In 2014, thousands of refugees from Central America fled violence, repression and poverty and made the perilous, often deadly, journey to the United States. As many as 74,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S. border in 2014, some 18,000 of them from Honduras, where children and their families are fleeing their communities at a higher rate than in any other country in Central America.
At the deportation center in San Pedro Sula, planes land with more than 100 Hondurans a day, returned from our border prisons to their native land. They are mostly young men, with shackled hands and legs, who have harrowing tales of days in what they call the “ice box,” the U.S. detention centers on our borders that are so crowded they must stand up for hours, taking turns lying down to sleep. These were heartbreaking conversations, nearly hopeless tales through tears, of failed attempts to unify with families or find work.
As thousands of unaccompanied minors have arrived at the United States’ southern border in recent weeks, right-wing politicians and activists have used the refugee situation to push their anti-immigrant agendas, roll back protections for potential trafficking victims and stoke xenophobia among the general public by focusing on gang violence and disease.
In spite of Sunday’s massive and unprecedented voter turnout and enthusiasm of Hondurans hoping to achieve social justice through free and fair elections, the day ended with widespread uncertainty and distrust in the capacity and will of the current government to run fair and transparent elections. As of Tuesday morning, results are still not final. At least two parties have rejected the official results reported thus far.
This Sunday, Hondurans have a real chance to elect leaders at all levels of government who are part of a broad movement for social justice that arose out of the 2009 coup that removed the country’s democratically elected government. Rather than the old two-party system, Hondurans will choose from thousands of candidates in 10 parties. Labor and its progressive allies are founding members of the LIBRE party and have fielded candidates at all levels. Hopes for moving down this path to democracy are high, but so are concerns about fraud and electoral intimidation and violence.
On Sunday, Nov. 24, Hondurans will vote in national elections for president, legislators and local governments. The last elections in Honduras, in November 2009, were run by the de facto government that took office after the June 2009 coup and the electoral process was tainted by severe limits on civil liberties and low levels of participation. Candidates from diverse parties withdrew before the election, stating that the ruling party made fair campaigns and elections impossible. As a result, many Honduran and international groups questioned the legitimacy of the elections and the government that took office in early 2010. Numerous governments in Latin America explicitly rejected these elections.
On July 16, Kyungshin-Lear, a car parts manufacturing company with a factory in Honduras, fired three of nine newly elected union leaders. Within the following days, we have learned from our colleagues at the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center that the remaining six of the nine newly elected union leaders also were fired. Since January 2012, Kyungshin-Lear has fired 26 union leaders, with the company's most recent illegal firing of all nine union leaders in April 2013, and then in July, firing the nine union leaders who had been recently elected to replace the fired leaders from April.
For the past 20 years, Martínez, head of communications with the Honduran federation of agro-industrial unions, FESTAGRO, has hosted a daily radio show called "Trade Unionist on Air," which features discussions about labor and human rights, including an opportunity for agricultural workers to call in and ask about abusive workplaces, labor standards and rights violations.
A New York Times editorial this weekend criticizes Republican obstructionism designed to stop the National Labor Relations Board from protecting workers' rights by blocking President Obama's appointments to the board.
On a more global scale, similar opposition to unions is contributing to a business climate that allows tragedies like the recent deaths of 1,100 factory workers in Bangladesh to happen. In The Washington Post, Lance Compa argues that a stronger labor movement in the countries that build the products sold by multinational corporations like Walmart, Apple and many others would go a long way to improving worker safety and working conditions.
Irís Munguía began toiling at a banana packing plant at age 18, living on the banana finca (plantation) as a condition of employment. After 22 years at the plant, the longtime union activist now heads the Honduran banana and agricultural worker confederation, COSIBAH (Coordinadora de Sindicatos Bananeros y Agroindustriales de Honduras), founded in 1993. Munguía also is the first female coordinator of COLSIBA, the Latin American coordinating body of agricultural unions.