For Honduran migrants in caravan, the journey is personal

Honduran migrants, taking part in a caravan heading to the US, rest during a stop in Mapastepec, Chiapas state, Mexico, on October 24, 2018. (AFP / PEDRO PARDO)
Updated 25 October 2018
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For Honduran migrants in caravan, the journey is personal

  • The caravan of Central American migrants traveling through southern Mexico has increased from 2,000 to 7,000 people, nearly all Hondurans.
  • While they commonly cite the same core reasons for migrating — poverty, violence — their stories are deeply personal

HUIXTLA, Mexico: A deportee from the United States trying to get back to the life he spent more than a decade building. A woman whose soldier husband already is in the US with their 4-year-old son. A teenager desperate to earn money to support his diabetic mother back home.
The caravan of Central American migrants traveling through southern Mexico — estimated at around 7,000 people, nearly all Hondurans — has attracted headlines in the United States less than two weeks before Nov. 6 midterm elections.
But most of those walking through blistering tropical temperatures, sleeping on the ground in town squares and relying on donated food from local residents are unaware of US political concerns or even that there’s a vote coming up.
While they commonly cite the same core reasons for migrating — poverty, violence — their stories are deeply personal.
“My record is clean“
David Polanco Lopez, 42, is a former anti-narcotics officer from Progreso, Honduras. He’s traveling north in the caravan with his daughter Jenifer, 19, and his 3-year-old granddaughter, Victoria, whom the adults take turns pushing in a stroller.
Polanco came to the United States 13 years ago and applied for asylum after he was threatened by drug traffickers over his police work. He was given a court date, but he acknowledges he never showed up — in part because he didn’t understand the court document’s instructions, which were in English.
Polanco put down roots in Arizona: He married, and got a home. He thought that as long as he stayed out of trouble, he’d be fine.
“If they catch me committing a felony, then go ahead and kick me out,” Polanco said. “But my record is clean.”
He came to the attention of US immigration authorities three months ago when he caught a ride to work with a friend and Arizona police stopped them. Immigration officers later visited his home, he said, asked him to come outside and arrested him.
After being deported, he immediately turned around and headed back toward the United States with the caravan in hopes of rejoining his wife, who is from Mexico.
“I came (to the United States) fleeing the drug traffickers. The US police know that. They told me I qualified for asylum. But they didn’t give it to me,” Polanco said as he rested in the shade of a gas station in the far southern Mexican state of Chiapas. “I can’t live in Honduras because my life is in danger.”
Polanco said he will never give up on trying to return to the US That’s where his home, his family, his land are. He said he’s been paying US taxes for 13 years and never invested a cent in Honduras because “it’s unlivable, dangerous.”
“If they deport me I’ll just come back,” Polanco said, “because my place is there.”
“It's too much“
It’s been seven months since Alba Rosa Chinchilla Ortiz, a 23-year-old from Amapala in Honduras’ Valle department, has seen her 4-year-old son.
The boy’s father is an ex-soldier who — like Polanco — received death threats because of his job. Three times he survived attempts to kill him, Chinchilla said. He has applied for asylum in the United States and she’s trying to join him and their son.
Life on the road has been demanding. At one point, Chinchilla worried she was too exhausted to go any farther. She’s still moving forward, but fears dangers that may lie ahead — such as Mexican cartels, which have been known to kidnap, hold for ransom and kill migrants.
The separation has been almost more than she can bear.
“The desire to see my son is too much,” she said, speaking in the Mexican city of Huixtla, surrounded by dozens of fellow migrants and Mexican Red Cross workers.
Breaking into sobs, she wiped tears from her eyes with her thumb and forefinger.
“It’s the only thing that drives me,” Chinchilla said, “my son.”
’Treatment for my mother’
Reuniting with family in the US is something those on the road north frequently speak of. Marel Antonio Murillo Santos is doing the opposite — leaving his loved ones behind in Copan, Honduras.
After his parents separated five years ago, Murillo became the primary breadwinner for the family at age 13. His mom is diabetic, leaving her weak and missing a toe on each foot.
Dressed in a brown V-neck T-shirt, Murillo said he left with just 500 lempiras (about $20) in his pocket, a bit of clothing and a spare pair of shoes. He heard about the caravan from a friend, and decided on the spot to take off for the United States where he hopes to spend five years working and saving.
“What I want more than anything is to pay for treatment my mother needs for her health,” Murillo said. “Build a home for her, have a bit of money in the bank and also, if I’m able, invest in something or start a business for my mother to run.”
Mile after mile, this baby-faced young man, now 18 with a whispy black chin-beard, is constantly thinking of home and his mom and 5-year-old brother.
“When I go to eat, I wonder if they have eaten, where they are, if they are in good health,” Murillo said. “I spend all day thinking about them, until I close my eyes and sleep.”
’They're going to kill you’
If there’s any doubt about Honduras being a dangerous place, one need only talk to Joshua Belisario Sanchez Perez, a soft-spoken young man who worked odd jobs in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Back home, he had the misfortune of living in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in a city full of them.
He spoke with The Associated Press in an interview this week that aired on TV back home, and afterward gang members showed up at his mother’s home angry that he had talked about the violence that forced him to flee.
“Because I had talked about all the gangs, and all the crime,” Sanchez said.
“My mother said, ‘They came to the house and they saw you on the news,’” he continued. “’If you come back they’re going to kill you.’“


China’s leaders want more babies, but local officials resist

Updated 3 min 27 sec ago
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China’s leaders want more babies, but local officials resist

  • In 2016, China lifted its notorious one-child policy and Chinese couples were urged to go forth and multiply — within limits
  • Despite that, the number of new births in 2018 fell to 15.23 million in a total population of 1.395 billion — a growth rate of .381 percent

BEIJING: Facing a future demographic crisis and aging society, China’s leaders are desperately seeking to persuade couples to have more children.
But bureaucrats don’t seem to have gotten the message, fining a couple in a recent widely publicized case for having a third child against the strict letter of the law.
The move has sparked outrage among the public, who are venting their anger at venal population control officials who long persecuted couples for violating the now-scrapped “one-child policy.”
“The country is doing all it can to encourage childbirth but the local governments need money, so we end with this sort of madness,” a columnist and political commentator who writes under the name Lianpeng said on China’s Weibo microblogging service.
“The low birthrate has everyone on edge, yet the local governments care only about collecting fees,” journalist Jin Wei wrote on her verified Weibo account. “I don’t know of any other nation that pulls its people in different directions like this.” 
The Wangs, the couple at the heart of the recent controversy, were ordered by local authorities in Shandong province to pay a fine known as a “social maintenance fee” of 64,626 yuan ($9,500) immediately after the birth of their third child in January 2017. After various deadlines came and went, the family’s entire bank savings of 22,957 yuan ($3,400) were frozen last month, with the balance still due.
“I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” the husband, Wang Baohua, was quoted as saying by local media last week.
The situation the couple faces has its roots in decades-old fears that China’s population would outstrip its resources, along with the ruling Communist Party’s all-consuming fervor to control people’s most personal decisions.
Family planning regulations emerged in the 1970s, and in 1980 the notorious “one-child policy” came into effect, mandating often brutal punishments for violators ranging from forced abortions and sterilizations to fines and workplace demotions.
Fast-forward 35 years, and a radical change of course was ordered after leaders realized an aging population and declining workforce threatened to hamstring the country’s future development. In 2016, the one-child policy was officially replaced with a two-child policy and Chinese couples were urged to go forth and multiply — within limits.
But the bump in the birthrate was fleeting. Last month, the National Bureau of Statistics said the number of new births in 2018 fell to 15.23 million in a total population of 1.395 billion — a growth rate of .381 percent and the lowest increase since 1961, resulting in fully 2 million fewer births than in 2017.
China’s population is estimated to peak at 1.442 billion in 2029 and then gradually decline, potentially fulfilling the conventional wisdom that China will grow old before it grows rich.
Cases such as the Wangs’ remain common, despite a growing recognition of the seriousness of the population crisis, said Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison and a leading critic of Chinese population policies.
Bureaucratic inertia and the desire of local officials to chase revenue contribute to the problem, Yi said.
China, with an estimated fertility rate of 1.02 in 2018, now finds itself in the same category as other predominantly Chinese societies in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore, Yi said. Average fertility rates in those regions and countries from 2005 to 2017 were 1.10, 1.12, 1.08 and 1.23 respectively.
Yet the one-child policy has weighed down China with the additional burden of distorted attitudes toward the family, society and childbearing, where one or no children have become the norm, Yi said.
With economic growth the primary guarantor of continued Communist Party rule, the leadership is concerned. The sputtering economy grew at 6.6 percent last year, its slowest pace in three decades, fueling fears over the long-term trend of a shrinking pool of workers paying the pensions and health care costs for a ballooning population of retirees.
Despite that, there remains considerable resistance to lifting controls entirely, something that might give people greater autonomy.
Local bureaucrats in the Wang case said they were just following the law, citing the exact articles and passages. They also have a strong stake in maintaining the rules that justify their jobs and authority.
State media reports say fees meant to compensate for the resources extra children consume actually constitute a large percentage of local governments’ discretionary funding — 15-30 percent — and can be used for a range of purposes from salaries to travel expenses.
Thus far, the National Health Commission has rejected calls to eliminate legal references to family planning, citing among other reasons article 25 of China’s Constitution, which says, “The state promotes family planning so that population growth may fit the plans for economic and social development.”
Even if legal changes do go through, experience in recent years shows that’s no guarantee of more children.
Families complain of the soaring costs of housing, education, health care and safe food, an important consideration given China’s frequent scandals over food and drug safety.
And many young Chinese who are enjoying activities such as foreign travel are simply putting off marriage and childbirth indefinitely.
“Other things have taken the place of children, like apartments and vacations. My parents put pressure on us, but I just say it’s not possible right now,” said a government employee who asked to be identified only as Linda.
Boosting fertility will also require reforms to the economy, society and educational system, Yi said in an email.
“It will be very difficult,” he said. “Of course, the premise is to respect human rights and withdraw the government’s hands from the people’s bodies.”