Alleviating Honduran Migrants' Woes Requires Institutional Change at Home

This month, 7000 people, mainly Hondurans, illegally crossed into Mexico on rafts made out of tractor inner tubes and wooden planks. Additionally, a third caravan of more than 500 Honduran migrants began the journey from San Pedro Sula to the US border. A lack of public trust in Honduran institutions has contributed to increased emigration, and the Honduran government needs an institutional about-face if it wishes to regain the trust of its citizens.

Rule of law is on the decline in Honduras. In 2009, then-President Zelaya attempted to modify the constitution in order to reelect himself. As a result, the Honduran Supreme Court exiled him to Costa Rica. President Juan Orlando Hernandez stacked the Supreme Court and a 2015 ruling overrode the constitutional limitation. In 2017, he secured a second term. Nevertheless, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE)—an organization in Honduras responsible for counting the votes during the elections—remains under scrutiny for corruption.

Political deterioration has economic consequences, eroding job opportunities and financial stability for Hondurans. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) defines Honduras as one of three nations in the Americas most vulnerable to continued economic crisis. Honduras faced a 2.6 percent decline in its GDP as a result of the 2008 financial crisis as well as rampant unemployment, which bottomed out at 27.8 percent in 2008. More than 60.9 percent of Hondurans lived in poverty in 2016.

Nevertheless, Hondurans have a history of finding resilient and creative ways to cope with unpredictable political and economic situations. At the individual level, they hold out hope. One of the most remarkable exemplars of this creativity is Jose Guillermo, who founded a new tea shop called “ Te Invito” which means “you are invited.” His effort was recently showcased in La Tribuna, which named him the youngest entrepreneur in Tegucigalpa.   

Individuals voluntarily serve as bodyguards protecting businessman and their businesses. Unfortunately, in some cases, even these protective measurements do not succeed. This past December, Gustavo Leonel Canahuati, son of a prominent businessman in San Pedro Sula, was kidnapped and later found dead. This uncertainty and fear of violence have inspired some to leave.

Despite these individual acts of courage and ingenuity, the underlying institutional problems remain, and international efforts to staunch the flow of migrants have so far focused on the symptoms rather than the disease. Mexican President Obrador announced that he will be providing around 1,200,000 jobs visas to members of the caravans, including thousands of Hondurans. However, this solution is likely to have limited efficacy. Job schemes can fall prey to the transitional gains trap. This means that once these jobs are created and depended upon, they are hard to get rid of when changing economic circumstances demand it. Thus, policymakers can be trapped with the job scheme for decades. Instead, Honduras needs to pursue measures to restore the rule of law at home.

President Hernandez should continue his efforts to fight against drug-related violence, implement radical public policies to eradicate corruption, and promote economic security. For its part, the US government can support transparency and trust in Honduran elections in 2021 by encouraging third party oversight of the election process. Improving institutions by holding transparent elections, restoring an independent judiciary, and minimizing corruption and crime will convince Hondurans considering joining the caravan that there is still hope at home.

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