Washington — Failed trade and migration policies of the United States have exacerbated political problems in Honduras, leading to greater poverty and violence, says a recent report by the AFL-CIO.
The report identifies "two essential elements to understanding the current crisis" in Honduras, which is referred to in many media accounts as "the murder capital of the world" because of the extent of violence in society.
The two elements the report cites are:
- "Recent political and economic developments" in the country, including a 2009 military coup d'état, which unseated a left-leaning government and unsettled a period of relative peace in Honduran society;
- The "unfulfilled promise" of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
"In both these developments, U.S. policies play a major role," says the report from the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States.
Alarmed by the massive migration of Central Americans across the U.S.-Mexico border this spring and summer, many of them unaccompanied minors or women with children, the AFL-CIO sent a delegation to Honduras in October 2014 to investigate root causes of the migration. The delegation met with Honduran workers, labor leaders, faith community partners and government officials.
A report on the investigation, "Trade, Violence and Migration: The Broken Promises to Honduran Workers," was released Jan.12.
"Since the 2009 coup, the ruling governments have failed to respect worker and human rights or create decent work, and instead have built a repressive security apparatus to put down dissent," the report states. "Numerous trade unionists and community activists who participated in resisting the coup were killed, beaten, threatened and jailed. Fear of repression has limited political participation since the coup."
Post-coup governments "rolled back the modest anti-poverty initiatives," that once existed under the pre-coup government, and "weakened labor and employment laws."
According to the report, Hondurans spoke about CAFTA, the free trade agreement signed between Central America and the United States in 2005.
While CAFTA supporters "promised it would address the social and economic problems in the region and bring higher employment, stability and peace to Honduras and its neighbors," the AFL-CIO report contends that instead it has "only exacerbated the desperation and instability in Honduras."
"Like NAFTA, CAFTA's architecture of deregulation coupled with investor protection allowed companies to outsource labor-intensive component of their supply chains to locations with weak labor laws and low wages."
As a result, Honduras is today "the most unequal country in Latin America," the report says, citing a litany of statistics: poverty among Hondurans has risen 4.5 percentage points from 2006 to 2013; underemployment and unemployment have also risen; the percentage of those working full time but receiving less than the minimum wage has increased by nearly 30 percent.
All the while, "low minimum wages, unpaid overtime and a failure to enforce labor laws has resulted in a model that has benefited multinational corporations and continues to fail workers and their families."
The report goes on to detail a 2012 labor complaint that the AFL-CIO and more than two dozen Honduran trade unions and civil organizations filed with the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Trade and Labor Affairs.
The report also talks about the "business" of violence and of the drug trade in Honduras. It explains the struggles of local farmers to compete on a global stage under CAFTA. It explores the politics and social psychology of the migrant experience. And it lists a set of policy recommendations for the U.S. and Honduran governments.
The report concludes: "Failed trade and migration policies continue to exacerbate Honduras' problems. The U.S. government criminalizes migrant children and their families, while pursuing trade deals that simultaneously displace subsistence farmers and lower wages and standards across other sectors, and eliminate good jobs, intensifying the economic conditions that drive migration. This dynamic is enhanced in countries like Honduras, where the government's own policies leave workers and families vulnerable to abuse."
"In order for the working families of Honduras to stand a chance in today's global economy, both the U.S. and Honduran governments must reorient their migration, trade, foreign and labor policies to better protect and empower workers," the report states.
[Vinnie Rotondaro is NCR national correspondent. His email address is email@example.com.]