Monday, November 29, 2021

More glimpses of hope in Honduras

Advent is a time for hope – a time to recall a God who makes rough ways smooth and opens a path in the wilderness.

On the first Sunday of Advent this year, Honduras held elections for president, congress, and mayors.

There were concerns and there were even rumors that there would be a toque de queda – a curfew – on Monday or even for a week or two. Even last night, after the polls were closed, there was a rumor that the electricity would be shut off nationwide at 8:30 pm. These notices seem to have been part of a campaign to sow fear among the people.

But things went surprisingly well and peaceful. Yes, there were irregularities throughout the country, including closing voting stations when there were people waiting to vote. I have heard reports of a candidate offering voters 3 thousand lempiras (about $130) for their ids so they wouldn’t vote.

But I observed something different. 

The voting place here in Plan Grande was in the school right next to the church and close to my house.

I left in the morning for a celebration in a nearby mountain village and there were crowds waiting to vote. 

When I returned later in the morning there were still people waiting to vote. 

I left for a 2 pm Mass in San Agustín and when I got back about 5 pm, all was calm since voting had finished. Then they began counting the ballots.

I went out a few times to see what was happening.

The ballots were being counted in two classrooms – since there were two voting places – urnas - in the school. People were outside the classrooms looking in.

All was calm, with kids running around (and some stopping by my house asking for candy.) One kid and his friends even planted a flower that had been left by my door. 

The results began to come in. The four municipalities in our parish area have been controlled by the National Party, which has also controlled the presidency for twelve years. And so I was surprised when they told me that Xiomara Castor, the LIBRE party candidate had won the presidential vote– not only here but in most of the municipality. 

Though an alternative candidate for the mayor's race won by a slim majority in Plan Grande, the National Party candidate won in the municipality of Concepción, where I live. But he had defeated the incumbent mayor (whose family had controlled the city hall for years).

What surprised me, and a few people I talked with, is that here and in other parts of the parish and the country many people did not vote a straight ticket. They voted for persons, not parties. (in some places, however, people did vote “straight ticket – called “votar en plancha”- but for LIBRE, the opposition party that arose after the 2009 presidential coup. This is extremely significant for Honduras, where party loyalty has ruled for over a century, resulting in what was a closed two-party system. Locally, the majority voted for the LIBRE candidate for president and the National Party candidate for mayor.

Another surprise is that some towns very tied in the past to the National Party went for Xiomara Castro, the LIBRE presidential candidate.

But a very big surprise is that a young man I know and who had been active in the church was elected mayor of the municipality of Dolores, overthrowing the incumbent mayor, a member of the National Party  who had held city hall there for several terms. 

I haven’t seen the full results but Xiomara Castor is the present-elect, the Congress will probably have a LIBRE majority.

The two largest cities, the capital Tegucigalpa and the industrial center San Pedro Sula, have elected mayors from the LIBRE party. 

The people are fed up with the incompetence and the corruption they have seen in the rule of the National Party or other entrenched candidates, especially at the national level. 

The voters also showed a political savvy and political maturity that I was glad to see. 

What will happen next is critical. There is need for national reconciliation – which means looking for the good of all the people of Honduras but also bringing to justice those who have violated the trust of the people with corruption, incompetence, bribes, and connections with drug-trafficking and organized crime.

But last night’s speech by the president-elect was hopeful and offers a challenge. She began saying that she has no enemies. In fact, she called for dialogue with the opposition. But her priorities are clear:
We are going to build a new era, we are going to build together a new history for the Honduran people. Out with war, out with the hatred, out with the death squads, out with corruption, out with drug trafficking and organized crime, out with the zedes. No more poverty.
The path ahead will not be easy – but I have hope, since it appears that many people are beginning to think and act differently. The task may be to help people realize democracy in their lives and in the country – recognizing that though elections are important, they are, as Salvador Monsignor Ricardo Urioste used to say, only a note in the symphony of democracy.

Perhaps part of our social ministry is to help people mature and recognize how they can contribute to the common good. As Pope Francis wrote in Fratelli Tutti, 162:
“…political systems must keep working to structure society in such a way that everyone has a chance to contribute his or her own talents and efforts.”
Perhaps this is the time to carefully study that encyclical and its call for justice, political love, and reconciliation.

To close with what may seem rather far-fetched, I would suggest this is the moment for tenderness, meditating on these words of Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti, 94:
“Politics too must make room for a tender love of others. ‘What is tenderness? It is love that draws near and becomes real. A movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands… Tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women.’ Amid the daily concerns of political life, ‘the smallest, the weakest, the poorest should touch our hearts: indeed, they have a “right” to appeal to our heart and soul. They are our brothers and sisters, and as such we must love and care for them’.”
That would be a way to make hope real.

No comments: