It is early on Friday morning. I’m hoping I can post something while I’m at the radio this morning. I won’t have a chance again until Monday, since this afternoon I leave for El Aguan for a weekend of workshops on political formation with a team from ERIC (Team for Reflection, Research and Communication). Aguan has been involved in a protracted land struggle so it should be an interesting trip. It is inspiring to meet people who are committed and savvy and giving their all to defend their rights.
I’ve been in Honduras now for four full days. I remain impressed with the quiet quality of the people and work of Radio Progresso and ERIC. We were together for 2 days in a workshop on “social vigilance” with a special focus on corruption. I’m not sure how to translate that, perhaps public oversight. The examples of corruption the team was able to provide were impressive. Two standouts for me were that just this Monday in Progresso the son of Roberto Michiletti, who was President between the June coup and November elections, ran a stop sign at 5am, ran into a building at the corner from the radio station, and killed a man who had the misfortune to be having his morning coffee there. The son, who was quite drunk, abandoned the scene in a taxi and left his body guard to take responsibility for the event. While there are many witnesses and this is publicly reported, the police are not pursuing an investigation and the bodyguard will stand trial.
The other jaw-dropper for me is that contracts have been signed for hydroelectric projects on rivers in the Atlantic region of the country that also provide rights to 80% of the water of the river! Imagine if someone would sell rights to 80% of the water in the Mississippi. That assures that water would stop being a public service and would become a private enterprise. And so, quietly, the move has been made that is likely to bring that result sooner or later for this region of Honduras.
But there are layers of crisis here. The national government of President Lobo was installed in late January, but is far from established. Internationally, it has little legitimacy despite the best efforts of the US to whitewash its roots in the coup. The assassination of 6 journalists since January and the firing of judges who opposed the coup have also brought international condemnation.
Internally, it seems those who pull the strings still aren’t satisfied. Two days ago President Lobo announced that he had uncovered a plot to overthrow him. A coup to the coup – a double coup, I suppose. And this morning an assassination attempt is denounced against a teacher and human rights activist in Comayagua. A pickup without license plates tried to run her off the road and when that was not effective bullets were fired at her vehicle. Blessedly, she escaped injury. But it leaves people in the resistance a notch tenser.
Another source of daily stress is the very high level of criminal and gang violence. At lunch on Tuesday one member of the team casually mentions that two days earlier her family received a call that their son would be killed. They don’t know for sure why. It could be a simple extortion effort, but most likely it is because his father gave information on gang activity in their area. As I was walking down a city street at 10:30in the morning with one of the young women reporters from the radio she mentions that she has to walk this street almost every day in her work and she feels very unsafe because there isn’t a lot of traffic there. My hostess says she doesn’t walk anywhere alone at any time of day.
And then there are the simple personal losses of life. Monday evening I went with Padre Melo to two wakes, one for the son of friends who had been tortured and executed, presumably drug related. The other for a much loved young woman who had worked and the radio and died of leukemia. I have met a teenager who has leukemia and heard of a third. There is the usual full range of sick relatives – lots of diabetes and high blood pressure – and the struggles for medicine and treatment. And so on.
Still, people move forward in relative good spirits and I enjoy the usual pleasures of Central America. Last night was a classic visit with a lovely family in a relatively poor barrio. But there is a happy older couple who still laugh together and tease each other, five children, two grandchildren. The usual rituals ensue. One must sit. One must have something to drink. Everyone must be introduced and speak. The mother asks what we will eat and begins to prepare refried beans, tortillas and sour cream on her open fire stove as we sit in the shade and chat. With people like these it doesn’t matter what time you arrive, you must eat. The father goes off to find mangos from a neighbor’s tree. The oldest son has a scholarship and is studying mathematics at university. The oldest daughter is in cosmetology school. When she gets home she is eager to give us pedicures. A luxury I never have in the states. So much care and pleasure created from so little and all in the open air under the great trees of Central America.
Virginia Druhe is currently providing international accompaniment for the team at Radio Progresso and ERIC in Progresso, Honduras.