November 25, 2020 – Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala are trying to stay afloat in the aftermath of hurricane Eta, which hit during the first week of November, and Iota, which came two weeks later. Though damage assessment is still in process, the United Nations estimates that the two weather phenomena brought devastation and misery to at least 5.2 million people, including residents from other affected countries in the region. These two significant natural disasters worsen the existing situations in these three countries due to the economic recession, health emergency as a result of covid-19, and democratic instability and authoritarianism that has affected Central America for years.
Nicaragua is the country most affected by the storms. Both Eta and Iota touched the Nicaraguan coast as category 4 hurricanes. According to the government, Iota was the strongest hurricane to hit the country in its recent history. The two phenomena devastated the country’s Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region, one of the poorest and most vulnerable areas where the majority of the population is indigenous people of Miskito origin. The situation is made worse by the recently approved Foreign Agents Legislation which limits international economic assistance. There have been calls to repeal it so that aid can reach populations in desperate need.
Northern Honduras, primarily San Pedro Sula – the country’s economic capital – was also devastated by Eta. It took just hours for the rains from Iota to turn the city into an island. The devastation left things looking as if they came out of a fiction movie, with many communities left inhabitable. In the midst of the tragedy, concern is growing about the risk of contracting covid-19 and other grave illnesses like dengue. As in Nicaragua, Honduras has been steeped in political instability since the 2009 coup d’etat against the Manuel Zelaya government and the fraudulent re-election of Juan Orlando Hernández in 2017. The worsening economic situation is reflected in the flows of migrants who flee in “caravans” in search of safety.
Guatemala is facing the humanitarian crisis of these climate events with a new political crisis. While communities affected by floods and landslides try to survive the tragedy, the government of Alejandro Giammattei – who came into power last January – is facing massive protests after the approval of the 2021 budget. According to civil society complaints, the budget benefits businessmen at the expense of what the population, hit by the covid-19 pandemic, needs. As in the other countries, the people most affected by Iota and Eta are the historically excluded indigenous and afrodescendant populations.
The impact of these natural disasters, which is still being evaluated, will leave long term consequences in all countries of Central America. For example, El Salvador did not suffer direct impact from the storms, but it will suffer climatic consequences like significant losses in agriculture and cattle farming. There is concern that in the absence of a clear humanitarian response and durable solutions, the current situation will result in mass exodus of people and families who have lost their homes and livelihoods. We must remain vigilant, not only so that emergency humanitarian aid reaches people in need, but also so that governments implement public policies and allocate budgets towards addressing inequalities in the medium and long term. Finally, as organized Latin American migrants, we are asking the U.S. government to implement a foreign policy aimed at supporting Central America based on two components: first, to assist and protect the populations most in need of economic assistance, and second, to adopt new Temporary Protective Status (TPS) designations for the affected countries so that people in the U.S. can work and support their families and communities. Central America needs it.