Migration and its root causes

“Good Trouble” for the Common Good was the topic of the Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD) in Washington, D.C.  in April. The National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd is a key organizer of EAD.

The Office of Justice and Peace of the Province of Mid-North America had the opportunity to be a part of an EAD panel about the root causes of migration from Central America to the U.S. We invited Sister Marta Iris López, RGS, to serve on the panel.

A sociologist with human rights training, Sr. Marta formerly served as the Good Shepherd NGO Designate to CEPAL (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean). She now works as the coordinator of the micro-financing program in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Sister Marta illustrated in her presentation how economics, health, public safety, and the environment are negatively impacted by structural adjustment programs that are implemented by international financial institutions like the World Bank. These macroeconomic policies have worked to ensure payment of interest on debts contracted with international creditor institutions; however, they have failed to promote and protect human rights.

Government fails most vulnerable

In addition, governmental corruption prevents the crucial international cooperation needed for help to reach the most vulnerable. Governments do not invest enough in health and education. Honduras’ public hospitals lack the most basic tools, from blood sample tubes to post-operative drainage devices. Patients’ families have to buy everything. It is not possible to perform emergency surgeries due to the lack of available beds, so patients are placed on waiting lists. Since the wait is long, invasive diseases progress and cause many patients to die.

Public insecurity is a serious problem for Honduran families. Gang members demand that small business owners pay a “war tax.” If they don’t pay the tax, gang members will kill a family member or burn down the business. Police mistrust is strong. There are cases of people making police reports and later being killed. Gang members also are known to work on the emergency 911 line and provide information to their gangs.

Like health and safety concerns, the environment also has played a role in migration. Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have been hit by hurricanes, earthquakes and drought in the last decade, leaving the population vulnerable. For example, food insecurity caused by drought has led to the prevalence of chronic malnutrition in children under age 5. In Guatemala chronic malnutrition has reached 59.6% of the rural population and 65.9% of the indigenous population.


Women crucial to family survival

Sr. Marta pointed out during the panel discussion that survival relies more and more on women through the experience of women participating in the micro-financing project.  Economic activities such as informal labor, emigration and the return of the so-called “classes of servitude” have become crucial to survival.  Whenever the State follows the structural adjustment programs and ceases to assume responsibility for social assistance, women replace the State and take on the tasks linked to health, nutrition and care.

Although the social-economic problems that Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala face are daunting, Sister Marta

gave us hope when she spoke about the seeds that Good Shepherd Sisters are sowing.  More than 30 years ago, the Sisters arrived in the village of Germania in Tegucigalpa to provide support to the people there. Now, most of the people served by the Sisters in Germania come from three neighboring villages: Yaguacire, Santa Rosa and Tizatillo. That’s progress.

Claudia Palacio

Claudia Palacio

Sister Claudia Palacio is the Office of Justice and Peace Coordinator of the Province of Mid-North America. She is an Apostolic Sister and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.