On January 27, the Salvadoran military illegally crossed over into Honduras in pursuit of four men smuggling lumber into El Salvador, resulting in a conflict with residents of Ranchos Quemados, Morazán that left two men dead (read more about the incident on our blog here and here). This morning, the Inter Press Service published an article that provides important background for understanding the conflict and the communities involved.
El Salvador and Honduras have had a border dispute since the region won independence from Spain in the early 19th century. In July 1969, the two countries even fought a short war, in part over the border. In 1980, El Salvador and Honduras signed a peace treaty that agreed to let the International Court of Justice (ICJ) resolve the border issue, which included six different areas, one of which was the Gulf of Fonseca. In 1992, the ICJ published its final ruling awarding two-thirds of the disputed area to Honduras. As a result, the 12,000 Salvadorans living in the disputed areas found themselves living in Honduras, and 3,000 Hondurans similarly found themselves living in El Salvador.
Ever since, these populations have been living in a sort of limbo. The Salvadorans in Honduras complain that the Honduran government does not provide them with the most basic services. The Honduran government, for example, only provides the 21 communities in the Nahuaterique region with three health centers and one doctor. As a result, locals travel several kilometers on foot to the health clinic over the border in Perkin, Morazán. The clinic staff reports that 20 percent of their patients are from the Nahuaterique region. Similarly, the roads in the region are still rough, dirt roads that are nearly impassable during the rainy season.
One issue is that Nahuaterique still has not been recognized as a municipality in Honduras, and the Salvadorans living in Honduras still do not have dual citizenship. This leaves them without any voice in the Honduran government, and politicians ignore them. The 1998 Convention on Nationality and Acquired rights signed by the Salvadoran and Honduran governments was supposed to take care of these issues, but the governments have been slow to implement the provisions that guarantee these citizens citizenships, legal land titles, and other rights.
Residents of the Nahuaterique region and other neighboring communities have been involved in the lumber industry for generations, with Salvadoran communities in Morazán being their largest market. Since becoming residents of Honduras, shipping lumber from Nahuaterique to communities like Ranchos Quemados, Morazán has become illegal, turning people like the four men at the center of the conflict with the Salvadoran community into criminals.
The Salvadoran and Honduran governments must take immediate action to ensure that those residents in limbo are granted citizenship so that they may have the rights that everyone else does. Recognizing the economic and social connections between those in Nahuaterique and Morazán, the governments ought to facilitate communication and trade between the communities.