One year ago today…

June 29, 2010

After spending a day buried deep in writing about the political and economic history of Honduras for my thesis, the last thing I really feel like doing this evening is more writing.  And yet as the sun sets in NZ and rises on Honduras on June 28 2010, I want to add my two cents (lempiras?) worth to the discussion surrounding the one year anniversary of the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, and which is still not over. Not that I would really characterise it as a conversation, with the two sides still firmly entrenched and with such different and conflicting narratives as this and this.

One year ago we had just arrived in Honduras for nine months of graduate research for my PhD.  While I was well-versed in development theory, and somewhat familiar with the Honduran context I had limited understanding of Honduran politics – after all, I was studying grassroots development and ICT, not political science (although my Honduran husband majored in politics).  Over the next few months I had a crash course, reading all I could from both sides and talking with people on both sides of the divide (often to the detriment of my field research work).

Because I felt unqualified to comment, and because I was worried about my research community (mostly pro-coup) I didn’t write much about the coup for a while.  But it didn’t take long for me to figure out some key truths about who was doing the talking, although I have to confess to becoming heartily sick of the use of the word truth, which was manipulated in many ways in the months following the coup. Eventually, with some trepidation, I came out as resistencia. My reasons for doing so still stand, and another nine months of reading and research have only strengthened my support. In fact nine months after I wrote that post have strongly reinforced the final reason I gave in that most – that this was a clearly a coup to protect the status quo, not for change.

This is something that had really struck me as have been writing the Honduras background information for my thesis. Coups, constitutional manipulations, the use and misuse of power by oligarchs, the business community and the military, corruption, international meddling… there ‘s really nothing new under the Honduran sun (including the names of those involved). Understanding the history of Honduras places so much of what happened last year into context. The coup of 2009 is easily seen as one more attempt by the Honduran ruling elite to maintain their own position, to protect the interests of big business and ensure Honduras remains on a neo-liberal path, following the same policies that have lead to the dire poverty and inequality we see in Honduras today. And so in 2010, under the un-democratically elected Porfirio Lobo, it is literally ‘business as usual’.

But something is different this time. Zelaya may be gone but the events of 28 June 2009 were the spark that ignited a new force for change.  The coup has bought together labour unions, campesino and indigenous groups, womens groups, LGBT groups, academics… Hondurans from across the social spectrum, in a peaceful effort to ‘re-found’ Honduras. The traditional media and the coup supporters may sneer and label them misinformed agitators and haters, but I believe they misunderstand and underestimate the resistencia, the emergence of which is something of huge historical significance in Honduras (although given the human rights abuses directed at the resistencia I suspect the government understands this significance!).

I might not be Honduran, or even in Honduras at this time, but I know with whom I stand this June 28. Not next to the powerful, but with the poor, the indigenous, the disabled, the women and children who have been left behind by Honduran economic ‘development’ time and time again. I do not know what the future will bring, but I do hope that the historical cycle will not continue to repeat and that one day, soon, real change will come to Honduras. The resistencia might not be perfect, but I see more hope there than with any amount of international development aid.

Although we are back in New Zealand I have been trying to follow the continuing political events in Honduras, although it is somewhat depressing.  Unsurprisingly the coup goes on, and coup participants have been appointed to important posts.  Fortunately (although under-reported) the resistance continues the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular of Honduras holds its second Encuentro Nacional por la Refundación de Honduras (National Meeting for the Refounding of Honduras). The Frente is aiming for a constitutional assembly, in order to create a democratic, inclusive and participatory Constitution.  For more information about the Frente and the ongoing events in Honduras check Quotha and the Honduran Culture and Politics blog, both written by academics with close ties to Honduras.

Another blog favourite of mine is Mama PhD, and this week Math Geek Mom wrote a post on her thoughts on “We are the World” asking about what Americans can do to help the poor in other parts of the world.  Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly) until I commented she hadn’t had any comments, which is a shame as it would have been interesting to see a discussion on the topic.

On the topic of poverty Delia Christina of  Bitch, PhD has a post up titled If only the poor were more like me, which comments on a post by the Fat Nutritionist. Her final line: “So until we are prepared to solve the ‘problem’ of their poverty first, perhaps we should keep mum with our ‘advice’ to poor families about making better nutritional ‘choices’.” I agree entirely. Interestingly, it follows a similar line of reasoning to two development related posts this week, Drinking our own ORS by Blood and Milk, and Would you be willing to do this by Good Intentions are not Enough.  These posts pose difficult questions about the kind of advice and aid we give people, while we ourselves live comfortably.

Finally, on a lighter note, I really enjoyed Serious Eats bean to bar tutorial on Understanding Chocolate Basics, and this photo from Antigua Daily Photo, which is so me…

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.

Good-bye Old Year

January 1, 2010

Happy New Year! Well, maybe not so happy for this guy. In the last few days of December Hondurans make life-sized stuffed dolls – the “Año Viejo” (old year), and stuff them with rags, straw and whatever fireworks can be they can obtain and/or fit in. They displayed outside homes until mid-night on the 31st when they are burned in a symbolic burning away of all that was bad of the old year. So this old man is destined to burn tonight.

This particular Año Viejo has “soy golpista” (I am a coup supporter) written on his shirt. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what the maker of this Año Viejo would like to burn away this new years eve.  The elections might be over and the golpistas secure in their plans, but as this old man shows, the resistance has not disappeared.  I’m hoping the new year brings more peaceful, clever and courageous actions to push back the golpistas and bring real change to Honduras.

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

CauseWired

April 23, 2009

causewiredA while back I wrote a post titled Letters> email> facebook, which was inspired by the book CauseWired by Tom Watson.  I have now finally finished reading it – the delay being related to the amount of time I have for reading and my reading priorities rather than book itself.  It is in fact a very readable book, and an excellent introduction to the world of online causes and digital philanthropy.  The text is littered with example of organisations and groups using the Internet in unique and exciting ways, and I have used more of my thesis work time looking these up online than I probably should have!  The discussion is also enlivened by  Watson’s long experience in the sector and the fact that he knows, or has met, many of the personalities involved.  This means he is able to bring a personal face to the topic and to the, and is well placed to bring an engaging insider perspective.

That said, I found the book to be highly uncritical of the changes it discussed -with the problems of distributing the causewired future relegated to a few pages at the end of the book.  While acknowledging that this is not meant to be an academic book (and I also admit I am now well immersed in the academic genre), I found the book to be over-enthusiastic in many places.  Watson is quite rightly, very enthusiastic about the potential of online social networks to bring about social change.  But while he has written a book about activism and philanthropy and saving the world, he has missed arguably the most important voice of all – that of the recipients of this attention, the poor and disconnected.  

Actually, that is not entirely true. Watson argues that the peer-to-peer nature of wired causes and digital philanthropy has the potential to reduce the distance between the donors and activists, and the communities and people they are trying to help.  This means that donors can choose who thier money goes to (the Kiva model for example), or get up-to-the minute micro-reports on projects they support.  This could well be true, and a is almost certainly a step in the right direction.  However I am concerned that Watson does not examine the potential pitfalls of the causewired revolution, for example the underlying power issues inherant in donor – recipient relationships, the issues of access to technology (in both developed and developing countries those that have access to technology – or to an organisation that has – have power, those that don’t are further marginalised), and the potential problems created when a recipient community or organisation does not have the capacity to use the increased funds and resources appropriately.  Maybe he’s leaving all that to an academic, but I think these are all issues Western donors and activists need to be aware of, and shouldn’t be relegated to dry academic books.

The last sentence in the book is perhaps the most profound for me.  After all the hype over wired causes, Watson quotes William Gibson – “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed”.  As with all proposed solutions for global poverty and injustice, the lack of change is probably related not to the lack of good ideas, but to underlying issues of inequality and power that mean the solutions never actually fulfil their potential.  As Watson argues, it is still early days for the causewired movement.  While it is almost certainly raising awareness of global issues and inspiring a new generation of social entrepreneurs and philanthropists, only time will tell if the peer-to-peer model and long reach of the digital medium will lead to any significant change in the lives of the poor and disempowered.

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!)

Missing

March 15, 2009

“Missing:” A message video by UNICEF about Maternal Mortality from Big Yellow Taxi on Vimeo.

I just watched a news report about a the defacement of an Israeli memorial plaque by a Catholic Priest in Wellington, in protest at the events in Gaza.  A member of the local Jewish community was interviewed, clearly upset by the ‘vandalism’ of the monument.  It made me mad.  How could someone be so upset about the defacement of a monument when the people it represents, his people, are not just defacing but seem set on destroying people.  

The Catholic church has distanced itself from the action.  

The New Zealand government remains ‘nuetral’.

I’m not going to say more because the whole Gaza situation just makes me angry.

 

Later:

Anita at Kiwipolitico has a more thoughtful post on the blood on the memorial protest.

The Hand Mirror has a good round-up of reactions to Gaza from the progressive blogosphere in  Gaza on our minds.   I particularly like the following quote which kind of sums up how I feel-

Like many others I feel utter despair and a complete lack of ability to do anything that would make even a smidgen of difference. I hate feeling powerless. And if I hate it, here on the other side of the world where the sun is shining and no bombs are falling and my son is not in danger of being killed because of an argument between powerful people with guns, then I can’t imagine how bad it must feel to be there.

via Global Recession Squeezes Honduran Scavengers – NAM

dump