People of Faith Root Causes Delegation

Honduras 2016

Root Causes of Migration: People of Faith Pilgrimage to Honduras 2016

This December, 14 Faith Leaders will be traveling to Honduras to offer witness and presence to defenders of water, land and human rights in Honduras and raise awareness of the violence, displacement and root causes forcing people to migrate from their homeland.

 Who is Going?  14 people from the US and Canada representing a diversity of denominations, including United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalist Church, Lutheran Church (ELCA), Sisters of St. Joseph and other Catholics .  We are people involved in local programs assisting migrants and working for immigrant and environmental justice in California, Illinois, Washington DC and Florida.



What will be doing?

Visiting with indigenous, human rights, water and land defenders, such as: COPINH, indigenous network co-founded  by Berta Caceres, Goldman Prize winner who was assassinated in March of this year, that is involved in protecting their local rivers and communities from destruction by hydroelectric dam and mining projects.

Visiting MUCA in the Bajo Aguan where two peasant leaders were recently assassinated in October.

Meeting with immigrants who have been deported from the United States back to danger in Honduras.

Meeting with OFRANEH – network of Garifuna people’s- defending their national territories from land grabs and resort development

Meeting with the Mothers of the Disappeared Migrants of Progreso

Regional Fora on Migration, Human Rights in Honduras and Mother Earth.

Honoring Radio Progreso-ERIC SJ– on  their 60th Anniversary.  We will be bringing a resolution passed by the City of Berkeley in honor of the 60th Anniversary.

Why are we Going?

–       “to learn more about human and environmental justice issues in Honduras, how both are interconnected, and how these contribute to causes of migration.”

–      “to accompany the people and their struggle to defend their environment and communities. For the Lencas the river and the forest are sacred and they are willing to give their lives for. I want to learn from them and find ways we can support their struggle.”

–       “to learn firsthand about the reasons why people are fleeing, to show solidarity for their fight for their rights, and to be inspired and empowered so that we can be more effective advocating for change and reform”

–       “to participate on the 60th anniversary of the Radio Progreso, Padre Melo and the staff who are dedicating their wisdom and life to walk with the organized poor of Honduras.”

–       “to learn from the movement in Honduras, how in dire political situations that we now find ourselves in the US,  they have been able to maintain resilience, strength and hope”

–       “with the recent elections in the US it is more urgent that we organize and mobilize our communities in defense of our immigrant sisters and brothers, to open our homes and communities and embrace them, understanding why they are fleeing and addressing root causes is critical”



Want to read more or watch a video about some of the issues we will be examining in Honduras?

Here’s some suggestions!

Featured post

Honduras: Exploring the connections and reasons people migrate

This article by Phyllis Tierney was just published in the Global Sisters Report, an independent, non-profit source of news and information about Catholic sisters and the critical issues facing the people they serve on March 7, 2017.

I was privileged to join a 10-day “root causes pilgrimage” to Honduras last December with a group from California, the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. The purpose of the pilgrimage was to identify the real reasons why so many from the “Northern Triangle” — Guatemala, El Salvador, and particularly Honduras — continue to migrate north despite the many obstacles they face. Delegations like this from the United States provide a witness to the poverty, the political system, and other issues which the people face.

Our trip was led by two very knowledgeable guides. Rev. Deborah Lee, immigration program director, works with faith communities to engage, accompany and advocate for the fair treatment and dignity of immigrants in the San Francisco Bay area. José Artiga is Director of SHARE El Salvador, a foundation that strengthens solidarity among the Salvadoran people in their struggle for economic stability, and partners with Salvadoran Americans. It fosters leadership development, particularly for women and girls, and sponsors delegations such as the LCWR group that visited in 2015 to celebrate the anniversary of the four churchwomen.

Honduras is a country wealthy in resources, but its government fails to develop them for its people, preferring instead to sell its national resources to the highest bidder. Small landowners, small businesses and the indigenous population of the country have fought a continued battle for their land and resources against wealthy corporations, foreign investors and the government. This has led to continued assassination of leaders who have fought for human rights for their people.

Honduras is designated as a high crime area for gangs in one of the most dangerous countries of Latin America. We were told that the gangs are often foot soldiers of the drug lords. Business owners are expected to pay for protection. The violence is a major cause of migration.

To make matters worse, the nation’s military is employed to defend large landowners instead of ordinary citizens. The assassination of human rights leaders continues with impunity because, despite international pressure, the government fails to provide protection for these leaders when it is requested.

The Root Causes Pilgrimage Group, front row, from left: José Ariga, Rev. Deborah Lee, Diana Bohn, Suzanne Llewellen, Sr. Phyllis Tierney and Gloria Jimenez; back row: Kristen Lionetti, Señora Berta Lopez, Shannon Engeland, Julia Steinbach, Vicky Purcell-Gates, Rev. Terry Gallagher and Alejandro Artiga-Purcell. (Courtesy of Deborah Lee)

The assassination of Berta Caceres on March 2, 2016, is a case in point. She was an internationally known indigenous rights leader protecting her people’s land against the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of a Honduran company and a Chinese company that is the world’s largest dam developer. They plan to build a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River, a river sacred to the indigenous people and the source of their livelihood. Other people have been killed because they stood against corporations’ taking their land. Migration north is the only route for persons who must leave the country because of threats against their lives and their families.

The U.S. government is complicit in providing military training for the Honduran government, which in turn uses its forces to “protect” the corporations against the people. The Alliance for Prosperity negotiated by then-Secretary of State John Kerry with the Northern Triangle countries in 2014 was intended to discourage migration by encouraging economic development. But it has allowed multinational corporations to set up “model cities,” which are really walled industrial complexes where companies can establish free trade zones. They have their own security forces, and within the areas, no national human rights laws apply.

We met with union workers from a T-shirt factory who spoke about the long work hours, from 7 a.m. to 6:20 p.m. Production quotas increase and workers are forced to do in a four-day week what would be a quota for a five-day week. Workers cannot support their families on the minimal wages, averaging only $300 a month. The work is repetitive, often resulting in health issues and injuries. Workers don’t receive health benefits and can be fired after being injured. These factors provide more reasons for migration.

We were present for the return of one of the two planes per day arriving from the U.S. in San Pedro Sula, where approximately 300 people per day are returned after deportation. They are handed the only belongings they had with them when they were picked up. Volunteers help to get bus tickets for people to return to their homes. What happens after that is unknown!

It is important to emphasize that our U.S. foreign policies contribute both to the problem of why people are forced to flee and to the reasons people are forced to return. It is our U.S. funding that is used primarily for security, which pays the military but does not provide protection for Honduran citizens who are at risk.

Julia Steinbach, second from left, and Susanne Llewellyn, second from right, pose with three farmers from Bajo Aguan. (Courtesy of Suzanne Llewellen)

In 2016, the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, HR 5474, was introduced in Congress and signed by 51 legislators, but was not acted upon. This bill would have prohibited funding for police and military in Honduras. It directed the Department of the Treasury to vote against multilateral loans to Honduras for police and military until the U.S. State Department certified that the rule of law was established, and that the judicial system enforced penalties against those in the police and military who committed human rights abuses. This legislation will have to be reintroduced in the new Congress.

To date, the persons who have been charged in the murder of Berta Caceres have not yet been brought to trial. And Berta’s case is only one example. We visited farmers in Bajo Aguan whose leaders have continued to be assassinated, two only recently before our arrival. In Rio Blanco, a senior woman in the Lenca tribe, a member of the Council of Elders, said, “We are willing to die so our children may have a future.” As we see similar issues in the United States regarding indigenous communities and land rights, it is up to us to stand for “justice for all,” the words in our own pledge of allegiance!

Our group met with Señora Berta Flores Lopez, Berta’s mother. She spoke about Berta’s visit with Pope Francis, when she brought leaders of COPINH (the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras) to present a list of demands of the indigenous people to ask for support of their land rights. Lopez emphasized the need for faith communities to continue to support the indigenous people in these efforts.

Throughout the course of our trip, we heard several times from different groups that the presence of faith groups is important because we are witnesses to the abuse which the people have suffered. The government does not want international incidents involving harm to foreign groups.

Each of us who asked to participate in this pilgrimage agreed to write and speak to others when we returned home. It is a story that each of us must tell in our own words. I listen to the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has been in the news so often these days, and know I must tell this story because these people are caught in a vise. They love their families; they love their country; but they can’t live with continued violence and poverty. They come north to survive. Until our government is willing to withhold funding until human rights abuses are corrected and to insist that money given for economic development be used for the development of small businesses and economic opportunities for young people, nothing will change.

To read the blog about our entire experience written by members of the group, please visit Much of the information about Latin America was from The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a non-profit independent research and information organization.

[Phyllis Tierney is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester and coordinator of the Sisters of St. Joseph Justice and Peace Ministry, which is focused on immigration, human trafficking and environmental concerns like water and climate change. She edits Just Us.]

Root Causes of Migration Pilgrimage Report


The Delegation

In Dec. 2016, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity led a  third delegation of religious leaders to Central America to listen, witness and better understand the root causes of migration as a response to the increasing flow of migrant youth and families from Central America since 2014.  A primary goal was to investigate more deeply beyond the simple reasons of “violence and poverty,” to get at the root causes, and to hear proposed solutions from the Honduran social movement. Our 10-day delegation consisted of 13 persons from California, Illinois, New York, Washington DC and Canada, representing the  United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Universalists, Sisters of St. Joseph and other Roman Catholics.

We met with organizations fighting the underlying causes of migration, and an organization searching for family members disappeared on the migrant trail. We witnessed the daily return of hundreds of Hondurans by plane from the U.S. and met with an organization providing support and job training to those who have been deported back to Honduras.  We met with communities of subsistence farmers and indigenous Lenca and Garifuna communities fighting the theft of their lands and extraction of their natural resources, and, as a result, facing targeted threats and assassinations of their leaders.  The violence and displacement has greatly increased since the 2009 coup.  We met the mother of assassinated leader, Berta Caceres, and garment factory union leaders fighting for safe working conditions and a livable wage.  We were expertly guided by the Jesuit organization, Radio Progreso/ERIC, celebrating its 60th Anniversary.


We observed that Honduras is rich in natural resources, but the vast majority of Honduran people are being impoverished by deliberate policies.  We were surprised to learn that the problem of gangs is not a root cause in itself, but is enabled by a climate of impunity and corruption.  Gangs committing extortions and violence are the foot soldiers of drug cartels complicit with the highest levels of Honduran government and elites.

Read more here




Walls, Security and Extraction – Exploring the Root Causes of Honduran Migration

A version of this article was also published here  in Spanish in the publication Contrapunto.

January 2017

by Alejandro Artiga-Purcell

Walls, security and extraction—these have become the pillars of US foreign policy on Central American immigration this past decade. Purportedly designed to stem the tide of immigration, current US policy exacerbates and actively creates situations that force immigration. The opening up of borders to free trade and investment is founded on an extractivist model of development in which the privatization of more and more public resources—energy, minerals, water, land—leads to the consolidation of wealth for a few and poverty for the many. Security, though often justified to combat rampant gang violence and corruption, is vital to secure corporate access to these valuable resources, and to oppress all those who resist their forced displacement and dispossession. Walls not only serve as financial barriers to further extract wealth (for example, in the form of tolls on privatized highways), but also provide physical hurdles to the movement of those displaced and dispossessed people. So, instead of solving problems, current policy has become the latest expression of a US imperialism that ultimately serves neither the people of the United States nor the people of Central America.

The Migration Crisis: _

Stemming immigration to the U.S. from Central America has been a national priority since November 2014, when the detention and deportation of over 40,000 Central American children at the US-Mexico border leaked to the public. President Donald Trump’s continued threats to “build the wall” and increase deportation of undocumented immigrants (even after the Obama administration has already deported more people than any previous administration) have only intensified the national debate (Horsley, 2016). However, thorough and accurate analysis of why these immigrants are coming in the first place is almost entirely missing from political debate and public discourse.

Mainstream explanations in media, government and international institutions like the United Nations point to the vicious cycle of scarce economic opportunity, rampant poverty, and growing gang violence as the primary forces pushing people to uproot and go north.  These explanations fail to examine either the causes for these phenomena or the differences that exist country-to-country. The “Alliance for Prosperity Plan,” implemented as a response to the migration spike in 2014, reflects this flawed perspective. This four-country agreement between the United States and Central America’s Northern Triangle countries aims to curtail immigration from the regions largest immigrant-producing nations—Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Significantly, the $750 million budget approved by the US Congress for 2016 focused primarily on aid for “development assistance” and “security measures” (Iesue, 2016). Under this Plan, reducing incentives for immigration means cracking down on gang violence, drug trafficking, high levels of extortion and overall insecurity on the one hand, and alleviating poverty through increased development opportunities on the other.

This is a dangerously misdirected and incomplete analysis. This past December, I was part of a delegation to Honduras seeking to uncover the “root causes” of immigration.  The delegation met directly with a variety of affected communities. Gang violence and economic underdevelopment did not feature in these communities’ analyses of why they and their loved ones fled the country. In fact, as we met with indigenous communities, farmers, maquila workers, church leaders, human rights activists, and returned deportees, few mentioned gangs or underdevelopment at all. Instead, the recurring themes were the rampant privatization and extraction of public resources, facilitated by political corruption at the highest levels of government, and enforced through the militarization of the country and the criminalization with impunity of all those who dissent.

Geographically and culturally disparate communities within Honduras gave strikingly similar testimonies. The Garifuna, a coastal indigenous people, are fighting against a five-star tourist resort seeking to displace them from their home of over 200 years; Lenca indigenous in the Honduran highlands are threatened by hydroelectric dam and mining projects that seek to divert, over consume, and pollute the rivers that sustain their farming practices; Campesinos in the Bajo Aguan valley face harassment, disappearance and death at the hands of paramilitary and military groups for demanding that African Palm plantation magnates return their illegally stolen land. Furthermore, national protests continue to rage against the privatization of the country’s major highways and the subsequent proliferation of tolls. We were reminded that barriers to movement don’t begin at the US border wall, but within Honduras, as these tolls pose financial hurdles that extract further income from already impoverished commuters.

Whose Development?

While these testimonies are diverse in their details, each tells a story of exclusion and extraction through the privatization and consolidation of public resources. The extraction of water, land, energy, minerals, toll revenue, and the resulting accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few political and corporate elite propel the dispossession, displacement and repression of the Honduran people.

The stories of these resorts, dams, mines, palm plantations and privatized highways are not isolated. Mining, a hugely energy intensive industry, is intimately linked to the proliferation of hydroelectric dams. Tourism and resource extraction are linked to privatized transportation networks of roads and highways to bring people and goods in and out of zones of production and consumption. All of these industries demand large swaths of land, water and energy—opened up through their privatization—to operate at an economically viable scale (Interview with Karen Spring, December 2016).

Seen together, these cases represent distinct but intricately connected manifestations of a larger project geared towards market-driven development—the very type of development advanced by the Alliance for Prosperity. Honduras’ overlapping waves of privatization and dispossession have stripped its people of their access to clean environments, health, security and livelihoods, often without consent or compensation. One way out of the predicament is migration. Thus, in a cruel irony, one of the key remedies prescribed for reducing immigration, namely economic development through large projects that attract foreign and national capital, actually helps produce the conditions of poverty and repression that force Hondurans to flee!

The Myth of Security:

The Alliance for Prosperity Plan’s other priority—bolstering security—plays an equally important role in increasing rather than stemming the flow of migrants. It is no secret that throughout Latin America the expansion of resource extraction and privatization of public resources have often gone hand in hand with increased militarization of the state (Bury and Bebbington, 2013: 45; ICHR, 2015: 158-160). In Honduras, larger (often US funded) budgets for the military and police forces as well as increased impunity have been integral to the suppression of public dissent and community organizing (Spring, interview). Those who resist development projects, human rights violations and environmental degradation are subject to legal or extralegal persecution. This past year, the anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness ranked Honduras as the most dangerous country in which to be an environmental activist (Miroff, 2016). This title gained global recognition with the still unsolved murder of internationally renowned human rights and indigenous leader, Berta Caceres, despite her supposed protection by the Honduran state (Miroff, 2016). Less known, are the murders of Nelson García and Lesbia Urquía, members of environmental organizations COPINH and MILPAH. Other environmental leaders and activists, including Tomas Gomez, Caceres’ replacement as the director of COPINH, face similar death threats and assassination attempts (Guevara-Rosas, 2016; Interview with Tomas Gomez, December 2016).

Even those not protesting large development projects are under constant attack. Two leaders of the Agrarian Reform movement in the Bajo Aguan valley were killed just a few months before our arrival (Lakhani, 2016). Others in the movement came out of hiding to meet with us and share their experience facing lawsuits and terrorist charges. In the city, unionized workers at a maquila who wish to remain anonymous for their personal safety, spoke of having to constantly travel in groups as a precaution against kidnap or worse. Demanding only the right to organize for fair wages, safe working conditions and maternity leave, these workers cherish daily activities such as hugging their children goodbye in the morning, because of their painful awareness that they may not return home alive (Interview, December 2016).

Complicating the Rhetoric of Gang Violence:

The targeting of strategic leaders in environmental, human rights, agrarian reform, and labor movements belies official efforts to blame these tragedies on random gang violence and crime. When pressed about the role of the gangs and narco traffickers, many of those with whom we spoke found it difficult to distinguish between organized criminal activity and government-sponsored violence and corruption. In Honduras, corruption scandals are well documented.  Police officers have taken their cut of the “war tax” (the price paid to gangs to not be killed), conspired against anti-drug officials, and turned a blind eye to gang and drug related violence, further adding to a culture of impunity (Malkin and Arce, 2016). Currently, Honduran and US intelligence officers are investigating the close ties between narco traffickers and officials at every level of the Honduran government, including police officers, mayors, congress people, and judges (Gagne, 2016).

Highlighting the blurred lines between gang violence and state-sponsored violence in Honduras in no way refutes that gangs and cartels pose serious problems that contribute to everyday insecurity and repression. The chronic economic struggle of paying the “war tax” and the risks of day-to-day life are important factors in people’s decision to migrate. However, as Karen Spring, a coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network, explains, “Gangs are not autonomous actors. They are enabled by impunity, they are enabled by corruption, and they are enabled by…the mafia government of Honduras.” Gangs are also enabled by the same economic system that simultaneously prioritizes economic growth and development and strips Honduras of their resources, rights, and livelihoods. Generations of Honduran youth without economic opportunity and social support systems often have little alternative to joining a gang. Any analysis of immigration that stops with a critique of gangs and their so-called random acts of violence constitutes an overly superficial and misleading representation of a much more complex reality.

Towards a better understanding of Migration’s Root Causes:

While recognizing the varied motivations of Hondurans who migrate north, it is critical to attend to the more general political and economic failures that propel poverty, violence, gang activity, and migration. As more and more fundamental, life-giving resources and social life itself fall prey to privatization, commodification, and redistribution, the country’s wealth has consolidated in the hands of a few political and economic elite. Exploitation of environments and communities, and the frontal attack on their livelihoods, have led to a breakdown in the social fabric—as evidenced by fractured families, dwindling communities and mass impoverishment.

Importantly, this extractivist development model is inseparable from the high levels of government corruption, militarization, and impunity in Honduras that enforce particular economic interests and an unequal geopolitical balance of power. It should not be forgotten, furthermore, that over the past century the United States and “the West” (often embodied in institutions like the World Bank, the Inter Monetary Fund, and the Inter-American Development Bank) has played a key role in advancing the interests of foreign direct investment-based development in Honduras. Just this century US foreign policy sponsored the 2009 coup d’état and promoted the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)—both of which have wrought havoc in the country’s political, economic and social arenas.

The Alliance for Prosperity is just the most recent iteration of US imperialism in Honduras. Founded on misleading rhetoric attributing immigration to gang violence and underdevelopment-induced poverty, the Plan not only mis-diagnoses the root causes of violence, poverty and immigration, but actually perpetuates the underlying disease by promoting unbridled  “development” and false “security”. Sadly, the “development” of which the Plan speaks is a ruthless extractivist development that prioritizes profit and growth above human rights and environmental well-being. Meanwhile the “security” it emphasizes, primarily secures transnational corporations and national elites’ rights to access and extract privatized resources by dispossessing the larger Honduran population.

Calls to Action:

The problem of the current migration crisis is certainly complex and steeped within a long history of failed development policies both nationally and internationally. Consequently no silver bullet solution exists to overcome centuries of colonial and imperial devastation. However, the lack of a simple fix-all policy leaves open the possibility and necessity for a plurality of responses. In North America, we bear the responsibility to pressure our heads of state, congress people, and local representatives, to both acknowledge our country’s role in perpetuating forced immigration and also to act on it. One concrete example of such a legislative action is to reintroduce and pass the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act or “Berta Bill” which prohibits US aid to the Honduran police and military until certain human rights measures are met. A next step is not just to cut military and police aid to Honduras, but to redirect that aid to sectors where it can help and empower Hondurans—such as education, healthcare, and other social services.

Solutions cannot only come from the top down, or from the North to the South. A major theme in the global Women’s March on January 21, 2017 was to stop building walls and start building bridges. Taking this commitment seriously, and applying it internationally requires that we build solidarity networks between countries, cities and communities. This is necessary now more than ever as the struggles Hondurans have faced for decades—the fight against walls, security and extraction—are also our own. In the age of Trump, we collectively face the wall on the US-Mexico border, the prohibition of Muslim immigrants, attacks on sanctuary cities, the displacement and oppression of indigenous communities at Standing Rock, increased criminalization of African Americans and the policing of women’s bodies and their right to choose, to name just a few.

While these struggles are distinct and manifest in particular localities, they are inherently connected in a global struggle for justice. There may be frictions and contradictions between them, and indeed, no solution is complete. However, as Honduran communities facing threats to land, water, and livelihood continually reminded our delegation, our only option is to struggle for our rights. And our most valuable resources are each other.  


Works Cited:


Amnesty International Press Release “Activists’ murders turn Honduras for environmental

Bury, J., and Bebbington, A. (2013). “New Geographies of Extractive Industries in Latin America”, In Subterranean Struggles: New Dynamics of Mining, Oil, and Gas in Latin America, A. Bebbington and J. Bury Eds. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX: 27-66.

Gagne, David. “US Investigating Criminal Ties of Dozens of Honduras Elites: Report” InSightCrime, October 11, 2016, accessed on January 6, 2017 at:

Garcia, Mercedes, (2016) “Alliance for Prosperity Plan in the Northern Triangle: Not A Likely Final Solution for the Central American Migration Crisis” Council On Hemispheric Affairs – COHA

Gomez, Tomas. Personal Interview, December 12, 2016.

Guevara-Rosas, Erika. “Honduras/Guatemala: Attacks on the rise in world’s deadliest countries for environmental activists” Amnesty International, September 1, 2016. Accessed on January 6, 2017 at:

Horsley, Scott, “5 Things To Know About Obama’s Enforcement Of Immigration Laws”, NPR: Politics. August 31, 2016. Accessed on January 10, 2017 at:

Iesue, Laura, (2016) “The Alliance for Prosperity Plan: A Failed Effort for Stemming Migration” Council On Hemispheric Affairs – COHA

ICHR, (2015). “Indigenous Peoples, Afro-DEcendent Communities, and Natural Resources: Human Rights Protection in the Context of Extraction, Exploitation, and Development Activities”. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States (OAS), pp. 1-181.

Lakhani, Nina. “Two more Honduran land rights activists killed in ongoing violence”, The Guardian. October 19, 2016. Accessed January 18, 2017 at:

Miroff, Nick. “A killing in Honduras shows that it may be the world’s deadliest country for environmentalists” The Washington Post, WorldViews, March 3, 2016. Accessed January 2017 at:

Malkin, Elisabeth and Alberto Arce. “ Files Suggest Honduran Police Leaders Ordered Killing of Antidrug Officials” New York Times, Americas, April 15, 2016. Accessed on January 6, 2017 at:

Spring, Karen. Personal Interview, December 18, 2016.

A Lie Ends Prosperity: Exposing the Fraud Called Alliance for Prosperity

by Francisco Herrera &  Phyllis Tierney

Honduras has been called one of the most dangerous and poorest countries in the western hemisphere. It is one of the three Northern Triangle Countries (El Salvador and Guatemala, being the other two) who continue to send thousands of people migrating north every year, many with the hope of getting to the United States.  Our trip to Honduras was sponsored by the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, a California based organization concerned with providing equal opportunities for those who are disenfranchised.  One of the many issues they deal with is immigration.  This particular trip focused on root causes of migration. Reverend Deborah Lee and Jose Artiga, Director of SHARE El Salvador were our group leaders.  We had been invited by a very well organized sector of the population that is faith-based, that crosses with labor, and interfaces environmental and women’s groups to work for a model that puts people first before profits. Our sponsoring host was Radio Progreso, an independeimg_6554nt, Jesuit sponsored radio station celebrating its sixtieth anniversary.

Each day we met with groups who shared their stories of repression and human rights abuses.


There is a  myth which need to be dispelled.  The myth is that people migrate because the country is poor.  Actually Honduras is a country rich in resources but its government has chosen to sell the development of these resources to other countries, multinational corporations who exploit both people and resources for their own benefit.

On Thursday we met with representatives of a workers’ union in one of the country’s maquilas which makes tee shirts.  As we listened to the stories some of the other testimonies that we heard during the week began to link together.

First, let us look at some of the background history which links the US to Honduras and influences its domestic and foreign policy. In 20014 the US announced a five year joint regional plan called the Alliance for Prosperity in Central America which was to assist the northern triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to improve their economic status, lower the crime rate and human rights abuses, and provide incentives for at-risk persons to remain in their own countries rather than migrate north to the US.

In 2016 our US Congress allocated $750 million dollars for development assistance to Central America under the Alliance for Prosperity.  According to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs more than 60% of that money is going for security measures.  (Article posted on August 1, 2016 by Laura Iesue, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, The Alliance for Prosperity Plan: A Failed Effort for Stemming Migration). While Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson stated that migration enforcement in 2015 was down, the statistics for the last six months of that year showed that apprehensions by the border patrol increased by 171%.

Under CAFTA  the standard of living for citizens was supposed to increase, due to a free market economy.  Instead it has encouraged multinational companies to introduce sweatshops  where workers are forced to work long hours for little pay under horrific working conditions.  All of these factors contribute to the continuing flow of migrants toward the US and other countries.

The stories we heard from the union leaders in one maquila illustrate the point.  Their union is only one of nineteen unions in sweatshops around the country.  Multinational companies in Honduras are allowed to form Model Cities Corporations which create their own rules, basically making slaves out of the people who work for them.  These companies are not subject to the human rights laws of the country.  They create their own police forces.  The people who work in these factories are merchandise!

Several of the courageous nion leaders of garment workers we met in Honduras
Several of the courageous Sitrastar union leaders of garment workers we met in Honduras

The workers we met with were allowed to form a union but they are not allowed to meet during work time.  Their workday begins at 7 am and ends at 6:20 pm.  Workers are allowed a half hour for lunch, but most take no more than ten minutes in order to get back to work.  They go without water and bathroom breaks for the whole day in order to meet the production quota required of them.  The Canadian owned company which employees these workers requires workers to meet high production goals, achieving in four days what would be required in five.  In order to meet the minimum wage, called the seventh day, workers must often work on days off.  Workers can’t earn enough to meet their basic needs.  The repetitive work that is required of them often results in damage to their health.  Evening and day shifts alternate by weeks.  Sick workers are fired.  Pay averages at 6,121 lempiras, or $300 a month.  All workers want to go to the United States.  Many that leave, come back in body bags.  Workers believe that the American Dream is all they have left when they leave.  Factories will only hire workers between 18 and 30.  After that age, employees are fired if they can’t maintain their work load or get sick.  There are no other employment opportunities.

Union workers who are fired are black listed and unable to find employment in another shop.  The company presents itself as a supporter of human rights but verbal and physical abuse is common as well as sexual harassment of women.

After the 2009 coup, the idea of Model Cities and large industrial parks was introduced.  Since these are free trade zones companies don’t have to pay tariffs and follow labor laws.  This has led to privatization of the country’s resources.  Over a million young people are unemployed.

Labor violations have been presented in Washington, DC to the Labor Commission.   The unions have been attacked by the media for destroying investment.  Only nineteen plants in the country have any kind of union.  The Gildan Company employs 27,000 workers and has four unions. Three are “ghost unions.”

State policies calculate work by the hour and cuts benefits for workers including overtime pay.  The government’s social security pension fund is bankrupt so health and retirement benefits are lost.  The government permits the hire of temporary workers who receive no benefits.

The US is complicit by funding the Alliance for Prosperity and allowing the abuse of workers and human rights to occur.  It compounds the issue by returning to Honduras those who flee either under death threats or simply to find a means to support their families.

The people who have spoken to us rely on our presence as members of faith communities, to tell their stories and lobby the US Government to take action in cutting funding for the military which provides the highest rate of employment in Honduras. It is only with pressure that this government will take seriously its responsibility to protect the human rights of its people and put people before profit.

To learn more about our experiences go to

To take action, contact your Congress person and ask them to reintroduce H.R. 5474 when the new Congress convenes in 2017.  This bill is known as the Berta Caceres Human Rights Act.

It calls for the protection of all human rights activists including union leaders and asks that the U.S. withdraw military aid until these rights have been protected.


Government Supported Tourism Pushes out Garifuna

This article about our Honduras trip was printed in the SF Bay View, December 2016.

by Diana Bohn, member of the ‘Root Causes of Migration’ Pilgrimage to Honduras

In the early 1800s, the government of Honduras awarded 2,500 acres of ancestral land to the Garifuna, descendants of shipwrecked and/or escaped African slaves. The land titles given to the Garifuna communities on the coast of Honduras state that the collective lands cannot be transferred to an outsider, but many Garifuna territories suffer from multiple ownership claims. The Garifuna are struggling to maintain their land.

Canadian millionaire is developing a tourist paradise on Garifuna land

Randy Jorgensen, the “Canadian porn king” because he made a fortune with his chain of adult video stores in Canada, moved to Trujillo, Honduras, heart of Garifuna land, in 2007 to develop tourism in Trujillo. He began buying land for real estate development in gated communities that include beach club amenities and with the intention of building a cruise ship port, oceanfront commercial center and park with a zoo.

The Organizacion Fraternal Negra de Honduras (OFRANEH) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Garifuna communities in 2011. The case is continuing and was taken up again in May 2016.

Jorgensen has partnered with people who were close to the post-military coup administration of Porfirio Lobo and has enjoyed the unconditional support of the authorities of Trujillo Bay to commit a series of abuses in regard to the ownership of the communal lands. “Violence and physical force have been constantly used to threaten the livelihood of the Honduran Garifuna communities,” concluded a 2016 report by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Current President Juan Orlando Hernandez took office with the slogan: “Honduras is open for business.”

Barra Vieja community is fighting to retain their beautiful land on the coast of Honduras

Well east of Triunfo, near Tela, the Barra Vieja community is struggling to stay on the remainder of their land. Community members told our “Root Causes of Migration” delegation that this would be the third displacement for them as a people.

First, they were displaced from Africa as slaves. Next, they were expelled from St. Vincent, where they had tried to settle after escaping from slavery. Now, they face expulsion from the Honduran coast.

The Barra Vieja community has rights to their land under three provisions:

  1. Honduran law provides that after the community lives on the land for 10 years, they have the right to stay. The Garifuna have been on the land for 200 years but are called land invaders.
  2. The area is designated as a National Park, and the provision of a National Park designation is the people traditionally using the land have the right to remain on the land.
  3. The U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights protects them.

Nevertheless, the government took a large portion of Barra Vieja land and awarded it to developers for the construction of the 60-room Indura Beach and Golf Resort, part of the “Curio Collection” by Hilton. Now they want all the rest of the community land, including access to the beautiful, pristine lagoon.

The government of Honduras is using various means to force the people of Barra Vieja off their land

To force the Garifuna off their land, the Honduran government is not providing any basic services that are usually provided to communities. In Barra Vieja, their school was closed and torn down. The community can’t get a teacher for the school they themselves built.

Their road is not being maintained. There is no access to health care, no water, no electricity and no sources of employment. For example, a community member attended all the trainings for promised jobs at the Indura Hotel, which is on land taken from their community, but no employment was given. Jobs are, instead, given to Guatemalan and Salvadoran workers.

The government is putting restrictions on fishing so the community cannot fish in their traditional fishing areas, and fishing is their survival. The government is forbidding Barra Vieja residents from cutting forest materials to build their homes.

The government is forbidding them from using the bay and the lagoon for their own tourism. The Honduran government used government resources to build an airport for helicopters and small planes, but only the resort is using this resource.

The inhabitants of the area protect the environment. They do not over-fish. Sustainable “eco” tourism, the kind of tourism that the community wants to establish, could easily be supported in the area, but the government is freezing the people out in favor of environmentally destructive international tourism.

First, the whole community of 80 people, then the board of directors was legally charged as land invaders. The community won those battles in court, but the Honduran government doesn’t honor those decisions.

Two years ago, there were 130 families in Barra Vieja. Now there are only 75. Others have been forced out. The community of California was totally wiped out by the resort. Some of these displaced people will have no choice but to go north.

The ‘Alliance for Prosperity’ will help the rich get richer and the poor and Indigenous peoples get poorer and, in several important instances, loose their ancestral land

The U.S. “Alliance for Prosperity Plan” is the response to the humanitarian migratory crisis that ushered in an influx of more than 40,000 unaccompanied children from the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) to the southern border of the U.S. The plan allocates military aid and funds for development to the government of Honduras.

Unfortunately, militarization of the police does not provide greater security on the streets, nor does providing “development” funds to international tourist businesses.

The Indura Hotel was the site of the first meeting of the heads of state for the Alliance for Prosperity thus showing that even the though Alliance for Prosperity is essentially a military aid plan modeled on “Plan Colombia.” Multinational tourism is definitely part of the plan!

How you can help

Readers are asked to call on their Congressional representatives to co-sponsor H.R.5474, the Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act bill, which prohibits funds from being made available to Honduras for the police and military – including for equipment and training – and directs the Department of the Treasury to vote against multilateral loans to Honduras for its police and military until the Department of State certifies that the government of Honduras has:

  • prosecuted members of the military and police for human rights violations and ensured that such violations have ceased;
  • established the rule of law and guaranteed a judicial system capable of bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses;
  • established that it protects the rights of trade unionists, journalists, human rights defenders, government critics and civil society activists to operate without interference;
  • withdrawn the military from domestic policing; and
  • brought to trial and obtained verdicts against those who ordered and carried out the attack on Felix Molina and the killings of Berta Caceres, Joel Palacios Lino, Elvis Armando Garcia, and over 100 small-farmer activists in the Aguan Valley.

To contact your congressional representatives, visit these sites: U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives.

Diana Bohn is a member of the Root Causes of Migration delegation, a long time Berkeley resident, member of the City of Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, board member of the Marin Task force on the Americas, co-coordinator of the Nicaragua Center for Community Action; member of the Bay Area Latin America Solidarity Coalition. She can be reached at

The Important Role of Faith Communities: State of Emergency & Opportunity

One of the people we met while we were in Honduras, was Fr.Rafael Moreno- SJ,  head of the Jesuit Commission Redes Migracrion (CRM) for Central America and North America who lives in Mexico.  He gave us a very important analysis of the impact of the Trump election on migration and also the changing role of Mexico.  Mexico has become an exterior southern border of the US financed by US tax dollars. The money Mexico receives from the US is supposed to be with HR conditions attached and US State Department Certification.  But despite hundreds of thousands dead in Mexico, both Mexico and the Honduras government keep getting certified.  According to Fr. Rafael, the only ones who are benefiting from the increased enforcement are the traffickers and coyotes, as the price has increased per head to $10-12,000.

The Trump election is a “State of emergency for civil society,”  but is is  also an important opportunity – transfronterizo – across borders.

He told us that FAITH COMMUNITIES in the US and Mexico have a very important role to play in this particular moment:

    • Role of documentation, analysis and communication to help people better understand issues
    • Priority of Hospitality and a support network of accompaniment to migrants, both for Receiving countries but also for Sending countries who are receiving deported migrants.
    • We are part of the same family – brothers and sisters – behind nation states that seek to divide and create borders. Our priority is fraternity and humanity – over national borders
    • Help mobilize national populations to pressure our governments in Advocacy
    • Faith communities and immigrants are a key counterweight to Trump and the Mexican government


So as we return to the US, we will be organizing to do our part in this cross-border emergency/opportunity.  Organizing sanctuary congregations, support and accompaniment for migrants and strengthening our connections across borders to uplift the humanity and dignity of each person.


– by Rev. Deb



Reflections on Honduras

Reflections from Julie who, after our pilgrimage to Honduras, went to Belize.

Perfect break after Honduras most intense nine days ever – all so rich, cumulative effect is overwhelming:     1b0f3824-ab1e-4481-90ca-24aa898de7e9

– Highway toll booth protest first day.  Privatization another form of extraction from the poor.
– Hike to Gualcarque river ritual (swim too) with Rio Blanco community of indigenous Lenca fighting the hydroelectric company dam project.  The lucha (struggle) leading to the government assassination last March 3rd of Berta Caceres, internationally recognized (Goldman Environmental Prize Winner 2015).  Now the country’s number one martyr (“Viva Berta!” seen all over)
– Visiting Berta’s mother in her home, herself a former mayor and congresswoman, midwife delivering over 10,000 children.
– Meeting with Bajo Aguan campesino organization fighting land usurpation by African Palm plantation owners, hearing of the 150 assassinations in the Bajo Aguan, of presidents and leaders of local organizations.   Feeling their reeling from the assassination of another two key leaders on  Oct 18th, and another Oct. 31st,. Witnessing the tears of his mother now in hiding herself.
– Meeting with African slave-descended Garifuna community whose land and water are being usurped by a Canadian porn king owned resort.
          Noticing a theme here?
– Hearing from four union leaders of t-shirt maquilas (assembly factories) about their heroic efforts to withstand and improve near-slave-like conditions and abuses.  (Totally belied by the Gildan company website’s PR puffery, I see.)
– Meeting with two señora leaders of La Patrona, Veracruz México group organized to give food bags and water bottles to migrants riding the tops of the northbound train (“La Bestia“- the beast)
– At the airport, meeting an ICE contracted plane from Virginia depositing 123 deportees.  USAID funded.  US immigration policy sponsored.
– Hearing from three young returnees at Mennonite Service Committee project about social development re-integration and vocational training programs (cell phone repair hot!  Collections to ensue…)
– Celebrated 60th anniversary of our hosts Radio Progreso the Jesuit-sponsored beyond-fullsizerender-1Pacifica voice of the people, with gala dinner one night, two days of forums on human rights and migration, street mobilization march (last use of our street banners to remain there), including “Rio Gualcarque y Standing Rock: Agua es vida! TIerra es Vida!”), Saturday night balloon- and fireworks-studded international music festival preceded by mass in the park led by Padre Melo, Radio Progresso’s director, also internationally laureled, by the Rafto Prize, the Norwegian human rights award.
Padre Melo’s radical call for liberty, solidarity and justice permeated his homily – and was exemplified by his inclusion on stage, next to the three other priests, of two women – including our own leader Rev. Deborah Lee.  She was also given the honor of being able to pass out the Communion wafers.  Co-pilgrim Sister Phyllis, in her own amazement, explained how truly leading edge is such inclusiveness.
We’d brought an array of “solidarity gifts” for the various groups we met.  A last one in my bag that night was still seeking a home – a roll of large prayer flags from Tibet. In the beer and wine reception room for international guests during the concert, I was inspired to give it to Padre Melo, then sitting with a Norwegian from the Rafto Foundation who helped unfurl the string of flags – and explained what they were.  A balding teddy bear of all heart and twinkle (AND the subject of repeated death threats who travels with a security team of seven), Padre Melo immediately said he’d hang them in the yard at Radio Progresso.  I told him I thought they were particularly fitting because I think of him as the Dalai Lama of Honduras. His brief nod was serious, his hug and smile warm.   fullsizerender-2
In Honduras every day we had bananas or plantains at almost every meal.  Today in Belize in the three small neighborhood markets found on my morning walk, only a few green, hard bananas were available.  Thus my amplified delight to discover at the poolside palapa bar-restaurant a smoothie, a la banana!  Did I want it with coconut milk?  Oh, yessssss!
Ocean on the horizon.
More fotos and fuller Honduras stories by travelmate contributors at pilgrimage blog
In the words of the motto of Radio Progreso:
      Uno pueblo. Una voz.  Muchas historias.
      One people.  One voice.  Many stories.
–  Julie Steinbach  995214ba-526d-4334-b451-1222e5aaa31f

Meeting Deported Honduran Migrants

Our experience in Honduras is ending soon.  Yesterday we visited a center for migrants who are deported from the US. We arrived at the center near the airport just before the flight arrived. We were greeted by a Sister from an Italian missionary order, the Scalabrini’s who are dedicated to ministry with migrants all over the world. She is assisted by a group of volunteers from local colleges and others. Two medical students and a social worker were there to assist with health issues. A pile of US AID bags with the words “from the American people” were on the floor. They contained only a small pack of personal care items- like a toothbrush,toothpaste, and hair gel. When the bus pulled up to the door, volunteers handed out belts and shoe laces (because these items are not allowed in the immigration prisons where they were previously held), a white tshirt, the US AID bags, as well as a cup of coffee and a baleada (Honduran typical food- made of tortilla and beans). Luggage arrived separately. Bags contained whatever personal items the person had when they were picked up. Most people’s personal items things were in mesh bags with only 3-5 items.  Others had a suitcase.   Some had been detained at the border. Others had been in detention or prison for much longer periods of time. They hadn’t seen their belongings since they were detained,  and for some that might have been a lengthy time in detention.  People were excited to see their cell phones again. One man looked lovingly through a stack of photos.  Someone told us that the men had been shackled at their hands, waist and feet during the plane ride. In total 123 people were in the group. The plane had embarked from Virginia.  Almost all were men. I saw only four or five women. I really wanted to cry when I saw them coming in. Most were young. A few had actually lived in the US for a number of  years! At the center they are given a bus ticket back to their homes. Most leave Honduras in the first place because they can’t find work or are escaping violence!  One of the men we spoke to outside was nicely dressed.  He had lived in the US for 12 years.  He had a suitcase -his whole life in a bag.

The Center is called the “Center for Returned Migrants.” The Honduran government doesn’t use term “deported.”  The US government doesn’t either, calling deportations “removals.”  So far this year, 21,800 have been received at the Center.  This number is already higher than last year. (19,000).  There are 2-3 flights a day, Monday- Friday.  This just counts those who are adults who have been deported from the United States, there are many more children and adults deported from Mexico who come in at a different center.

One young man we met at a vocational training center run by the Mennonite Central Committee shared about his experience migrating North, being caught after walking 3 days in the desert in Arizona, then being forced to sign his voluntary departure without knowing what it was while he was in detention, before he could get in contact with a lawyer or his brother living in the US.   For many youth, once they are deported, their families often push them to leave and try again. This, in a country where there is no social security for the aged, and the factories won’t hire you if you are older than 30.

Carlos, was one of our security guards at the Catholic Retreat Center where we have been staying.  He was deported 6 years ago.  He is delightful, friendly, and a terrific English speaker.   Living in New York for 14 years, he worked in a bakery and then in scrap metal.  When he was deported, he left behind 3 children, a wife and grandchildren.  He is denied entry for 20 years.  It was sad to talk to him about Christmas coming up and him being so far away from his family.

  • by Phyllis Tierney and Deborah Lee

Celebrating a People’s Radio Station: Radio Progreso/ERIC-SJ’s 60th Anniversary

One of the purposes for our journey to Honduras Dec.9-19, was to coincide with numerous 2016-12-14-19-17-14events surrounding the momentous 60th Anniversary of Radio Progreso’s and ERIC (the Research and Communications Team’s) existence as one of the only independent, progressive and critical sources of information in Honduras.  We brought with us a Commendation from the City of Berkeley that we presented at the Anniversary dinner.  Alongside the 60th Anniversary there were a number of key events for  visitors  like us from 8 different countries as well as many Honduran movement organizations and people participating:
  • Forum on Human Rights
  • Forum on Migration
  • Forum on Freedom of Press
  • Anniversary Dinner for Guests
  • Mass Mobilization March in Progreso
  • Popular Mass – Service
  • Anniversary Concert featuring international musical artists from Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela(Guaraguao)
    The Radio Progreso/ERIC birthday party was a  lively, festive affair. The Radio Progreso conference room was decked out with decorations including a spectacular birthday cake
    that was our contribution to the party. Marvelous music accompanied the guests gathering to renew acquaintances and to meet new people and to sit down to a lovely banquet.   The party was to celebrate the 60+ staff and collaborators who help to produce the dynamic work of Radio Progreso/ERIC- which is not just radio programming, but also leadership and formation, research, films and educational resources and campaigns, and social movement building.  They have been taking the lead on the campaign against the privatization of the roads.  Invited guests included  the Women, las Patronas, from img_6626Veracruz  who give water and food to migrants riding on “La Bestia,” the train through Mexico, Fr. Rafael Moreno, head of the Jesuit Migration Network, and  others whose amazing life stories we have heard  since coming here. Also in attendance were the Representative from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which has just opened an office in Honduras, and the former Representative from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Our group contributed various wines including local fruit wines here in sold in the red COMAL store.  All were in a very festive mood.

    There was a short program with introductions and greetings. Then the MC asked if other dsc00396people had something to say. On that cue, I  presented the Proclamation of congratulations on the celebration of the 60 year anniversary  from the Berkeley City Council with the official Berkeley seal and the signature of our new Mayor Jesse Arreguin. I read an abbreviated version, but Father Melo, was so touched by the text of the proclamation, that he wanted the whole proclamation read out loud.  The proclamation honors and celebrates Radio Progreso’s “60 years as a radio station being a voice for the poor in Honduras and building a more just society through its programs of research, communications and incubation of social movement organizations, such as women, youth, farmers and indigenous communities”

    Read it here- in English: dsc00442
    or in Spanish: 
    The week’s Anniversary ended with a spectacular popular mass and outdoor music concert with over 1000-2000 people in attendance. The Bay Area’s very own, Francisco Herrera – playing the original song written by Sylvia Brandon-Perez:  Para Berta, presente!

    – by Diana Bohn

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