravans are being used to stoke anti-immigrant feelings, rather than launch a discussion on the responsibility of the U.S. and Canada in creating the poor living conditions that have resulted in these caravans – and our obligation to provide a safe haven.
Imagine the uproar that would be caused if one day our Prime Minister was forced out of his home in the middle of the night and put on a plane to be exiled in a neighbouring country. In the meantime, the military takes control and puts in place an unelected leader who ignores the rule of law. Allies would surely intervene. The world would be in shock. This couldn’t happen because we live in a society based on democratic principles and we expect our rights to be respected.
Yet, when this happened to Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, how did the world react? By doing nothing. Zelaya, who had upset the elites of the country by respecting the land rights of Indigenous and peasant communities, was proposing talks on a possible referendum on extending the number of mandates allowed to presidents. Before this could happen, he was forcibly exiled to Costa Rica in a military coup d’état. The United States and Canada were particularly silent on the coup, despite international condemnation, including from the Organization of American States (OAS), which banned Honduras from its membership. Since then, democracy has remained fragile and despite the OAS calling for new elections after the 2017 vote, the United States threw its support behind the declared winner Juan Orlando Hernandez, whose corruption and human rights abuses have been universally denounced. And Canada followed suit.
In the nearly 10 years since the coup, Canada has proactively fostered an economic relationship with the Honduran regime. In 2014, Canada signed a free trade agreement with Honduras and provided technical support in revising the country’s mining code to allow foreign companies to exploit mining concessions with greater ease. This opened the door to Canadian companies, which at one point held up to 90% of foreign mining investments in the country.
Today in Honduras, 60 per cent of the population lives in poverty and the country has the highest level of economic inequality in Latin America. Many Hondurans in the caravan are small-scale farmers whose crops have failed because of drought and flooding caused by climate change, which Western countries contribute the most to. Honduras has also become one of the most dangerous places on the planet – particularly for human rights defenders. When communities question mining and energy projects on their territory, they are threatened and even murdered by security and government forces, as was tragically seen in the case of Indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres in 2016.
Although Canada is one of the main contributors to a UN Human Rights Mission in Honduras, it must do more. While Western governments, including Canada, continue to contribute to the root causes of forced migration rather being part of the solution by supporting local democracy and human rights that allow people at all levels of society to live in dignity, and by addressing the climate crisis, then yes, people will continue to flee in search of a better life for themselves and their children. And we must welcome them with open arms in the same way our governments have welcomed a regime that puts profits before the wellbeing of its people.
Click here to download the letter in PDF format.