Hondurans struggle to repatriate remains of countrymen dead of Covid-19 in US

By Ana Mengotti

Miami, Aug 21 (efe-epa).- The family members of Hondurans who died of Covid-19 in the United States are discovering to their dismay that many of the Central American nation’s laws are not put into practice, a lawmaker who promoted legislation aimed at helping people repatriate their loved ones’ remains told Efe.

“I’m extremely frustrated,” said Edinora Brooks, who currently is in Florida meeting with the Honduran community in the US, including members of the Fort Lauderdale-based non-profit organization Fundacion 15 de Septiembre.

Referring to a recently enacted law aimed at helping Honduran migrants repatriate the cremated remains of countrymen who died abroad, the legislator lamented that she sees no sign that it is achieving its intended aims and says the government is to blame.

The law went into effect on May 18 with the goal of expediting the process of obtaining repatriation assistance; it addressed problems with a previous law that also contemplated aid for that purpose but required potential beneficiaries to meet a number of requirements.

An estimated 1.5 million Hondurans live abroad – the vast majority of them in the US – and are a major source of hard currency for the Central American nation. In 2019, those migrants’ remittances to family members back home totaled $5.4 billion, or 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Some 350,000 Hondurans live in Florida, where there is a particularly large community in Fort Lauderdale.

Asked how many Hondurans may have died of Covid-19 in the US, Brooks said it was impossible to obtain that information from hospitals because they do not ask the nationality of incoming patients.

In addition, many Hondurans live “in the shadows” for fear of deportation, said Brooks, who belongs to one of Honduras’s 17 indigenous or Afro-descendant ethnic groups and is affiliated with the opposition, center-left Liberal Party.

The consular supervisor at Honduras’s embassy in Washington, Rafael Sierra, told Efe that he can confirm 45 Honduran deaths from the pandemic in the US but that “there are surely more.”

Sierra said that since the new law went into effect the embassy has received around 14 requests for the repatriation of people who died of Covid-19 and that 10 of them were approved.

The time frames established by the law (the repatriation must occur within two weeks after a person passes away) are impossible to meet when it takes as long as a month for a death certificate to be issued, he added.

One Honduran victim of Covid-19 in the US was Marlon Alvarado, who lived alone in Atlanta and was just 30 when he died on July 9.

His uncle, Juan Carlos Alvarado, who lives in Richmond, California, told Efe that the family had the body cremated at a cost of more than $800 so the remains could be sent back to Honduras.

But Alvarado told Efe he was not able to find a solution for repatriating the remains either at the consulate in Atlanta, where he said his family was told “the body couldn’t enter Honduras either embalmed or cremated,” or at the embassy in Washington.

Another case is that of Marta Pineda, a 68-year-old woman who arrived on a tourist visa to visit her daughters and was forced to stay in the US due to Covid-19, a disease that killed her four weeks ago, her son-in-law, Oscar Troches, told Efe.

Pineda died at a North Carolina hospital, which has billed the family $20,000 for her care; the family also managed with great effort to pay the $7,000 cost for a funeral home to arrange for Pineda’s remains to be repatriated.

But the funeral home has been unable to secure authorization in Honduras for the those remains to enter the country.

The family must pay $175 for every day the body remains at the funeral home, but Pineda’s daughters do not want to have her cremated for religious reasons, said Troches, whose wife was deported and who currently lives in Kansas with his children.

Troches, a heavy machinery mechanic, said he has spoken with consular officials but was told they cannot offer any help because the family had hired a funeral company before seeking assistance through the new law.

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