Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Contrasts in Honduras

The past few days have been full of contrasts.

Last Friday and Saturday I went out to meetings of two zones of the parish.

The one zone has had a lot of problems and a few months ago seemed to be stuck in a rut. There was bickering in the meetings; there was not much participation in parish meetings; it seemed as if the same few people were the leaders and some of them were rather rigid; there were not a lot of catechists.

When I went to the meetings I kept encouraging them to seek out new leadership and, especially, to encourage the youth. I tried to give them a vision that was a little less rigid.

At the most recent catechist meeting, there were a good number of people from this zone, including some young people. There was a different spirit at the meeting, less conflict and complaining. Something had happened that was good to see.

On Sunday I went to Tegucigalpa since I had to begin the process of seeking five more years of residency. It was a long 8 hour trip, luckily on an air-conditioned that was rather comfortable (and cost more than the other busses.)

Riding on a bus provides a different view of the countryside we pass through. As I’ve noted some other times, the poverty is sometimes very blatant. There are shacks made of mud and sticks – bahareque, they call it here; I think they call it sticks and wattle in other places. Many of the people in these shacks are probably squatting on the land, since they have no other place to call home. It was for me a poignant reminder of the poverty.

I stayed at an inexpensive hotel in Comayagüela , where I was advised not to go out alone at night. But I remembered that a Honduran Iowa State University graduate was in Honduras and I called him.

I met his wife and two daughters and we ate in a Chinese restaurant. We also met on Monday and had lunch at Subways and dinner at a Honduran restaurant. The Subways was in an area full of franchises – Wendy’s, Kentucky Fired Chicken, Dunkin’ Donuts, Burger King, and more. Was I really in Honduras? Yes, I was in Tegucigalpa -  a different world than Santa Rosa and the villages I work in.

My friend, a professional, remarked that the franchises of US chains have a twenty-year freedom from paying taxes! But the local chains have to pay taxes. So who has the economic advantage? He and his wife also talked with me a bit about politics. I don’t feel free to share what they said except for their horror at the continuing corruption they see around them

Monday, I spent several hours in migration, trying to get the paper work done to obtain five more years of residency. It was full of surprises. The letter I had from the bishop had an error in it and I’d need to get a new one. Luckily, a friend had told me that she had gone to the archdiocesan offices and they had provided a letter. That was a long taxi ride. I also found out that I’d have to rescind my current residency in order to ask for five more years. And so I am now here as a tourist – even though they have all my documents. Then I had to pay $100 for every year of permanency here that I asked for - $500. I had the money in dollars, but the bank wouldn’t accept dollars and wouldn’t cash more than $200. Luckily my friend helped me get the dollars cashed.

I had a little time after all the stuff in migration and so went downtown. I visited a few bookstores and then dropped into the cathedral.

San Miguel cathedral altar

I wasn’t ready for what I saw – a huge altar piece in gold with a large shiny gold pulpit. I kept thinking about where this gold probably came from – the hard labor of the indigenous – as well as the poverty of the country.

San Miguel cathedral pulpit

I left after a few prayers.

I took an early morning bus from Tegucigalpa. We passed the Soto Cano air force base near Comayagua. It is called a Honduran base but it was built by the US in the 1980s to support the militaries in Central America and still has almost 600 US military personnel there. 

The Soto Cano/Palmerola air base from the bus.

Some see their presence here – and in other parts of Honduras as a continuation of a long history of imperialism – economic (e.g., the banana companies), political, and military. It doesn’t help that in the past few weeks US Drug Enforcement Agency personnel have been involved in three shooting which have left five Hondurans dead. (If you haven’t heard of this, check out this article.)

I arrived back in Santa Rosa de Copán about 1:30 and went to Caritas to do some work.

Today, Wednesday, July 18, I went out with some visitors from one of the donors of a Caritas project. We went to San José Quelacasque where a Dutch aid agency is financing a major water and sanitation project. The two visitors, Salvadorans, let the community in an evaluation of the project.

Gathered in San José Quelacasque

It was a delight to be there. I know some of the people and was warmly greeted – “Ola, Juancito!” The evaluation, attend by over 110 residents of the community, showed how much they had learned, how they had organized themselves, and how much their lives have improved with several projects. It’s always a delight to visit a community that is working together to provide for a better life for all the people.

There was good participation from the women present.

It’s still a poor community, but it is taking major steps. It’s threatened by poor roads, areas susceptible to landslides, and the possibility of a dam that would flood some of their farmlands. But they are going forward.

And so I’ve seen a bit of everything – the ostentatious gold of the cathedral, the demeaning poverty of the dirt shacks, the US franchise invasion of Honduras, the efforts of people in small villages to live their faith, and a community planning its own future.

Where will Honduras go? US imports or self-development, continuation of the massive inequality or efforts to help people have decent and sustainable livelihoods? Part depends on the Honduran people, much depends on the rich here. But a lot also depends on the US.

I hope and pray – and will continue to work – for a Honduras where people can live worthy of their calling as children of God, made in God’s image and likeness.

No comments: