Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The economic reality of Honduras

A lot of people are afraid of class analysis, claiming it promotes class struggle. But even Ruby K. Payne, the editor of A Framework for Understanding Poverty acknowledges the importance of recognizing class, though her proposed solution is to make the US poor middle class, without acknowledging, I think, the dangers of middle class consumerism and individualism nor the intrinsic value of sharing as seen among some of the poor.

For the past few months the staff of Caritas has been meeting every Monday morning, for prayer, a short study of Catholic Social Teaching (which I lead), and a section of Caritas’ school on governability and participation.

A few weeks ago we did an exercise on the different economic levels in Honduras: the super rich, the rich, the upper middle class, the lower middle class, the poor with possibilities, the extremely poor, and the indigent.

Here were some of the reflections shared by the participants. This is not a scientific analysis but it is revealing.

The Super Rich: Millionaires, whose children study in prestigious expensive foreign universities, who drive this year’s cars, who have helicopters, yachts and planes. They live in mansions and have large plantations (haciendas), They own multinational business, franchises, banks, maquilas (piece work factories), dispensas (large stores – wholesale?), concessions for mining, rivers, etc. They would usually have chefs and nannies for their kids. They are usually thought of as being ten families. They are behind the scenes of politics. They are involved in the churches – but of the rich, with private baptisms and weddings, welcomed by some hierarchy.

The Rich: Landowners with haciendas (plantations), owners of transport and construction businesses. They have new cars. Their children study in private universities, They are the privileged clients of banks. They often speak English. They would often have good cooks and a nanny for their kids. They make up about 7% of the population. They are likely to be officials in the political parties and some of them would be congressional representatives.

The Upper Middle Class: Bilingual. Professionals, university trained, new cars bought on credit, owners of medium sized businesses, bureaucrats in administrative roles, are coffee or cattle farmers. They live in nice residential houses. The housekeeper/cook might also scare fro the kids at home.They are clients with loans from banks. Their salary is above 40000 lempiras (about $2100) per month. They are about 20% of the population. [I think this is a little high, but this might include both the upper and lower middle class.] In terms of partisan politics, they may hold positions and elected offices in departments and municipalities. Parts of this class would be sympathetic to the resistance.

Lower Middle Class: Used car, five years or less or an motorcycle. Nice houses but with mortgages. Small business owners, professionals in education. Small accounts in banks, clients of cooperatives. They have credit cards. Their children study in public universities and in public high schools. In political terms they might hold some public offices, as mayors, etc.

The Poor with Possibilities: a very modest home, and maybe an old car, animals. They are workers. Their children study in public schools or the distance education radio schools. They would deal with Cajas Rurales (rural borrowing and lending institutions), with private lenders (some of whom might be loan sharks). In political terms they would be party activists. They have some chickens and other animals. They would make between 5,000 and 8,000 lempiras ($260 - $425) per month. In this diocese they would be the mainstay of the base communities. Some of these would respond to the themes of the Resistance.

The extremely poor: Very poor houses - shacks, day laborers, live on credit. They leave school early. They work on borrowed land. They have cats and dogs. They eat “salteado” – tortilla with salt, and not much else. They are 40% of the population. They are often spoken of by international organizations as the “irrescatables” – the irredeemable. Not involved in church or politics.

The Indigent: Live in the street, wander around (sometimes selling trinkets), beg, collect food from wherever (trashcans, dumps), wear rags, steal. They, too, are often spoken of by international organizations as the irredeemable.

This is an interesting analysis of the situation. What I do find interesting is that the Caritas school for governability and participation is planning several pilot projects to involve base communities and some municipal governments in processes to help several extremely poor families.

As I understand it, the base communities of the local parish will seek out and suggest several really poor families and will “sponsor” them. The base communities will seek to find land that these families can work without paying rent. They will try to get the municipal government to provide loans to the families for seeds, fertilizers, and other supplies needed for growing basic grains (corn and beans). The municipality will subsidize the loan with public moneys and the families will pay back 60%. (In one municipality the mayor is proposing to subsidize it so that the loan is only for 50% of the cost.) The base communities will accompany the families and help them work through this process and hold them accountable.

It appears that this will be a reality in at least one municipality next year. Another seems interested but seems to try to put a partisan politics spin on the project. Another has expressed interest but has not yet come forward to have meetings to work on this.

This is a very interesting model since it seeks to respond to the extremely poor who are often neglected by nongovernmental organizations.

We’ll see where this goes.

In the mean time I'm sharing photos of this past week's session - where we provided drawings of our hopes for real communities where justice flourishes, human rights are respected, and nature is cared for. Here are the results from two of the groups.


Charles said...

As your excerpt from Amos shows, the Holy scripture is full of class analysis. The story of the rich man and Lazarus that Jesus tells is full of judgment against the rich. In it, Abraham says that wealthy people, who don't listen to the Torah (Moses) or to the prophets, won't even repent if someone rises from the dead to warn them.

And Jesus was right. He rose from the dead to warn them, and for two thousand years, they haven't repented from their oppression of the poor.

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