Monday, December 13, 2010

Waiting- but in the streets

Why do the poor always have to wait?

Since March 2008, the people of Dulce Nombre and the surrounding towns and villages have been waiting for the government to pave a seven kilometer road from the main highway to Dulce Nombre (and hopefully beyond).

About June 2009 they blocked the highway for a bit and the government sent out a minister and an agreement was signed. But the coup came along and the coup government didn’t follow through.

Then this year, about June, the people were organizing for another blocking of the highway but the government sent its representatives and an agreement was made.

Still the road is not paved and had gotten much worse due to the rains.

The first contract was with a company of Jaime Rosenthal (one of the richest men in Honduras) but it was later handed over to a company connected with a certain Kildor. But it has not been worked on for quite some time – and, even though there is some equipment there, no one is working since the employees were not paid.

So, Monday, December 13, several thousand people gathered to take the main highway at the turn off to Dulce Nombre. The main highway is the major route between San Pedro Sula, the industrial center of the country, and Puerto Cortes, a major port on the north coast, to El Salvador and one of the major routes to Guatemala.

But this is not an effort of what some people here would call the “riff-raff” – the poor, whom I call “the salt of the earth.” The effort is headed up by the mayors of the five municipalities affected – Dulce Nombre de Copán, Concepción, San Agustín, Dolores, and – to a lesser degree- Vera Cruz. They had actually planned a blockage on Friday but only about 30 people arrived. They later consulted with and got the support of the church and others in the area.

They planned to “take the highway,“ as they say here, a little after 5. But when they arrived, after 6, the police were already there, blocking the highway – both the regular police and special police forces.

The police began to throw tear gas into the crowd about 7:30 pm. Two minors were arrested (and released in Santa Rosa in the afternoon) and several car windows were broken (by the police). Several people were injured and three were taken for medical treatment in La Entrada.

The mayors called Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, the bishop of Santa Rosa, to come and help. Being committed to the poor he arrived there soon after they called – about 9 pm. I decided to accompany him.

As we walked in, he was immediately recognized by the people who came up to greet him and were grateful for his accompaniment. We were told that the police had given the people only two hours’ permission to be in the highway – but only about a half hour remained.

The bishop spent time talking with the people and consulted with the mayors. He then called some government leaders, including Miguel Pastor, the minister of SOPTRAVI which in charge of roads. (Monseñor Santos knew him from his time as a teacher and rector of the Salesians’ men’s high school in Tegucigalpa.) He asked, really demanded, that the minister called the Minister of Security and not allow the police to use force against the people.

He also asked Pastor to arrange the situation and get money released to finish the project. The mayors also ended up speaking with Pastor. The minister said that there was no money. The bishop said that if there was a problem with the roads in the rich neighborhoods of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa they would not have to wait, as the poor do here always have to wait.

Pastor tried to say that the agreements for the road and the delays were in previous administrations, but Monseñor Santos said that this was a governmental commitment, not the commitment of a particular administration.

Pastor said he’d call back in an hour. Pastor did call the Minister of Security and the military took a less belligerent tome. In fact the bishop and the police commander spoke for a time.

Pastor called back several times and spoke with the mayors and the bishop. He offered to meet with the mayors in Tegucigalpa next week. Later he changed it to Wednesday, after a meeting of the Council of government ministers tomorrow.

That sounded good – but the bishop was not convinced. The pressure was here in Dulce Nombre and he had been insisting that the government send someone to talk with the people and finalize an agreement. If the taking of the highway was suspended, the mayors might go to Tegucigalpa and get nothing. The people would probably not come out again in support and so all this effort would be lost.

I returned to Santa Rosa with the bishop at about 2 o’clock. As of 4:30 pm, the situation is still up in the air.

I don’t know if I will have any more first hand information since I have to go to Guarita in the south of Lempira tomorrow for a Catholic Social Teaching workshop. I have to leave here about 5 am.


Follow up, Tuesday, December 14

The highway was opened up later Monday. I don't know what the government finally offered.

What is very frightening is what the Minister of Security, Oscar Álvarez, said in an interview yesterday. (Note that there has also been a longer blocking of the highway in the Bajo Aguan.)

"Will it be shown that they are in collusion with organized crime? Will there be drug-trafficking funds behind these actions?" he said.

He is referring in part to the major police and military operations in the past week in the north of Copán where there is a concentration of drug trafficking.

This type of language troubles me, first of all because it uses this charge to make them look like common criminals.

The people who planned the blockade in Dulce Nombre were not drug traffickers, as far as I know. There are mayors involved in drug-trafficking but I've never heard this charge against any of these mayors. Others involved in the blockade are land-owners and business-owners. The poor supported the cause because an improved road would make transportation easier and because church leaders support the cause.

Secondly, these types of charges are used to hide the reality.

Thirdly, this type of talk tries to criminalizes the efforts of people to demand their rights and the improvement of their communities. What will be next?

Latest news:

Minister of SOPTRAVI, Miguel Pastor, agreed to come to Dulce Nombre on Thursday, October 17, to discuss the road.

For some more information on the issue and also on Alvarez's remarks see Oscar Alvarez's Lame Visions on the Honduras Culture and Politics blog (a blog which I highly recommend.)

Final revision, Tuesday, December 14, 1:45 pm

Click here for an article in Spanish appeared Wednesday in the online news source Revistazo.

No comments: