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Rough road for the children of Central America

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch clobbered Honduras. With more than 15 hours of winds in excess of 155 knots, Mitch ripped through the middle of the country, destroying almost 80 percent of the bridges and roads. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed. The death toll was estimated somewhere around 11,000, but the real number will never be known. The damage figured out to $5 billion, and Honduras was already the second-poorest nation in this hemisphere. The time to rebuild was estimated at 20 years.

I first went to Honduras in 1999 with a couple pilot friends. We received 10,000 pounds of medical supplies from Project Cure, loaded an old DC3 and went to Tegucigalpa. It was mostly for the adventure.

  There I met a guy named Tony Stone, an American who grew up in La Ceiba, Honduras. He had quit his engineering job in the U.S. and gone back to start a micro-credit organization in Honduras (The Adelante Foundation). The organization loans money (the first loan is $50 to $100 U.S.) to the very poor. It helps start businesses and ideally, they make profits and  repay the loan over time, which Adelante then redistributes to other borrowers.

Since then, my wife and I have been going to Honduras for 15 years.

Unfortunately the rebuild process never got up to speed. There were politicians taking bribes, cops not doing their jobs and big produce companies and clothing manufacturers paying low wages and providing almost no benefits. And it gets worse. There is now less hope for workers’ futures and for families to stay together.

So these kids, who were babies when Mitch struck, are now teenagers. If they came from rich families, they probably are already legals in the U.S. If they were poor, they probably saw their fathers, or somebody else’s, leave for the U.S. a few years later, and then begin sending back money for the families to survive. A couple years later, these kids’ mothers might follow their fathers to the U.S. It’s possible that even this could have been overcome if the horror and depravity of the drug culture, gangs and cartels had not been so prevalent. You often hear that Honduras has changed due to unrestrained violence. Almost everyone would like to leave, at least until it gets better.

So, isn’t it reasonable that these teens would like to reunite with their families in a safe place? So they try to come.

Things we should do to help:

•  Seal our border. Treat them with care and concern, but ultimately send them back. Only then will it halt the ongoing cycle of their people fleeing to the U.S.. But that’s only if we do something about the drugs, gangs and cartels and the demand for drugs in the U.S.

•  The U.S. has to take ownership of its drug problem. If we can’t get a handle on it, this problem will likely never go away.

•  Help Hondurans have hope and patriotism, from our government to theirs and from you to me through nongovernment organizations that are already attempting to assist. (If you would like a list of NGOs in Honduras, email me.) If Honduras became a better place to live, its people would no longer be so eager to flee it.

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Pat Wiesner

Pat Wiesner is the retired CEO of WiesnerMedia, publisher of ColoradoBiz. He still leads sales training for the company. E-mail him at pwiesner@cobizmag.com.

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