Amelia Frank-Vitale is a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Michigan.
Since I moved to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in September 2017 to do research for my doctoral dissertation, I’ve accompanied a 16-year-old with three bullet holes in his body to the hospital, only to find that there was no blood for transfusions. I’ve looked in the face of a young mother, anguished over whether she should try to make it the United States, because the gang that she used to be a part of but had left behind wanted to pull her back in. I’ve gotten tearful phone calls from a single mother and her two children, who have been told by a gang that they want her house — and she has nowhere else to go. I’ve talked to many families whose teenagers have been taken away by police, never to be seen again. And I’ve also talked to police officers who have given up on law enforcement here, as their superiors undermine honest work and reward corruption.
On Friday, President Trump declared a national emergency as a pretext to allow him to begin construction of a border wall. But the real national emergency is here, in Honduras.
I arrived shortly before a likely fraudulent election installed Juan Orlando Hernández in a second, unconstitutional term as president. Rather than protest irregularities in the vote-counting process, the Trump administration congratulated Hernández on his victory.
Honduras was already in bad shape: a devastating hurricane in 1998; a coup d’etat in 2009; becoming the world’s most homicidal nation in 2010; and a long history of U.S. intervention. In 2015, the ruling National party was implicated in stealing millions of dollars from the nation’s social security fund. Honduras is also on the primary route for cocaine trafficking to the United States. The Drug Enforcement Administration has arrested many alleged narcotraffickers, among them the president’s brother, Tony Hernández. The country ranks high in corruption, impunity, poverty and inequality. It ranks low for literacy, employment and life expectancy.