By Daniel Lichtenstein-Boris
Trump made the wall, and defeating the ‘migrant caravan’ the issue of the midterms. After sending troops to the border with shoot to kill orders, and a month long federal worker lockout, on February 15th Trump Declared a national military emergency.
A caravan of Honduran refugees fleeing assassinations of opposition party activists, poverty, corruption and drug cartel violence crossed Honduras into Guatemala on October 15th, 2018, swelling to upwards of 13,000 individuals as it departed Mexico City. Starting in mid-November, there were 6,000 refugees camped in Tijuana. There they joined other migrants in shelters and tents waiting for their claims for asylum to be heard.
The day after the start of the national military emergency I traveled to Tijuana with a team of healthcare professionals. This is the first in a series of stories of them and their patients.
Eddie a skinny kid wearing black socks and flip flops, blue jeans. He was skinny, thin as a rail, he looked young, in his mid-20’s at most, but with a worn, tired, face. He wore brown and white plad shirt and a black baseball hat. He was standing in the corner of the compound’s courtyard, across from a washer and dryer up a small dirt mound, where the big pot of beans, four feet tall, sat under the wood fire he tended, the green mesh wire of a chicken coup and clotheslines hanging wet blankets and hoodies straddled a terraced incline behind a single room that housed a sink and kitchen.
The younger Honduran teens kept running up to him, one to borrow a cellphone charger, here you go, he told the youth, make sure to bring it back and don’t break it. They clearly looked up to him.
After the election, with its corruption, fraud and week-long delay in counting votes to fix the final results and surprising popularity of Salvador Nasralla, Eddie and a group of friends helped lead the protests in his sector. There was a lot of persecution; death squads, tear gas, the military police deployed across the country; five were disappeared, all well known organizers. They shot people with rubber bullets, and live ammunition, they have tanks that spray pepper spray, and are used to break up the barricades protesters and strikers erect on main roads and in key intersections. He had to leave. Most of the protests have died down. People are scared, terrified. The military has come down with a heavy hand.
A Honduran man was standing over giant pot cooking beans, heated by scrap wood still covered in nails; natural gas is too expensive. He is from San Pedro Sula, the biggest city in Honduras besides the capital Tegulcigalpa. He left before the Migrant Caravan, the Honduran Exodus, on the third of October.
“Why did you leave?” I asked.
“Do you know much about Honduras?” He replied. “Yes, I was there last year as a human rights observer during the election.”
He began to tell his story, checking the giant black and grey pot that sat on blocks, stirring it occasionally, and adding another piece of splintered wood, nails and all. He was active in the Libre Party, the opposition, and was an active supporter of Presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla, who ran against President Juan Orlando Hernandez and the Nationalist Party in a left liberal coalition called the Alliance against the Dictatorship in the 2017 national election.
Five of his comrades, other activists who worked with him in the sector of San Pedro Sula called Choloma had been murdered, disappeared by paramilitary death squads working for the government. The November 2017 election was stolen. The national party came around to buy votes before the election, driving around in blue cars with the party’s logo, giving things, supplies- wood, bricks cement blocks to help families build and make improvements to their homes, bags of money.
“One of my friends was a University student, we were with the Libre Party, and had a small group in our city. One person I know ran for mayor, was the mayor of a small pueblo on the frontier with Guatemala and El Salvador, called Ocalpatec . They threatened to kill her, and she fled too. She is here in Tijuana like many others, not far from here, he motioned left down the hill and across the valley, about 20 miles away.. She wasn’t a member of the Libre party, but another, with a yellow logo, another part of Salvador Nasralla’s coalition, the Alliance against Dictatorship.”
“In the election I worked at the polls as an official election observer. No one slept all week, they kept delaying the vote count, saying they would announce it late at night, and they never did.”
“Like everyone else in Honduras, we took to the streets, taking over roads, engaging in peaceful protests; it was a general strike. There would be Carcerlazos we would have protests where everyone would bang pots and pans outside their windows, a loud clanging that resonated throughout the city. A few months after the election, about a year ago in January or early February, after the protests died down, I had to leave. They killed many of my friends. Sometimes they’d say it was a random murder, or blame la Mara , the gangs, the cartels,, or a neighbor they said killed him, but it was the death squads. Sometimes bodies would be found, people just disappeared.”
On December 22nd, 2017, Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil CEO and Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, legitimized the rule of Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, even after multiple reports of fraud, ballot tampering and widespread violence and intimidation.
“I traveled around, went to Guatemala for a few months, then came here.”
Eddie is a barber, a hair stylist. He found some work recently, and worked down at a barber shop down the hill, he recently got eight days of work. But he’s here in Tijuana to apply for asylum, and has a number; he doesn’t want to miss his place in line, and so doesn’t always go out and work. He’s waiting for his number to go through the process.