Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Coup – almost a year later

One year ago next Monday Honduras entered a new and distinctive phase of its history. Before 6 am, Mel Zelaya, the president of Honduras, was whisked out of the country by military forces and, after a number of maneuvers by congress Roberto Micheletti was declared president.

Micheletti left power – with a record of human rights violations including closing news media. A number of people were killed by police or military forces during his time as de facto president. After an election in November, Pepe Lobo was sworn in as president in January of this year. Since that time there have been deaths of nine journalists, a dispute over land in the Bajo Aguan that has left several people dead, more widespread presence of drug traffickers, and other events that have, in my opinion, made Honduras less secure than before the coup.

A big surprise for many was the rise of the Resistance. Some try to reduce the Resistance to the followers of Mel Zelaya, but the issue is much more complicated than one person. It has to do, I believe, with a history of control of political and economic power in this country by elites, enhanced by the presence of the two major political parties in control.

What has this year meant for the poor?

That’s hard to tell because the global economic downturn has also affected people here.
Just today I talked with a woman whose two nephews had returned from working in the United States for some time. They had saved their money and so hope to set up small businesses here to eke out a living. But they returned because the job market was poor and they were getting lower wages.

The other day I also heard the report of a teacher in a rural village who laments the fact that the children come to school hungry and there’s no nutritious snack to give them. She also noted that there also used to be two teachers in the school where she teaches.

The continuing politicization of public service jobs continues. In a meeting today a woman related how she recently lost her job in the women’s office of her municipality because she didn’t belong to the new party in power.

In the midst of this the country has suffered serious weather problems. During the week I was in the US earlier this month, it rained almost every day in our area. Bridges have fallen, landslides have blocked roads (including for some hours the road into Copán Ruinas, a major tourist attraction – the Mayan ruins), loss of water systems, and – tragically – crop loss. The loss of corn and bean crops is disastrous since most of these plots are for the sustenance of poor families, many of which have rented the land and bought (often on credit) the seeds and fertilizers for that plot. It is probably too late for them to replant for this season and so they may have to rely on assistance from outside sources. (I’ll check this with some folks tomorrow to see if my evaluation is accurate.)

But then there’s futbol, the World Cup. Honduras has lost its first two games and there’s one more tomorrow. Tomorrow’s game is at 12:30 and I expect most of the country will be shut down while all watch with bated breath. And so the President and many government leaders are in South Africa watching the events. ("Fiddling while Rome burns" is probably a too harsh way of putting it."

But I do have to admit that I am beginning to find futbol interesting and I’ll try to find a way to follow tomorrow’s game for at least a few minutes.

But what will happen next?

I don’t expect much change for the poor to come from the government, though I would gladly be surprised. Pepe Lobo has said many surprising things.

As for the Resistance, that’s an open book. A friend attended a recent forum here in Santa Rosa with representatives from the Resistance talking about their plans and strategies, etc. He walked up to a campesina woman there and asked her what she was thinking about. “En comer” – “About eating” was her response. Reflecting on her remark, my friend suggested, basic needs are not being met and if the Resistance and other groups opposed to the coup want to make a difference they need to address this basic need.

Making change?

There’s also a need to help people take charge of their lives. Today I went with a representative of Caritas Norway to one aspect of the project they are sponsoring with Caritas of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán. We visited with a group of 19 women from several areas who are organized to address women’s rights in their municipalities. It was inspiring to hear several of the women speak of their struggles and to know that they and others are trying to form spaces of local political participation, not limited to the traditional political parties.

The poster reads "I am woman and I learned to be a citizen when I got to know and demand my rights."

Tomorrow the Caritas Norway representative will go to one of the nine “Schools of Governability and Participation” being run by Caritas. These schools, with about 20 persons attending each site, are composed of five sessions on themes like human dignity, human rights, democracy, participation, public advocacy, and more. They offer hope for small efforts that may make a difference in people’s live.

One other piece of good news. Next month the diocese will begin a program of training leaders in Catholic Social Teaching. There will be three diocesan workshops for deanery lay leaders and they and others will offer three workshops in six other sites in the diocese. The project is partially supported by the US Bishops’ Latin America Collection. (Catholics, thanks for donating to that collection!)

I have been doing a lot of reading in Catholic social thought for the past few months, since I’ll be a part of this effort. What I find reassuring is that, at least on paper, there’s a real commitment to the poor and to major social change in these documents. I also have been surprised at the relevance of the writings of the early church fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Basil, Ambrose, John Chrysostom, and Augustine) on issues of private property and social inequality. (Charles Avila's Ownership: Early Christian Teaching is an eye-opener.) Their positions are, in my mind, closer to liberation theology (and the position of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán) than to the proponents of neoliberalism and advocates of an absolute right to private property. But more on that later.

One last item of interest. Pepe Lobo's government has proposed a "Truth Commission" supposedly to look into the events of last year. The Resistance has named its own commission which has two priests and two Nobel laureates. My friend, Padre Fausto Milla, is the Honduran priest on this alternative commission. For a look at the members of both commissions, look at the Honduras Culture and Politics blog entry on the two commissions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll expand on Avila's book.

While liberation theology has been taken up as a banner by all sorts of people, the actual theology never struck me as particularly radical. Then again, the gospels as a whole are so radical-- and the epistles perhaps even more so-- that the Christian church has to go to great efforts to pretend that it doesn't say what it does.