BOONE, N.C. — Why are thousands of Hondurans migrating en masse to the U.S. border? Appalachian State University sociocultural anthropologist Dr. Jon Carter points to the region’s economic history of the past 25 years — including Americans’ desire for drugs and cheap goods.
It’s a situation U.S. economic policy is in part responsible for creating, said Carter, who has researched undocumented migration, the impact of the U.S. drug war in the region and other aspects of daily life in Honduras for 20 years.
“I do not use the term ‘migrant caravan’ because it is a misnomer. These are not migrants, as such. They are refugees — law-abiding Hondurans who find themselves with nowhere to turn and are fleeing into exile,” Carter said.
“They are refugees of an economic ideology that has cannibalized itself, while opportunists criminalize its victims for political gain.”
As a researcher, he said, “Surveying the scene at large, we find an economy destroyed by global trade, a political system undermined by the U.S.-sanctioned removal of a sitting president in 2009 who was critical of the impacts of free-trade, and cartel groups enriched by cocaine consumption in the United States.”
The present situation, he said, is impossible to understand without knowing the economic history of the past quarter century.
As Carter explained:
“Across the 20th century, Honduras was a country with a small, agrarian economy, which was destabilized by the radical shifts to free-trade in the 1990s. These trade agreements, most notably NAFTA in 1994, have benefited international corporations and kept prices of consumer goods low in the United States, but they have resulted in massive displacements of people in countries where these commodities are assembled for unlivable wages.”
“But this is just part of the story,” he continued.
“Since these changes began in the ’90s, the demand for illicit drugs in the United States, particularly cocaine, has increased. This demand feeds the expansion and power of narcotrafficking cartels around the hemisphere. In Honduras, these entities are often believed to wield power comparable to that of the state itself.”
Carter calls the deployment of U.S. military troops to the southern border “quite surprising, given that those coming north are people who have made the painful decision to leave behind everything they have, to walk thousands of miles across an unknown landscape and throw themselves at the mercy of any state or community that will take pity on their situation.”
Carter joined Appalachian’s Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences in 2015. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Columbia University, after earning a bachelor’s in anthropology from Appalachian in 1998.
An assistant professor, Carter teaches courses on violence and resistance, political anthropology and ethnographic methods. He has published in journals such as South Atlantic Quarterly, Prison Service Journal and NACLA Report on the Americas.
About the Department of Anthropology
The Department of Anthropology offers a comparative and holistic approach to the study of the human experience. The anthropological perspective provides a broad understanding of the origins as well as the meaning of physical and cultural diversity in the world — past, present and future. Learn more at https://anthro.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.
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