Sunday, April 14, 2013

So-called roads

A few days ago I read an interesting blog entry of a Canadian working in Copán Ruinas. She proposed that a major way to improve Honduras would be to work on the roads.

A week ago I was driving in Guatemala, a country almost as poor as Honduras and it was a decent experience. I didn’t have to dodge potholes that would take out your tire if you went through them too fast. There were a few places where the road was only dirt – but they were clearly marked as "faults" and not all that bad.

But a few miles into Honduras the major road from the tourist attraction of Copán Ruinas was a mess. Even part of the dirt and gravel road from Santa Isabel to Dulce Nombre was better – in many places – than this and several of the major paved roads here.

I remember seven years ago visiting Honduras after a visit to El Salvador. As I crossed the border I felt something was different. It was the infrastructure.

Why can El Salvador and Guatemala have fairly decent roads but major highways here in western Honduras are disastrous?

And the back roads here? In the rainy season some are nearly impassable, even with four wheel drive vehicles. Last December I had to ride a mule to get to one village.

When I was in El Salvador in 1992, I had to walk four hours on a dirt road to get to some communities. Within a few years the road was well-paved and buses regularly run.

Why are the roads so bad here? 

Corruption and inefficiency are two obvious causes. But there may be more.

The roads are terrible despite the fact that Honduras’ fuel taxes, the highest in Central America, brought in about 6 billion lempiras last year (according to industry spokesmen) – that’s more than 300 million dollars. But its budget last year was 3.5 billion lempiras and this year’s is 2.623 billion lempiras.

As far as I can tell, the fuel taxes don’t go into a designated fund but are put into a single account. The National Congress then decides how much goes for each area, a process that is open for corruption and favoritism.

An obvious example of both corruption and inefficiency is the seven kilometer stretch between the main highway and Dulce Nombre. In March 2008 – five years ago – a project was “inaugurated” to pave that stretch of dirt road. It was widened and flattened. But today it is still a dirt road.

This is despite two blockades of the highway by people in the area, including four mayors and the support of at least one major coffee producer. The parish, though, was probably most responsible for bringing out the people

After the last blockade in December 2010, the Minister of Roads came out to Dulce Nombre and promised that work would begin by the next February. The road was scraped to make it more level, but nothing more. Somehow the money for the project had disappeared.

Since then the road is occasionally leveled – but this is paid for by the local municipalities!

It’s not that work on roads is impossible. A major stretch of the road that goes to the municipality of San Augustín is good – several bridges have been built or rebuilt, gravel has been put down. Why? The mayor decided to do something, most probably because this is a coffee region and good access roads are necessary.

And so, what can be done?

I don’t know, but I think it is part of the structural injustice that is endemic here, noted especially in the governmental and economic sectors.

Change is desperately needed.


Jody Paterson said...

Glad that you were inspired to write more about the road situation in Honduras! We were struck by how much better the roads were in Guatemala as well. The unbelievable condition of the roads really is holding Honduras back.

Mike Allison said...

During the 1990s, a lot of people complained that the US and foreign donors were putting so much of its limited resources into building roads in El Salvador. That continued with the first recently completed Millennium Compact. However, it has helped to connect the country. Commute time to the capital from rural areas of the country has been cut drastically. Small businesses also have more opportunities. It's so much better than it used to be.

However, Honduras is five times larger than El Salvador which is going to make the infrastructure much more expensive and difficult to address.

John (Juan) Donaghy said...

I haven't traveled a lot in Guatemala, but even though Guatemala is larger than Honduras, the roads I've seen are significantly better.