Thursday, December 17, 2009

Return to normalcy?

A December 14 headline from an editorial of The Voice of America, a US government supported radio station and web site, reads, “Honduras Seeks Return To Normalcy.”

I hope not.

What is normalcy here?

What was normal here before the coup of June 28?
400,000 malnourished children; only 33% of students go beyond sixth grade; 60% live in poverty and about 28 % live in extreme poverty; massive corruption at all levels; some efforts and promises from the president.
And then the coup came.

What was the legacy of the coup?
human rights violations by the de facto government; restrictions of basic freedoms; more than 20 deaths of people opposed to the coup; fear; major divisions in the populace; a lagging economy made worse; demonization of the opposition; a largely non-violent movement against the coup.
Some claimed that the elections of November 29 would bring a “solution” to the crisis. This is despite the fact that most nations of the world had major reservations on the legality of an election under the coup regime.

So, in order to “put things behind them,” some in Congress seek an amnesty. But an amnesty in their mind means impunity - no one will be held accountable for their crimes.

Such an amnesty is the equivalent of amnesia which I believe will leave a festering sore within the heart of the nation. The deaths, the human rights violations, the restrictions on basic freedoms, the corruption, the coup itself, and any alleged crimes of Zelaya or Micheletti - all forgotten, swept under the rug?

Amnesty is often justified in terms of reconciliation. Honduras needs reconciliation, but reconciliation has to be based on seeking the truth. The experience of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a better example. As I understand it, people who had committed heinous violations of human rights were brought before the commission. If they acknowledged their deeds, they could be reintegrated into society, If not, they had to face judgment. There are amazing stories from the commission, especially when the mother of one victim openly forgave the man responsible for his death. True reconciliation, like true peace, is based on justice and truth.

What is needed? Not a return to normalcy nor a forgetting of the past.

Honduras needs to face the poverty, the immense divide between a few very rich families and hundreds of thousands living in misery, the corruption, the racism and classism which perpetrates a lack of self-esteem among the poor.

Honduras needs efforts to work honestly and civilly toward reconciliation – in families, in the church, in society.

Honduras doesn’t need a return to normality; it needs steps forwards to participation of all – especially the poor – in their lives and the life of their country.

This may sound revolutionary – and it is. But it is the revolution of the Gospel, of the God who became human as a poor babe in a land occupied by foreign powers who had co-opted rich religious, political, and economic forces to support its rule. (Does this sound a little like Honduras?) It is a revolution which will not need violence – for violence would be counter-revolutionary. But it needs the violence of love, of solidarity, of sacrificing for the common good. It will also need a lot of forgiveness.

I know Hondurans are capable of this because I see it every week in my ministry in the parish of Dulce Nombre and in the work of Caritas.

This week we had the national director and associate director of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) with us for two days. We discussed possible projects that they might support in the coming year as well as the re-initiation of a maternal and infant health project which we began in June but was put on hold because of the coup (since its funding came from the World Bank).

On Tuesday we went out to the countryside and saw some of the work that our Caritas worker Manuel López has been doing, supporting people to diversify their crops. We visited Ernesto’s small field with mandarins, oranges, oregano, avocado, lorocco, and much more. He offered us mandarins and asked me if I wanted to take more home. I politely said no since I already have some I bought a few days ago. Such generosity. But, he mentioned, a real problem is getting them to a market since they are far from the main highway on a treacherous dirt road.

The visit with CRS was an “up” for me. The new country representative/director is a delightful young man, Juan Sheenan; the associate director is an Honduran, Miguel Flores, who has worked with CRS for 25 years. They talked about the possibilities for projects in Honduras next year. I hope we at Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán can work with them to make life more human for the people in our diocese.

In January, God willing, Caritas Santa Rosa de Copán will re-initiate a program for maternal and infant health that we began in cooperation with Catholic Relief Services.

CRS also has programs in water and sanitation, agriculture, peacemaking and reconciliation, and much more here in Honduras.

In the US, I regularly supported CRS and so it is fascinating to be on the other end – helping them serve those in need here in Honduras. (Check out their website and donate, if you can.)


Anonymous said...

A good essay. There's an incomplete sentence (" it says nothing about structural injustices and doesn’t identify the profound")
Reconciliation is very difficult from a non-Christian perspective, which is why it's so clear to me that there aren't many Christians in this world. From a Christian perspective, we are part of a single living being. Therefore, if someone says there's a problem, there's a problem. We don't question our stomach for reporting its distress or our head for reporting its pain. But the dictatorship has consistently denied that there is any problem with Honduras, even as the streets are filled with protestors and the rate of violence skyrockets.

Meanwhile, the complaint of the oligarchs is that the Zelayists are communists. In other words, the less-than-wealthy are accused of wanting a greater share of the pie. If the oligarchs were Christians, they would increase their charity, and drastically so, rather than see Hondurans turn to radical ideologies. This miracle of the heart, alas, does not seem likely to occur. Most of the aid for Honduras's poor will continue to flow from abroad, mostly in the form of remensas, all too little in the form of voluntary donations.

The one who holds power cannot demand forgiveness from the one who does not. Real forgiveness is humanly impossible without a cessation of the wrongs being committed, and ideally a redress of the harms. When one of us achieves forgiveness without a cessation of wrongs, it is done by Christ, for the sake of the larger body. If the oligarchs were part of Christ, they would love truth. But, as you say, they seem to want silence and amnesia.


John (Juan) Donaghy said...

Thanks for catching my errors in "True Reconciliation." And thanks for your reflection. I'm in a remote town in southern Intibucá with the bishop.

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