Thursday, April 28, 2011

Structures of sin and injustice in Honduras

The last few days I’ve had visitors from a Microloan program in La Unión, Lempira, talked with two of the leaders of a program for infant and maternal health, accompanied a follow-up meeting with leaders of the Caritas school for governability and participation, and finished a book on Honduras. A number of items have led me to think a little more deeply about problems here.

Honduras has received a lot of international help.

Non-governmental organizations abound, especially in this part of the country. Evangelicals send about 50,000 “missionaries” a year to Honduras, many of them involved in social projects – health brigades, construction groups, etc. The government has received a lot of money in the pas from the US and from other nations. The June 2009 coup cut back some of these projects, but many have been restored and there is continuing news of loans and grants to the Honduran government from international banks.

But poverty continues. A trip on beautiful back roads yesterday could not hide the wretched housing we saw at the side of the roads, amidst large fields reserved for cattle grazing and sugar cane and tall grass, probably owned by the richest men in Honduras.

Many people I know are very concerned about what is called “assistencialismo,” aid that merely provides hand-outs to help people meet immediate needs. At times this results in people and communities who look for a handout and expect aid to come freely, with no strings attached.

Why this attitude?

In part some of this is due to the groups that provide assistance. I don’t want to badmouth all aid efforts, but there are some disturbing trends. At times they come with their solutions which might not be related to the problems the people feel and experience. At time these groups compete with each other to make sure that their projects continue to be funded. The lack of coordination is problematic. At times they come with their agenda – whether it be evangelization or clean energy. At times they do not ask for assistance from the recipients of their charity.

But I think much of the problem is due to the political system. Though there are small parties the two major parties, the National and the Liberal, really control the political system. And they control it in ways that often benefit the party, its officials, and its party activists, rather than the common good. When they campaign they offer projects for communities, as a way to try to buy their votes. So when they get into power they reward those who campaigned for them with government jobs or contracts.

And so the people expect to be rewarded by the party in power. And many partisan political leaders and their activists use the money.

And so some people develop a taste for free money, free projects, and more.

But it also leads to politicians who do not allocate funding to meet human needs but to reward their backers.

Wednesday on the way to a meeting on leaders of the Caritas schools for governability and participation we had to find a back roads route to get around a road block, a toma de la carretera, in the aldea “6 de mayo.”

The back road was beautiful and, although we had a flat tire on the way back in the midst of a traffic jam on a one lane muddy road, the trip was good. And we experienced the helpfulness of some Hondurans who just took the changing of the tire into their hands and left us watching.

Toma de carretera,  6 de mayo, Santa Bárbara, Honduras
The main highway was occupied by several thousand people from 6 am to 4 pm, sponsored by PRO, Patronato Regional de Occidente, the Western Regional Organization. PRO represents about 200 communities in 15 municipalities in the departments of Copán and Santa Bárbara. There are more than 400 projects that the national government promised to develop – health, education, highway paving, water, and electric – but have not been carried out. Other issues PRO raised include the need for new land reform legislation, the right of public education and public health, and the rising prices for fuel and the basic food items. PRO is open to negotiation with the government but decided to go to the streets to exert pressure. Governments have the responsibility to respond to the needs of the people, especially the poor, especially in terms of infrastructure and access to basic needs. PRO, as I see it, is trying to hold the government responsible.

Denys receiving a certificate of participation in Caritas' school
When we got to San Marcos, Santa Bárbara, we met with leaders from six parishes who participated in Caritas’ Schools for Governability and Participation. They reported on their efforts to pass on the formation they had received on human dignity, human rights, the government and constitution of Honduras, the proposal for a National Constitutional Convention, and more. Some have had training sessions or are planning them for the future. Most have incorporated what they learned on short sessions with parish groups and base communities. One person used what he had learned to develop one of the stations of the cross in his parish. They talked about the fear or reluctance of some to discuss the topics, since the people so often identify politics with the two-party patronage system. But one person through his careful workshop opened a group of parish leaders to consider the issues more. The participants also decided that they would all help a Saturday program on these issues on the local Catholic radio station, taking turns traveling to the station to participate in the broadcast.

But this is not without risk. One participant told of the presence of "orejas," spies, in the meetings who report back to government leaders.

And so there are examples of people working together for the good of their communities and the country, but the problems persist because of “structures of injustice” which pervade Honduras.

The two party power structure, the use of money as “incentive” for votes and political support, corruption, programs that just offer assistance, and the problem of expectation of hand outs go together. They are part of structural problems that cannot be solved merely by individual efforts nor by non-governmental organizations. I really believe that there needs to be a real re-structuring of the system here – so that the needs of the poor are heard as they are empowered to act for their own good and for the common good.

No comments: