By Guy Page
The organizer of the latest Central American immigrant caravan to draw Twitter fire from President Donald Trump has been identified by CNN as Bartolo Fuentes, “a former lawmaker from Honduras.”
What CNN doesn’t say is that Fuentes sat in the Honduran Congress of Deputies from 2014-2018 as a member of the anti-capitalist, socialist Libre Party, whose slogan is “the revolution is inevitable in Honduras.” His party is committed to the overthrow of the current rulers of Honduras.
The founders and leaders of El Libre are supporters of former President Manuel Zelaya, a scandal-ridden socialist and friend of Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. He was ousted in a 2009 coup for seeking a second term in violation of the Honduran constitution.
The coup replaced Zelaya after he threatened to arrest a Supreme Court justice who would not sanction a second-term referendum. At the time, Zelaya’s would-be power grab seems to have escaped the official attention of the Vermont congressional delegation. Only when one of Zelaya’s chief ousters, current president Juan Hernandez, tried the same trick in 2017 did Sen. Patrick Leahy issue a press release suggesting the U.S. might withhold aid to Honduras.
Leahy’s assistance has not gone unnoticed by admirers on the left. Pro-Libre college professor Dana Frank, interviewed by the left-leaning Jacobin Magazine, said “the [U.S.] congressional response, led by Leahy, has been terrific. He put out a powerful statement questioning the electoral process and condemning the repression.” Sen. Leahy also tried to limit funding to Honduras due to human rights abuses by Zelaya’s successors in 2012. He also questioned U.S. funding of Honduras in 2015.
Both President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence say that unless the immigrant caravan is stopped south of the U.S. border, the U.S. may — sounding a little like Leahy — pull foreign aid to Honduras. Direct aid last year totaled about $66 million to promote democracy, human rights and governability.
It’s possible that Fuentes is trying to provoke the U.S. into weakening his political opponents. Cutting funding could destabilize the already shaky Honduran government, thus making El Libre’s socialist “revolution” even more “inevitable.” Revolution would drive even more immigrants to the U.S. — not a planned caravan like this week’s, but a real trail of people fleeing human misery, such as has been seen in the Middle East and Europe.
Intentionally or not, both Trump and Leahy have highlighted the chronic problem of Central Americans seeking illegal entry into the U.S. to escape political, economic and human rights poverty. Author and philanthropist Howard Buffet predicts in his book “Our 50 State Border Crisis” that large numbers of Central Americans will try to enter the U.S. as long as life in their nations of origin remains unendurable. It’s hard to see how stopping foreign aid will help. But as other nations have learned, Trump’s bluster is sometimes just a negotiating tactic to get what he really wants.
Maybe if Trump gets what he wants — a secure border — Honduras and the other Central American nations will get what they desperately need: enough help to produce real hope for their citizens.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.