Former Peace Corps Volunteers’ Letter to Vice President Harris
May 9, 2021
The Honorable Kamala Harris
Vice President of the United States of America
201 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002
Re:Opportunities to Foster Positive Change in Honduras, Central America
Dear Vice President Harris:
It is with great expectation and hope that we support your role to lead diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Central America, which is leading to thousands of refugees at our southern border. We see as positive the $ 4 Billion that President Biden has pledged to humanitarian efforts for the Northern Triangle region.
We the undersigned represent a network of Returned U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who served in Honduras during the last few decades. Having lived in Honduras among the people, we have seen and supported their struggles at the grassroots level. We care deeply about the country, its people, and its future. Honduras is important to us, which is why we write to you now.
We have watched with anguish the trauma in Honduras since the 2009 coup d’état and the two subsequent, highly questionable elections, which has led to the current militarized narco-state led by Juan Orlando Hernandez, an unconstitutional president. We know that this level of corruption, violence, and disregard for the democratic needs of common Hondurans follows decades of misguided, top-down “development” that prioritizes the opinions and needs of the powerful elite. The inadequacy of this oligarchical, militarized police state system is failing Hondurans, even as we face our own struggles with police brutality at home. We need a change in priorities.
We believe your intentions are sincere and want you to succeed; the U.S. in its current efforts must now get it right. Let U.S foreign policy toward Honduras, and toward Central America as a whole, reflect the true wishes and good will of the American people. It is in our name, and with our money, that you are negotiating development aid to the region. If we are to achieve true democratic participation in shaping U.S. foreign policy, then the voices and experience of the common majority must be heard. The American people and our leaders can trust our experience with Honduras.
As RPCVs, our unique perspective can help inform a realistic assessment of the current situation, given our grassroots work with communities, our long-lasting relationships with Hondurans, and our knowledge of current events. Our work “sectors” as Peace Corps Volunteers encompass the essential needs of any people striving toward sustainable development, and our network includes volunteers who worked in the following areas: Community Health, Public Education, Water and Sanitation, Sustainable Agriculture, and Small Business Development.
Below is our assessment of how U.S. efforts and tax dollars can get it right in helping the Honduran people take control of the situation in their country. We believe a focus on these priorities will stem the tide of desperate migrant refugees from Honduras, thereby helping Honduras, the United States, and the region.
1)Actively support the passage of the three Honduras-related bills now in Congress. All three bills call for the suspension of U.S. security assistance to the police and military of Honduras because of their well-documented abuse, corruption, and extrajudicial killings. Honduras is rife with impunity, with organized crime and narco-traffickers at large while political prisoners languish without court dates in maximum security prisons. It is imperative that U.S. taxpayer money cease supporting militarization and repression in Honduras, and instead support urgent community needs. These House and Senate bills are:
- Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act (HR 1574)
- Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act 2021 (HR 2716)
- Honduras Human Rights and Anti-Corruption Act 2021 (S.388)
2) Prioritize the basic needs of food, housing and healthcare now. Food security measures for the public, access to land for small-scale agriculture, well-planned flood control and basic storm prevention infrastructure projects to protect communities living near waterways, construction of tens of thousands of hurricane-resistant homes, and access to COVID-19 vaccines are urgent needs for common Hondurans, both to address today’s emergencies as well as long-range planning for sustained, and sustainable, development. The need for reform in land distribution and respect for ancestral land rights can no longer be denied as a fundamental part of helping people meet their basic needs, and the current suppression and killing of water and land defenders all over the country must be unequivocally condemned.
3) Work with grassroots organizations nationwide and actively seek the input of local community leadership in planning and implementation of projects. Community-trusted, Honduran non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local leaders must lead and inform all efforts to achieve lasting improvements in a wide array of areas crucial to building healthy communities, such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation, natural resource protection, forestry, small business development, and sustainable agriculture. RPCVs have worked alongside Honduran counterparts in all of these areas and have witnessed successes and failures linked to community trust and buy-in. Government entities and city-based NGOs deemed untrustworthy will only jeopardize the success of any initiative. Localized solutions offered by those living in affected communities should be funded, especially as proposed by grassroots organizations representing indigenous rights and women’s rights.
4) More Hondurans should be employed in jobs that are meeting their basic needs. U.S. efforts and aid should promote job opportunities for Hondurans at the local community level. Job creation should focus on the very areas essential to supporting a dignified life, such as infrastructure and housing improvement, sustainable agriculture, clean water and sanitation projects and expansion of educational opportunities. Training, community involvement, and funding for the employment of workers and young people in addressing their basic needs will help provide local economic and social security for Hondurans. These efforts could help alleviate the push/pull effect of migration and stem the tide of families fleeing the country.
5) Begin NOW to support the Honduran people in securing democratic presidential elections this November. Thousands of Hondurans are diligently working hard in their communities to ensure free and fair elections. A new electoral law must be implemented, lest the country experience the same upheaval and outcome of the corrupt and fraudulent 2017 elections. Elections can be transformational, bringing hope, possibility, and real change. To thwart elections through fraud, intimidation, falsehoods, and danger is to thwart the very will of the people to meet their material needs. We have faith in the Carter Center for its decades of assistance in securing and certifying free and fair elections worldwide. We advocate for the Carter Center’s involvement in monitoring upcoming elections.
We are at a crucial moment to end the crisis at our southern border, to both stem the tide of refugee migrants as well as help heal the political chasm in our own country over this humanitarian crisis. We believe that focusing U.S. efforts and taxpayer money in the direction we have outlined will help achieve those goals. As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, we sincerely hope for a Honduras safe and functional enough to allow Hondurans to remain in country and to permit the return of volunteers to assist them in projects of their choosing, as together we champion the vision of our beloved founder, John F. Kennedy, in promoting “the cause of world peace and human progress.”
Rachel Bruhnke (1993-1996) Yuscarán, El Paraíso. Environmental Education
Ellen Ziegemeier (1994-1996) Gracias, Lempira. Water & Sanitation
Josh Peters (1993-1995) Villanueva Cortez. Environmental Education
Elizabeth Campisi (1988-1990) Baja Mar, Cortés. Water & Sanitation
Deborah Moskovitz (1992-1994) Concepción, Intibucá. Hillside Farming
Mary Jobeth Anderson (1993-1995) Santa Barbara (provincial). Education
Lynda Flores (2002-2004) Danlí, El Paraíso. Business Development
Arthur Thomas (1986-1988) Tegucigalpa, Francisco Morazán. Special Education
Anthony Ives (2003-2005) La Ceiba, Atlántida. Business Development
Phillip C Sawyer (1996-1998) Gracias, Lempira. Hillside Agriculture
Becky Harzsy (1994-1996) Maraita, Francisco Morazán. Health
Maria Robinson (1963-1965) Siguatepeque, Comayagua. Rural Community Development
Cc: Women and men of Congress