Friday, January 27, 2012

Recent writings on Honduras

I'm out of Honduras for a few days to attend a friend's wedding in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. I'll write about the trip after I get back to Honduras in order to attach some photos and work on my own computer.

But there have been several fascinating posts on Honduras that is worth looking at, and an article that is quite good.

Here are the links:

An op-Ed article by Dana Frank in the New York Times.

A critical analysis of a Miami Herald editorial by Mike.

An analysis at Honduras Culture and Politics.

More later.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Violence in Honduras - part 3

Monday, La Prensa's website had three articles on violence in the country, two of which appeared in the morning print edition.

One was a rewrite of the Miami Herald story from Sunday; the other on the situation in two municipalities in the department of Lempira. In Gualcinse, the ex-mayor was killed and the people asked the authorities to expel the police who failed to detain the perpetrators - something not uncommon here. The Police, if not involved in the crimes, doesn't respond. And so impunity reigns.

Some have suggested - and I tend to agree with them - that impunity has increased since the 2009 coup. The Miami Herald article noted that there were 580 complaints against the police in 2009, with nearly 1000 in 2011 by November. But only 28% went to prosecutors and many of these cases were dropped.

But the one article only in the La Prensa on-line edition was the finding of the body of a local Mennonite pastor, whose body was found this morning on the turn off to Dulce Nombre. It appears that he was missing since Sunday afternoon. I don't know the details of the case and I didn't know the pastor, but it hit home.

When I walk to Caritas, I often pass the Mennonite church, about three blocks from where I live. In addition, I know the turn off to Dulce Nombre well, since I pass there every time I go to the parish and yesterday I passed through there in mid-afternoon, returning from dropping off a friend in Copan Ruinas. (I took the back road.)

Yet I still feel secure. Don't worry about me. Remember the people who live here and have no chance to get out. They are the victims of what can only be called, using the words of Dorothy Day, "this filthy rotten system."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Violence in Honduras, part 2

Last Thursday I wrote a blog entry on the violence in Honduras. I particularly noted the poor coverage and analysis.

Over the past three days there have been a number of blog entries by other persons and a few articles that are fairly decent, recognizing the systemic causes of the violence. If you want to read them click on the links below.

Boz wrote on police corruption in Honduras today here.

Mike wrote an entry on his Central American Politics blog here.

RAJ on the ever helpful and insightful Honduras Culture and Politics wrote an insightful essay.

An article that has revealed the depths of the problem is Tim Johnson's "Crime booms as Central Americans fear police switched sides," on McClatchy Newspapers website here.

A fairly decent article in the Miami Herald, though the title is sensationalistic, by Frances Robles,  is "Honduras named murder capital pf the world," here.

Also, Human Rights Watch recently released his  World Report 2011, where its analysis of Honduras can be found here.

It looks as is people in the world are beginning to look a little more deeply at the situation here. What will be done is the real question? Will it really deal with security issues, including impunity, or just seek a heavy-handed (la mano dura) approach to security with more military involvement and US intervention. I don't think there will work.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Violence in Honduras

A lot is being made of the violence in Honduras. San Pedro Sula is being proclaimed the most violent city in the world, worse than Ciudad Juarez. Honduras is noted as having the highest per capita percentage of homicides in the world. The Peace Corps suspended it presence because of security concerns, though one Guatemalan Peace Corps volunteer seems to dispute the actions of the Peace Corps in a Los Angeles Times' Op-Ed piece.

It sounds like Honduras is hell on earth.

The reports and videos (especially in InSight, Christian Science Monitor, and CNN), as well as the tabloids (er, “respected” newspapers) here in Honduras, seem to delight in a type of violent porn. A CNN video is particularly repulsive.

Yes there is violence – largely in the major cities (Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula) and the north coast where the drug trade flourishes. In other parts of the country there is violence, but domestic violence and inter-family vengeance are what one mostly encounters.

But what bothers me is that the reports provide no context for the violence, except drug trafficking and gangs. But what is missing is a real analysis.

I would suggest that much of the increase in violence is due to corruption and impunity – which are closely connected with the rule of economic and political elites and not unconnected with the 2009 coup.

The articles often fail to mention the coup which led to a real breakdown of order in the country. Some people suggest that during the reign of de facto president Micheletti , the lack of foreign aid left a vacuum and some government agencies or authorities began to work closer with drug traffickers.

But impunity is what lets this continue. The police usually don’t investigate and even if they investigate follow-up in the courts is almost non-existent. Crimes seem to have no consequences – not necessarily because of poor laws or a lack of available weaponry.

Why don’t the police investigate? This might partly be due to lack of financial resources, but I wonder if they really don’t care. In addition, the corruption within the National Police is significant. Furthermore, in several cases, including the case of a priest in our diocese, the police are responsible for beating civilians and other crimes, including the sale and use of drugs.

One way out that politicians offer is giving the military police powers, which is what is happening in many parts of the country. In addition, the US is offering help in dealing with citizen insecurity.

Both these suggestions, I fear, are missing the point, offering militaristic and violent “solutions” to violence. 

If you want an alternative view on responses to violence in poor countries, look at this article on Nicaragua, where violence is not half as bad as in its northern neighbors. Why? The suggestion is that in Nicaragua community policing and greater social cohesion have helped to cut down violent crime.

Yes, there is violence here. But I have lived in New York City in the early 1980s. I have lived for short periods in El Salvador during the war.

Violence is not inevitable. But the solution is seeking a healthy life and economy for all people, especially the poor, and building up structures of social cohesion.

That’s what Honduras needs – not more weapons, not a militarized police, not a heavy hand.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Traffic in the countryside

This past weekend I went out twice to El Zapote de Santa Rosa – for the zone meeting on Saturday and for the Mass to celebrate the feast of the Black Christ on Sunday.

Marco Tulio distributing communion in El Zapote

What surprised me was the number of trucks and pick up I ran across – more than I ever remember.

A different type of traffic in Dulce Nombre - 15 cows and 12 calves

We are in the middle of the coffee harvest and many people are going out to help in the coffee harvest, one of the few ways that rural people have to earn hard cash.

This year the normal price for what they call a gallon (really more like a five gallon bucket) of coffee en uva (with the fruit covering) is 40 lempiras (about $2.00).

Also, those who have small fincas de café (coffee farms) are harvesting their coffee. What they often have to do is to sell their coffee to an intermediary buyer (sometimes called, disparagingly, a coyote). Now they are getting 180 lempiras (about $9.00) thirty pounds of coffee en uva. If they take out the skin and the pulp they can get 440 lempiras (about $22) for thirty pounds. A few weeks ago the price was 480 lempiras (about $24), but since there’s more coffee available now the price has gone down.

If they were able to remove the thin skin that surrounds the coffee bean they would get a higher price, but I don’t know anyone who does this.

Trucks bringing in coffee to what I think is an intermediary in Candelaria

I would really like to find a way to help the small coffee farmers find a direct market where they could be paid better prices. There are some projects that do this including one in La Union, Lempira, that seems to be doing this fairly well. Check out their webpage. But this has been a concentrated effort of a team of persons in Michigan. I’d love to be able to so something like that in the parish of Dulce Nombre, but the costs might be high and the need for expertise a challenge.

Who knows? This is a long-range goal and there may be campesinos in the parish interested.  It could make a real difference.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The black Christ

The Black Christ of Esquipulas, Guatemala

January 15 is the feast of the Black Christ of Esquipulas, Guatemala. A black image there of Christ is a site for pilgrimages from around Central America.

There are other images of the black Christ, including one in Intibucá, Honduras. In the parish of Dulce Nombre  three villages celebrate today as their feast day, the feast of Cristo Negro, the black Christ. In some other parts of Central America today is also celebrated as the Merciful Christ, Cristo de las misericordias. 

Thr Black Christ of Intibucá,

I don’t know why, but it never occurred to me how fitting this is since January 15 is also the date of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth.  This black preacher who taught us the dignity of all persons, who helped the blacks of the US liberate themselves from segregation and marginalization, was born on the feast of Cristo Negro.

Of course, the plight of blacks in the US as well as the campesinos in Guatemala and Honduras still is a form of crucifixion, an undeserved suffering, brought on by structures of marginalization and wealth.

But the image of Cristo Negro and the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., can move us to be in solidarity with them and reject all vestiges of racism and marginalization in our lives and in our nations.

May Christ continue to inspire us with the example of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was killed, he delivered a strong message against the Viet Nam War, which still has relevance for the US today. In that speech he spoke these prophetic words:

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Priest and two others beaten

Yesterday I learned that a priest I know and two others (identified as his brothers in one source) were beaten by the police on the evening of December 26 near San Juan Intibucá. Padre Marco Aurelio Lorenzo is pastor of the parish of San Miguel Arcángel in Macuelizo, Santa Bárbara.

A few years ago he asked me to do a workshop for him on ecology. I’ve found him very friendly, committed to the poor and to justice, and very approachable.

He’s from a small town in the municipality of Yaramanguila, Intibucá. Presumably he and his brothers were going there to celebrate with family members.

The details are vague at this point and the whole incident appears rather absurd. 

Padre Marco Aurelio gave a press conference but I have not been able to find it. It doesn’t appear that this was a deliberate attack against a priest of the diocese. It is a part of the police violence and police corruption that are central to many of the problems here. He denounced the deeds publicly and it appears that he named his assailants. We will see if anything comes of this or if impunity will continue.

The assailants were police, as Padre Marco Tulio is quoted in the press: “They were in uniform… they were in a police car and they took me to the hospital. They beat me in the entire body; they didn’t know I was a priest until they were told in the hospital that I was a priest.”

Below is the communiqué of his parish. They use the word “torturado” which I translate literally as “tortured,” though I am not sure of the extent of the violent mistreatment they received, though you can see this photo of Padre Marco Aurelio’s scalp, which Padre Efraín Romero sent me:


We the parish of Saint Michael the Archangel, Macuelizo, Santa Bárbara, let the following  be known:

1. We make known publicly that on Monday, December 26, at 8:15 pm, Father Marco Aurelio Lorenzo and two people accompanying him suffered an assault, abduction, and intent of homicide by members of the Preventive Police of San Miguelito and San Juan Intibucá in the turn off to the El Rosario hacienda, at the 24th kilometer on the road from San Miguelito to Yaramanguila where they [the police] were waiting for them.

2. As a parish we deny the lie of the version of the police implicated in the assault, abduction and homicide intent against Father Marco Aurelio Lorenzo and the two people accompanying him, in which the police say that is was an accident. The priest and his two companions were tortured and injured in the face, suffered injuries in their bodies caused by kicks and blows after being tortured; the principal purpose was to get into the vehicle and fling it into a 300 meter deep abyss. What can we call this in a country like Honduras?

3. In Light of what has happened to our pastor and prophet, as parish we demand that the three Powers of the State: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial investigate the police stationed in the San Miguelito and San Juan Intibucá police stations, that they are part of the organized crime in our country and that all of the weight of the law be applied to them in the case that the law for kidnappers and assaulters en Honduras exists for those who area called police.

4. We ask the intervention of the security forces of the country so that they accomplish the purification of the organized crime that exists within the police since this shows these very signs of the country which are corruption and drug-trafficking.

5. We alert the public in general so that they don’t trust nor allow themselves to be seduced by the security forces which are the right hand of organized crime in our society and that don’t fulfill their function to protect, serve and care for the population in general.

We make a call to the church to raise a prophetic voice in our country in this crisis situation which our people are living and where the systems don’t respond to the criteria de humanity.

Presented December 31, 2011,
from the seat of the parish of San Miguel Arcángel, Macuelizo, Santa Bárbara

The original Spanish can be found here at my Spanish blog.

Padre Marco Aurelio Lorenzo in a September 2010 deanery workshop on Catholic Social Teaching