What Goes Around, Comes Around

This is the first of a series that will look into some of the major problems facing America as a nation.

Have you ever wondered why our nation is plagued with so many problems? The answer is really simple. The vast majority of our nation’s problems are the results of our own actions. Why do I say that? Let’s take a look.

Illegal immigration: The vast majority of illegal immigrants across our southern border today are from Honduras. The reason they want to leave their homeland is not because they are seeking wealth in the U.S. but because they are seeking refuge from political oppression, crime and poverty. Most of these refugees are fearful for their their lives and their families. Honduras has become a land of lawlessness where few people are safe. The government is corrupt, incompetent and incapable of protecting its citizens.

Today, Honduras has the second highest murder rate in the world – 56.52 per 100,000 population. According to World Bank statistics, it is one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita GDP of $2,4801 . Income and wealth inequalities are among the highest of all countries in the world with 60.9% of the population living in poverty. Official unemployment is only 3.6% but that’s because nearly everyone is forced to engage in some kind of economic activity (including narcotics trafficking). Officially, visible underemployment is 10.5%, but unofficially, invisible underemployment is 43.6% for a total of 57.7% unemployment and underemployment2. The country is rife with criminal gangs and gang warfare is an everyday occurrence. The government is basically run by the military that are dedicated only to holding on to power and protecting the ruling class. The police are corrupt, participate in criminal activities themselves, and generally only bother to protect the elite. Actual governance of the country is carried out more by gangs and the drug cartel than the so-called legitimate government. In all respects, Honduras meets the definition of a failed state. And because of this, Honduran citizens are fleeing for their lives.

Why is this so? The present government in Honduras is what it is as the direct result of U.S. corporate and official government interference in Honduran politics beginning over a century ago. For over a century, Honduras has been a de facto colony of the U.S. with governments backed by the U.S. military only when they served U.S. business interests. Starting in the latter part of the 19th century U.S. fruit companies turned Honduras into a “banana republic”, acquiring existing plantations and the best land for new plantations leaving only poor land for the peasants farmers. (Recall that, until recently, Honduras was primarily an agrarian nation, so land was it’s most valuable natural resource.) The fruit companies essentially controlled the entire economy of Honduras, paying “slave labor” wages to laborers, acquiring the best land for plantations below market value, and paying bribes to government officials for their acquiescence and protection. When government officials objected or attempted reforms, the U.S. retaliated by supporting military coups that overthrew the government.

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt declared the U.S. right to exercise an “international police power” in Latin America. Since then, examples of U.S. intervention in Honduras include:

1911: An American entrepreneur partnered the Honduran military in a coup against President Miguel Dávila and installed the previously deposed dictator Manuel Bonilla. Bonilla subsequently rewarded the American’s corporate backers with tax incentives and other concessions. As a result, U.S. fruit companies acquired over a million acres of the best land for plantations.

1975: The United Fruit Company paid $1.25 million to a Honduran official to support a reduction in banana export taxes.

1980’s: The Reagan administration used Honduras to train the right-wing Contras in their guerilla war against Nicaragua’s Sandanista government and opened trade liberalization policies that directly benefited global capital.

2005: Honduras was coerced to enter the free trade agreement CAFTA, which benefited U.S. importers and exporters, hurt small scale farmers, ruined Honduras’ balance of trade, increased rural migration to Honduras’ cities and hurt U.S. farmers through the importation of fruits and vegetables mass produced with cheap labor.

2009: In an effort to break away from U.S. control and reform their government, Hondurans elected the progressive president Manuel Zelaya. President Zelaya attempted numerous reforms, including revisions to the constitution which had been written by an earlier military government. These reform efforts angered the Honduran military which subsequently overthrew Zelaya in a military coup with the implicit support of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Since the coup, the country has experienced the most rapid increase of crime and inequality in the region.

As a result of these and more U.S. interventions, Honduras is now a completely failed state that can no longer perform the basic functions of government, and its citizens are fleeing for their lives. So is it any wonder that these people are seeking shelter in the U.S. when they are no safer in the other Latin American countries than they are at home? Thus, as a direct result of U.S. interference in Honduras’ political and economic affairs, the U.S. is now faced with an immigration crises from the very country in which it interfered. Truly, what goes around, comes around.

As a final word, Honduras is not alone in this calamity. All of the Central American countries and most of the South American countries have suffered similar fates at the hands of our own government and U.S. corporations. I focus on Honduras for the moment only because the crisis du jour happens to be the northward migration of thousands of Honduran refugees.

1 Sadly, there is a surprisingly large discrepancy between the per capita GDP reported by the World Bank which is $2,480 and that reported by CIA World Fact Book which is $5,600. Of the two, I am inclined to accept the World Bank estimates.

2 “Honduras Since the Coup”, Center for Economic and Policy Research, November 2013