Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Understanding Honduras?

A small group from St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames is visiting here for about about ten days. It’s different from some other groups since it includes two undergraduates, a graduate student in agricultural and bio-systems engineering who is from Uruguay, and a professor of agricultural engineering from Iowa State University.

Last night we sat down over a dinner of bread, cheese, and fruit to talk about the day and our experiences. I invited a young Honduran just finishing his industrial engineering degree at the Catholic University who is also very involved in his parish here in Santa Rosa de Copán.

After a bit of talking about everything – including soccer, of course, as well as his hopes to sometime study for a masters degree outside Honduras – he suggested we talk about politics. Great, I thought. Then he proceeded to ask the group about the recent British elections. Whoa! He revealed that he is very well read on international politics and recent news.

After a bit, I asked him to talk about Honduras. He expressed his concerns about corruption, the problems of the two main parties, his opposition to the coup, his analysis of former president Zelaya (He’s not very smart – but we don’t get smart people elected here. But at least he was trying to do something for the poor.)

But then he spoke of his concerns about the Lobo government, especially concerns that many have that the government will privatize Hondutel, the public phone company, and other publicly-owned enterprises.

That was, I think, a surprise to the professor and the grad student. The professor spoke of the commonly held belief in the US that competition will lower prices. The grad student, more knowledgeable of the state of “capitalism” in Latin American countries, mentioned that the private sphere is generally more efficient that the public sphere.

The discussion went in many directions at that point. I pointed out that in Honduras it’s not capitalism as in the US – it’s feudal capitalism, in a sense. The Honduran student spoke of the ten or fifteen families who own most of Honduras. I found an article by Leticia Salomon where she listed the coup supporters who own most of the private enterprises and communications media and read a few of the companies or franchises owned by the ruling elite.

But one thing the Honduran student said was critical and easily missed. One of his main concerns about the privatization of Hondutel as well the mining industry is that they take so much and give so little to Honduras. He expressed it in terms of not giving much to the Honduras government, but his concern was that these people and these companies do not contribute to the common good.

Whether they are efficient is another question, but questions of mere efficiency miss the critical point he was trying to make. Honduras is largely being used for personal and corporate profit – not for its good.

I need to return and reflect more on that conversation in the next few weeks, but the Honduran student’s remarks helped me analyze Honduras a little differently and how hard it sometimes is to see what is behind the anti-privatization thinking here.

The concern is that the common good – and the needs of the poorest – are being sacrificed for the enrichment of a few.

But as Pope John Paul II once said, “The needs of the poor take priority over the desires of the rich.”

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