Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Today about 50 people walked in procession from the Catholic Radio station in Santa Rosa to the Cathedral, carrying their bibles and singing. September 30 is the feast of St. Jerome, a translator of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, and so in Latin America today is sometimes celebrated among Catholics as the day of the Bible. Some churches celebrated the previous Sunday with processions in their towns and villages. (Protestants also celebrate the day of the Bible this month since the first Protestant Spanish version was also published in September.)

But, even though de facto president Micheletti is consulting sectors of the government to repeal his executive decree (virtually a state of siege) at an appropriate time, public meetings are still not allowed.

Using the decree as its legal basis the military removed about 50 campesinos from the National Agrarian Institute (INA). They have been there for a number of days presumably to prevent the coup government from ransacking the building in order to remove documents about land ownership which have not yet been adjudicated.

Today I heard of a public meeting that went off, without problems, on Monday in the town of Lepaera, in the department of Lempira. About 3000 participated in a peaceful anti-coup march and demonstration. The mayor called on the police in Gracias to send reinforcements which obviously were not needed. Despite this, the demonstration was a success and was followed by a Mass celebrated by the parish priest, Padre Estebán, a fiery priest who in June had been promoting the poll to set up a fourth ballot box in November to establish a Constituent Assembly (a type of Constitutional Convention) to rewrite the constitution.

The diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán is the only diocese that has taken a public position against the coup. The bishop has been outspoken and stated his intent to accompany pastorally the Resistance. During a recent television interview he was berated for his stance. I didn’t see the interview (since I don’t have a television.)

But the diocese has taken, with its communication of September 24, a firm stand against the coup. During the clergy study week, they looked at the present situation. the bishop looked at the current situation in relation to a sixty-nine day strike in 1954. (I need to do a quick course in Honduran history.) One phrase from their notes struck me - “We see the same problem in the 1954 strike and today – the traditional parties [the National and Liberal parties] do not support the strikes and the powerful repress the people and the means of communication.”

The priests and the bishops together also studied Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical Caritas in veritate -Charity in Truth.

Beside issuing the communication, the priests made some suggestions for the work of the diocese including establishing a legal aid office, educating the people in Catholic Social Teaching, creating a school for education in politics and citizenship, creating a diocesan bulletin, spreading the theology of liberation from the standpoint of the Sacred Scriptures, and accompanying the people in their struggles for justice.

Thus the diocese will be issuing a bulletin twice a month to give people information and formation on the national reality from the perspective of faith. The Caritas Citizen Participation team will begin to do bi-monthly programs on the diocesan radio station on citizenship education.

Their project has been quite successful in forming leaders at the local level. But they are treating sensitive topics, especially these days. When we heard of the latest restrictions on human rights they asked the director to write the police to respect their work and not interfere in the work of the church.

But the work goes ahead. One of the program staff is scheduled to do a workshop with youth in one of the parishes. The first day will treat on themes of democracy and political participation. The second day, at the young people’s request, they will treat the question of drugs. The staff person is revising the materials developed by the national office of Caritas to make them more accessible. A small but important effort.

The work in political participation in this diocese is continuing, though there seems to be more hesitancy in some of the other Caritas offices. But interestingly, today a poster came from the national Caritas office.

When you participate there's democracy.

Interestingly an important question is whether Caritas will participate as observers in the November elections. I am almost certain that Caritas Santa Rosa will not, but I don't know about the other diocesan offices. We in Santa Rosa see that there are many ways to participate in democracy, especially at the local level.

I recall a remark made during the Salvadoran war by Monsignor Ricardo Urioste that helps put elections into perspective for me. "Elections are but one note in the symphony of democracy."


Notes about the wider church

Jesuit Father Ismael Moreo - Padre Melo – has been receiving death threats by text messages to the mobile phones of the radio station – Radio Progreso – which he directs. The messages offer half a million lempiras (about $26,500) for the head of Padre Melo.

He is not sure if they are a joke - a rather sick one, I’d say – or are meant to create “an adverse psychological environment, but in the context in which we live with grave threats to freedom of expression, to the means of communication and to all those who are opposed to the de facto [Micheletti] regime, in this moment when everything is controlled, I believe that you’ve got to take this type of message seriously.”

In an interview he added that “We hold responsible this government which finds itself cornered in an enclosure from which there is only one exit – the return as quickly as possible to constitutional rule to avoid greater harm.”

In Tegucigalpa it appears that auxiliary bishop Juan José Pineda is taking a larger role in the current crisis. It appears that he visited Zelaya in the Brazilian again on Sunday night and has also had contacts with Micheletti (There is also a report that the cardinal, back from Rome, visited Zelaya.)

Bishop Pineda noted that all Honduras want to be part of the solution, including members of the Resistance.

The bishop was quoted in a Honduran newspaper as giving his personal opinion “that the parties are still not prepared for a meeting but I believe that there are many ways they are coming close to dialogue [literally, rapprochements to dialogue].

“I believe,” he added, that a point of agreement continues to be (the dialogue of) San José [referring to the meetings in San José, Costa Rica, led by President Oscar Arias]. What happened in San José was a proposal, not an agreement, and I believe we ought to speak now of a San José II.”

I am not sure that is the way that President Arias would see the San José meetings, but that is what the bishop said.


A final word from the life of Saint Jerome:

While he was busy with his translation in his cave in Bethlehem, refugees fleeing the sack of Rome reached Jerusalem. Leaving aside his beloved work of translation he noted, “Today we must translate the word of scripture into deeds and, instead of speaking saintly words, we must act them.”

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is it still a state of siege? Yes, but...

We’re still under the restrictive measures imposed by the Micheletti regime. But this afternoon he stated that he was open to rescinding them, but has to check with the council of ministers that approved it. Everything should be worked out by the end of the week, he intimated.

Why the change? It appears that members of the Congress who had appointed him president after they threw out President Zelaya had deep reservations about the decree and some deputies (congressmen) asked him to rescind the decree.

In the meantime the decree is still in effect. Radio Globe and television station Cholusat Sur were forcibly closed today at 5:30 am. People were prevented from joining the anti-coup march today.

Meanwhile the US ambassador to the Organization of American States called the return of Zelaya “irresponsible and foolish” and also criticized the Micheletti regime’s "deplorable" actions barring entry of an OAS mission and declaring a state of siege on Sunday.

On the church front the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán continues to be the one church voice opposing the coup. However, the chancellor of the Tegucigalpa archdiocese, Father Carlo Magno (that is, Charlemagne), compared those who are calling for “insurrection” with the devil and called them “false prophets.” I wonder what that had to do with the lectionary reading from the letter of James?

In his homily he also called on the people not to pay attention to the calls of those who promote division in the country.

But demonizing the opposition is not a way to promote unity.

Furthermore, as Bishop Luis Alfonso Santos of Santa Rosa has said many times, the division has been here in Honduras for many years. It has not been caused by the crisis.

The divisions we see here have deep roots - a system that keeps economic and political elites in power and preserves inequality and lack of participation.

Sad to say the current situation has intensified divisions and created a polarization that will require many years of efforts for healing if and when the crisis is resolved.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is this a democracy?

Today news sources discovered that the coup regime had issued a decree that restricts some basic human rights. The pretext is that there is a grave threat to peace, with groups promoting insurrection.

Here are parts of what the executive decree says:

There is a restriction for 45 days of certain rights which are guaranteed in the Honduran constitution in these articles:
69: "Personal freedom is inviolable and only under a legal agreement can it be restricted or temporarily suspended."
72: "The emission of thinking [expression of thought] by whatever means of dissemination is free without prior censorship. Those who abuse this right or by direct or indirect means restrict or prevent the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions are responsible before the law."
78: "The freedoms of association and assembly [meeting] are guaranteed as long as they are not opposed to public order and decency [good morals].
81: "Every person has the right to move freely [freedom of movement], to leave, enter, or remain in the national territory.
"No one can be obliged to move their domicile or residence, except in special cases and in accord with the requirements set down by the Law."
84: "No one can be arrested or detained unless there is a written order from the competent authority, issued in accord with the legal formalities and for a reason previously established by law.
"Nevertheless, the offender in flagrante [caught in the act]may be apprehended by an person for the sole purpose of handing that person over to the authorities.
"The person arrest or detained ought to be informed at the time and very clearly of his/her rights and of the deeds which are imputed to him/her; furthermore, the authorities ought to permit the person to inform a relative or a person he or she knows of his/her detention.

The military can act to enforce this alone or with the police.
Freedom of movement can be restricted when the government communicates it through the national announcements on TV and radio.
There is a prohibition of "Every public meeting which is not authorized by political or military authorities."
It is also forbidden to publish in any media (written, televised, or on the radio) something that "offends human dignity or public officials, attempts against the law and government resolutions; whatever attempts (a crime) against peace or the public order." Any groups that do this can have their frequencies shut off.

Every person who is out during the curfew or is thought by the police and military to be a suspect in regard to causing harm to persons or property, and those who join together to commit criminal acts is to be detained. There are several conditions put on the arrest procedures "to avoid future accusations for supposed crimes of torture."

The existence of this document has been acknowledged by coup regime authorities. I don't know if this has to be affirmed by the Honduran Congress, but the "Executive Decree" says it goes into effect when it's published in La Gaceta, an official document of the Honduran government, and when it is received by the Secretary of the National Congress.

Is this a democracy?
What is happening

The extended curfew was ended on Wednesday and so I went to a conference of Project Honduras in Copán Ruinas. The conference bought together mostly people from the US who work with groups in Honduras. I went last year and it was a good way to connect with people working throughout the country. Most are Episcopalians or evangelicals. There were very few Catholics, despite the fast that the country is overwhelmingly Catholic.

The organizer, who has been doing this for a decade, had decided – since before the coup – that there would be no public discussion of politics. But that didn’t stop me from having a few conversations.

Friday night I spoke with an evangelical from San Pedro Sula who is, as far as I can tell, for the National Party candidate, Pepe Lobo. We had a very civil conversation, though it was quite heated and honest, though at times surreal. For example, he told me that a few months before the coup an evangelical leader that President Zelaya was going to permit gay marriage. Such were the rumors that were going around to undermine Zelaya. But my interlocutor also thought that Zelaya had “touched” the rich, in the sense of having touched a live wire because of his actions that sought to assist the poor; therefore they arrested him and threw him out of the country.

I think he was also trying to get me to "accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior." My belief is that Jesus Christ is our interpersonal Savior, Lord above all political leaders, and liberator of the poor.

During the conference I also took advantage of several opportunities to share my views in small groups and to share the view of the church in this part of the country. I had a good number of dialogues.

I felt buoyed up because I had just received the statement of the priests of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán and translated this. (See a previous blog entry.)

Thursday there seemed to be some possibilities after Tegucigalpa auxiliary bishop Juan Pineda visited with President Zelaya in the Brazilian embassy. Four presidential candidates met later with Zelaya. There seemed to be some possibilities for dialogue.

But since then the situation has gotten worse. The Honduran military are using a sound weapon that emits sounds of 151 decibels! There are also reports of use of toxic agents. Though the UN and international human rights have called for an end of the attacks on the embassy, they have continued. (And I have yet to hear a condemnation of these attacks by the Obama administration. I hope they have and that I've only not heard them.)

On Friday, our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonse Santos, attempted to visit the president and others in the embassy. The military would not permit him to enter.

However, the International Red Cross was able to enter as well as some others to bring them food.

But the de facto government just seems to get more intransigent. The Organization of American States sent some government officials to help start a dialogue. Four of them were not allowed to enter the country.

There has been a curfew every night this week. The major curfew that kept us inside for two days seems to have had an economic effect. Jesús Canahuati, vice president of the Honduran chapter of the Business Council of Latin America, mentioned that Honduras was losing $50 million a day during the days of the curfew this week. He also noted that the country’s $14.1 billion economy has lost up to $200 million in investments since June 28, the day of the coup.

But since Wednesday the curfew has not been for the whole country. The Bay Islands, havens for tourists, had been spared since Wednesday noon. Several other parts of the country have also been spared temporarily. The past two nights Puerto Cortes, the major Caribbean port, has been exempted from the curfew. In Copán Ruinas, another tourist site, there was an arrangement with the police that the curfew wouldn’t begin until 11 pm and only go to 4 am. If you are tourist or a major importer or exporter, you are spared the curfew.

I wonder how the curfew is being observed in the countryside. My guess that it is not much observed in the villages. A friend made a pastoral visit to a rural community. Despite the curfew the community had a meeting. But the community could not get to town to sell its goods or buy what they needed.

How long will this continue?

There are reports that a 45 day state of siege has been declared but I have not seen any official report of this. According to the Radio Globo commentator this would mean a suspension of the rights of habeas corpus and rights of association, free expression, and more. The military would be in charge or enforcing this executive degree.

If this is true, Honduras begins to look like a military-enforced dictatorship.

I am supposed to leave on October 4 for three weeks in the US. I almost don’t want to leave. I really want to do what I can to accompany the people of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.


Another perspective

This morning I went to Mass in the San Martin chapel up the hill. Father Henry gave the homily which left me a little confused.

In some ways I think father was reflecting the confusion of the people and their desire for peace.

He talked a lot about peace and reconciliation, very clearly critiquing the use of violence.

He also talked about injustice, taking as his starting point the reading from the letter of James, 5: 1-6. (Read it. It should make you squirm.)

He asked who was rich. I had to raise my hand. But he wouldn’t let the poor off the hook. He talked about injustice in the family, asking at one point, “Are you paying your wife fairly?” – which elicited a laugh from the congregation. He asked about fair wages for employees, including domestic workers. He widened the critique to a local bank – and of course to the country where “10 families” rule and have the economic power.

He critiqued both sides of the current conflict – but very interestingly critiqued specifically only of “the fanatics” of the Resistance, not impugning the whole Resistance. He also specifically called “tercos” – stubborn, obdurate – those in the Presidential Palace and the Brazilian embassy. He mentioned that perhaps in a year or so Micheletti and Zelaya will be kissing each other (as Zelaya did with four presidential candidates this weeks) but they’d both be laughing at us poor.

I think this reflects what many feel. They are fed up with the system that has kept the poor down for 100 plus years (as father also said), but they have great doubts about the politicians.

A final word - from James. I hope that all of use take this to heart.
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud,
and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
James 5: 1-6 (New American Bible translation)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hopes dashed?

A lot has happened in the last two days. I've been at a conference in Copán Ruinas which has kept me occupied without time to really think deeply about what has happened. Check the CNS article mentioned in the previous post. I'll write more tomorrow. But here are some interesting events.

Yesterday Monseñor Juan José Pineda, an auxiliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, visited with President Mel Zelaya. He seems to be seeking a dialogue since a few hours late Zelaya met with four presidential candidates.

But today the Brazilian Embassy where Zelaya is staying has been beset by what are reported to be ear piercing noise and toxic chemicals dropped by a helicopter and sprayed against the embassy.

Also, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán tried to enter the embassy to meet with Zelaya. The military prevented him from entering. "The military argument is the pistol and the rifle."

He is said to have told the president's wife, "I am here on the streets with the poor."

Isn't that where a bishop ought to be!
New CNS article on Honduras

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New statement from the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán

Today after a four day meeting of the priests with the bishop, this statement was issued. The following is my hurried translation.

Communication of the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán

1. We, the presbyterate [the priests] of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, always faithful to the values of the Kingdom of God and to the people whom we have been entrusted to shepherd, illumined by the Word of God and the church Magisterium [teaching authority], have analyzed the phenomenon of the coup d’état and after a mature examination we want to share our reflections about it.

2. We reject the coup d’état because it violates the constitution of the Republic, principally articles 3, 71, 72, 84, and 102, restricts constitutional guarantees, puts the Armed Forces and the National Police in opposition to the humble people, compels the people to insurrection (cf. Constitution article 3), causes instability and unrest in the citizenry, and has caused grief to many families because of homicides, and the wounded and beaten whose number increases every day.

3. The group of families, extremely enriched, with businesses which live from the projects financed by the State with the taxes that the citizenry pays and the money which comes from friendly countries, ought to tell the Honduran people the causes and reasons which brought them to bring about the coup d’état against the government of José Manuel Zelaya Rosales or discredit the usurper government (cfr. Constitution article 3)

4. We believe that no material good is worth the life of so many persons who by orders of Robert Micheletti Baín, head of the Joint Chief of Staffs General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, minister of security Jorge Alberto Rodas Gamero, advisor Billy Joya and bought about by evil agents of the National Police, and this has been done for the purpose of obstructing the people’s demonstrations.

5. We remind all the citizens that no one owes obedience to a usurper government and that no one ought to obey an order to kill persons. (Cfr. Constitution, Article 3)

6. We hold responsible Mr. Roberto Micheletti Baín, the current National Congress and the magistrates of the Supreme Court for all the damages which have come over the people and their possessions after the coup d’état.

7 . As ordained priests, we are in solidarity with our brother in the priesthood, Father Andrés Tamayo, defender of our forests and prophet of these times, demanding that the Catholic Church should not aid the economically rich group but the poor.

8. The coup d’état is the fruit of the unjust distribution of wealth, which generates in Honduras profound inequalities, in regard to food, work, education, health, the possibility of expression and citizen participation, since 80% of our impoverished people is again victim of a power play, where the pride of the most wealthy wishes to intrude.

9. Called by the cry of many of our Catholic and non-catholic brothers [and sisters], who hope from us a prophetic word, in defense of truth and justice, illuminating from our faith the current circumstances and accompanying the people in their suffering of their struggle for vindication, we cite the words of our beloved Pope Benedict XVI: “To desire the common good and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To work for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally.” (Cfr. Caritas in veritate, n. 7)

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ console our people.

“Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. Blessed those who hunger and thirst got justice for they shall be filled.” (Cfr. Matthew 5,6)

10. This coup has been the opportunity to seek the aid of all the countries of the United Nations; because all the nations of the world had taken account of the way Honduras was being administered and governed and how the economic aid, which they were contributing for the social and human development of our country, was being used. We cast out an SOS to all men and women of good will. Do not abandon the five million poor and the two and half million indigent [extremely poor] of Honduras, oppressed today by a military dictatorship to which the traitors of the fatherland have closed ranks.

11. We thank Brazil for giving diplomatic asylum to Honduran president José Manuel Zelaya.

12. Concerned about our fatherland, we will not rest until the constitutional order, interrupted by the coup, is reestablished. With the Word of God, the teaching, coming together, prayer, and above all the celebration of the Holy Mass, we hope to overcome (cfr. Acts 2: 42-47).

13. We do not have enemies, if anyone opposes us it is because of fear of the Catholic religion, which the immense majority of the people in western Honduras belong to.

14. Belonging to a political party ought not be above belonging to the Church, whenever [the church] tries to defend the people against social injustice.

15. We pass on to you what Pope Benedict XVI tells us, about the theology which we ought to profess in the economic and political realm. “This dynamic of charity received and given is what gives rise to the Church's social teaching, which is caritas in veritate in re sociali: the proclamation of the truth of Christ's love in society. This doctrine is a service to charity, but its locus is truth. Truth preserves and expresses charity's power to liberate in the ever-changing events of history. It is at the same time the truth of faith and of reason, both in the distinction and also in the convergence of those two cognitive fields. Development, social well-being, the search for a satisfactory solution to the grave socio-economic problems besetting humanity, all need this truth. What they need even more is that this truth should be loved and demonstrated. Without truth, without trust and love for what is true, there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power, resulting in social fragmentation, especially in a globalized society at difficult times like the present.” (Caritas in veritate, n. 5).

16. We urge you to persevere in the base church communities in order to carry out the popular ministry which we have undertaken in all the parishes.

17. With the powerful help of Our Lady of Suyapa, Helper of Christians, we are sure that you will live free of all weaknesses of body and soul.

18. With the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may you also receive ours.

Your brothers and friends of the presbyterate of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras, Central America.

September 24, 2009


The original Spanish can be found at my Spanish blog.

Slighty revised and corrected, September 27, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A few hours of freedom

The curfew was lifted this morning and so people can circulate from 10 am to 5 pm. I actually left the house a little before to get to the Catholic radio station. The streets weren't empty and shops were open.

I went to the radio station because Padre Fausto and others from the Resistance were talking and taking phone calls. I had called in mentioning that people I know in the US are contacting the State Department and their legislators about the crisis in Honduras.

I'm spending about an hour in an internet café with wireless to do a little work outside the house. This afternoon I'll spend a few hours in Caritas.

While checking the web I found a Catholic News Service article that quoted me, accurately.


A further note about curfews. I stopped by the Caritas office and was talking to two women on the support staff. We noted that the curfew really hurts the people who earn their daily bread each day - perhaps by selling vegetables and fruits on the street or making tortillas. They make a little each day so that their family can have something to eat the next day. Also, one woman noted, the people in this area are not accustomed to buy food for more than the day and so they did not have food stored up. This confirms what I have been thinking. The curfew hurts the poor!
Keeping the world from falling apart

I wonder if there are twenty men alive in the world who see things as they really are. That would mean that there are twenty men who were free, who were not dominated or even influenced by any attachment to any created thing or to their own selves or to any gift of God, even to the highest, the most supernaturally pure of his graces. I don't believe that there are twenty such men alive in the world. But there must be one or two. They are the ones who are holding everything together and keeping the universe from falling apart.

Thomas Merton, "Detachment," New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Z-day 2

Very early this morning the coup government sent the military to forcibly dislodge the 500 or more people who had surrounded the Brazilian embassy where President Zelaya was staying. They used tear gas to remove them and supposedly beat some of the people. The government claimed that this was done because of complaints of actions of the protesters and also said that there were no deaths.

The regime is saying that diplomatic immunity does not extend to protection of criminals, a clear threat to attack the Brazilian embassy. There is a lot of concern that coup regime will invade the Brazilian embassy.

There has been a siege of the Brazilian embassy – removing reporters – with soldiers and sharpshooters around the embassy. The electricity, water, and phones have been cut to the Brazilian embassy. (I was glad to hear that the US embassy said that it would assist the Brazilians.) But, as of now, the military have not entered the embassy which would presumably be a serious violation of international law.

But on a national broadcast the government announced that they don't have plans to use violence to enter the embassy.

There are reports from Radio Globo, a pro-resistance radio station, that the military is also cordoning off the area around the US embassy now, and has just told all the foreign press to leave the area. They are also reports that the coup government suspended the constitution and declared a state of emergency. Among the rights suspended is the right of free circulation and assembly.

The church

For about three hours this afternoon the Catholic Radio station here in Santa Rosa broadcast a program discussing the crisis, very much in opposition to the coup. The program included calls to the bishop and the head of Caritas who are at a priests’ study week, analyzing the situation and deciding how to respond as the church in the west of Honduras.

The bishop noted that the Micheletti cup regime has become muy duro - very hard - and intransigent. He repeated a charge that he has made that he believes that the mining companies are behind the coup and had been paying congressmen. He said that the country has to seek more participation of the people in a country with more justice. He severely criticized the parties, allied with the elite, who deceive the people.

On Radio Globo a commentator called for the Cardinal to convoke all the bishops to seek an alternative for a real dialogue in the country.


I spent most of today in the house – washing clothes, cleaning the house, reading, checking out the internet, because there has been a curfew. If you are out you could be arrested. But this is very much like a house arrest of about seven million people here in Honduras.

But I went out and talked with some neighbors and went to the pulpería (corner store) up the street. It appears that the police are not overly strict here. A neighbor who went out beyond the neighborhood was turned back gently by the police.

But in the main cities people are not permitted to go out, even to buy basic foodstuffs. This hasn’t stopped hundreds of demonstrators from going out on the streets, especially in Tegucigalpa. But think of the old woman who needs food or the mother of five kids who has no tortillas.

Micheletti lifted for the tourist island of Roatán at noon on Tuesday. This shows where his interests lie. But in other parts of the country, he extended until 6 am tomorrow morning. That would mean a 36 hour curfew! And, of course, the poor suffer!

A strange suggestion

On the program on the Santa Rosa Catholic radio station the commentators encouraged people to go on line and sign a petition to the United Nations to send in peacemaking forces, cascos azules – blue helmets.

It’s a coup

It looks like a coup, it smells like a coup, it sounds like a coup, but the coup supporters has said that it was only a transition of power.

But this morning there was an opinion article with the byline of the coup regime’s president Roberto Micheletti which read in part, "Coups do not allow freedom of assembly, either. They do not guarantee freedom of the press, much less a respect for human rights. In Honduras, these freedoms remain intact and vibrant."

Yet by the curfew and the violent actions against demonstrations Micheletti has prevented freedom of assembly; freedom of the press has been attacked since various radio and television stations have been attacked by government forces; and Amnesty International and other international human rights groups have documented human rights violations.

There are also possible human rights violations at this moment. And the possible attacks against the sovereign territory of Brazil, its embassy, would be violations of international law.

Just because military personnel are not ruling does not mean it's not a coup.
 This is an unjust coup that is being supported by the wealthy elite, as our bishop, Monseñor Santos, said.

May God have mercy on Honduras.


I'm writing this blog entry early since there are rumors that the government will cut off electric throughout the country some time tonight. I will let you know what happens.

Update: 8:00 pm

The electricity is still on, at least here in Santa Rosa de Copán.

About 6 pm I went across the street (it's a dirt road) to talk with my neighbors who were outside eating oranges. I guess we were violating the curfew. We talked and then amused ourselves with the silly dog tricks of their dog, Dinky. We laughed heartily - our way of snubbing the fear, insecurity, and sense of isolation that the curfew is supposed to instill in our hearts. Bravo, Dinky!

Final note: I hear kids shouting in the street "El pueblo unido jamás será vencido." - "The people united will not be defeated."


9:00 pm update:

The chancellor (foreign minister) of the coup government appeared on national television and radio with a message that the president was willing to talk with anyone, even Mel Zelaya, to protect Honduras' "democracy, freedom, and peace." But he accused Zelaya of coming to Honduras to put obstacles against the elections and to incite demonstrations and disturbances.

Any dialogue with Zelaya would have to be under the norms of the constitution and only if Zelaya implicitly accepted the November elections. Also Zelaya would not be given any immunity and the arrest warrant and charges still held.

What was really strange was that the prepared statement was read in English!

After the chancellor ended the press conference, an announcer came on and added that the curfew had been extended for the peace and security of the country and to avoid violence and destruction of goods. The curfew is now extended until 6 pm tomorrow. That means 48 hours of what amounts to a type of house arrest. You can't leave your house - except for a medical emergency.

A number of neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa are refusing to abide by the curfew and setting up blockades, but most of the country will be suffering under curfew.

How will the poor earn their daily bread? How will they get the food they need? How will their sufferings be relieved?

I think of the kids in the noon lunch program at the bishop's office. No healthy lunch for two days - or more.

Last Saturday the readings in the Benedictine Daily Prayer were from the prophet Micah 3:
Listen, you heads of Jacob,
and rulers of the house of Israel!
Should you not know justice? —
you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin off my people
and the flesh off their bones...

Hear this, your rulers of the house of Jacob
and chiefs of the house of Israel,
who abhor justice
and pervert all equity,
who build Zion with blood
and Jerusalem with wrong!
Its rulers give judgments for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money.
God have mercy on Honduras and bring us justice!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Z-day - President Zalaya returns to Honduras

The United Nations declared today an international day of prayer for peace. I wonder if some of those prayers made their way to the Almighty and then back to Honduras here on earth. For it was Z-day here!

In the middle of our staff meeting at Caritas people got text messages – President Mel Zelaya had returned to Honduras. It was a surprise to us – and to the de facto coup government which denied his presence for several hours.

We found out later that he was in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa after a two day journey through Honduras to arrive there.

Large numbers of people are gathered around the embassy to support President Zelaya. He greeted his supporters and gave a number of interviews. In a BBC interview he mentioned that Organization of American States (OAS) and the United Nations would be coming and he hoped they’d help “begin a dialogue to rebuild Honduran democracy.” The OAS is sending its secretary general José Miguel Insulza tomorrow to be followed by another team. But he may not be able to get here since the government has cancelled all international flights until further notice.

Yet thousands of people are trying to reach Tegucigalpa to support President Zelaya, some getting through and others being stopped by the military.

The de facto coup government responded by calling a curfew from 4 pm today until 7 am tomorrow. It wasn’t announced until about 3:30 pm and so many of us didn’t get home until after the curfew started. Here in Santa Rosa they gave us until 5 to get home. But many of the people around the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa are staying there. I read a report of a old woman who said she wasn’t going to observe the curfew because the de facto government has no authority to order a curfew.

Later in the afternoon de facto president Roberto Micheletti went on all the national tv and radio stations and reiterated his intransigence. The return of Zelaya has not changed the situation at all, he said. He claimed that Zelaya had come to stop the “celebration” of the November elections. I know the Spanish word “celebración” doesn’t always mean celebration, but with Micheletti’s cheers “¡Viva Honduras!” at the end of his speech, followed by cheers of the crowd with him I think it’s the appropriate, though perhaps ironic, translation.

In the meatime, the coup government is trying to silence the opposition

Electricity was cut in Tegucigalpa where the Brazilian Embassy is as well as the areas where two opposition media, Radio Globo and TV channel 36, are located. A bit later they got electricity – half an hour Radio Globo asked for generators and the head of the electrical workers union promised to send technicians to set them up.

Earlier today a military convoy sent to shut down the Jesuit-run Radio Progreso in Yoro but people came and defended the station nonviolently.

There are some other nonviolent efforts. I heard on Radio Globo (operating for a while on generators) that a few legislators opposed to the coup may be initiating a hunger strike on the grounds of the Congress building.

I pray and hope that this continues to be nonviolent. I believe that the Resistance is now committed to nonviolence but what about the military and police?

Pray for us – that what comes from this will help bring the people a sense of their dignity and power so that there may be a real democracy with justice for the poor in Honduras.


Update: There are reports that the coup government has extended the curfew until 6:00 pm tomorrow. That's 26 hours preventing people from walking or driving or leaving their houses. Isn't that a violation of human rights?
Article on Bishop Luis Alfonso Santos of Santa Rosa de Copán

This interesting article on Santa Rosa bishop, Monseñor Santos, has been circulated in the Catholic press but is not available on the CNS site. I obtained permission to post it for 30 days.

Honduran bishop says he will try to launch dialogue to resolve crisis

By Paul Jeffrey Catholic News Service

EUGENE, Oregon (CNS) -- A Honduran bishop told Catholic News Service he would launch an effort to resolve the apparently intractable crisis in the Central American country.

Honduran Bishop Luis Santos Villeda of Santa Rosa de Copan told Catholic News Service Sept. 16 he would see "if an internal dialogue is possible" between "the Resistance" -- Hondurans who oppose the de facto government installed in a June 28 coup -- "and the economically powerful who are behind the coup."

"Dialogue many times seems impossible at the beginning, but as things get clarified the parties come to accept it," he said. "And attempting to open a dialogue is strategically important at this point, because if the armed forces and the police continue killing the people of the Resistance -- they've already killed eight -- and breaking their armswith batons, this could provoke widespread resentment that could evolve into a civil war."

Bishop Santos has participated in two public demonstrations of the Resistance. On Sept. 12 he celebrated Mass with eight other priests during a demonstration in the streets of Santa Barbara, and the following day he was joined by six other priests as he celebrated Mass during a demonstration in La Esperanza.

Yet the bishop denied he is a member of the Resistance.

"It's the people who are in the Resistance, not me," he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview. "My task is to provide pastoral accompaniment, encouraging them spiritually to love God and their neighbor. My message is that faith in Jesus Christ and the love of God are necessary to confront the social injustice that reigns in Honduras and which has become more visible with the coup d'etat."

Bishop Santos said that national elections, scheduled by the de facto government for Nov. 29, are likely to aggravate the tense situation.

"Those in the Resistance don't want elections if (deposed President) Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales doesn't return to the country. So there will be resistance to voting, and since the armed forces and police will be in charge of the elections, I suspect there will be violence between the Resistance and the armed forces," he said.

The bishop said he spoke by telephone Sept. 15 with Zelaya, who accepted the mediation effort. Zelaya has not been allowed to return to Honduras since being flown in his pajamas into exile in Costa Rica during the coup.

Bishop Santos said he had invited some other political leaders and influential citizens, whom he declined to name, to join in the mediation effort.

The bishop said he had not yet contacted Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, "since he's very astute and would surely make videos to present me in public as favoring him and the coup. I don't want to fall in that trap."

Bishop Santos said another agenda item for any dialogue should be planning a national constituent assembly that would consider rewriting parts of the country's constitution.

"The present constitution was created by the economic elite of the country, and for 27 years the two political parties have been incapable of resolving the basic problem of Honduras, which is social injustice. We're one of the worst countries in Latin America in terms of inequality. Nor have they resolved the lack of education or health care for the poor," he said.

Bishop Santos' perspective on his country's political crisis is different from that of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, who has defended the coup as a legitimate measure to derail an unconstitutional power grab by Zelaya.

Bishop Santos said he had not spoken with the cardinal since a meeting of the bishops' conference in the wake of the coup.

"It's difficult to speak with the cardinal," he said, citing Cardinal Rodriguez's multiple obligations.

With grassroots opposition to the de facto regime growing by most accounts, the Micheletti government faces increased international pressure. The U.S. government has officially terminated more than $30 million in nonhumanitarian aid; canceled the visas of Micheletti, several Cabinet ministers, Supreme Court judges and a handful of wealthy Honduran business leaders; and announced it would not recognize the November elections if carried out by the de facto regime.

On Sept. 15 the European Union warned it was about to levy even stronger sanctions if Zelaya is not allowed to return.

Bishop Santos applauded the moves, but said the U.S. government was sending mixed messages about its response to the Honduran crisis.

"President (Barack) Obama and (Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton have a point of view, but the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have a contrary point of view," the bishop said. "The coup was carried out with the knowledge of the U.S. government, because it wasn't convenient for them to let (Venezuelan President) Hugo Chavez or anyone else have any power in Honduras. But the civilians in the U.S. government can't accept a coup, so there's a dialectic at play that we hope will resolve itself soon."

Copyright (c) 2009 Catholic News Service Reprinted with permission of CNS.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Agricultural projects

I grew up in a blue collar suburb of Philadelphia. My dad’s father had a greenhouse for raising flowers. My father as the youngest son worked on the family's large lawn and in the greenhouse. But when he moved out to the suburbs he had a small yard, to avoid the work, I think.

But when I moved out to Iowa in 1983 I began to get really interested in agriculture. Iowa brings that on – but being involved in campus ministry at a land grant university deepened my interest. And so here in Honduras, where most of the people live in the country and try to sustain a livelihood off the land, I am even more interested in agriculture. In some ways I wish I had taken some time in Ames to learn more. But that only means that here in Honduras I have to find ag teachers. And they are here, campesinos who’ve worked the land for years as well as some incredible persons who have a storehouse of agricultural knowledge that I think some profs would envy.

This past Friday and Saturday I had the opportunity to see two parish-based agricultural programs that are just beginning but hold a lot of promise. They both seek to increase the food security of the people involved but also see the need to provide some crops for market.

Friday I went with Manuel, an agriculture program staff from Caritas, to Pinalejo, in the department of Santa Barbara. It’s in one of the parishes of the dioceses staffed by Spanish Passionist priests. Padre Julián is working with members of his parish to begin a series of projects. A young agronomist (who has a 40 manzana banana plantation nearby) is volunteering his time to help. This is amazing since I have not found many Hondurans with a volunteer ethic. Mauricio is very clear that he is doing this as part of his faith, responding to a God who calls us to love our neighbors.

The project is multi-faceted. One part is working with greenhouses that have been sent from Spain. There are efforts to improve the production of basic grains (corn and beans) and to introduce or improve family gardens. But one of the most ambitious – and possibly most beneficial projects – is to set up in the parish a sort of vegetable and basic grains market. The project would buy the vegetables and grains at a price that is the same as or higher than what the buyers are paying but would sell them at an equal or a lower price than they are being sold for in the market. In this way both the producers and the consumers would benefit. It will be interesting to see how this works out. At their October meeting they will elect a governing board – a commercialization committee.

After the meeting Mauricio explained to the 20 men and 1 woman how to start banana “offshoots” in soil-filled plastic bags (which speeds up the early growth process). He is providing them with 800 offshoots. There might be a small price but all who receive the offshoots have to provide the parish with offshoots from their place – therefore seeking to make the program somewhat sustainable. And, as Mauricio said, there’s always a market for bananas.

Saturday morning I went out to the parish of Dulce Nombre. They have an ambitious project for 23 villages of the parish, financed but Manos Unidas, a Spanish non-governmental organization, that includes work in production of basic grains, family gardens, and sustainable agricultural practices. The other villages will also be helped, mostly with family garden projects, with funds sent from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames.

Don Claro Lara had been working with the group the previous day on theory of sustainable gardens and other topics including terraces and zero tillage. I arrived to find the group out in the parish garden hoeing and preparing the beds for seeds. I was pleasantly surprised to see 37 people at work. They were from 19 villages and included 13 women and a large contingent of young people in their teens and twenties. It was quite impressive. They planted some crops but one bed was set aside as a started bed for onions and two other crops.

After this I was talking with Father Efraín Romero, the pastor who wrote up the project and obtained the funding. He was pleased with the workshop but told me that the parish had distributed 14,000 pineapple starters. The people will have to pay back in two years by providing two starter plants from the ones they have grown. Another sustainable project, with a very marketable crop.

These were two good days – opportunities to see what can be done, as well as to see what are some of the problems and obstacles.

I really hope Caritas Santa Rosa can begin to promote and get funding for these and other sustainable development projects. I hope to work on these after I get back from a three week trip to the US in October, first to the east coast to visit friends and family and then two weeks in Iowa.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos

Monseñor Santos is the bishop of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán in western Honduras, the poorest diocese in the country.

For many years he has been outspoken in his concern for the poor - starting with the Salvadoran and Guatemalan refugees in the 1980s. He has spoken out against numerous injustices: open pit gold mining that uses cyanide leaching, drug-trafficking, and the rampant corruption in Honduras. It is thus not too surprising that he has been the only Honduran Catholic bishop to speak out openly against the coup.

I have read a recent Catholic News Service article on the bishop (which I have not yet encountered on the internet). A brief excerpt of it can be found in the Boston Pilot. The bishop sees his role, in relation to the Resistance to the soup, as providing "pastoral accompaniment, encouraging them spiritually to love God and their neighbor. My message is that faith in Jesus Christ and the love of God are necessary to confront the social injustice that reigns in Honduras and which has become more visible with the coup d'etat." He also told Catholic News Service Sept. 16 he would see "if an internal dialogue is possible" between "the Resistance" -- Hondurans who oppose the de facto government installed in a June 28 coup -- "and the economically powerful who are behind the coup."

I hope the full article becomes available on line since it provides a few new insights on the situation in Honduras.

However there are a number of articles now circulating that are, as far as I can tell, not factual. One report says that he said that the Pope is against the coup and the pope told him this at a 15 minute interview he had with the Pope in July.

I heard Bishop Santos speak last Sunday in La Esperanza, Intibucá, at a Mass after a March of the Resistance through the towns of Intibucá and La Esperanza in the department of Intibucá.

He noted that "We [the bishops] are not infallible." One may reject Cardinal Rodríguez's seeming support of the coup for he can make a mistake."

He then noted that last year he spoke privately with Pope Benedict XVI for 15 minutes. This was during the Honduran bishops' ad limina visit, which the bishops have to make every five years to report to the Vatican. Then he said that the Pope is in favor of the Honduran people, not in favor of the coup.

I take this as saying that the Pope has not expressed an opinion in favor of the coup; I don't believe it means that the Pope is against the coup.

The press has, I believe, misquoted the bishop. This has led at least one right-wing commentator, Gerardo Paredes, to call the bishop a liar in a vituperative blog entry.

I believe that Bishop Santos was trying to undercut the opinion that the Cardinal represents the whole Honduran church and that therefore one can assume that the pope supports the coup.

On July 12 - nine days after the Cardinal read the Honduran Bishops Conference statement on Honduran national television and radio - Pope Benedict XVI spoke of Honduras in his noon talk. It is a very pastoral message and avoids taking a position on the coup.
During these days I am following with active concern the events in Honduras.Today I want to invite you to pray for this dear country so that, with the motherly intercession of Our Lady of Suyapa, those who are responsible in that nation and all its inhabitants will travel the path of dialogue, of mutual understanding and reconciliation. This will be possible only if, overcoming particular [individual] inclinations, each one makes the effort to seek the truth and pursue the common good. This is the condition to assure a peaceful life together and an authentic democratic life! To the beloved Honduran people I assure them my prayers and I send them a special Apostolic Benediction.

The Pope's words do reflect the call for dialogue found in the July 3 Honduran Bishops Conference statement, but such a call is also found in the bishops' June 19 statement and a June 26 statement by the Jesuits' Radio Progreso and ERIC-SJ, both written before the coup, as well as in the July 2 Message of the Santa Rosa de Copán's Diocesan Pastoral Council, which is clearly against the coup.

I am glad the bishop is speaking out openly and courageously. Not everyone will agree with him - not even all of the priests in his diocese and definitely not all the Catholics in the diocese of Santa Rosa. The division in the diocese reflects the deep polarization that exists in the country.

But I believe that he, like others, has been misunderstood.

What I continue to pray for is a peace based in justice and truth, where the poor in Honduras have what they need to live decent lives and are able to participate freely in the economic and political decisions of their country.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Wake Up Call

Every once in a while something affects me so deeply that it calls me back to the deepest reasons for being here in Honduras: "to be of service to those most in need."

Yesterday I went to the comedor de niños, the lunch program for kids in the diocesan building. About forty kids showed up throughout the hour when we feed them. Many of the kids know me – and even give me a hard time. Many of them are barefooted, even though they have to walk a distance. Almost all of them have to be reminded to wash their hands – with soap!

The meal was baleadas, a typical Honduras meal of a folded flour tortilla with beans, cheese, and cream inside. Zamira, the cook, makes the tortillas from scratch and so it’s a special treat which the kids enjoy. Most of the kids asked for a third baleada – and some asked for more. (I don’t know if they ate all four or took some home for other members of their families.) They were hungry – and I’m sure they need more food.

After the meal, as we’ve done since March, the kids get a vitamin, from a stash that junior high kids from St. Thomas sent. It’s a little thing.

But as I was leaving a few young mothers came in with smaller kids who showed signs of malnutrition. As I left, my heart ached.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Independence Day

The Central American countries celebrate Independence Day on September 15, usually with parades. School marching bands and students will march throughout town. Sometimes there will be folk dances and usually honor students will parade with sashes noting their academic excellence.

In some parts of Honduras this year the parades have been small because some schools are not participating. But here in Santa Rosa there were parades Sunday and Monday, with today’s parade as the culmination.

The major secondary schools marched but at the end of the parade at least 200 marched in opposition to the coup, in support of the resistance. I recognized some of the people in the march, including Padre Fausto Milla, some colleagues, and people from the countryside. It was very calm – though there were shouted slogans. As the group passed down the street I could see people greeting their neighbors and acquaintances who were watching. It was all very civil.

I learned that the regional Resistance movement chose Padre Fausto Milla as their coordinator.

With the bishop expressing his public support of the resistance at Intibucá on Sunday and Padre Fausto’s prominent role, the church is, to a large degree, becoming a voice for the poor against the coup d’état. Also, the bishop offered Padre Andrés Tamayo the opportunity to serve in the diocese. (Padre Tamayo was removed from his parish in the diocese of Jutigalpa and the government says it is revoking his citizenship.)

There are priests in the diocese who want to remain somewhat neutral in order to minister to all sides in a very politicized situation. There may be some who believe that Zelaya should have been removed from office or brought to trial. Yet there are significant number of priests who are in opposition to the coup.

I think this may because in this diocese we see the effects of the political system that engendered the coup – a political system that supports the continuing concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few. And so, from the standpoint of the preferential option for the poor, standing with Christ, the poor man of Nazareth, means for them standing with the poor and therefore being a sign of contradiction to the economic and political powers that be which the coup represents.

Notice that the man in the center has a Archbishop Oscar Romero t-shirt and a red Che Guevara band on his hat.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The bishop and the resistance
The true church is in the streets?

Last week, from Tuesday to Thursday, three of us from Santa Rosa de Copan’s Caritas office went to a retreat in Siguatepeque organized by the National Caritas office for their staff and for any other Caritas staff from the various diocesan offices.

After the retreat I decided to visit a friend and her family in La Esperanza, in the department of Intibucá. I was planning to return to Santa Rosa on Saturday but found out that our bishop, Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, was going to celebrate a Mass after a march against the coup d’état.

On Saturday, September 12, there had been a march in Santa Barbara and the bishop concelebrated the Mass there with eight priests.

Today, more than 1500 from all parts of the department of Intibucá and some from the city of Siguatepeque in a nearby department gathered at one end of town and march to the grotto for Mass. (La Esperanza and Intibucá are cities that are contiguous; I haven’t yet figured out which is which and were the dividing line is. It doesn’t help that the two parish churches are only four blocks away from each other!)

The march included people of all ages, with a large number of indigenous, since there are many Lenca in Intibucá. Short indigenous women, often with their children, were prominent in the march.

Father Andrés Tamayo, the priest from Olancho who has been involved in the anti-logging movement and the resistance to the coup, came to the march and was invited to concelebrate the Mass. He has been relieved of his parish in Olancho but, as he said, he is now able to minister to the resistance.

Padre Tamayo wore a tee-shirt that had “Resistance to Honduras” on the back, but the front bore a religious slogan which is very popular here: “Jesus, my best friend.” This combination of a deep piety and a strong commitment to justice is what has impressed me in Honduras since I began my ministry here a little more than three years ago.

The march was spirited with one group leading some slogans that were a little raunchy. A band from the southern Intibucá town of Colomancagua helped liven up the march.

I walked through the march, taking pictures and talking to a few people. Why were they there – to restore their president, to restore the constitutional order. Some of them saw Zelaya as the only president who was really listening to the poor and trying to help them. The other politicians were seen as just interested in their own interests or those of the rich elites.

When the group arrived at the grotto, which is on a hillside up about 25 steep steps from the street, there was a very short program with a message from one of the leaders of the resistance in the department of Intibucá, a former priest.

After the singing of the national anthem, Bishop Santos began the Mass, with five priests from Intibucá, and Padre Tamayo as concelebrants.

After the Gospel the bishop gave his homily that showed his solidarity with the poor.

He began by expressing his strong support for the resistance, since he feels in communion with their actions and ideas. Later in the homily he noted that though some priests in the dioceses might not support the resistance, “We cannot be against the resistance.”

He recalled how people admire the faith of the indigenous people of Intibucá who had suffered from colonialism and more. He noted how the country suffers from a new colonialism, what Pope Paul VI called the "international imperialism of money." Honduras has 7 million people, but “five million of us are poor” and 2.5 million are indigent, severely poor.

Why? There are about ten families who control much of the wealth, many of whom were behind the coup.

Bishop Santos also severely criticized the bipartite political party system, backed by the wealthy elite, that has controlled and decided who are the political leaders. For too many years this system has kept the people poor: this is the great injustice and the cause of division in the country.

He directly criticized de facto president, Roberto Micheletti, calling him one of the most corrupt politicians in Honduras and called for the removal of the Human Rights Commission, Ramon Custodio, from office. He also identified former president Carlos Flores Facussé as a major force behind the coup.

He also noted that the bishops are not infallible. The Cardinal is fallible in his political opinions. When Bishop Santos added that Pope Benedict (in a July statement) expressed his concern for the people of Honduras but did not express support of the coup, the people burst into applause.

Monseñor also speculated openly about possible US knowledge of and even involvement in the coup – not implicating the civil government but wondering about the role of the CIA and the Pentagon. He noted that soon after Zelaya was elected president he was called to visit the US Ambassador to Honduras who gave him a list of ministers fro his government. It should be noted that there is widespread belief among opponents of the coup that the US was involved, even though they do not see Obama involved in this.

Echoing the words of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero’s last Sunday homily, Bishop Santos called on the Police and the Armed Forces to respect the people: “We are not anybody’s enemy,” and reminded them that they too “belong to the people.”

In an effort to reach out he said, “We are not meeting against anyone…. We want to embrace everyone.” And he offered to serve as a mediator if asked, bringing together Hondurans to dialogue among themselves, including looking at the corruption that has siphoned off so much of the aid htat has come to Honduras.

Bishop Santos is not a mere political figure but he sees his message as based in his faith and the faith of the people. He recalled the second reading of the Sunday’s liturgy where James states that “Faith without works is death.” If we are Christians we must respond to the needs of the poor.

Christ became human and was born poor, he continued. The King of the universe, who could do everything, “did not wish to be born among the rich. He was born poor” and died on the cross. “This is the God we believe in!”

A few years ago a military leader in Santa Rosa asked the bishop his position on liberation theology, if he believe in Christ the Liberator. “Is there, by chance, any other god,” he replied. God has committed himself to the cause of the poor, the bishop also said, but this doesn’t mean that it is wrong to be born in a rich family – or in a poor one. But, he implied, there is the need to commit oneself to the poor, as Jesus did.

The deceitful politicians must be rejected. “Never again” should these politicians be elected.

I may not have gotten the full sense of one of his last sentences, but he expressed concern about the elections. I believe he asked this question: “If you are against the coup, does it make sense to go to the ballot boxes since the newly elected president could be overthrown by a coup in six months?”

On an advisory note, the bishop said that the one who wins in politics is not the one who destroys the opponent.

His final words were full of encouragement and advice, “The resistance doesn’t end with the November elections, nor does it end in two or three years; the resistance has to be permanent.”

As I write this blog I remember that term that the Brazilian nonviolent movement used for nonviolent action – firmeza permanente - permanent, ongoing firmness.

It’s a long process, the bishop was telling the people. And "they must not let this opportunity pass by for the poor, for the people.”

These and other photos can be found in my set of photos "La Esperanza March and Mass" in my Flickr photo pages.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Monseñor Luis Santos and the Honduran crisis

It appears from various reports that Bishop Santos of the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán is taking a more active role in response to the crisis in Honduras, at least within his diocese.

According to Honduras Laboral, tomorrow, September 12, he and other priests are supposed to celebrate Mass at the close of a march in Santa Barbara, against the coup d'état.

On the webpage of COPINH, it is reported that Bishop Santos will be present on September 13 at the demonstration on Sunday, September 13, in Intibucá, and will celebrate Mass at the conclusion of the march.

Both Santa Barbara and Intibucá are in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán.

It gives me great joy to see Bishop Santos accompanying the people in their struggle for democracy.


I am visiting for a day in Intibucá. Speaking with a Honduran I know he told me how surprised he has been at the number of people, including professionals, who are opposed to the coup.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Futbol at the drive in

Futbol here in Honduras is a religion, especially since there is a good chance that Honduras may make it to the finals in South Africa next year and Honduras hopes to be canonized world champions, the gods of futbol.

And so the Caritas Nacional retreat changed its schedule so that we could watch the game between Honduras and Mexico. The women were as into the game as the men. (Interestingly a Mexican bishop is giving the retreat. He didn’t join us for the game.)

Almost of all us went into Siguatepque and joined several hundred people at a Texaco gas station where they were showing the game on a big screen above the oil change pits! Some of the women in the group watched the first half from the roof of the can. Several of us found some hard concrete near the pits to sit and watch the game. The smell of oil pervaded the area.

During the second half one of the staff of Caritas Nacional brought out some beer and so some of us sat and watched as Honduras lost 1-0. It would have been worse if Honduras’ goalie hadn’t made some incredible saves in the first half. Otherwise Mexico dominated the game. (I can’t believe I’m doing this sport’s reporting – and about futbol/soccer! Honduras must getting to me.)

This reminded me of some of my favorite memories of childhood. Going with Mom and Dad in the car to watch movies at the drive in was loads of fun. And I did enjoy the game and cheered at the saves and was disappointed when we lost.

And so I chalk up a new experience in Honduras. I’m becoming more “catracho” every day.

"Catracho" is the name given to Hondurans.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A moment of opportunity?

I’ve been reading a number of articles on the internet, including a long but interesting article in Spanish by the Honduran Jesuit, Ismael Moreno, which suggest that this could be a moment for some real change, if people really would take advantage of it. Some say that the bureaucratic two-party democracy is showing its weaknesses and that Honduras needs to go beyond this. One analyst says that Honduras could be suffering the pains of birth or death pangs.

(By the way, the two major parties, the National and the Liberal, are more like Tammany Hall than the US experience of political parties. There are some minor parties and there is even an independent candidate for president who has ties to the popular movements. But almost the political power is in the hands of both the two major parties who have close ties to the economic elite.)

Monday, in the main plaza of Santa Rosa, I ran into a former politician who was involved locally and then had a national post which he renounced because of the corruption. We talked briefly but he mentioned the need to take advantage of the situation so there might be real change. The economic powers, who are responsible for this mess, need to reflect on the crisis. People need to stop following just what the two political parties say.

Is this just wishful thinking or is there something happening under the surface here, causing people to think of real alternatives? Now the problem will be how the Honduran people will achieve true democracy – with social justice.
Father Andres Tamayo
troublesome priest

One of my favorite plays and movies is Becket, about the martyred archbishop Thomas Becket. I even had a minor part in a high school production of the play.

Upset by the independence of the archbishop, English King Henry II cries out, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” Upon hearing this several of his soldiers go and kill Becket in Canterbury cathedral on December 29, 1170. His shrine became a major pilgrimage site in the middle ages. (I also recommend T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, with the challenging couplet: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”)

Micheletti’s de facto government is trying to get rid of a troublesome priest – not by assassinating him (though the priest has had death threats because of his environmental advocacy), but by revoking his citizenship and trying to throw him out of Honduras.

Father Andrés Tamayo is a Salvadoran by birth who has been ministering in Honduras for many years and is a naturalized Honduran. He has worked for many years in the protection of the environment, especially against the cutting of forests in the department of Olancho. An article on him (and the Santa Rosa de Copán bishop) appeared in Sierra magazine and can be found on the Sierra Club website.

Father Tamayo has been very active in the resistance against the coup, including marching with people from Olancho to Tegucigalpa. An article on his flight to avoid being captured by the Honduran forces was published by Catholic News Service. Father Tamayo has also talked about boycotting the November elections here in Honduras. Many nations of the world have said they would not recognize the elections if carried out under the de facto government. Even the US has placed conditions on accepting the results of the November elections.

Many look upon Father Tamayo as a sign of the church’s commitment with the poor and the environment. He has played this role in a very active, pubic way, and challenged the authorities.

However, the de facto government sees him as a dangerous priest. And so, last week they informed him that they were nullifying the act of his naturalization as a Honduran citizen. They want to expel him from Honduras, despite 22 years of ministry here.

I have no idea if this is legal, but it shows how undemocratic the de facto government is and how much it feels threatened by a person who has worked with organized people .

Padre Tamayo has noted that, because he would not leave his work with the people, he was being relieved of his parish in Salamá, Olancho. "The church forbids me to continue walking with the people. I am in the hands of the people; I belong to the people and I will continue walking with the people,” he said. I don’t know if he was disregarding his pastoral duties, but it is sad that he will no longer be officially ministering in his parish.

My prayers and hopes are that Padre Tamayo will continue to be able to continue to minister with the people of Olancho and Honduras – especially in support democracy and the environment.
Apologies (and thanks) to RAJ who used almost the same title on a blog entry on HondurasCoup2009 a few weeks ago.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

What Caritas has wrought

Wednesday I accompanied Kirsten (a representative of Caritas Norway), Celia (a Caritas Honduras national staff member), and Brenda Medina (our local Caritas worker in citizen participation) to meet with parish leaders in Lepaera, in the department of Honduras, as well as to visit a rural village which has benefited from Caritas projects.

The parish leaders spoke very highly of Caritas. The list of projects went on for quite some time. Then Kirsten asked them to talk about results, what had they done with all the training. (By the way, the Spanish word I’m translating as “training” is ‘formación’ – literally, formation.)

Petronila has been involved in Caritas projects since 1967. “I was nothing,” she said, “just a submissive woman.” I didn’t know how to lead a meeting or speak in front of others. We received training in baking, cooking skills, family gardens, and more. She learned sewing and soon became a teacher. She was involved in a literacy program in her village. Now her garden is a demonstration plot. She also is involved in a women’s cooperative of 120 women, 30 of whom have family gardens. One of the women in the cooperative is running for mayor of Lepaera.

Orbelinda talked first about the need for education. Before, many asked “Why study – even six years in school?” Boys only need to learn how to use the machete and the hoe. And the girls….? Now many go beyond sixth grade. She also told how people who learned about natural medicine now can make their own and don’t need to buy as much expensive medicines from the pharmacies.

Juan Angel, who is the Lepaera parish coordinator, told how the training sessions have led to the desire to organize.

Mervin, from the village of Cementera, talked about the work of the community-based risk management project in his village of Cementera, a Caritas project being facilitated by Norma Cruz. Eight days after they had gone through one of their training sessions, the October 2009 “Tormenta 16” hit and they had to put what they learned into practice. Their work probably saved lives. A nearby village, knowing that Cementera was organized, went up to them for help during the storm.

“Organization is essential,” Mervin noted. He also added that he had learned to help out in the house and to value the work of women in the home.

By training in political advocacy, he proudly said, they know how to approach the mayor. We are not afraid of the mayor – or of the police!

Mervin and others noted that before there were not well-organized local water project associations. Now, if the mayor wants to privatize water, they said, these groups will defend these public projects. “We’re the owners now.”

One other remark stood out. We now know how to analyze the reality better. We don’t just follow one of the colors (i.e., one of the two major political parties.)

It was refreshing to hear these people, some of whom I’d already met, most of whom have six years of formal education or less. They have begun to do what’s really needed for a democratic and just Honduras – to organize, to take responsibility for their lives and for their communities, to live as signs of the Reign of God, a reign of “justice, love, and peace.”