Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Locust Effect and the poor in western Honduras

Today I finished The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros. It has stirred my imagination – and my desire to work more on the violence that affects us here in Honduras. I do recommend studying it.

I must admit that I began this book with a prejudice. I feared that the authors would be proposing merely policy and legal recommendations for dealing with violence and would not have much to say about the need for developing a culture of nonviolent conflict transformation.

I know the hidden violence among the poor. I’ve seen it vividly once. I described it here.

I’ve heard many more tales from people I know. A friend riding on the back of a motorcycle escaped death because of a watermelon between him and the driver who was killed. A catechist’s husband was killed because he refused to back down from testifying against the perpetrator of a murder in his community. I drove to the hospital a woman who had been hacked by her husband with a machete. A mayor I know was shot while driving and woman and her infant to a clinic; he escaped, but the months-old infant was killed.

I have come to see that much of the rural violence I hear of here in western Honduras can be divided into several different types:
  • There is the domestic violence.
  • There are the attacks, often by machete, of drunk or drugged persons, usually males.
  • There are the vengeance killings. A member of one family kills a member of another family and, since there is no functioning justice system, the other family takes the law into their own hands and kills the perpetrator – or a member of his family.
  • There are the quarrels over land.
  • There are the attacks related to common crimes, such as robbery.
  • There are cases of small bands of robbers who use violence. There is supposedly one village in the parish where a band is in control.

There are several other types, some of which I have only heard about, though they are very real.
  • There’s the violence of police and paramilitary groups against certain segments of the society.
  • There is the repressive violence of private guards, often allied with the local police and military, to maintain the privileges of the rich and powerful. This is very clearly seen in place like the Baja Aguan in northern Honduras where there are serious land disputes, Arizona in Atlantida where there is concern about mining interests, and in Rio Blanco where indigenous Lenca groups are seeking to prevent a dam that will flood their lands.
  • There is the violence of the drug traffickers who operate in several parts of the country, often with the cooperation of local officials.
  • There is the violence of the gangs – another story altogether.

I am convinced that much of the local violence here in western Honduras is related to the lack of a functional justice system (police, public prosecutors, and judiciary) and to an underdeveloped capacity to deal with conflict.

In looking at responses, The Locust Effect deals mostly with the violence associated with domestic violence, slavery or forced labor, trafficking, and corruption, rather than the cases I most often see and hear about where I am. The authors do devote a few pages to partly successful attempts in Sierra Leone to provide legal empowerment to the poor that would help find ways to respond to common everyday violence.

I still wonder what we can do in a rural parish to face the systems that allow violence to continue, from the dysfunctional justice system to the roots of violence in the lives and habits of many people.

The Locust Effect offers suggestions for part of this process and recognizes the problems and difficulties. As the authors write:
… we know these criminal justice systems are indispensable for the poor, and we know it’s possible to build them— but we also know that building them is difficult, costly, dangerous, and unlikely.
In the face of these realities, what seems most needful and doable are experimental projects of transformation that bring real change, that teach us, and that inspire hope— because the vulnerable poor need all three.
I believe we also need to find ways to help people deal with conflict in creative ways. Some of this will help people develop skills of the imagination to respond to violence that undercut its effect. Some of this will help people deal with the conflicts of daily life. Some of this will help people deal creatively with major conflicts over specific problems, for example land issues, inter-family rivalries, and the conflict generated by political ties. It may also help them with the little violences they encounter in daily life.

In this I am influenced by my readings in nonviolence and issues like street safety. A fascinating article by George Lakey on the Waging Nonviolence blog, here, is just one example of this. The training sessions I've had in nonviolent action and alternatives to violence had awakened me to these possibilities.

Above all, I think working on the level of the poor will help them develop the courage and the imagination to demand the changes needed in their lives and in the criminal justice and judicial system that will lead to more security for the poor

I believe it is very important is to help people grow in their understanding of conflict and to help them develop their capacities to deal creatively and imaginatively to conflict. That would be an important step that can begin now.

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