January 6, 2010

Guest blog: Diaspora, remittances and immigration

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While Honduran patriotism is so strong, I thought this guest blog article might spark some thought.

Diaspora, remittances and immigration
by José Falck Zepeda

Honduras has become a country dependent on the charity of international donors, remittances from the Honduran Diaspora, and the vagaries of the international geopolitical interests and its chess masters. Rather than taking charge of our destiny and recognize how shameful this situation is, our politicos took the easy route out and instead adopted the attitude "the less people we have in Honduras, the more tortillas we have to eat." This is nonsense and a defeatist attitude.

Don't get me wrong, our Diaspora is a reality and in the short and medium term we need to support our fellow country persons in terms of facilitating the process of coming, being and going to their "chosen" destinations. In fact, one of the things we need to do is to first analyze what are the real costs and benefits of the diaspora, and then try to magnify benefits and reduce costs as much as possible.

We know that the Diaspora has the immediate benefits of remittances back home. However, we also know that the longer a person stays in a foreign country, the less money he/she sends over time and the likelihood that the flow of money is interrupted, increases. We also know that there are really high costs to Honduras in terms of the brain drain, families torn apart, and communities and their tight social networks being disrupted.

We also know that immigrants into other countries, accumulate a significant stock of knowledge in terms of management and technological abilities and, of course wealth.

As a nation we should try as much as possible to repatriate the brains lost, while attracting the Diaspora's investment in Honduras. One very interesting possibility is the creation of programs where incentives are put in place to motivate Honduran scientists, high-level managers, and other valuable human resources, to repatriate themselves back home, either on a temporary basis, but also on a longer term /permanent basis. I am thinking of the same sort of benefits given now to retirees from industrialized countries to settle in Honduras. We could also think about facilitating the process of people investing their well earned money in Honduras. Think this Utopian dream? Well, I've seen programs of this nature being implemented in India, China, South Korea and The Philippines.

Of course some people will argue that this will only work if there is a well concerted devised program by visionary people in government and other decision making spheres.

I would agree to a point, in terms of the need to create /modify legislation to accommodate these efforts, but otherwise would actually be looking forward to the private sector and innovative efforts by individuals and progressive groups in Honduran society to work this out.

However, in the end, it is up to us, as Hondurans living in country or abroad, to push for a real change in the way things are done and for equitable and sustainable social and economic growth and development. The Diaspora can only be a temporary situation. Less is failure.


José Falck Zepeda is a Honduran Agricultural Economist, Agronomo Zamorano, and Visiting Professor at the Panamerican Agricultural School (Zamorano), who is currently working with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC. He blogs (in both English and Spanish) at Honduras: Libre, Democratica, Independiente.

This article was originally published in May 2007 on Honduras Policies: An Ag-Economist Speaks. Thanks go to José Falck for allowing me to republish it. I hope that it sparks a small flame of interest among the Honduran expatriates living all over the world. Honduras needs you.

If you are a Honduran expatriate, Jose and I would both love to read your comments on this article.

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