Newsweek’s Chantal da Silva has returned from a reporting trip to Honduras and has published a series of arresting stories about the hard choices facing those wanting to flee, or stay, in their home country.
Traveling around the country with members of UNICEF, who aided in translation, she met rejected asylum seekers who found the American dream wasn’t quite what they expected, spoke with young Hondurans turned away at the U.S. border and now fear they won’t survive much longer and discovered why some Hondurans are finding a new pride in their country in the face of increasing crime, gang violence and poverty.
My recommendation is to take the time this weekend and soak up da Silva’s exploration of how the coffee you drink could connect you directly to the humanitarian crisis facing Hondurans. (Hint: Many regions in the country which have come to rely on coffee bean production have been devastated by a root disease known as ‘coffee rust.’ As a result, production and local economies have been crippled and instability and fear have soared).
In the coming days, da Silva will also be out with two new pieces about the MS-13 gang where she gives us an inside perspective on what it’s like to be a member—from a man who recruited and then watched his 13-year-old brother die in a shootout—and explores how some gang members are finding solace in an age-old institution: church. So keep your eyes open for those as well.
I grabbed five minutes with da Silva to hear more about what she saw while in Honduras late last month:
You reported a number of stories from your trip, what seemed the most important?
It feels nearly impossible to say which of these stories is the most important because they all feel important to me. Each of these stories show a different side of what life is like in Honduras; some provide context for why so many families feel forced to seek refuge elsewhere, including in the U.S., while others demonstrate the resilience of people fighting for the same independence and opportunities that so many around the world have the privilege of taking for granted. At the end of the day, every individual has a unique story to tell. Yet, those stories can also be swatches of a broader picture and that is certainly the case here.
That said, I think the last story, which is yet to come, might be the most important. This story will focus on the very real impact that the U.S. government’s planned aid cuts are already having on the ground in Honduras. What I can tell you is that many of the people I met had something to say on the detrimental effects those cuts will have on any stability that U.S. aid has so far succeeded in helping to create.
What person’s story will stay with you the most?
If I have to choose just one to highlight, it would be that of one of the families that I met in Corquín, Copán, Honduras, a municipality where, for generations, families have relied upon the coffee production industry as their means of living.
It made my heart ache to hear of how Julio Perez, a father of two, is at the brink of losing the home he built with his own two hands for his family, as well as the coffee plantation he runs, because of the debt he owes for loans taken out trying to keep the plantation going. Harvesting season is about to start and the majority of his plantation will go to waste due to the spread of an infection known as coffee rust, or la roya. Further, the plummeting global price of coffee means that what Perez can sell, is likely to be sold at a paltry rate.
The debt that Perez owes is around 10,000 Honduran lempiras ($400). While that amount is what many Americans are able to easily spend on, say, a long weekend getaway, for Perez’s family, it represents an insurmountable mountain of debt—and the fact is that there are countless families in similar positions.
I would hope that anyone who is willing to hear their stories would be able to see a part of themselves reflected back—at the very least, the desire that we all share to feel safe, secure and to have our most basic human needs met.
Nicole Goodkind is a political reporter at Newsweek. You can reach her on Twitter @NicoleGoodkind or by email, N.Goodkind@newsweek.com.