“In the villages of Colón, we do not want to be part of the migrant caravans”. The Coordination of Popular Organisations of the Bajo Aguán (COPA) explains that several members of the Guapinol community have already been expelled from their homes as a result of the conflict with mining company Pinares Investments. Some of them left under death threats; others left over their fears for the future. Locals view the future with apprehension, as the extractive project is set to affect over 34 water sources, and has already caused the unjust criminalisation of 32 community leaders protecting their rivers, eight of whom have been held in pre-trial detention for over a year and a half.
The criminalisation and constant threats forced human rights defender Irma Andrea Lemus Amaya to migrate. In March 2019, she decided to take a bus to the Guatemalan border with her final destination in the United States. By this stage, Irma had received numerous threats over several years for her work as a community reporter and her opposition to many mining projects throughout Colón Department. When her aggressors tried to kidnap her, Irma made the decision to leave Honduras.
The report 'Territories at Risk II: Mining, Hydrocarbons, and Electricity Production in Honduras' demonstrates how large-scale extractive projects often bring displacement to locals who, in addition to losing their homes, also lose their livelihoods: “Entire communities can be uprooted and forced to move”. This dispossession is particularly difficult for indigenous communities: “They have strong cultural and spiritual ties to the lands of their ancestors, and can find it difficult to survive when these are broken”.
In the Garífuna community of Barra Vieja (Atlántida Department) in 2014, the National Police and Military attempted to expel the inhabitants to move ahead with the construction of the Indura Resort tourist project. Over 450 locals, including 200 minors, were impacted by the displacement of the community, which has been inhabited by the Garífuna for 200 years. “Many families have been forced to leave the community. Some have migrated to the United States; others have gone to different cities in Honduras,” explains José Armando, a member of the community council. He adds, “those of us who have stayed in Barra Vieja have declared that we would rather die than abandon our homes”.
The Neoliberal Model Behind Displacement
Researcher Kenny Castillo finds that one of the primary drivers of migration is the implementation of the 1990 Economic Structural Adjustment Programme, which marked the arrival of the neoliberal economic model in Honduras under the administration of Rafael Leonardo Callejas. This programme intensified both the development of the tourist industry along the Caribbean coast of Honduras and social conflicts in Garífuna communities.
Migration is not a new phenomenon in the area; in fact, the strongest migration flows have been closely linked to changes in models of economic production. The report 'Migratory Cycles in Honduras' notes that the first decade of the 21st Century marked the beginning of migration cycles based in neoliberal extractivism. “Migrants no longer leave for economic reasons alone, but also due to violence and insecurity”. The report adds that, “this is the shortest cycle, but also the most intense in terms of the number of people leaving the country. This cycle is consistent with the evidence of the impact of extractivism in the country”.
In relation to internally displaced persons (IDPs), last October saw the presentation of a Law of Prevention, Attention, and Protection of Internally Displaced Persons before the National Congress. The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons have also urged Honduras to implement measures to guarantee the comprehensive protection of the human rights of IDPs.
In terms of external migration, in 1980 there were roughly 39,000 Honduran immigrants in the United States of America. By 2019, this figure had grown to 1.2 million, according to FOSDEH estimates. In other words, over almost 40 years, the number of migrants who decided to cross the more than 2,500 kilometres that separate Honduras from the “American dream” grew by 3,000%. Similarly, this increase in migration has caused remittances to reach over 20% of the country’s GDP, accounting for 5.5 billion dollars in 2019. Paradoxically, the migrants who have been expelled from Honduras due to its economic model are precisely those who are supporting the country’s economy.