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Former Honduras ambassador: Caravan rooted in civil wars, 1998 hurricane

St. Mary's professor: 'Great difficulties, but surmountable'

SAN ANTONIO – As a professor of international diplomacy at St. Mary’s University and retired U.S. ambassador to Honduras under President Bill Clinton, James Creagan has a long history in foreign service.

Creagan said a migrant caravan of thousands of Hondurans is rooted in a record hurricane and two civil wars in Central America’s Northern Triangle.

El Salvador and Guatemala were torn by past civil wars that only led to further instability, poverty and corruption, Creagan said.

And after taking a direct hit from Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the worst hurricane in the Western Hemisphere in 200 years that killed thousands of people, the economy and infrastructure in Honduras were destroyed.

Creagan said that then Honduran President Carlos Roberto Flores asked him and former U.S. President George H.W. Bush if they’d heard about the "boat people."

"We said, 'Oh, yes, the people from Cuba and Haiti at different times,'" Creagan recalled. He said the Honduran president then made a prediction that continues to play out 20 years to the month that Mitch devastated Honduras.

Creagan said they were told, "If Honduras can’t recover and if we don’t have jobs, you are going to see the 'feet people' and they are going to walk from here all the way to Texas."

Now a retired career diplomat, Creagan said back then, the U.S. sent the National Guard to help in the recovery and rehabilitation of Honduras.

Members of Congress, President Clinton and first lady Hillary Clinton and even the Pentagon, were asking Creagan what they can do to help.

Creagan said Hondurans who fled to the U.S. after Mitch were even given temporary protected status which is set to expire in 2020.

But just as Honduras was trying to get back on its feet, Creagan said Colombian drug lords realized they could transport their shipments through Honduras instead of by sea in the Caribbean.

Creagan said the cartels then evolved to the point where they controlled much of Honduras. But after Mitch, Hondurans had some hope for the future, seeing the emergency response efforts by the U.S.

Now many there are driven to desperation, so Creagan said, "We don’t need to cut aid to Honduras. We need to expand aid to Honduras."

The countries in the Northern Triangle are not failed states, even though they have "great difficulties but certainly surmountable," Creagan added.

Creagan said it would take a multinational effort that he believes should start at the local level to gain the people’s trust.

"This is the time for focused engagement with international partners on anti-corruption, security and increased trade," Creagan said, which would help reestablish the rule of law, good government and badly needed jobs.

Creagan said this way they could remain in their countries and hopefully, someday prosper, instead of risking their lives to reach the U.S., to which they will likely be turned away unless they’re granted political asylum. 


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