By Kendra McSweeney / Talking Drugs
Late last month, I got word via WhatsApp that six old friends were in the custody of Mexican immigration authorities. All are indigenous Tawahka from eastern Honduras’ remote Moskitia region. With only backpacks, they joined a larger group of migrants leaving from San Pedro Sula in late February. Four days later, they’d crossed from Guatemala into Mexico, and a week after that, they had traversed the state of Chiapas. La migra picked them up somewhere north of Mexico City on March 28. They have since been deported back to Honduras, and are now planning their next attempt to get to the United States.
As accustomed as we are in the U.S. to hearing about the plight of Central American migrants, the fact that indigenous Hondurans are joining that exodus might come as a surprise. Especially now: the latest news from Honduras would suggest a new era of hope, not despair. After all, the country seems poised to finally curtail the impunity, extortion, violence, corruption, elite-led extractivism, and environmental devastation that have flourished under the previous 12 years of U.S.-backed “narco-dictatorship.”
New president Xiomara Castro—her Libre party strongly backed by indigenous peoples and workers—came to power on a platform dedicated to defending human rights and citizen security, fighting corruption and drug trafficking, and mitigating the devastating effects of climate change on this hurricane-battered country. Since her inauguration in January, she’s moved swiftly on all fronts. Her predecessor and his former chief of police are both to be extradited to the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges. Her administration just banned new open-pit mines. She’s invited the UN to set up an anti-corruption commission. Environmental defenders are being freed from arbitrary detention. And in mid-March, her new Forestry minister announced immediate government action to enforce protection of the country’s watersheds and forests, with priority attention to protected areas and indigenous territories in the Moskitia, where the country’s astronomical rates of deforestation, much driven by drug-traffickers’ actions, have been concentrated.
For the many Hondurans who have long struggled to defend their rights to ancestral lands, to protect forests, and to mitigate climate change, these developments are truly inspiring. The focus on the Moskitia is particularly welcome. This is an area whose biological and cultural diversity are both extraordinary and co-dependent, and have offered crucial lessons on climate-adaptive living and governance.