Sunday Reader #3

February 1, 2010

Opps, I’ve missed a week already.  Bad internet and general busy-ness as I prepare to leave Honduras (this week!) are my excuses.  Next week I’ll be at a conference in Savannah so I will probably miss another one, but should be back more regularly once we are back in NZ.  In the meantime here are some of the issues I’ve been following and other random internet goodness for you to pick through.

Honduras:

The big news in Honduras this week was the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo as President.  The coup “de facto” government is gone!  I wanted to write a whole post on this but just don’t have the time.  Maybe once I get back to NZ I will, but for now here are some photos by Honduras e logo ali of the procession to the airport to farewell Zelaya.  The march was completely peaceful – maybe because the military left them well alone.

Not related to the inauguration, but directly connected to the coup is a feature in the NYT lens blog of Pablo Delano’s photographs.  In 1997 Delano, a professory of Fine Arts, started a project to document the varied ethnic groups in Honduras.  His work was unfortunately cut short when his collaborator and patron in the government Darío A. Euraque was ousted by the coup leaders. The photos are stunning and a testament to the beautiful diversity of Honduras.

Haiti:

The internet continues to buzz with posts about how to help Haiti.  And aid workers continue to try to draw attention to how not to help.  This story and this one remind us why despite the best of motives and intention, for most going to Haiti is just not the best way to help.  For those determined to go, Saundra has some tips on how to evaluate volunteer opportunities in Haiti.

While campaigns to cancel Haitis debt heat up across the web, Venezuela is amongst the first to actually do so.

Other random stuff:

Julie Clawson has an interesting post up on walking the justice walk.  Long before any crisis of faith, I had a crisis of confidence in the church. This is why.

PhD comics neatly sum up my feelings about my thesis work at the moment.

And finally this photo from Wellington Daily Photo reminds me of why it is time to go home. Summer in my city.

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I had the best of intentions to make this a regular Sunday feature but reality got in the way already.  My cellular modem has died.  Give that we leave the country in three weeks I’m not going to buy a new one, so will only be accessing the internet on campus.  Out of office hours this means either a trip to the café on campus or no internet, so while I still like the idea of the Sunday Reader and will try to get something our, I can’t guarantee it will be on Sundays for a while!

The big news of the past week was of course the earthquake in Haiti.  My reader has been crammed with news and blogs posts covering all aspects of the disaster.  Like many my heart goes out to the people of Haiti, and I wish I could pack my bag and take my rusty nursing skills to Haiti to help.  In a post on Aid Watchers, Alanna Shaikh reminds me why this isn’t really a good idea, and other ways not to help in Haiti.   Another aid worker blog, Good Intentions are Not Enough also outlines the dos and don’ts of disaster donations.  Remember, the best ‘help’ is a money donation to a reputable aid agency (but watch out for Disaster scams).  My recommendation was, and continues to be Partners in Health.

On slightly different notes, Upside Down Under quotes some numbers and facts from Haiti and Afghanistan that are more than a little eye-opening, and Campus Progress reminds us to be wary of mainstream media reports in The Looting Lie.

On a completely different note there has been an ongoing discussion in the feminist blogosphere about ‘pink’ for girls.  As the mother of a 4-year old daughter, who despite my best efforts still prefers her toys pink, this scene is unfortunately too familiar.  This is actually closer to my childhood experience, and I’m nostalgic too.  But it may not be all bad, Dana Campbell, on Mama, PhD has posted some interesting thoughts on marketing pink, and notes that ‘even if it’s made out of solid gold, a microscope is not going to go very far in inspiring a kid’s interest in science UNLESS there’s an enthusiastic, encouraging, role model beside that kid to help him or her discover it’.  I guess that’s my job!

From Honduras:  Adrienne Pine of Quotha reminds us of some things we shouldn’t forget.

Finally, a new ‘find’ for my reader, 1000 awesome things.  There should be something in here to make you smile.  I like this (although it doesn’t happen often enough) and this (something to look forward to in NZ) and this

Remember, I did warn in the first Sunday Reader that things could be rather eclectic here!

Help Haiti

January 14, 2010

By now many of you will be aware that Haiti was hit by a major earthquake yesterday.  Haiti is a very poor country, poorer than Honduras, and my heart goes out to all who are suffering there, particularly those still trapped.

More information on this crisis can be found at the usual news sources such as the BBC.  For the most recent updates the Guardian has a live blog which is being updated every few minutes, as does Al Jazeera; and the LA Times has a Twitter list of sources tweeting from within Haiti.

At a time like this we all wish we could help.  While most of us can’t (and probably shouldn’t) drop everything and run to help in person, we do have something those already there need.  Our money. Please consider donating to the relief efforts in Haiti.  If you have a preferred agency check if they already have a programme in Haiti.  If not, find one.  Preferably one that already has people on the ground in Haiti.  I recommend Partners in Health, an organisation with a long-standing and well -respected programme in Haiti.  They do accept international credit cards, but those in NZ who want a tax receipt Oxfam NZ also has an emergency response team based in Haiti. For other ideas blogger Chris Sacca ha a post up on 6 ways you can help Haiti.

Yes, this post is a little late – the elections happened nearly a week ago.  I wasn’t sure I was going to post on the elections but I’ve been thinking about it for the past week, so here it is.  Our Honduran election experience and observations.

Actually this is based more in my husband’s experience, with my observations! I stayed home and spent the day with my daughter making Christmas decorations.  However, my husband, who is good friends with one of the candidates for mayor, and spent election day driving around the voting booths, helping him to keep an eye on the electoral process.  In this particular area, the current mayor has won the past 6 elections, most believe by fraud, but they hoped that things might be different this year, and this new candidate would have a chance.  It was an uphill battle from the beginning, the mayor developed deep pockets before the election and had been fixing roads and we had observed him giving away bags of cement and roofing iron for weeks.

Voting day itself started very early, as voting booths opened at 6am.  That is, except for the first voting booth my husband visited which did not open until much later, delayed by apparent friction in the voting centre.  When they arrived there were soldiers outside, as there were at all voting booths (it is very strange for a kiwi to understand but elections here are run by the military), and the doors were locked.  There was apparently some disagreement between the election staffers, some of them recruited by the current mayor.

Even once that was resolved and the doors opened, turnout was very low.  In fact things were slow and quiet at at all the centres he visited, and my husband was able to return home for lunch, and to have a nap.  Around mid-afternoon the announcement came that voting was to be extended for another hour, although there were mixed reports as to whether this was because there were more voters than expected, or less.  My husbands experience leads him to believe the latter. Shortly after this, busloads of voters, none local to the small town, arrived at the booths and voted. The buses were apparently organised by the incumbent mayor, as were payments to all taxi and moto-taxi drivers in town, in order to get more people to the polls.  The going rate for a vote – apparently about 500 Lempiras (US$25 – a lot of money for a poor family here).

Eventually the incumbent mayor was confirmed as the winner.  As was Pepe Lobo as president.  The election itself was declared a victory for democracy and Honduran independence.  However our observations lead us to believe this simply could not have been free and fair elections.  While we were concentrated on the mayoral election, it seemed to us a microcosm of the larger issues in this election. Many abstained from voting because they either did not see that there would be any change, or they voted for the incumbent because they felt obliged to after taking a bribe.

If an election at local level cannot be run in a free and fair manner, how so could the national elections?  Especially when the resistance has been effectively silenced from the media and repressed, sometimes violently.  Although most places were quiet (very quiet!) I know a lot of people, like me, stayed home on the day.  Where there was protest, in San Pedro Sula, there was also a harsh reaction from the military.  The same military who guarded every voting centre.

The national media in Honduras, and a significant proportion of the international media report that the elections were peaceful, free and fair.  They also reported that over 60% of the population voted.  Given the experience here on election day, we consider that at 60% turnout is unlikely, and even if 60% or more of eligible voters turned out,  their votes were not necessarily clean or meaningful.

It seems we are not alone in our suspicions. Rather than make this post too wordy, here is a very interesting, and disturbing report from The Real News, regarding the electoral fraud.

Honduras and the Internet

October 17, 2009

Further to my last post on Why I Support the Resistencia, the following is a post I wrote at the end of June but never posted.  Interestingly, although my thoughts on who is doing the posting has not changed over the past few months, my impressions of the resistencia have.  Perhaps I was more influenced by the golpista’s characterisation of Zelaya supporters than I thought:

I’ve been thinking and writing and deleting and rewriting posts about the political crisis here in Honduras and had all but decided to just keep quiet and post only the most apolitical updates and personal news. But I can’t quite bring myself to do that.  As an Internet researcher I am fascinated with the onging conversations and debates about the Zelaya and about the coup, and with what they reveal about Honduran politics and scoiety.

While most people probably still rely on traditional media outlets for news about the crisis in Honduras, the news from these sources has been less than reliable.   Domestic media coverage has been tightly controlled with some pro-Zelaya outlets shut down, and programmes or talkback callers have been cut short if they are pro-Zelaya or anti-coup. There have been reports of the arrest and detention of pro- Zelaya journalists.  Within Honduras the truth can be hard to come by. However the International media has not been great either.  Although there has had more coverage of the anti-coup message, reports are often inaccurate treating rumours as fact and many seem overly sensational.

As a result many here have turned to the new social media to read about, and to report events and information, and to promote thier point of view. Giordano wrote yesterday of the Twitter War over Honduras, reporting that at the time of his writing the anti-coup twitterers were winning the war.  With the weight of the worlds leadership on thier side they quickly worked to spread the word regarding the seriousness of the coup, particularly in the face of solid media coverage of the death of Michael Jackson.   But pro-coup Honduran twitterers (and bloggers, emailers and journalists) have fought back, and hard.  My informal observation has been that the strongest messages coming through over the past day have been anti-Zelaya and pro coup (or as they would have it, constitional succession?).  A count of the last 100 messages in a Twitter search using the term ‘Honduras’ showed 51 pro-coup, and just 11 anti-coup (the 40 other were news only, personal tweets or unclear).  In particular there seems to be a concerted effort by the pro-coup Twitterers to inform the international media and politicians that this was a legal change of power not a coup, and that Hondurans do not want Zelaya back.  At face value the battle  now seems to indicate that Honduras is largely anti-Zelaya. Pro-coup Twitterers and bloggers report 70-80% of Hondurans are anti-Zelaya.  As there are never any links to actual statistical data I read these as 70-80% of Hondurans known to the writer are anti-Zelaya.  The significance  of this becomes apparent when one looks more closely at eaxctly who is writing the posts and twitters.

The first characteristic of anyone using the new social media is that they must have access to the internet. They also need to be able to string words together in a compelling and readable manner. In a place like Honduras,to be able to blog or twitter means the author in general has a higher than average level of education, and an income that supports regular access to a computer and the internet.  As a result it is primarily middle class and above who are doing most of the Internet posting.  And these also happen to be the groups in Honduran society that are clearly anti-Zelaya.  Zelaya’s support, and the resistance to the coup on the other hand, comes mostly from the working poor and campesinos.  These are the ones who are least likely to be writing blog posts or filing newspaper reports. The voice of the poor is, as usual, largely absent from the online conversation.

Even where Zelaya’s supporters in Honduras do raise a voice it is often ignored or ridiculed. They are frequently referred to as naive, uneducated and manipulated. Certainly there is evidence that he tried to buy peoples support, and it is highly likely he was thinking about more than (or something completely different to) the well-being of the poor when he raised the minimum wage and handed out free light bulbs.  But that this should lead to the wholesale dismissal of their point of view is I think, indicative of the class and societal divisions in Honduras.

That Zelaya was supported by the unions, campesino and indigenous groups is not insignificant.  That the social internet is authored by the middle class and above, I think is significant and needs to be taken into account when assessing the support for, and against the coup and the new government.

I guess you could call this a reveal, or a coming out. I’ve carefully and deliberately kept this blog apolitical for what I considered to be very good reasons, but those reasons don’t seem to be making much sense any longer, and I don’t want to keep quiet about it anymore.

On June 28, when Zelaya was removed from office and flown out of the country I has only been back in Honduras for a couple of weeks.  I was out of touch with the political climate and atmosphere in the country, and felt I didn’t know enough about Honduran politics to have an educated opinion.  In addition I was here primarily to do research and didn’t want to risk compromising that.  However over the past 3 months I have watched, listened and discussed the events unfolding and my initial neutrality has given way to open support for the resistencia.   Here’s why.

  • I don’t trust MichelettiWhile there has been ample discussion of Zelaya’s sins in the traditional media here in Honduras, and in online media, I have been surprised at how little  talk there has been regarding Micheletti and others in the defacto government.  Without even having to look into the past, or at the accusations of death squads and violent repression, it is easy to see actions that are far from ethical. The manner of Zelaya’s illegal removal from the country (even coup supporters will admit that now), the faked resignation letter, the forced closure of pro-Zelaya media outlets, the overkill of a nation-wide 48 hour curfew… none of this is the behavior of an honest and responsible democratic government.  With accusations of disappearing money and the selling off of grain reserves, one has to wonder what is actually happening behind the scenes.
  • The constitutionMaybe it is because I come from a country without a codified constitution, or maybe it is just because I am not a political or legal scholar, but the constitutional arguments don’t convince me.  The Honduran constitution has been bent backwards and forwards by both sides to try and support their position, and as a result it is perhaps no wonder Oscar Arias called the Honduran constitution the worst in the world.  While that might be an overstatement, from what I can tell the constitution appears to have hindered, rather than helped the democratic process.  A constitution that has articles that simply cannot be altered, and that make it difficult or even impossible for the people to instigate change, is at best a dinosaur, and at worst repressive of future generations.  Additionally, while the argument for Zelaya’s removal rests on the importance of upholding the constitution, it wasn’t a problem for the Micheletti government to suspend constitutional civil rights it on Zelaya’s return, indeed it seems to be becoming a major problem for them to reinstate them.
  • Misinformation, disinformationControl of the media seems to be one of the key strategies of Michelitti’s government. Certainly here within Honduras it is difficult to find any traditional media outlets not endlessly repeating the governments line and pro-Zelaya outlets have been shut down for inciting rebellion and uprising.  However I find it hard to believe that this was done in the public’s interest, as in several days of watching Canal 57 (Cholusat) near continuously my husband and I did not once hear Zelaya call for violence, although he did call his supporters to Tegucigalpa for peaceful protest.  We also did hear many callers describing the violent and repressive actions of the police and military in their neighbourhoods.  Characterising pro-Zelaya media outlets as inciters of violence allowed the regime to shut them down, and to shut down any reports that were not favorable to their regime. Again, this is not the actions of a democratic and enlightened government.I am also comfortably certain that the pro-coup media’s characterisation of Zelaya supporters as violent thugs, paid mercenaries or ignorant and uneducated is not correct.  While my academic background leads me to be highly suspicious of anecdotal evidence (and yes this post is full of it), this characterisation has not been my experience or observation. The resistence includes people from all walks of life. The Zelaya supporters I’ve met include grandmothers, small business owners and farmers. While I don’t deny there has been violence I don’t believe there is a simple “they are bad” explanation. For example in mid-July my husband had an interesting conversation with  a young street kid in Tegucigalpa who had no political interest (or knowledge) but who had joined the pro-Zelaya marches with his friends and thrown stones at the police for the fun of it.   More recently, on 21 Sept when Zelaya returned to Honduras, I spent the day watching TV footage of peaceful, happy Zelaya supporters outside the Brazilian Embassy, later I was saddened to watch scenes of chaos in that same street as the police and army moved in.  The violence is not necessarily endorsed, nor perpetrated by Zelaya or the resistance.

    Another example of misinformation from the media and many pro-coup commentators is that most of Honduras is supportive of Micheletti and the new government.  Again at risk of being accused of using anecdotal evidence, I have to say the majority of Hondurans my husband and I have spoken to are either pro-Zelaya or are ambivalent.  More convincingly, last week poll results from the authorized polling agency for the Honduran elections were released, which showed only 17.4% were in favor of the June 28 ousting of Zelaya, and 52.7% against. Interestingly I don’t think this poll was reported in the newpapers here.

  • The root of the crisis is fearSocialist, communist, dictator… there was , and is, a strong fear that Zelaya was going to usher in an era of Chavez-style politics to Honduras.  I am less interested in whether or not he was going to do that (and I’m not convinced he would have been able to anyway) than I am in the underlying fear of the left that drove Micheletti and co to desperate measures.  This fear is reflected throughout the pro-coup media and blogosphere, and I have been very frustrated over the past months reading posts and articles endlessly misusing the terms socialist and communist, and misunderstanding left wing politics and the rise of the left in Latin America. The United States has done very well promoting a right-wing, market-oriented form of development, and at vilifying all other approaches.  To read some of the pro-coup postings on the web is to step back to the cold war and to feel the fear of communism, ironically a communism that Zelaya was far far away from implementing. Talking to the poor, raising the minimum wage, convening a national constituent assembly… this is not communism, nor even socialism.  But it was enough for the elites and business community to feel threatened.
  • This is no changeFollowing on from the above – this was a clearly a coup to protect the status quo, not for change.  The coup leaders have vested interest in maintaining Honduras the way it was.  Michelettistas don’t like the term oligarchy, and would love to contest the idea that Honduras is run by just 10 families, but they can’t deny that the coup leaders are largely from the social class that had the most to loose from a change to the left. The coup was a means of retaining, rather than taking power. I don’t believe they were thinking of the good of the country, or of the poor when they took the actions they did, but rather of saving their position and power, and their businesses. The coup does not represent a fresh start for Honduras, but the ability for Honduras to continue with business as usual.  It means business as usual for the poor, selling candy on the street, picking someone else’s coffee, buying just a few tortillas with a little salt to feed their children.

So this is why I support the resistencia. Not because I think Zelaya is wonderful.  He’s not.  Not because I think Micheletti is evil, although I am very worried about what he is up to.  Because I want to align myself with the poor, with those that don’t have a voice, with those that will loose whoever wins the political battle.  I support the resistencia because I see this as an opening to begin a conversation about a Honduras that works for all, about what real change would mean.  Not a change controlled by the elite for their own benefit, but one where all Hondurans get a voice.

If you want to read more about the Honduran crisis (in English), I can recommend the following thoughtful and insightful blogs:

Honduras Coup 2009 – “Responses to the Coup d’etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.”

Quotha – Anthropologist Adrienne Pine posts online field notes and first-hand accounts of the coup from Hondurans.

Hermano Juancito

Carne con Frijol

El  Cinquito

So, after some dramatic statements, much speculation, many rumours and very little consulting, Murray McCully has announced that NZAid will be merged back into MFAT. Along with this it’s mandate will change from poverty alleviation to economic growth.  In other words from a comprehensive policy that is used by the UN and many others in the international development community, to a narrow, economically defined model that has been shown to be ineffective at reaching the poorest.  

It all makes me very glad I never did manage to get a job at NZAid.

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Chocolate’s Dark Secret

April 13, 2009

A couple of Easters ago a posted on about chocolate slavery.  This Easter I have been very happy to see that the issue is gaining wider attention.  Today the Sunday Star Times ran a feature story on chocolate slavery and fair trade chocolate- on the frount of the business section!  Not only was this attention by the conventional media encouraging, the article indicated that Cadbury (argueably the most recognisable chocolate brand in this part of the world) is moving towards using fair trade cocoa for a significant portion of it’s products.

And, finally, it seems New Zealanders are getting the message.  

Though New Zealanders lack the consumer awareness of the Brits, 42% of us say we would buy more fair trade if more were available, and the recognition of the Fair Trade label has jumped from just 2% in 2006 to 36% at the end of last year, though Fair Trade said retail sales were a mere $14.6m in the past year.

I’ve long been frustrated at the lack of interest in, and availability of fair trade products in New Zealand, compared to what I hear of other parts of the world.  But things are changing.  I guess, as with a lot of things, New Zealand just lags a little behind.  But the signs are encouraging this Easter.  

scarborough-fair

(Also, the features section ran an article about the health benefits of chocolate.  I really did enoy reading the paper today!)

Congratulations Helen Clark, new head of the UNDP.

I was very interested to read John Key’s comments on the appointment:

“Helen Clark should be very proud of her achievement and New Zealanders should be very proud of her,” Mr Key said.

“She will be working to help establish democracies, reduce poverty, improve health care, help in crisis prevention and recovery and assist with environmental issues.”

“In other words the UNDP needs someone who can front for them, mobilise resources and give the organisation a human face,” he said.

This at a time when Key’s government is looking at merging NZAid back into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and thereby making aid a tool of foreign policy and economic priorities.  As I was told today by someone close to NZAid, in practical terms for the Pacific, this means money being re-directed away from grassroots development projects and towards propping up regional airlines and other strategic business interests.  It all makes me very skeptical about whether or not National really does care about poverty alleviation.  I’m quite convinced they know nothing about aid and development beyond thier own political biases.

While I am pleased for Clark, and think she will probably be a great person for the job (and I love seeing a kiwi woman in such a great position) unfortunately she doesn’t escape my scepticism either.  She says:

“For a start we have to ensure that the donors … the Western countries who donate, don’t drop back on commitments,” Clark told National Radio in her first interview since her appointment was confirmed.

This from someone who led a government that seemed unable to raise aid past 0.3% of GNI, despite being a signatory to a UN target of 0.7%.  Can she hold other countries to a commitment she couldn’t keep?

Cautious Hope

January 22, 2009

Maybe I’ve been spending too much time reading and writing about development theory lately but while I enjoyed and appreciated Obama’s speech today I couldn’t help but be reminded of another inauguration speech 60 years ago, that of Harry S. Truman.

This from Truman:
Our aim should be to help the free peoples of the world, through their own efforts, to produce more food, more clothing, more materials for housing, and more mechanical power to lighten their burdens.

And this from Obama:
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

These are ostensibly noble promises, acknowledging the needs of others and offering to help.  I certainly applaud the sentiment, particularly as am I often one of the first to complain that those who have the resources are not doing enough.
However things are never as simple as they seem.  Truman’s speech has been identified as the beginning of the ‘development era’, the decades following that speech giving rise to an unprecedented level of intervention by the West, particularly the United States, into the affairs of the so-called third world.  This intervention, while purportedly to help the third world to develop, to ‘catch up’ with the West, was never given out of a pure motivation to help, rather was given strategically as part of the cold war, and more recently the war on terror.  
Not only was the motivation for giving aid questionable, but the results have not been all that was promised.  That Obama should be promising more help to people in poor nations is testament to the fact that 50 years of ‘development’ around the globe has not lead to any significant lessening of poverty and suffering.  Aid has been appropriated by the powerful in many places, it has propped up dictators, stirred up civil wars and forced open domestic markets to the wolves of international trade.  It has come with all manner of strings attached, strings manipulated by the powerful to their own advantage.  
My fervent hope is that whatever ‘help’ Obama is promising is different.  I hope that when he says the US will “work alongside you” that he truly means that.  I am encouraged that he acknowledges that the rich can no longer “consume the world’s resources without regard to effect”. But I am cautious.  As with Truman’s speech, Obama’s offer comes wrapped in American rhetoric, that certainty that the United States has the answer and that it is thier job to lead the rest of us.  Although I am grateful that there was somewhat less of this than there was with Bush, there is still the faint air of US imperialism hanging about. While it would certainly be wonderful to have the resources of the United States to address the problems of poverty in this world, it will not be true help if it comes with strings attached to US interests.
Despite this caution, I stand with my friends, both in the USA and globally, in hope.  Obama may not be the saviour of the world but his election is historic and of immense importance within the US, and is a beacon of possibility for the rest of the world after years of watching US imperialism at work.  I hope there will be change, I hope there will be good change.
(cross-posted on developing? – my new research blog)