On New Year’s Day, unmarked SUVs pursued 21-year-old Honduran activist Wilmer Paredes as he rode home on his motorcycle. When Paredes neared the final bend, he dropped his bike and tried to sprint to safety; unknown assailants gunned him down. No one has been charged in his killing, but state security forces had recently beaten him during a protest of the discredited November 26, 2017, election. Paredes, a youth leader in the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice, was just one of many victims of the violent post-election crackdown. The recent increase in targeted killings is stoking fears that the government is reconstituting death squads.
Civil-society groups worry that the post-election crisis is pushing the country further into authoritarian rule and compelling a new wave of Hondurans to head north. The data back this up: Migrants from Honduras are experiencing a more than seasonal uptick in apprehensions at the US border, despite the inhospitable climate they know will greet them. Amid the country’s insecurity and instability, the Trump administration announced on May 4 that it was canceling temporary protected status (TPS) for some 57,000 Hondurans who have been allowed to live in the United States since Hurricane Mitch ravaged the country in 1998. The decision also affects more than 50,000 children of TPS holders born in the US. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen focused her determination narrowly on Honduras’s recovery from the environmental disaster, ignoring the country’s current woes. But the program’s protections are far broader, allowing extension when conditions “temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately.” Both circumstances are indisputably applicable here.
A March report by the UN high commissioner for human rights confirmed civil-society groups’ claims of widespread human-rights violations. Even with limited cooperation by the state in providing information, the UN found convincing evidence of extrajudicial killings. The UN said at least 16 people were victims of state security forces, while one of Honduras’s leading human-rights organizations, COFADEH, pegs the total at 22. All of this, the UN concluded, must be viewed “in the context of a political, economic and social crisis, which can be traced back to the 2009 military coup d’état and significant delays to undertake critical institutional, political, economic and social reforms.”
Given the government’s ongoing failure to undertake those reforms, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein expressed alarm: “The already fragile human rights situation in Honduras, which suffers from high levels of violence and insecurity, is likely to deteriorate further unless there is true accountability for human rights violations, and reforms are taken to address the deep political and social polarization in the country.”