Sunday, September 19, 2010

Honduras - ¿independent?

What a week.

It was quiet here in Santa Rosa this week, though there were small parades Monday through Wednesday to celebrate Honduras’ independence day.

Mid- morning Wednesday I walked to the center of town to see the parade. It was different from other years; there weren’t as many groups marching. There were a few high schools and other groups, but something was missing.

I learned later that the three largest schools didn’t march. The two largest are “official” schools (public schools) and they didn’t march because of the current political situation. In fact the largest school, Alvaro Contreras, held classes. A sort of reverse strike. The third largest school is the Catholic girls’ school Maria Auxiliadora; I don’t know why they weren’t in the march.

I found out later that the Resistance had a forum that day to do some analysis of the situation.

All was calm here, but that was not the case in San Pedro Sula. The Resistance planned a march and a major concert, but it was violently broken up by the police and military who used tear gas on the crowd, fired water cannons at the concert stage and destroyed sound equipment, destroyed instruments of some of the musicians as well as some of the high school bands that were marching with the Resistance. One man was killed as a result of the tear gas, many were beaten, and several were detained. It was, in my mind, at the very least a clear case of overreaction by the military and police, if not an act of political repression. To read more on this I suggest looking here, and here on the incredible blog Honduras Culture and Politics, as well as several posts (with photos and videos) on Quotha.

The situation is getting very critical, at least in some parts of the country. Perhaps the powers in charge are feeling threatened.


This week, on Thursday, there was a formal presentation of petitions for the calling of an Asamblea Nacional Constituyente – a constitutional convention to “refound Honduras.” This was a sticking point last year before the coup, since President Mel Zelaya was promoting a poll to petition setting up a fourth ballot box in November to ask if the people were in favor of an “Asamblea Nacional Constituyente.” The morning of the poll, the forms were seized throughout the country and the President was removed from his home and flown to Costa Rica.

The Resistance had collected 1,346,876 signatures on the petition.

But what does that mean? Honduras is a country of about 7.5 million. 1.34 is just short of 18% of the population.

Last November the de facto coup government held an election. Of the 4,611,211 on the voting roles, less than 50% voted (2,299,578) and of these only 2,145,848 were valid (since some were blank or nullified).

And the party of the winner, Pepe Lobo, had only 1,213,634.

So the Resistance’s petition has more signatures than the number of votes Lobo received in November.

There, of course, may be duplicate signatures and perhaps some invalid signatures. But it’s significant and reveals some of the discontent that I keep hearing here in western Honduras - from church leaders, some professionals, and - above all - campesinos, especially those involved in the church base communities.

The presentation of the signatures in Tegucigalpa brought together members of the Resistance leadership as well as others. Padre Fausto Milla were there. And the bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos was there.

The bishop spoke out strongly, especially in light of the events in San Pedro Sula on Wednesday.

“Enough of the repression,” he demanded, “ we will not tolerate a single more death at the hands of the police and the military.”

Though he has been critical of the teachers at times, he noted that “the teachers shouldn’t continue to endure being clubbed - I have seen them bleeding. And I don’t think that those of us who have protested against the unjust Mining Law should continue shedding our blood in the western part of our country.”

“It is good that the people are peaceful, but we cannot put up with the images which we have been seeing.”

And that's how we are in Honduras these days.

From Thursday to Saturday I was with a group of lay leaders of the diocese in the second Catholic Social Teaching workshop. This one we spent on learning the “See, Judge, Act” methodology of Catholic Social Teaching, with three priests leading the sessions.

One group identified as weaknesses of the country – corruption, ungovernability (manifested by poverty, drug-trafficking, violence, and the lack of security in the country which the government is unable to control), and the radical bipartite political system, virtually controlled by the two major parties.)

Later this emerged as the list of the most urgent problems of Honduras:
  • poverty and its effects
  • the destruction of nature
  • the concessions (licenses to exploit) for mining and hydroelectric dams
  • ungovernability (violence and impunity)
  • migration
We didn’t go into much depth on the problems since this was more an effort to identify the reality and then look at some issues in light of Catholic Social Teaching.

But on the second night I showed a few videos I had downloaded – a 2008 video on climate change and its effect on Honduras, taken in Tomalá, Lempira, and one taken this year on the proposed dam in San Francisco de Opalaca, Intibucá, financed by a company owned by one of the wealthy elite.

Since it was late we had a short discussion. The concern about the severe weather here is real – the rains have affected crops in many parts of the diocese and so next year we may face more serious hunger. And the concern about the taking over of rivers for large hydroelectric dams by large companies is real.

And so we go forward, seeking justice.

And, to put it in the context of faith, , this morning, at Mass, Padre Fausto challenged us with the first reading, Amos 8, 4-7.
Hear this, you who trample on the needy to do away with the weak of the land. You who say, "When will the new moon or the sabbath feast be over that we may open the store and sell our grain? Let us lower the measure and raise the price; let us cheat and tamper with the scales, and even sell the refuse with the whole grain. We will buy up the poor for money and the needy for a pair of sandals." Yahweh, the pride of Jacob, has sworn by himself, “I shall never forget their deeds.”
Christian Community Bible translation
Amos was talking about Israel, but he could just as well be speaking about Honduras.

Scripture comes alive here – and challenges us, over and over again.

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