I used to think that Jesus’ admonition to “shake the dust off your feet” was a silent, nonviolent and slightly snarky protest against those who didn’t welcome the followers of Jesus.
But recently I joined faith leaders from across the country in a deep immersion in Honduras and Guatemala seeking to understand root causes of migration. Now I hear Jesus saying,
“When you go into a community, go with your hands and pockets empty. Bring no gifts that leave room for empty promises, no gifts that can be used to manipulate, no gift that may insult or mislead. Come with empty hands and an open heart. If the community does not receive you, then leave, and as you leave, shake the dust off your feet. Take nothing that is not freely given, not even the dust on your feet. If the community doesn’t welcome you, leave it just as you found it.” Matthew 10:9-14.
In the U.S. we hear a lot about the violence in Central American countries.
What we don’t hear is that the violence results from many outside forces.
Transnational companies come into the region with empty promises and real threats.
Extractive industries force people off of the land of their ancestors, subjecting them to grinding poverty and deathly violence. They mine gold, silver and iron; they build hydroelectric dams leaving destruction behind; they plant monoculture crops like Palm Oil solely for export, leeching the land, contaminating the water and depriving people of sustainable employment—all without recompense or regard for the beauty and wealth of the land and her people.
It’s not only the mining and energy companies. It’s also narco-traffickers and the people they use to do their dirty work—the bandias, or gangs.
They all act with impunity.
Impunity is a word you hear often from the people there. It’s a strong word. It means “exemption from punishment, penalty, loss, suffering or discomfort.”
There’s a lot of that going around. So much that tens of thousands of people in Honduras and Guatemala are now holding weekly protests against government corruption and impunity.
What happens when people are pushed out of their homes, communities and land by violence, exploitation of natural resources and the dire poverty that results? They often have no choice but to flee under the very real threat of death.
They become migrants.
On the migrant trail, many experience unimaginable horrors. They become victims of La Bestia, the “death train,” that kills and maims. They become subject to human traffickers. They die in the desert. They are prey for gangs. They face a perilous journey that often leads to death or a dead end at the border. Left behind are broken families, landless farmers and contaminated land and water.
Under the guise of aid, our country is quietly moving forward with the Plan for Prosperity for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Also called “The Biden Plan,” it promises to secure the region with $1 billion in aid.
To people who have long experienced exploitation in the name of foreign aid, the Plan looks like the U.S. coming in again with empty promises, ulterior motives, veiled threats and more impunity. In fact, the Plan is 90% military build-up and subsidies for extractive industries.
Ten percent is designated for human development; how it will be used is dubious. As a Guatemalan priest told us, “Nowhere in the world is an army a sign of peace.”
Honduras has the most militarized and yet most dangerous cities in the world (outside of war zones). A billion dollars of militarization will not bring peace to the people who live there.
The aid will indeed create security, but not for the people plagued by violence. It will secure a corridor for energy and mining companies. The energy will continue to feed the insatiable appetite for energy in the U.S. which we feed with impunity.
Martin Luther King Jr. said the U.S. was the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.
We have often exported violence in the name of prosperity and security.
The Biden Plan threatens more of the same. It’s a tragic legacy that we should not continue. Let’s at least start asking the right questions: Whose prosperity will be secured and whose security will prosper?
Who will pay the cost?
Twenty-one U.S. lawmakers challenged President Obama to suspend “training and support to the Honduran police and military units … until human rights abuses are adequately addressed by the Honduran government.”
The voices of people of faith are needed to join this small chorus.
Rev. Angie Wright is the Associate Director for Greater Birmingham Ministries. She has served as the founding pastor of Beloved Community United Church of Christ in the inner-city of Birmingham since 2000. She is former chair and current treasurer of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.