Thursday, January 18, 2018

Honduras and Martin Luther King

Monday, on the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., I spent most of the morning reading, writing, checking the internet (too much), and translating an open letter of the Honduran bishops to the two candidates of late November’s election.

In the course of my reading, I came across several amazing quotations from Martin Luther King that made me realize his perennial wisdom that could help us here in Honduras. I’d like to share some quotes from Dr. King – as well as from a few others, to help us reflect on how we Christians who live here are called to live and respond.

Why the demonstrations?
      The current barrage of demonstrations throughout Honduras arose after the November 26 election, but there have been other demonstrations in the past few years, most notably the marches of los indignados, the indignant, in 2015, against corruption and impunity. The presence of the young among the demonstrators was and is notable. What is also interesting is the lack of leaders calling people to the streets, at least in the initial stages. There was a spontaneity in the
      Some people are upset with the disruption of traffic, the blocking of highways, the marches. A headline in a newspaper, supportive of the government, characterized as “chaos” the opposition’s notice that they will not recognize any public authority after the swearing in of Juan Orlando Hernández as president on January 27. I have some reservations about the way this was expressed, but I think the statement and whatever happens must be seen in context.
      The marches are not the problem. I think Martin Luther King was right when he defended the demonstrations in Birmingham:
"Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured."
      Is the non-recognition of public authority just lancing the boil and bringing it to light so that some healing might happen? I don’t know. But I do feel as if Honduras is already in a situation of chaos and tension – much of it under the surface.
 In that same letter from the Birmingham City Jail Dr. King wrote:
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist.”
      Is what is happening in Honduras the surfacing of a long-standing system of governments – under different parties – where the law is used to uphold the authority of those in power and to keep the political and social elites in control?

Why not negotiate? Why not dialogue?
      Many people are calling for dialogue. President Hernández whom the Electoral Tribunal declared the winner of the presidential elections, is among the most vocal. The Honduran Catholic Bishops have also called for a dialogue which is ““sincere, effective, creative, without conditions, and involve all sectors of society.” Salvador Nasralla, whose supporters consider him the “president elect,” has agreed with some conditions. The opposition Alianza has called for talks with a mediator before January 27, when Hernández is scheduled to be sworn in as president.
      But there is a problem. Dialogue is good, important, and necessary. But when the dialogue is called by one who monopolizes power, when the power relations are significantly unbalanced, it is difficult to have real dialogue.
      I think this is why the opposition is calling for demonstrations. Again. Ponder the words of Martin Luther King, writing to his critics:
The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
      This helps me think about the dilemma of calls for dialogue, without considering the real situation of the country.

What about the violence?
      There have been cases of violence by the demonstrators, mostly throwing stones. Some have blamed cases of violence on infiltrators, which is very possible. But it is also possible that many who demonstrate come with deep wounds from the structural violence they experience (the hunger, the corruption, the fraud, the impunity, and more) and are reacting with violence because of these wounds. Also, the violence of some demonstrators may arise from the massive show of military force by government police and military as well as the use of tear gas.
      I am not trying to justify violence but we have to consider violence in context.

      The late Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife, Brazil, and nonviolent leader, wrote about the spiral of violence. First there is the structural violence, the violence of poverty and injustice; second, there may be the violence of those who revolt; third, there is the violence of repression of those who seek to maintain the structural injustice. To only castigate the violence of those who revolt is to miss the whole picture and excuses the structural violence that provokes the violence of those who revolt.
      Martin Luther King, Jr., saw this clearly and spoke often and pointedly for nonviolent action and against violence.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate.... Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. (Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community)
      But in his speech “Beyond Vietnam,” delivered exactly a year before his martyrdom, he put the calls to violence of some blacks in context:
"As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."
      King realized that he had to speak against the violence of a system that purveys violence world-wide.

The challenge
      Martin Luther King Jr. offers us in Honduras a challenging way to try to see and understand what is happening.
      Honduras is not the US in the 1950s and 1960s. But his words have helped me begin to understand more deeply what is happening here.
      But I still wonder if something more is needed.
      Jesus said that there are some demons which are only cast out by prayer and fasting. Fanny Lou Hammer said, “You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.”

No comments: