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.

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.

By now much of the world will be aware that there is chaos in Honduras right now. Exiled President Manuel Zelaya has found his way back to Tegucigalpa and is holed up at the Brazilian Embassy.  The interim / defacto / golpista government has responded with what seems to be to be alarming overkill, breaking up protests, shutting airports and borders and putting the entire country under a 24 hour curfew.  While this is supposedly for the protection of the citizens, those same citizens are suffering as people can’t work and can’t get food. Businesses are suffering.

News reports are conflicting.  TV and radio stations have been intermittently shut down leaving those without internet access to get news (propganda?) from those supportive of the current government. Depending on the news source, there have either been no deaths or hundreds; the violence is the result of the raging protesters, or the provocation of the police and army; the vandalism is the work of the pro-Mel groups or a set-up by the golpistas.  Who knows.  I suspect the truth is in the middle somewhere but it is very hard to get an honest report here.  What I do know is that the whole situation is causing significant suffering for the ordinary people here, and the longer the power-hungry leaders in Tegucigalpa continue to refuse to negotiate properly, the more they will suffer and that breaks my heart.

Personally, the situation is causing some difficulties.  I am supposed to be at the conference on Honduras starting tomorrow, and I will, but it has been shortened and will be small as conferees may not be able to get here.  Luckily we came early, before the return of Zelaya, as my sister was visiting and we wanted to chow her Copan.  However it wasn’t so lucky for her as she arrived in San Pedro Sula to catch her flight home just as all airports were closed.  She is still in SPS, holed up in a guesthouse and waiting for the first plane out.

Here in Copan the streets are quiet, but the curfew has not been enforced so we are able to get out and about (and I am able to do my work and blogging from a sun-drenched rooftop cafe!).  I am enjoying the relaxed pace here, and the personal and cheerful service from businesses who are so grateful for my custom, but I would far rather things returned to normal as quickly as possible.  Honduras, and Hondurans, can’t afford this shut-down.