• Edición impresa de Junio 18, 2019.


Refugees flee this Honduran city, which has long been a vast, American-owned sweatshop.

Women and children in one of the poorest barrios of San Pedro Sula.

A 30-second search on the internet produces at least two dozen stories from U.S. newspapers and other media about San Pedro Sula in Honduras. “Honduran City is World Murder Capital,” announces Fox News. Business Insider calls it “the most violent city on earth.”  In an attempt to explain the motivation for migrant caravans traveling to the U.S.-Mexico border, NPR labels it “one of the most violent cities in the world.”
This wave of media attention has been going on for at least half a decade, as tens of thousands of Hondurans arrive at the border seeking refuge. President Trump’s rhetoric portraying the caravans as a threat has focused even more attention on this Honduran city.
Fear of violence is a completely legitimate reason for leaving home and making the dangerous journey north. Violence and gangs, however, are often presented by U.S. media as the only explanation for the exodus of Hondurans from this metropolis. Yet more than a century of history connects the city with the United States, in a close but unequal, and usually abusive, relationship, at least for Hondurans.
Over that time, San Pedro Sula has been the capital of banana exports, a city wracked by war and death squads, and a factory town for the garment industry. Most recently, it has become a community hit by deindustrialization as hard as any textile town in New England. The media almost always ignores this history, yet it is this long relationship that has produced the migration with which the media seems obsessed.
The Trump administration argues today that violence is not a basis for an asylum claim by refugees at the border, but this and previous U.S. administrations have cited that violence as a threat to Americans. When Marine Corps General John Kelly was commander of the U.S. Southern Command under President Obama, before his stint in the Trump White House, he framed Central American migration as a national-security threat, calling it a “crime-terror convergence.” And the gangs and violence became a justification for U.S. funding of the Central American Regional Security Initiative, which supplied $204 million to the corrupt Honduran government for army and police in 2016-2017, and another $112 million for economic development.
There is indeed violence in San Pedro Sula. But that violence has a long history, and is intimately tied to the city’s relationship with the U.S. That relationship is so close that the most basic decisions affecting the lives of its residents have often been made by powerful Americans.
The first was Samuel Zemurray, who founded the Cuyamel Fruit Company, and eventually became the head of United Fruit (which we know today as Chiquita Banana, or formally, Chiquita Brands International). A Russian immigrant who settled in New Orleans, Zemurray started as a banana importer in 1898, and then in 1910 bought 5,000 acres along the Cuyamel River, near the small town of San Pedro Sula, which he made the headquarters of his banana empire.
When the Honduran government wouldn’t give him land concessions and low taxes, Zemurray hired mercenaries, Guy “Machine Gun” Molonyand Lee Christmas. In 1912,they overthrew the president, and installed Manuel Bonilla in his place. Zemurray developed the port of Puerto Cortes, 30 miles from San Pedro Sula on the Caribbean coast, to handle his cargo, and a railroad to connect them.
Zemurray became known as the “banana king,” with huge investments throughout Central America backed by Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. His investments were threatened, however, when Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala in 1951, promising land reform. Zemurray then hired pioneering public-opinion manipulator Edward Bernays to convince the U.S. Congress that Guatemala had become a Soviet “threat,” and Arbenz was overthrown in a CIA-orchestrated coup.
A succession of generals governed Honduras from 1963 to 1981, taking bribes from United Fruit and tolerating the growing drug trade. At the end of that period, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the United States began using the country as a base to fight to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, and to train the Salvadoran army to defeat the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation (FMLN) in El Salvador’s civil war. U.S. Senator Tom Harkin accused the CIA and U.S. military advisers of organizing Battalion 316, which was responsible for murdering and “disappearing” more than 150 leftists and trade unionists from 1981 to 1984, one of them an American Jesuit priest, James Carney.

But the reality is also that people don’t want to leave. Even the gang members interviewed by Azam Ahmed say they don’t intend to leave San Pedro Sula: “But the surviving members of Casa Blanca,” he writes, “who once numbered in the dozens, do not want to flee, like tens of thousands of their countrymen have. They say they have jobs to keep, children to feed, families, neighbors and loved ones to protect.”






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