Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Vice-president Biden - political tourist?

Excuse this rant, but I am feeling frustrated at the actions of the US government toward Honduras.

US Vice-President Biden spent a little more than six and a half hours in Tegucigalpa, most of his time in meetings with government officials of Honduras and other Central American countries.

I doubt he will get any taste of the real Honduras.

Though Tegucigalpa is the largest city and the capital of Honduras, it’s hardly the real Honduras. Honduras, unlike most Latin American countries, still has more than half its population living in the countryside.

Now I am biased. I don’t like most big cities, though I do like to visit New York City and Philadelphia. But because of  the noise, the congestion, and the pollution, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa are not my favorite places to visit in Honduras. And this is to say nothing of the crime there. If I were to spend time in these cities I’d prefer it to be with people I know who work in the poor communities and know the poverty and insecurity.

I doubt the vice-president visited the barrios and aldeas where the poor – more than 60% of the people of Honduras – live.

I doubt that he heard the cry of the poor, the cries of the mothers and spouses of the 360 men killed in the Comayagua prison fire, the laments of the families who’ve lost loved ones in the Bajo Aguan, many killed by security forces of the rich, the desperation of the people who have been forced off their land or have no land to plant corn and beans for their family, or the 

He also has not seen the efforts of Honduran lay pastoral workers who serve their villages and who may walk four hours to get to a training session in the parish center, nor the efforts of priests and religious who go out to remote villages or into the hearts of the poor barrios in the big cities to bring a message of hope to people who live in the darkness of poverty and oppression.

He has not heard prophetic voices like the Jesuits in Yoro or Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, the former bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán, who know that, in the words of Dorothy Day on the US, "Our problems arise from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system."

He has probably only heard calls from Honduran political leaders for more money for security, often militarized security, which – in my opinion – will not improve things but only prop up the corrupt police and government here. Note that the US State Department has promised 361 million dollars for Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).

I think the vice-president is well-meaning. In an interview with the Honduras newspaper La Prensa  the day before arriving here, Biden shared his view of the situation. “By continuing to work together, we can create a more secure and prosperous Honduras.”  He talked about supposedly successful efforts to intercept drugs and to cut off drug profits, by improving the investigative capacities of the police and creating safe alternatives for youth. But these efforts ignore the systematic corruption of the police and the involvement of police and government officials at all too many levels in the drug trade.

His response leaves unanswered the question: “Safer and more prosperous for whom?”

Sad to say, I don’t think the safety and the security of the poor are the first priority of US foreign policy.

I have not been able to find a transcript of the remarks that the US vice president and president Lobo made this afternoon. I only ran across this quote:
"One of the areas in which we will hopefully be of help is in vetting the police, the prosecutors and the judges," Biden said after a meeting in Tegucigalpa with Honduran President Porfirio Lobo. "My experience has been, the people of the country have to be able to have confidence in the integrity of each of those institutions if progress is going to be made."
But the institutions here – especially the presidency – lack the trust of the people. How many people I know don’t see voting as worthwhile. Both major parties are in it for the power and the money, many hold. And I think the people have it right. But what this has led to is a system that needs radical change – not just the vetting of the police and judges.

But the US support of the current government leads me to doubt the effectiveness of what the US is proposing.

It’s a support which I believe lacks a realistic understanding of what is really happening here. In the words of Dan Restrepo, the White House Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, vice-president Biden has come here to “reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order.” Yet this “constitutional order” leaves government and police corruption virtually untouched, the country has become more militarized, and the poor continue to suffer hunger.

Sad to say, Biden is just another tourist – but a tourist with a political agenda, perhaps as Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, or perhaps – overstating it a bit – as the ugly American coming with the “answers” which will benefit the powers that be in the US and here.

But how should we connect with the people of Latin America?

There’s a long quote from Thomas Merton’s  “A Letter to Pablo Antonio Cuadra concerning giants” in Emblems of a Season of Fury, that I wish the vice-president would contemplate, as a first step to understanding the people here:

The tourist never meets anyone, never encounters anyone, never finds the brother in the stranger. This is his tragedy, . . .
If only North Americans had realized . . . that Latin Americans really existed. That they were really people. That they spoke a different language. That they had a culture. That they had more than something to sell! Money has totally corrupted the brotherhood that should have united all the peoples of America. It has destroyed the sense of relationship, the spiritual community that had already begun to flourish in the years of Bolivar. But no! Most North Americans still don’t know, and don’t care, that Brazil speaks a language other than Spanish, that all Latin Americans do not live for the siesta, that all do not spend their days and nights playing the guitar and making love. They have never awakened to the fact that Latin America is by and large culturally superior to the united States, not only on the level of the wealthy minority which has absorbed more of the sophistication of Europe, but also among the desperately poor indigenous cultures, some of which are rooted in a past that has never yet been surpassed on this continent. So the tourist drinks tequila, and thinks it is no good, and waits for the fiesta he has been told to wait for. How should he realize that the Indian who walks down the street with half a house on his head and a hole in his pants, is Christ? All the tourist thinks is that it is odd for so many Indians to be called Jesús.

1 comment:

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

I found a transcript of the Lobo and Biden remarks. Not very encouraging, in my opinion: