The Way Governments Chill the Lives of Their People

San Pedro Sula   Driving through the cities of Honduras, there are stretches that seem like fast food heaven for global companies.  It’s hard to know what to make of the many complexes that include Popeye’s, Dunkin Donuts, Subways, and Pizza Hut under the same roof virtually.  Traffic is heavy and unregulated.  Passing on the highways is random and reckless without regard to any road signage.  In short, life in the years since the coup or golpista looks and feels normal.

Talking to people in all walks of life though the new normal post-golpista reality is living in a world with a thundercloud always hovering in the sky above.

Because some radio and television stations were shutdown because they expressed opposition in the coup or allowed contrary voices and opinions to be expressed, one reporter or station owner after another told us what they did not allow on the air.  One mainly broadcast religious programming in Nicaragua because of the government there and had largely shifted that way in Honduras as well after the coup. Journalists would turn off their tape recorders or put the pen down on their pad after talking with us and then describe their interest in finding outlets for their writing outside of the country for fear that another shutdown of papers and journals expressing anything but fawning support of the government could come in the future.

Nothing any of these people had said was out of line or critical.  No new laws were cited that expressly forbade what they could broadcast or print, but everyone seemed to be internalizing the experience of the coup as a permanent warning light instructing caution, drawing lines that should not be safely crossed, things that could not be said.  Talking to lawyers who offered ACORN help in various ways there was always a warning that more care needed to be taken on all documents, because the government was hyper attentive to any nonprofit organizations with international connections.  This is what is meant when people talk about governments chilling the rights of their citizens.

One of our organizers told us a story about going with several leaders to respond to interest in organizing in a new barrio in one of our cities.  They were suddenly confronted by several individuals in police uniforms with guns drawn and pointed at them telling them they had to leave the neighborhood.  Because gangs have regularly infiltrated the police ranks and many have simply obtained uniforms for their work, organizers are unsure if they are dealing with police or worse.  In this case they kept talking so nothing got out of hand, but they kept talking while leaving the neighborhood.  Because the government cannot protect the people and seems to have little interest in doing so, despite the fact that security is on everyone’s minds, we don’t articulate security as an issue, because we never know in our own meetings whether there may be gang members or relatives, so the issues have to be framed carefully.

To say nothing is as it seems ignores the screams masked by the silence shrouded in the fear of a people unsure of their place between a government that does not protect their rights or their safety and real experiences of violence from both the government forces and the forces of even worse evil.


Walking the Political Planks in Honduras

ACORN’s Tegucigalpa organizer, Erlyn Perez being interviewed for

Tegucigalpa    Tegucigalpa is the capital and largest city in Honduras.  The political situation in the country has been fraught for years.  The golispa or coup against an elected president though supported by the United States and many other countries divided the country sharply and on a continuing basis despite the protests that raged against the country over these actions.

For the more than six years of ACORN’s organizing in Honduras this has often defined the context despite the fact that we were organizing at the grassroots level in our communities and far from the nexus of power and conflict.  As the organization has grown in the San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa areas, its impact on local and civic politics has grown accordingly including seeing some of our members elected to city councils, mayors and even Congressional deputies.  At the same time every conversation with allies and our leadership is marked with caution over the tenuous political realities in the country.  Many outside observers, including the Carter center, questioned the returns in the last presidential election, especially when there was a blackout on news and balloting for more than 30 hours after the opposition appeared to be leading in the race.  But, as one expert told me, now that the ruling party has gotten past that election and has a full four-year term, it is more populist and less repressive.

For ACORN, particularly in Tegucigalpa, we have to build bridges to all parties in Congress.  On a national level for years we have been campaigning for regulations on remittances in order to lower the costs of these money transfers which are so critical to families with relatives in other countries.  Remittances are also a major part of the national GDP of Honduras as well.  On the local level support, for projects like the rehabilitation of the state orphanage to a community and recreation center (see yesterday’s blog), the financial commitment of the national government is central.

The organization finds itself walking the political planks, needing to build bridges to all parties while protecting ourselves as nonpartisan.  We sat in on a leadership meeting with the key officials and head of the Patriotic Alliance for Honduras.  The meeting was a get acquainted session.  Leaders outlined our views on remittances and pushed for the continued support for the redevelopment of infrastructure improvements in lower income neighborhoods.  Issues involving corruption, the protection of the ballot, and the suspicion our members had for politicians in general were also freely discussed.  The only commitment won was that the party leadership would visit the center site and come to meetings in the future with ACORN members to hear their concerns.

No one fell in the deep water, but everyone continued to keep their eyes on the waves.

members debrief after the meeting