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115 6 eRadicatiNg tHe bLack PeRiL The Deportation of West Indian Workers from Tela and Trujillo, Honduras, 1930–1939 t he 1930s proved to be a tumultuous time for West Indians and others of African descent on the North Coast of Honduras. Efforts to halt black immigration to Honduras were officially sanctioned between 1929 and 1934 with the legislation of immigration reform. The reforms initiated a drastic shift in the racial dynamics of the banana industry and demonstrated extreme xenophobia and racism through the establishment of entrance restrictions on certain ethnicities and nationalities into Honduran territory.1 All of the major West Indian settlements along the North Coast of Honduras felt the impact of the growing anti-immigrant sentiment. However, Tela and Trujillo were most affected by government strategies to eradicate the West Indian presence from the nation. The history of West Indians in Tela, like other cities on the North Coast of Honduras, is directly tied to the emergence of the banana industry in the early decades of the twentieth century. At the center of this development was the Tela Railroad Company. The Honduran government recognized the Tela Railroad Company and granted concessions to its owners in 1913. From the onset, the company followed the same strategy as earlier fruit companies in Honduras by developing the infrastructure of the town by building ports, railroad lines, housing, and other services geared toward large-scale banana production. Much like the Cuyamel Fruit Company in Puerto Cortés and Standard Fruit Company in La Ceiba, the Tela Railroad Company employed significant numbers of foreign , mostly West Indian laborers in the early years of its development. The Honduran press reported a large influx of West Indians into Tela as early as November 1913. Journalists made the argument that the prefer- 116 RACe, nAtIon, AnD West InDIAn IMMIGRAtIon to HonDURAs ential hiring practices of the fruit company toward West Indians fostered high unemployment rates among the local population.2 This was a recurring theme throughout the period and resurfaced wherever West Indians settled. As the debate on West Indian labor intensified over the next two decades, the Tela Railroad Company, after merging with the United Fruit Company, was forced to act. The initial deportation of West Indians from Tela coincided with a less productive banana season in 1930. This led to the curtailment of operations by the Tela Railroad Company and the subsequent layoff of some two thousand workers. Though most of the workers in the district were Honduran and Salvadoran, almost all of the men laid off were Jamaican. Company officials felt it was safer to lay off West Indians and return them to their home islands than to dismiss Hondurans or Salvadorans because they believed the latter would incite riots and restrict company operations . Stereotypes of West Indians by company officials portrayed them as “peaceful and very seldom engaged in riots, murders, outrage, or other disturbances .”3 This was quite different from the Honduran government view, whichconsistentlyportrayedWestIndiansasacriminalelementinsociety. Race was a determining factor in the laying off and subsequent deportation of West Indians from Tela. West Indians were susceptible to such treatment due in part to their reluctance to organize politically and advocate on their own behalf. Throughout the history of commercial banana cultivation on the North Coast, Salvadoran and Honduran workers organized collectively to demand higher wages, better working conditions, housing, and other necessities for an improved quality of life. West Indians were generally in a better position than local workers and accepted the policies of the fruit companies throughout most of their tenure in the banana zones. Only when the Honduran government presented an obstacle for them did West Indians demonstrate the ability to organize collectively. Even then, it was often at the discretion of their employers. Company officials feared discharging large numbers of Salvadoran and Honduran workers because of their propensity for inciting large-scale protests and strikes that halted fruit production. Rather than allow such actions to materialize, it was easier for the fruit companies to lay off and deport West Indians. Such actions appeased both local workers and the Honduran government. Local workers viewed the actions as a victory for their cause of creating an entirely “native” work force. The government saw the deportation as a means of ridding the country of an undesirable eRADICAtInG tHe BlACk PeRIl 117 immigrant population. Ironically, throughout the entire discourse, Salvadorans were never viewed by the local population as foreigners. Their shared mestizo and Central American identity protected them from outward anti...


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