assessments

In Honduras, a Political Crisis Could Fuel Migration

4 MINS READJun 6, 2019 | 10:00 GMT
A tire fire burns at the doors to the outer entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa on May 31, 2019.
(ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

A tire fire burns at the doors to the outer entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa on May 31, 2019.

Highlights
  • Government decrees authorizing labor force readjustments in the education and health sectors have sparked ongoing protests against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez.
  • The country has few major transportation routes, so even small protests can have an outsized effect on the economy.
  • The security situation in Honduras will rapidly deteriorate if the protest wave continues to gain momentum, and the economy will suffer — something that could send more migrants north within months.

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Protests continued June 5 in various parts of Honduras, including Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula after June 2 incidents in which protesters set fire to 62 trucks and shipping containers on trucks headed to Puerto Castilla for export to the United States, La Prensa reported. In the June 2 incident, protesters closed a bridge on the CA-13 highway, forcing trucks to stop near the village of Guadalupe Carney. On May 31, protesters in the capital of Tegucigalpa burned tires outside the exterior entrance leading to the visa appointment waiting room at the U.S. Embassy. The fire left scorch marks to the exterior stone wall, but did little damage before being extinguished.

The Big Picture

As Honduras nears the 10-year anniversary of the removal of President Manuel Zelaya, its current president, Juan Orlando Hernandez, now sees opposition to his governance surging into the streets. Should the current wave of protests in the Central American country gain momentum and turn into a lengthy insurrection against its president, it could send more Honduran migrants north toward the United States, with implications for that country and its southern neighbor, Mexico.

Honduran government decrees authorizing labor force readjustments in the education and health sectors drove the protests. But even though Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez promised June 3 to reverse them, the protests have spread to a broader cross section of the political left.

These demonstrations are the latest chapter in the long-running series of left-wing protests against the Hernandez government. His government won a highly contested election in November 2017, which the left accused him of rigging. Frequent corruption cases involving the president's associates have dragged down his approval ratings since he took office in 2013, and U.S. law enforcement agencies reportedly are investigating allegations of cocaine trafficking against him.

Demonstrations in Honduras can be highly violent and often involve property damage or loss of life when protesters go after the drivers of vehicles stopped at roadblocks. They have also damaged businesses in marches through San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, El Progreso and La Ceiba.

The security situation in Honduras will rapidly deteriorate if the protest wave continues to gain momentum, and could send more migrants north within months.

The targeting of U.S. interests by left-wing protesters is not surprising given U.S. support for the Hernandez government. Other foreign countries and companies seen as supportive of the government could also be targeted or sustain unintended damage from public unrest. If the demonstrations grow, they could interfere with supply chains and hurt foreign companies with personnel and facilities inside the country. Since the country has few major transportation routes, even relatively small protests can cut off major logistical corridors and lead to food and fuel shortages. 

The protests could continue to June 28, the 10th anniversary of the 2009 Honduran coup. They could even gain momentum and turn into a lengthy insurrection against the president. The security situation in Honduras will rapidly deteriorate if the protest wave continues to gain momentum, and could send more migrants north within months. An even more depressed Honduran economy will keep pushing people abroad, and the logical place they would go to find low-wage jobs is the United States. This in turn could prompt the United States to put even more pressure on Mexico, whether in the form of tariffs or other measures, to stem migration from Central America.

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