Leticia Castellanos works as a journalist with Radio Progreso. Photo by Jenny Cafiso

Jenny Cafiso: ‘Bridging borders’ worth the price for Hondurans

By  Jenny Cafiso, Guest Columnist
  • November 5, 2018

More than 7,000 Honduran migrants including children have crossed the Guatemalan and Mexican borders and are marching toward the United States. Some people, including the American president, are describing them as murderers, rapists, “very bad criminals.” Helicopters are hovering over them, while the border patrol and the military have been alerted. There are calls to close the border.

While some migrants have turned back, most are staying the course. Jose Mejia, 42, a father of four from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, was quoted as saying, “We are going to sleep here in the street, because we have nothing else.”

I was in the same city of San Pedro Sula in Honduras a month ago. This is where Radio Progreso and ERIC, a Jesuit radio station and human rights centre, work under the leadership of Fr. Melo Coto. With the ERIC team, I visited communities where they work — and I understand why people are leaving the country.

I met Gerardo, a young journalist at Radio Progreso who has received a number of death threats. His five-year-old son has told him he is afraid he will be killed. In a country where more than 40 journalists have been killed since 2009, the threat is real.

I asked Gerardo why he stays. He said it is because they are committed to the people. He probably is not in the caravan of migrants marching toward the U.S. border but, if he were, I could understand why.

Two community leaders walked hours to tell us of their struggle against a Canadian mining company, which has not only polluted their rivers and land but is now removing the cemetery where their family members are buried. With sadness and fear Manuel told me that his son, with no way to feed his family, has left to cross the border. He said he hopes that God will watch over him.

I visited the people in Campamento Guapinol in Tocoa who are blocking the entrance to a mine site, to “defend water and life.” They await the arrival of the army to dislodge the camp. Perhaps some of them are now in the caravan crossing the border.

And I also met Belinda, in Guadalupe, Santa Fe, a fishing community of the Garifuna people, whose ancestral land has been bought by a Canadian businessman who is building a retirement community for Canadians. Their land was supposed to be protected, but now they fear their access to the sea and fishing will be blocked. She and another leader have been charged with trespassing. I wonder if she too is in the caravan crossing the border. 

In a country with the highest murder rate in the western hemisphere, where a woman is killed every 14 hours, where there is a strong network of organized crime linked to drugs destined for North America, where there is deep social conflict due to the large presence of mining companies; where there is extreme inequality and poverty — it is not surprising that thousands of people are leaving. 

This year at Canadian Jesuits International (CJI) we chose “Bridging Borders” as the theme of a campaign called Giving Tuesday. We did so greatly inspired by Pope Francis’ words, “I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges,” and deeply concerned by today’s politics of fear.

Bridging borders is not a vague concept or abstract wish. It is an engagement that involves the heart, a commitment to social justice. It requires concrete changes in the social structures that are at the basis of division, poverty and conflict. It means ensuring that everyone has access to the necessities of life — food, water, shelter, education, health care — not as privileges or gifts, but as rights. It means helping people live a life with dignity in their own lands free from violence, and where their livelihood is respected. It requires that we fight so that everyone has a voice, the right to express their opinion. It means working for the common good.

For Canadians it means ensuring that our mining companies operating overseas obtain free and informed consent from local communities. It means giving aid that allows local economies to thrive, pushing for fair trading practices and cutting relations with governments which abuse human rights.

As Gerardo, the journalist living under death threat in Honduras, said, “We need to be a light in the darkness.” 

Gerardo, Belinda, Manuel and all the other inspiring men and women I met in Honduras, are bridging borders through their actions. Please join them by supporting CJI’s 2018 Giving Tuesday campaign, “Bridging Borders.”

(Cafiso is director of Canadian Jesuits International. She has also worked with Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome, Development and Peace in Toronto, and TAREA in Lima, Peru. A version of this article originally ran on igNation.ca)

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