Honduran journalist discusses causes of people migrating to U.S.
Jennifer Avila, a journalist in Honduras, founded an online publication a year ago, called Contra Corriente. She works with six other journalists to publish reports about what is happening in Honduras and Central America.
She recently spoke to university students, community members and the Latinx community in Idaho, Washington and Oregon—at the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene and Whitworth College in Spokane—during the 2018 Northwest Witness for Peace Tour. Her goal was to tell how United States policies create violence and poverty that make more people flee from Honduras to the U.S.
In the spring, summer and this month, caravans of 1,200 to 7,000 immigrants seeking asylum have come or are coming to the U.S., even though the U.S. government seeks to discourage immigration.
Jennifer said people risk fleeing to the U.S. in spite of stronger laws and borders, because risks of living and struggling to survive in Honduras are greater—with violence, poverty and inequality.
"Journalists need to create consciousness among citizens in Honduras and the U.S.," Jennifer said, "so people know there is a connection between daily violence our people experience and both U.S. government policies and U.S. business investments."
While she found that few in the U.S. know about Honduras or Central America, people wanted to know more. Because mainstream media rarely cover issues, Jennifer said small local media challenge the message of nationalism in a time of globalism.
"Everything that happens in the world is connected," said Jennifer, who was first on a local TV show when she was 15.
She has been a journalist for eight years, working with a Jesuit radio station and as a filmmaker producing documentaries on migration, gender violence and human rights.
Last year, she created Contra Corriente with a website, blog and social media to spread news around the world. They seek and receive support to publish translations from Spanish into English, French, German and Norwegian.
"Independent journalists connect with human rights organizations," she said. "Human rights need independent journalists. So we connect with Witness for Peace.
"In Honduras, the market is designed to serve the elite and U.S. interests in the region that keep Honduras a mining and banana republic," Jennifer said.
Big corporations and other countries decide Honduras' policies, she said. Honduras was a base in Central America for the U.S. military to fight insurgents when Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador had civil wars.
"We are a country without a memory because of military rule. A 2009 coup d'etat undermined a move to democracy and human rights. In a 2017 political crisis, the president was re-elected even though the constitution prohibits him from having another term," she said."Many denounced the election as fraudulent.
"The U.S. government supported him. Even though the people are defenseless, they went on the streets to protest. The government murdered 30 and arrested 1,500. Now we have a dictatorship."
Jennifer also reported that 90 percent of the cocaine coming to the U.S. is from Honduran drug cartels and organized crime that undermine the economy.
While the first cause of migration is poverty, the second is violence from drug trafficking and gangs.
"The U.S. war against drug trafficking continues and has caused violence," she added. "We have nowhere to be safe. Drug traffic will not stop if there is big demand."
In addition, because land is in the hands of monoculture agriculture and mining, people do not benefit from the wealth.
In the 1980s, Honduras produced rice, corn and beans. Now land is used to produce biofuels to meet the U.S. demands for fuel, Jennifer said.
"We do not have a democracy that protects the people. Nearly 80 percent of murders are committed with impunity because of government corruption, she said.
Honduras has 9.5 million people. Even though people flee, the population is stable, because there is a high birth rate with many people in their 20s and 30s.
Many families who fled in the 1990s and still live in the U.S. sustain the Honduran economy by sending funds home. The Honduran government does not want them to be deported, she said.
"Our small digital media outlet reaches 10,000 people a month. We do not want people to be 'click-addicts,' so we tell the big stories," she said.
Jennifer said the reach is low because the education system is poor, so many people are illiterate, and few have internet access.
What is published in Contra Corriente reaches beyond the internet, as readers share with their friends.
In Honduras, it's hard to gather news and dangerous to be an independent journalist, Jennifer said.
"When we ask questions, there is concern because we do not have a free press. When there is a protest in the streets, people do not trust media, and are violent toward journalists. Police are also violent with the press, even international media. The threat creates the silence they want," said Jennifer. "When we ask questions, we are at risk. People sharing stories are in danger if they tell us what is happening.
"We report on crime structures operating in neighborhoods, mafia corruption in government and big business, and gangs and drug cartels, which control territories.
Protecting our sources is hard, but part of ethical journalism," she said.
Contra Corriente staff make a living through donations, crowd funding and support from international organizations. People can donate through the web page.
"Independent journalism is not free. It's expensive," said Jennifer, who directs a team of six journalists—half in Tegucigalpa and half in San Pedro Sula—and seeks to assure them a minimum wage. "Money, however, does not influence our editorial approach.
"It has survived one year, and I hope it will be sustainable, lasting five, 10, 20 or more years," Jennifer said.
"While speaking in the U.S., I learned that even though we are 5,000 kilometers apart, many U.S. people believe in solidarity and are committed to help migrants and issues that cause migration for Central Americans far away," Jennifer said.
She appealed for people in the U.S. to work through community organizations to urge the U.S. government to change policies.