Saturday, October 04, 2008

I lost it

October 2 through 4 there was a conference in Copán Ruinas sponsored by Project Honduras ( which brought together over 170 people, mostly from the US, who work in Honduras or support programs in Honduras. It was a great opportunity to make connections with others working in – or with – Honduras. Over all, it was a very good conference and I made a lot of connections. In future years I may try to make it back to the yearly conferences – at least to try to connect with more people and to hear about other projects throughout Honduras.

However, I lost it at one point.

I had read in the program that some people from US Task Force Bravo, which is headquartered at the Soto Can0 (Palmerola) Air Force Base would be there. They do some humanitarian work and I presumed they would talk about it. But I was uneasy, since many Hondurans I know are very critical of the presence of US troops (about 520 of them, I found out) on Honduran soil. It feels like an occupation to some, especially as they remember the role the US government had in the 1980s supporting a repressive regime in Honduras and using the US base at Palmerola to support the Contra in Nicaragua and the repressive regime in El Salvador.

The Ambassador spoke the first morning, commending the people assembled for their efforts to help Honduras and laying out what he saw as the problems of Honduras. What I found most amazing is he did mention corruption at all, when many Hondurans consider this a major problem and both source and symptom of other ills. (In fact the word corruption was not mentioned once until the afternoon of the second day!)

Friday morning a woman from Task Force Bravo spoke. She proceeded to describe what they did as well as how they help humanitarian efforts. But she also gave a short history of the base. She stated that the base was there in the 1980s to combat aggression. That deeply affected me because I know the role of the US government at that time and have seen the effects of US support of Central American regimes like Honduras and El Salvador in that time. It was, I believe, far from combating aggression. Using the excuse of “Communism,” the US supported militarily and financially regimes that killed and disappeared civilians. This was well-documented by Americas Watch and Amnesty International.

So, I was upset and walked to the back of the hall to try to compose myself – praying and breathing deeply. Calmed down a bit. I returned to my seat, still trying to breathe deeply and pray the Jesus Prayer. I had decided not to ask a question.

However, someone, noting that the power-point was labeled “unclassified,” asked if she could share something more specific about their efforts against drug trafficking. The woman said that she couldn’t share that information since it was classified. And, she added, “ If I told you that, I’d have to kill you.” And the people laughed.

That was it. I got up, first just thinking I’d move to the back . But as I walked I could not hold it in. I turned and said to her something like this. “That is not funny. It is not right to make a joke of killing. I know people who have been killed by governments in this region.” She insisted it was just a joke. I repeated my objection again. And then walked to the back.

As I got to the back, an attendee mentioned his support of what I had said. But it took me probably about three hours to restore some semblance of serenity in my spirit.

As I think back, perhaps I still harbor pain at the suffering I have seen in Latin America, often perpetrated in the past with the support of the US military and with the silence of diplomats.

But as I reflect I think my breaking point has something to do with the apolitical nature of the conference, with little social analysis except that provided by the ambassador and the woman from the airbase. The very fact that corruption was hardly addressed bothers me. But I think the fact that the person I work for, Bishop Luis Alfonso Santos, has received death threats (along with others) deeply affects me. There is structural violence and structural injustice here which must be addressed. People in Honduras are killed and threatened for less than seeing classified documents.

One cannot cover the injustices of a society by mere acts of charity. Transformation is necessary.


Border Explorer said...

I'm really proud of you for speaking up: speaking truth to power. It needed to be said.

Chris said...

I was losing my cool just reading this! I'm proud of you.

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

Re-reading this, I noted at least one error. The ambassador did NOT mention corruption. HUM...