Looking at Migration from Honduras Up, Rather than US Down

London   Draft rules being prepared by the US Department of Homeland Security, the parent agency for ICE, Immigration and Custom Enforcement, would provide for expedited procedures for anyone in the US over two weeks, rather than two years, immediate deportation at the border, and potential legal action against parents sending unaccompanied minors. Honduras, where ACORN works in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, the two largest cities, was frequently leading the list of countries sending children. We were fortunate to have an intern from Tulane University, Jordan Sticklin, do some research to help our organizers in Honduras understand what many of our members and their families are facing. Looking deeply at the situation in Honduras reveals a more complicated story than many might want to understand.

The crisis of insecurity and violence in many lower income communities forcing families to flee for safety is a real issue, which we confront in our neighborhoods daily, and there is little debate that the government of Honduras has not been able to develop sufficient capacity to protect families. The child migration problem though dates back before this time though to the destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and its continued aftermath. Many families were displaced then, and a US program allowing temporary stay permits facilitated the migration of many Hondurans during the emergency. Families were often separated then with children left with relatives as migrants hoped to reclaim them once they stabilized in the US and legalized their migratory status. The failure of the US to provide a policy solution there has exacerbated the problem.

A Honduran agency found that between 2013-2016, more than 9,000 Honduran children were detained upon trying to enter the US, and in 276 cases they were unaccompanied minors. Inarguably, the issue in Honduras is not unaccompanied children, but entire families fleeing their communities, and frankly running for their lives. Given this fear-to-flight situation, it is easier to understand the harsh reality that negates much of the US policy discussion. Polls in Honduras indicate that 80% surveyed believed that policies under President Trump for migrants would worsen, yet 40% still believed that they had no choice and would still be forced to migrate.

Meanwhile Mexico is caught in the middle with US pressure to tighten up its borders to prevent transit of migrants from Honduras and other Central America countries to the US. In 2015, 91% of the migrants returned to Central America were from Mexico and only 8% were from the USA. The draft Trump deportation rules, if implemented, will increase the pressure – and cost – to Mexico in handling increased numbers of migrants at the border who are now being housed in the US while waiting on deportation or other adjudication, who will now just be pushed back across the border. We can expect to see the nightmarish pictures coming on television similar to the squatters’ camps in France where African migrants try to figure out how to get across the English Channel to England.

We can keep blaming and shaming, but none of this is a solution, nor is it humanitarian or show any respect for human rights or the basic reality of the situation. At best it looks like a way to make Mexico pay for migrants, whether they pay for the wall or not. None of this will end well.

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Coffee Rust Worse Problem for Border and Coffee Drinkers than Reported

10293579_812218472164492_6052867961713463478_oNew Orleans        Sometimes you know it’s bad, but you still haven’t wrapped your mind around the full ripple effects of how bad it might be. Focusing on the immigration crisis for children and families at the Mexico-United States border, I have concentrated on the problems we knew were coming from communities organized by ACORN International, especially in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, which have been among the leading areas that children are fleeing. ACORN Honduras members – and mothers – demonstrated in both cities recently both at the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa and at the First Lady’s office in San Pedro Sula, demanding more security from gangs and violence to protect their children.

There’s no question that narco-war and gang violence in Central America is driving an exodus. Another factor, less reported, but arguably significant is not in the cities, but in the economic devastation that is now hitting the rural areas where coffee growing farmers and their cooperatives grow some of the finest Arabica coffee beans in the world. Preparing to interview someone recently returned from the region, a statistic in the Wall Street Journal woke me up to the severity of the crisis when they estimated the economic damage in the region this year as likely $500 million in lost sales and 350,000 jobs lost in the countryside.

Stanley Kuehn is a fellow who hasn’t shaken the natural Texas twang from being raised in Rio Grande City, a poor community along the border where I’ve stopped more than once, and when you ask him where he works there’s an alphabet soup that spills out. The simplest part of it is that he is the regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean. The longer spiel is that he represents the National Cooperative Business Association and the Cooperative League USA and is also tied into something else called VEGA, the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance. Whew! Trust me though, after interviewing him during Wade’s World on KABF/FM. if you can make it through the alphabet there, the message is vital.

Stanley says that the devastation to the coffee crop is huge. Honduras may be the lightest hit with 25% losses, but Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua are all either moving towards 50% losses or already up to 60%. Losing this much of this cash crop will decimate some communities.

The cause? Stanley says it is climate change more than anything else. Coffee plants have gotten weaker with rising temperatures, less shade, abandoned plots without proper pruning, hotter summers and cooler winters, all of which have combined into something unstoppable. The roya fungus originated in Ethiopia some years ago, but has accelerated now. The fix isn’t simple. There are organic pesticides and better pruning methods that can save some trees and will make a difference in the future, but where they have to be cut down and replanted it will mean five or six years until good beans can be replaced. Coffee drinkers will get their fix by paying some higher prices for the good stuff or drinking robusta from Brazil on the cheap end, but many of the farmers and their cooperatives will be decimated in the meantime.

We’re going to have to talk to Stanley more. He’s relocating to Salvador this coming January to go hands-on one-hundred percent. He needs help from farmers or anyone who wants to put their back to the job.

We’re going to see more families from Central America forced to become economic refugees. This will be a bitter brew for years in the region.

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Land and Community Struggles in Choloma

San Pedro Sula   Our ACORN International delegation spent our first day visiting with members and leaders of ACORN Honduras in the abutting city of Choloma where we have almost a half-dozen affiliated organizations.  Choloma is an industrial suburb to an industrial city.  The motto on the signs as the bus crossed into Choloma called the city of 70,000 the Cuidad de Maquilas, The City of Factories.   Like so many of the workers, we travelled by bus, by foot, by tut-tut or auto-rickshaw, as they are known in India, standing and sitting in the back of pickups, and crammed into taxis and members cars.  One organizer cracked that the only way we didn’t travel was by horseback, though we certainly strode in their hoof prints on several trails.

            We saw where one of our groups in frustration with the city had paved a steep incline themselves because the area was impassable to their homes in that sector.  Nearby they pointed out a pothole that was large enough to swallow small cars and certainly motorcycles.  Ironically,  the Mayor of Choloma addressed us later at the end of day, partially because he was pitching a new party, Partido Libre, though we could not easily determine if the party’s platform included street paving.

            Interestingly, the organizers and leaders took us to see several new organizing efforts in the countryside abutting Choloma, where we have members that have been squatting on contested lands and in some cases have won title to the lands, so that they and their neighbors can produce yucca, plantains, corn, and other goods for the local markets.  Many wanted to talk about how they could export their goods to get higher prices. The obstacles are staggering unfortunately.   We had been joined by one of the founders and another leader from COMUCAP, our partners from the coffee growing areas of La Paz across the country, so it was easy to talk with everyone about how hard the job of moving containers of coffee has been outside of Honduras.  We admired their struggle and applauded their victories, but exporting plantains and yucca is way past the skill level of a community organization, we were sad to share.

            The issue of land distribution has been a thorny one in Honduras.  One of our groups related a struggle – successful in their case – that had been waged for 21 years.  Another was hopeful that they could succeed where they were squatting, but less than a kilometer away, we could see the small single house development adding more houses, one by one, making it likely that the next time they come up the road, it will be to buy more land, not to purchase plantains.

            It was good to be visiting with organizers in Honduras, Mexico, Canada, and the United States and to await the coming reports, but none of this work is easy.

Choloma Audio Blog

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Coffee to the Coffee Growers: Diverseo Café in Tegucigalpa

Coffee Plants Growing on the La Paz Mountainside

Denver  Following the model of the partnership between ACORN International and Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, we are trying something new, beginning in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with ACORN Honduras leading the program.  We source our organic, fairtrade certified coffee beans from Central American countries like Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua.  Some of the best Arabica coffee beans in the world come from there.  Almost all of those very valuable beans, raised at high altitude, are exported.  Local people have no idea how good their own coffee is!

Green Beans Drying in Marcala

We have been trying some pilots for reversing the trade routes.  ACORN Honduras and Tegucigalpa head organizer, Dilcia Zavala, reached out for the same cooperatives that export their coffee and suggested that if they provided coffee beans to us in the capital we would set up a coffee kiosk or maybe our own small coffeehouse and offer Honduran beans to Hondurans for a change.

Coffee Crew with Wade

The early response has been fantastic and very encouraging.  Many people were shocked at how good the coffee was and wanted to figure out a way to buy it.  We may be on to something good here.  Honduran coffee beans making Hondurans happy, supporting local cooperatives and producers, and supporting organizing!

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Biblioteca, Center for Global Justice, and Via Organico in San Miguel de Allende

Ronnie from Via Organico

San Miguel    San Miguel de Allende is a picturesque 500 year old colonial town in the central highlands that played a major role in the Mexican Revolution against Spain and more recently is known as an artistic and ex-patriot center for North America.  I first visited at the founding meeting of Enlace a dozen years ago and always enjoyed my time here.  On our last visit in January 2010, close to 50 folks had packed the patio of the offices of the Center for Global Justice to hear about ACORN International’s work, so we were excited to be able to return to the Biblioteca, a nonprofit library touted as the largest such institution in Mexico and perhaps North America, where Judy Duncan of ACORN Canada and Dilcia Zavala of  ACORN Honduras would join me in updating folks here on ACORN International’s progress.

After Cliff Durand of the Center introduced the discussion and our presentations the questions were interesting and focused on everything from what we had learned from the ACORN experience in the USA to Occupy San Miguel to whether or not it was practical to organize effectively around economic development in rural areas of the developing world.  It was great to have some of our friends ask for updates on the Remittance Justice Campaign who had been with us in San Miguel in 2010.  Before the end of May, we will post the session on ACORN International’s YouTube channel upon our return.

After a last look at the Biblioteca and a wave towards Juan of our favorite San Miguel coffeehouse, Juan’s Café, complete with a can of Café du Monde coffee & chicory commemorating his own visit to New Orleans, we joined Ronnie Cummins for a fantastic lunch and deeply educational tour of the Via Organico café and sundry operations.  Ronnie is a fellow traveler on the activist path who originally hails from the homeland around Port Arthur, Texas, and after a stint at Rice in Houston jumped into the maelstrom as many of us did to oppose the Vietnam War and, as they say, the rest is history.  He ended up making a career of advocating around food and other environmental issues and now heads a 850,000 strong Organic Consumers Association based in Minneapolis where he lives part of the year and Via Organico, the Mexican counterpart, where he is based in San Miguel.  The Via Organico nonprofit is in many ways a demonstration project for an all-organic operation as well as a combination store, café, brewery, classroom, storage facility, and rooftop farm operation.

And, a heckuva operation at that!  Lunch was fantastic and some of our number felt it their duty to try the beer brewed by Via Organico from cactus among other things while others had a dessert to die for that included homemade ice cream and later lime popsicles.  Ronnie gave us a full tour of the entire operation along with the warehouse and brewery.  He did such a great job, he made it feel like it might be possible to duplicate it, but as organizers, we all knew how difficult bringing projects like this to fruition really are.

Alex McDonald of Ottawa ACORN trying a cactus beer

Among the more interesting things Cummins showed us is was the rooftop growing area where the old ways that Mexican farmers used gourds were in use for growing produce in this dry, high, arid land by conserving the water they had collected.  They would plant large gourds at intervals among the vegetables and refill the gourds with water through small caps on the gourd.  Because the gourds were fired from the more porous clay, as the ground dried, the soil would literally suck the water out of the gourd and into the dirt nearby in order to water the plants to good health and yield.  Amazing!

Anytime you can have a great dialogue with people, share what you’ve learned, join others successes and experiences, and learn something as well, it has to count as a great trip all around.  As we hugged our old companera, Ercilia Sahores, who had organized all of these events for us, we said hasta luego, but in our hearts we could hardly wait to return for more.

All Organic Operation

Gourd Watering System

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Fire in the Mercado, Usury at Los Bancos

Tegucigalpa    Within minutes of hitting central Tegucigalpa we were on our way to a series of markets directly across the picturesque but fetid river running alongside the capitol not far from the original palace.  ACORN Honduras in Tegucigalpa had been working with stall vendors over the last month who had asked for help after a sudden fire overnight had wiped out the public market where they had been selling for many years.  More than a hundred had been displaced.

Signs of the fire were still everywhere, even though the space was bustling with activity where the shopkeepers were hammering, sawing, and constructing rough plywood type structures and shelving to hold their wares.  Next door another market had also been damaged and the bent steel and twisted sheeting was still being cleaned up and wheelbarrowed away.  The small merchants we met with under a blue tarp (the common cloth of disasters large and small) felt some satisfaction at the fact that a recent meeting with the Mayor had gotten the cleanup moving next door.  

What the merchants had on the agenda for discussion with us was their problem with banks.  They weren’t the only problem, but they were the boulders in the road to recovery.  To restock would cost each of them about $6000 USD.  They were worried of course that under their tarps their customers would diminish with the heat until some semblance of order was restored or the new building was long on the way.  Many of them had existing bank loans at 19% which they couldn’t pay and had been given some limited (and expensive!) forbearance for three months, but in trying to refinance to restock the same banks were now saying they wanted 28%, and they all wanted it now.  A look around made it clear that repayment was impossible.  Dilcia Zavala, ACORN’s organizer, said there was a law that mandated forbearance for up to a year after disasters, but even meetings with the Mayor and Governor had not seemed to convince the banks to relent from their harsh terms.

These banks were not local moneylenders.  Talking to the small vendors the names sometimes sounded local like Banco Pro Creidito, but that bank was German.  HSBC and Citi both were involved and have visible offices in central Tegucigalpa.  This was big business and a 28% it was usurious.

We had research to do, but clearly the only hope that these women had to not end up as sharecroppers in the square for international banks the rest of their lives was if they had some leverage.  The only leverage seemed to be to force the government to give the law enough teeth to buy some time so that they could survive in the marketplace long enough to get on their feet, even though they might be shackled later with 28% interest.

They call this disaster profiteering for a reason!

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