On June 28, 2009, Honduras President Mel Zelaya was arrested in the early hours of the morning and flown to Costa Rica.
Departing from my usual blogs that relate more to my personal experiences, I think it is important to reflect on what I see as the results of that event. These reflections are rather opinionated, but reflect what I see and feel from my ministry among the poor in western Honduras.
Zelaya, with all his many faults, had been moving closer to positions that favored the poor and undermined the power of the political and financial elites in Honduras. One move that especially threatened them was his proposal for a new mining law that would put more controls on the mining industry, would prohibit open pit gold mining (with its use of cyanide), and would impose higher taxes of the mining industries (which typically paid a 2 or 3% tax.)
The coup resulted in months of conflict and repression by government forces. The Resistance was largely peaceful though there was some minimal violence by the Resistance – throwing rocks and burning tires – but they lacked the weapons of governmental forces.
The coup resulted in a withdrawal of much international aid, except from the US. I believe it also permitted the increase of the influence of drug traffickers and organized crime in the country, even among the police, the military, and many levels of government.
The poor justice system which left most crimes uninvestigated and few convictions worsened. Impunity increased.
The power of the elites increased, especially in the National Congress which recently passed new mining legislation and a law that will permit setting up areas controlled by foreign governments or corporations as types of model cities.
In the face of this violence has increased to extreme levels, with multiple causes – poverty, drug-trafficking, organized crime, growth of gangs, vengeance killings (because the justice system doesn’t operate well), corruption in the police and military - as well as in many other government agencies.
There is also increased repression of groups and people who work for social change, by both mining interests and large agribusiness leaders. There have been over 100 killings of campesinos in the Aguan region in northern Honduras because of conflicts between campesinos and the rich owners of African palm plantations.
The violence became so pronounced in the north coast department of Atlantida that not only the Claretian missionaries but also the bishops and the diocese issued statements, found on the Caritas website here.
An English translation of the statement of the diocese of La Ceiba can be found here.
A Resistance movement began soon after the coup and garnered support of many sectors of society. The Resistance and other groups began to hold workshops on citizenship and consciousness-raising. The Resistance also formed a political party and chose the wife of Mel Zelaya, Xiomara Castro, as their candidate. According to most polls, she holds the lead among all the candidates. I have my reservations about the transformation of the Resistance into a political party, mostly because I believe that the process of transformation needs a process of political formation and consciousness-raising that the Resistance began but which seems to be less of a priority now than winning the elections this November.
But where are we now?
I believe the governmental system here is broken, partly because of the rigid two-party system that has shared power in the last 120 some years, partly because of the collaboration of police, military, with organized crime.
This week the national office of Caritas released a video and a study on violence in Honduras. The press release was pointed:
7. As factors and actors which generate crime and violence, they highlight: a) organized crime and drug-trafficking which have subordinated the gangs and have penetrated the institutions of the state; b) the gangs of young people, together with the “angry neighborhoods;” c) common crime; d) the illegal traffic of arms and the permissiveness of the Control of Firearms Law; e) the police and the military; and f) the communications media which, before informing and educating, contribute to the promotion of a culture of fear and violence.8. Among the causes of violence and criminality these stand out: a) the institutional weakness of the State and of the whole system of citizen security; b) the social inequalities and inequity which exclude 25% of the youth from education, employment, and income; c) the transnational character of criminality; d) the violence within families and the migrations; e) the lack of public spaces and of recreation sites; f) the high consumption of drugs and alcohol, which is growing among the youth.9. The [government] policies to prevent violence have not been made concrete in long-term actions. What have happened are temporary actions to react in the face of the phenomenon and not to prevent it. The experiences which arise from the citizenry have not been valued and have lacked the accompaniment of the States to these initiatives in such a way as to become public policies of prevention….
The evening of the day of the Caritas press conference Honduran President Pepe Lobo reacted with a speech that reflects several aspects of the problem here. A translated text can be found here.
Here are example of some problems I see in his approach:
“We managed to curb the rising trend of violence since 2006, combining prevention and control tasks to regain peace for all Hondurans in communal living spaces.”
Many would contest this.
“We decided to bring the military into the streets, as the majority of Hondurans feel safer.”
The militarization of police functions is, I believe, misguided, and many people fear a return to the 1980s when the military was responsible for torture and repression. The lack of a civilian police, based in the communities, with careful control of police personnel is a major cause of the problems of violence and crime.
“We have a deep conviction that the answers begin with the community; In that sense, my government has emphasized programs such as 10 Mils Bono, Bono Solidario for our seniors, Computers for Children, and has achieved 113 days of continuous classes, so we can say that the classrooms are open.”
These programs, except for achieving 113 days of continuous classes, are largely “charitable” projects which, I believe, help create dependency and are easy ways that political parties can use the bonos [free money or articles] to create political dependencies that make Tammany Hall look good.
Where can Honduras go from here?
I’ll leave that to another day, when I’ve had a chance to look at the Caritas study in depth.