One of the insights a foreign correspondent like me gains quickly from history is that, strangely enough, the big problems in foreign policy often have their roots in small places.
It was in little-known Sarajevo, of course, that World War I started — and thus, arguably, the Second World War. Later, irrelevant Vietnam was America’s nemesis, not the big guys like Russia and China. On the positive side, it was tiny, amazing Singapore that inspired the transformation of China.
Today, although most Americans could not even locate it on a map, it is little Honduras, an understandably modest country, that demands our attention — and threatens us, not with marching boots and guns, but with bare feet and a mental map to El Norte. In Spanish, Honduras means “the depths” or, colloquially, “out of your depth.” This fateful spring, we’ve gotten an idea of where that puts us.
Although the thousands of “illegal aliens” who have been appearing on our southern border like lost souls at the gates of St. Peter are mostly from El Salvador and Guatemala, it is poor, misbegotten Honduras — named by Columbus in 1502, fought over by pirates and native tribes, misgoverned by the greedy Spanish for four centuries — that has become the symbol of the unfortunate wanderings of modern man.
If we are ever to dream of beginning to soothe, much less solve, this primary problem of our times, we are going to have to halt the foolish, cruel and utterly useless policies we now impose south of our border. It is way past time for the U.S. to hammer out a humane but tough-minded policy to transform these miserable little Central American states into countries that do not hemorrhage humans.
Let’s start with one small example. On the beautiful touristy island of Roatan in the Honduran Bay Islands, a prominent local pastor, Tristan Monterroso, president of the Institute 4 Excellence and sponsor of virtual job fairs, is impassionedly beginning to train hundreds of citizens to enter the emerging online marketplace for jobs — right at home. To become, as he puts it, “financially independent freelancers via online job opportunities.”
It is not a new idea in the world of development, and it has worked from Hong Kong to India to Oman. Monterroso estimates that freelancers in Honduras could have access to more than 50,000 online coding jobs weekly. Plus, the Roatan group has an invaluable advantage in having a European co-sponsor in CodersTrust, a Danish firm that provides online platforms for the virtual marketplace.
Since JFK’s Alliance for Progress, which was working, Washington has virtually ignored Central America. Oh, Vice President Joe Biden made a pretty decent try in the “Iron Triangle” of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. He visited the area three times in the last year of the Obama administration and inspired Congress to give $750 million in aid for reforms — to clean up the police, to increase tax collection, to fight corruption and create opportunities to keep potential emigrants safely at home. And there were notable successes.
But now, once again, little is being done. Vice President Mike Pence visited the region last week. Americans should watch carefully to see what, if anything, comes from that visit, for without true reforms inspired and instituted by Washington, there is no hope for any real solution to the barrages of desperate human beings on our border.
Today Central Americans live with the highest homicide rates in the world, vicious gangs number in the tens of thousands of young men, unemployment is high and the Spanish-heritage “leadership” is almost unrelievedly corrupt and cruel.
The tragedy is that we KNOW how to develop countries today. There are brilliant, trained developmental thinkers all over the world. A street-smart American administration would study past successes like Chile, Singapore, Oman, Kazakhstan, Botswana and Costa Rica and use those examples to adopt effective policies.
Then we might see some true change — and hope — for everyone on the border.
Georgie Anne Geyer, a columnist for Universal Press Syndicate, is the author of several books, including a biography of Fidel Castro.
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