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VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan has been in San Pedro Sula, Honduras — the place from which caravans of migrants have left in the past year — speaking with deportees and reporting on what’s driving immigration to the United States. (Note: Srikrishnan is reporting from Honduras thanks to the International Center for Journalists Bring Home the World Fellowship).
Here’s a dispatch she sent along Saturday afternoon.
I spent Friday night at San Pedro Sula’s bus terminal, where a couple hundred people each night flee to Guatemala by bus. Taxi drivers and ticket-sellers said the hundred-some people waiting Friday was less than usual. Everyone there is on edge.
The city — like the rest of the country — has been engulfed in protests. Initially, the protests were triggered by privatization reforms that critics warned would kill off public education and health services. Last week, the country’s president, Juan Orlando Hernández, withdrew the proposed legislation, but strikes and protests have continued, as general frustration with the president and conditions in the country simmers.
Recently released court documents also named Hernández as a target of a major U.S. investigation into “large-scale drug-trafficking and money laundering activities,” which has fueled the anger and dissatisfaction driving people into the streets to protest.
Even the business community is calling for him to step down.
The Honduran government responded to the protestors with force. Security forces deployed teargas and live bullets to quell protests nationwide, including in San Pedro Sula.
The protests, which started peacefully, have also taken a turn. Many here suspect gang members have infiltrated the protests of doctors, teachers and students and started causing chaos, since several nights this week have ended in looting and tires burning in the streets. On Thursday night, 16 vehicles belonging to the Honduras Energy Company were set on fire in San Pedro Sula.
There’s a pervasive paranoia throughout San Pedro Sula. There are constant whispers and rumors about protests expected to turn violent, or what the government will do next. The tension reverberates through the bus terminal, too.
The migrants there are leaving for many of the same reasons droves of Hondurans have been fleeing the country over the past few years: Their lives have been threatened by gangs, they’ve been victims of violence in another way or they’re simply trying to escape extreme poverty. And those factors are all intertwined with angst from the failure and corruption of the government that has driven the protests.
But early in the night Friday, everyone waiting to flee was kicked out of the terminal and it was locked up for fear that looters would come. Everyone was instead left to sit on the sidewalk out front, wary of what might happen next.