[Translation of an article from Revistazo of Tegucigalpa for July 18. See original here.]
By Germán Reyes
They were excluded from society. They dreamed of improving their lives and with no other choice than to leave the country, they lifted to their shoulders old back packs holding mostly remembrances of their loved ones. Now, although society does not recognize them, they are the heroes of Honduras’ economic equilibrium.
They are the more than one million migrants who, fleeing from poverty, took to the road with no heed for the danger, even of losing their lives. Labeled as illegal, they defied the imperialist authorities and, after much sacrifice, arrived in the United States. Their remittances, beyond being a help for their families, are basic to the national economy.
Migrants live in anonymity and for them there are no tax receipts, they don’t receive diplomas or titles of respect.
Data from the Central Bank of Honduras show that remittances sent by migrants to their families in Honduras currently amount to around 2.525 million dollars, the equivalent of 17 percent of the Gross National Product, 43 percent of exports and 28 percent of imports.
“We nevertheless view with scorn those who fail in their efforts to leave,” says sociologist and university professor Julio Navarro, who believes both the government and the owners of banks should become more sensitive.
“Credit is not due to the businessmen but to the migrants; we should recognize that the lempira was stabilized in 2003 only when the poor packed their bags and left for the United States. Regardless, people hold to the idea that economic stability is due to great foreign and domestic investment,” Navarro stated.
According to the analyst, Honduras’ macroeconomic balance came about beginning in 1994 as a result of the remittances from migrants and reached a peak in 1998, with the passing of hurricane Mitch.
Until 1998, Honduras was receiving 600 million lempiras [about 31 million US dollars] in remittances, but that natural event not only brought about the disaster of the moment but even revealed what had been happening all along. “And it seems that that touched the migrants and they took on the habits of the Salvadorans, who had been the greatest source of remittances for their country, and then they began to send remittances,” he said.
Because of government machinations, remittances make the bankers richer
Although most of the remittances aid only in supporting the migrants’ families, the government plots with bankers to set higher fees for sending this money, which makes the rich richer day by day.
“Before the remittance boom the banks had no buildings. What did the Banco de Occidente have? Little huts. Ficosa? What did it have? To name names, these banks grew because the state, in conspiracy with the bankers, charges the migrant a fee as high as 14 percent, while in Mexico the fee is around three percent,” Navarro declared.
Because of the amounts involved, few families manage to invest in improving their living conditions or in making repairs to their homes.
Although it is clear how banks have grown beginning with the increase in remittances, so far there has been no sign of the businessmen in that field offering compensation in social projects for their profits. “The banks should have already created a foundation through which they could spend even one percent or half of one percent of what they make from remittances to help all our brothers who have failed at the borders,” the sociologist stated.
So far many of our countrymen seeking to improve their lives have found death or have returned maimed.
Statistics from the United States Office of Immigration Statistics indicate that an average of 12 Hondurans leave the country every hour in search of the American dream. That figure translates to 105,120 countrymen every year.
Data from the Honduran foreign office show that last year 208 Hondurans lost their lives in the United States, while 29,348 were deported. The Centro de Atención al Migrante reports that from 2000 to the present, 1,122,705 persons have been deported.
It doesn’t suit Honduras for migrants to be legalized
Navarro asserted that a result of the sending of remittances is the creation of a generation of complacent people who wait for that little message and who stay home immobile until they can go to the bank. And when that relationship is broken the country will experience economic distortions.
“And that’s where the paradoxes come in, because Honduras is the country for which the legalization of migrants is least beneficial,” he stated.
He said that once Hondurans are legalized in the United States, the remittances will decrease and so the illegal status suits the state and the families. “Because, as for the families, once the person achieves legalization, marries another woman there, starts another family and opens a bank account and tries to save some money, he will no longer send money here.”
The interviewee said that there is a double standard in the government’s statements and their actions. “There are complaints about the treatment Hondurans get at the border with Mexico, but in South America they have reason to complain as well when we arrest migrants here and send them back, because we hold to the mistaken notion that migration is a crime. Migration is a human right because it was market forces that created the borders,” he said.
He added that in that sense the government should have a little more tolerance, especially considering the difference in the treatment of the Chinese and the Cubans, who are guaranteed respect for their rights and who are often even provided documents so they can continue on their way. Nevertheless, Chileans, Colombians, Ecuadoreans and the rest of Latin Americans are arrested and sent to jail as though they were criminals.
“They are travelling through; nobody wants to stay here, so why make life hard for them?” he asked.