After four days of traveling through the northern and central regions of Honduras, the U.S. Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison tells us that he has listened to very difficult stories of violence but that he has also seen the resilience and the courage of the people who struggle every day to survive in this country.
Keith Ellison represents the state of Minnesota in the United States Congress, and is a promoter of the Berta Cáceres Act, proposed legislation in response to the assassination of the feminist human rights defender Berta Cáceres to restrict U.S. support to the Honduran military for its involvement in this crime and other violations of human rights.
In 2006, Ellison was elected to the Congress and was the first African American Muslim to achieve that position. Now, he is one of the strongest leaders of the Democratic Party in his country. Minnesota is a state that in 2015 hosted 4000 Honduran immigrants, which is not the largest immigrant group in the state but Ellison insists that the people in his state speak of the need to build better bridges with Honduras.
“Honduras is a beautiful country with wonderful and resilient people. I am here because of the assassination of Berta Cáceres. I am working on a piece of legislation with 70 other colleagues called the Berta Cáceres Human Rights Act because we believe that the United States ought to play a positive role in the world and we are concerned because security aid here has not been well utilized. I am monitoring the situation and I have spoken with some people, with leaders of civil society and others,” explained Ellison in an interview with Contra Corriente.
The Support of USAID Must Change
Ellison also spoke with us about the support of USAID in Honduras and its role in security, justice, and economic development.
“When people in the USA support the programs of USAID, they do it with good intentions believing that they will help people who need it in difficult times; to maintain public integrity, to combat corruption and impunity, and to defend the rule of law, they believe the money will be used appropriately. But I have spoken with some people who are concerned that this is not happening,” he said.
Ellison visited communities like Pajuiles where the National Police, supported by the United States, has brutally repressed protests against a hydroelectric dam that has been built in the community without prior consultation. The congressman also spoke with women’s organizations in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula about the high rates of violence against women and impunity that no one does anything to stop.
“I am concerned about this, and I think that it is important that my country needs a foreign policy based on justice, on local initiatives, so that the communities can direct the kind of development that they want, rather than having it imposed on them,” he said.
TPS and Anti-Immigrant Policies
We are a few days away from elections in Honduras and despite the fact that the Congressman has assured us that he knows what is happening in Honduras beyond just statistics and beyond the government narrative of decreased violence, he did not want to refer to the current electoral process which is so controversial in Honduras.
“It is not appropriate for a U.S. Congressman to interfere with the elections in Honduras. I don’t have a point of view to offer about the election. What I hope is that the elections happen in a fair way, that people go vote, and that the votes be well-counted, so that the will of the people may prevail,” he said.
However, he did refer to the anti-immigrant policies of Donald Trump and the threat that the benefit of Temporary Protected Status may be taken away from Honduras.
“I am concerned about the effects of Trump’s policies in Honduras. Unemployment in the places where I was is between 50-60%. If we suddenly send back hundreds or thousands of people to these communities where the situation is already difficult, what options will they have but to be attracted to crime? I will work with the Hondurans living in the United States to see how we can approach this problem. We don’t want Honduras to go backwards, but rather we want the country to move forward and I think that an abrupt change to TPS could be very harmful,” he explained.
The Support of the United States Remains in Few Hands
In Honduras, it is common to think that the United States exerts control over life and over the decisions in the country. This influence has been seen as normal, despite the attack on the sovereignty of the country, although they always try to make it seem that it is not the case.
For his part, the Congressman pointed out that the United States support for Honduras should be reviewed. “The United States has sent money to Honduras for many years, and the people remain poor, violence remains high because it’s not just murders; there are also assaults, rapes, and violence of many kinds. I think we should change our support since the money that we send gets into the hands of the elites, but it is not benefiting the poor,” he said.
“I am worried about this and I think it is important that my country has a foreign policy based on justice, on local initiatives, so that communities can direct the type of development that they want, rather than having it imposed on them.” Keith Ellison
One of Berta Cáceres’s struggles was to highlight the interference of the United States in the Honduran armed forces and their control over land by way of various military bases. Cáceres also denounced and demanded that the military bases be removed from the country, that US support in the training of the Honduran armed forces be stopped. Cáceres was assassinated and members of those same armed forces were part of the criminal network that killed her. Today, Ellison noted this and is asking through the Berta Cáceres Act that if the United States is contributing to the impunity and instability of the justice system, to violence and corruption in Honduras by way of training security forces, equipping them, and any other support, then aid should be restricted.
“The United States does have a military presence here, a cooperative presence. We cannot turn our backs on this country as if we don’t have a role to play here. I think it is important to me to be here to listen, talk, and listen again to what the people have to say. Honduras is important in the United States. There is a large Honduran diaspora there. Honduras is our neighbor. It is a short flight from Atlanta to Tegucigalpa and we have a lot in common. We need to build a network of deeper connections, connecting people to people and not just business to business, or big government to big government, military to military, and that is why I am here,” the Congressman concluded. He will return to the United States to promote the Berta Cáceres Act.