June 6, 2011


Hondurans in exileAll roads lead elsewhere

I've been doing some thinking about 'exile' lately. I live in Honduras and don't plan to move back to the USA, but I have to admit that it is nice to believe that I have that option if things become worse in Honduras.

Much has been made about former president Manuel Zelaya's self-imposed exile from his homeland. We've seen thousands of articles claiming that Zelaya was forced out of Honduras (in his pajamas, no less!) at gunpoint and not allowed to return for two years because of political persecution and death threats.

The military was sent to arrest then-president Zelaya for breaking the law and violating the constitution and flagrantly ignoring court orders. Witnesses who lived nearby and heard the commotion have claimed that Zelaya was dressed normally and a soldier was carrying his suitcase when Zelaya left.

Personally, I believe that on the morning of June 28, 2009, Zelaya begged the military to take him to Costa Rica rather than facing the shame of arrest and the horror of a Honduran prison. That just sounds to me more probable and more like the Zelaya I knew. Working that through the chain of command would explain the long delay before his arrival in Costa Rica. But we'll probably never know the whole truth. We do know that President Pepe Lobo has been inviting Mel Zelaya to come back for the past year and a half.

What about the other 'exiles'?

We constantly hear that every Honduran anywhere in the world has the right to return to Honduras without fear and that Zelaya is no different. The Blogicito has a lot of expatriate Honduran readers from all over the world and I've gotten to know some of them through their emails, blogs, and Facebook.

It occurs to me that there are more than a million Hondurans living in exile, some 10-15% of Hondurans live outside the country. Some are very successful doctors, lawyers, engineers, economists, architects, teachers, businessmen and businesswomen. Many have left because of lack of educational or economic opportunities in Honduras. Many others are blue collar workers, but have made a success of their lives and provide a decent life for their families while at the same time sending money regularly to their families back home — as much as US $2.5 billion in total per year.

Maybe now that the most famous of all the exiles has returned to Honduras, the government will have the time to start working on the many serious problems that prevent the other million-plus from returning. Honduras desperately needs educated and hard working citizens who have had a vision of the world from outside of Honduras, where nothing ever seems to change. Honduras needs more of those citizens who can clearly see that when you keep doing the same thing, you'll keep getting the same results, something that none of the Honduran administrations seem able to comprehend.

Real examples

Many of these citizens of the world have much to offer and would like to come back to their home. One doctor has considered it but found that to be licensed in Honduras, she would have to commit to work one year public service at no salary, which she cannot afford to do. Additionally, she's very concerned about the crime situation and does not want to spend the rest of her life living in fear behind bars and walls. This exile will visit occasionally but probably will not return here to live.

Another exile who is an agricultural economist desperately wanted to come back to help his fellow countrymen and share what he had learned. He offered to work for a modest salary but the only thing that was of interest to his potential employers was who were his political connections. He had none and was not offered a job. So what does he do now? He travels literally all over the world advising other countries how to improve their agricultural programs. This exile's knowledge and expertise is greatly appreciated everywhere except his homeland.

Another friend who has left Honduras is a skilled computer programmer. He is also a brilliant writer, in both English and Spanish, but he left after a series of jobs in which his pay was delayed for months or not received at all for political or economic reasons. He suffered six muggings in his last year in Honduras and several of his middle-class family members were also crime victims.

A Harvard graduate came back, thinking that he could make a difference in the government. His family had the connections, so he got a job. Much to his disappointment, nobody wanted to hear his development ideas. They put him to work on political campaigns. How to get more votes and win the next election was as far ahead as the powers-that-be wanted to think. After closely escaping being a kidnap victim, this exile left and said that he would never return to live here.

I've heard from many other Honduran expatriates. Most live ordinary but productive and successful lives in the US, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Korea, France, and elsewhere. What's the difference? In those countries, there are educational and job opportunities that only a few can have here in Honduras.

Lately, I've heard more Hondurans talking about emigrating to other countries. Two of them are a successful professional couple who have received several "Express Extortions" in which they are told over the phone that if they don't pay money, one of their children will be killed. They are fed up with the crime situation and don't want to live in fear.

I've also heard from many American wives of Hondurans who have or will become exiles from their country in order to move here to Honduras with their husbands. Some move to Honduras with excitement and a little fear, but hoping to make a life here permanently. Many more move here to bide the time until their husbands can return to their country, knowing that their children will have a much brighter future anywhere than in Honduras.

No, the military did not deposit these people in other countries, nor did they flee from arrest warrants, but they are exiles none the less, driven away by lack of opportunity, lack of social and legal justice, and fear of crime.
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