Honduras, a small country with a privileged geographical site, with coasts on both oceans, land borders with three countries on the narrow territory of Central America, and with a breadth of biodiversity. With a population of 9 million in a territory of 112,492 square kilometers, it is mainly mestizo, although with at least nine diverse ethnicities. Society is led by a group of some 250 families who make up the Honduran oligarchic elite, an ensemble of a model organized to concentrate wealth and income in very few hands, leaving millions without opportunities to have access to a life with dignity.

Honduras is a country conditioned by its relationship of submission to the United States for at least the last 120 years. It was on its Atlantic coast where at the beginning of the 20th century the expression “banana republic” was coined. It means that the United States and its multinational corporations look at and relate to Honduras on the basis of its remaining a perpetual provider of raw material and products for dessert.

The motivating factor for the Honduran economy is sustained by a model of development that is based on extraction and the privatization of public goods and services. The motivation is from an Alliance that conducts itself in conformity with a political bureaucracy formed by the extreme political right, a small elite oligarchy and the transnationals This alliance is backed by the military, the government of the United Stats and organized crime syndicates, especially those involved in drug trafficking.

September 15, 2021, will mark the 200th anniversary of the signing of a Central American independence document that denied sovereignty to the people and has imposed for two centuries a policy of “prevention” put in place by the political elite, fearful of “the consequences” which would come about if the people should declare their independence. Honduras has a great task ahead of it. In counterpoint to the elitist model which concentrated wealth and decision-making, it has to foster a proposal which starts from a new concept of sovereignty based on capacity and power, acquired by the people, communities, organizations and the State, to take autonomous and free decisions about their personal lives and everything that touches on that, about common goods and wealth, about the present and the future, based on respect for human rights and the rights of the planet, looked at as our common home.

Broken Society

In Honduras everything is broken. For the whole of this century, the Honduran people has been shaping itself around a state of defenselessness and injury. This breaking of the threads is expressed in the lack of trust toward all of the public and political institutions, as has been said in several public opinion polls conducted by ERIC (Reflection, Investigation and Communication Team, at the center for social and human rights of the Society of Jesus in Honduras).

It is also expressed in the depoliticization of more than 40 percent of the population who say that they do not belong to any political party. But neither do they belong to community organizations, or those dealing with unionization, environmental or human rights questions. This depoliticization has converted the Honduran people into a people that is easy to be manipulated by politicians and strong groups, like the gangs or the structures of organized crime. But on the other hand, it is a people which is suspicious of everything and of everybody, which says yes to anything which comes to them from above but then does whatever they feel like doing. It has been changed into a conglomerate under the only banner possible of every person for him/herself.

More Pitiful than Poor

This brokenness is also expressed in the worsening of the impoverishment of the majority of the population. According to experts, at the end of 2020, eight out of every ten people remained below the poverty line. Those who were unemployed at the beginning of the year, are still unemployed, and many others who began the year employed, lost their jobs. Thus, the country moves toward, and indeed already has become, a society of pitiful people. And this is a grave danger, because it is converted into fertile ground for uncontrollable spontaneous uprisings. It also is ground for populist and messianic movements that feed off of pitiful populations which they can manipulate with responses promising assistance. And thus, misery is transformed into votes that legitimize authoritarianism and dictators.

A Society and a State Structurally Unprepared

The absence of preparation is a Honduran structural problem. It crosses the whole society, it has invaded the deepest dynamics of the society and of its members, to the point of becoming a cultural problem. All of the natural, political or human phenomena are converted into threats, dangers and finally into greater disasters and dehumanization. Even such matters as electoral processes or the justice system are part of this structural unpreparedness. All of the dynamics of institutionalism of the State end up being changed into threats and dangers to democracy itself and to the application of justice.

The fact that the State has been taken over by small political groups who use it to conduct business and to take out resources from the public institutions, confirms the lack of preparation of the society. When it is said that Honduras is the third most unequal country in the world after South Africa and Haiti, or the second most vulnerable country in the world together with Bangladesh, or one of the two most corrupt countries on the continent, it confirms the lack of preparation of the society. When the health system does not manage to control dengue, or when the resources to attend to the pandemic are stolen by the bureaucrats of the highest level, it confirms the systemic absence of preparation of the society.

When the institutions of the State in several of its dependencies, like the Armed Forces, the police, the Public Ministry (equivalent to the Ministry of Justice), the Supreme Court of Justice and the Presidential Palace itself, were contaminated and penetrated by sectors of organized crime, especially by narcotraffickers, it confirms the absence of preparation of the society and the State.

Image courtesy of ERIC-Radio Progreso.

When a long time ago violence stopped being a matter that was dealt with exclusively by the State, but rather the State itself having delegated this responsibility to various private groups, it confirms that preparation is absent and that the whole society remains defenseless or a victim of uncontrolled violence, in the hands of groups that in very diverse ways act with impunity and under the aegis of the State.

When the structural dynamics of the society lead to the accumulation of multimillions in wealth by a few people, five of whom have gathered a fortune equivalent to the minimum annual salary of two million Hondurans, it confirms that the society is governed by a system of life that is protective of inequality and it is for that very reason that it systematically cancels out any attempt at preparation.

What do we Do when Faced with a Lack of Prevention?

All situations of vulnerability, all threats and all natural social dangers, whether environmental, health-related or political, are preventable. All of them. As the experts say, Natural phenomena cannot be held back by anyone. Not even the highest investigations until now have achieved any mechanism that is able to hold back a natural phenomenon. What can be prevented are disasters. It is well said that no one stops the phenomena of nature, but disasters certainly can be prevented. The same thing is true of a pandemic like that of COVID-19. Once the virus was unleashed it was difficult to stop, but it was possible to prevent its disasters. In desperation, many people organize themselves into caravans in order to take the road to the United States as an expression of a production model of inequalities. It is possible to prevent both disasters because they are not natural phenomena. They are social, political, institutional and human.

Image courtesy of ERIC-Radio Progreso.

Prevention: A Structural State of Stability and Confidence

Prevention is a structural state of society for taking on situations or events that have a certain level of challenge and danger, and before they present themselves, the society already has a positive disposition to take them on as challenges and tasks. This works for natural, climatological or pandemic, economic, military, cultural or institutional phenomena.

To the degree that the various sectors of society become involved in beginning processes of prevention, the greater the capacity they will have to reduce the consequences. And the closer they are to achieving processes that deal with the causes of  disasters, the greater their capacity to make sure that the prevention is structural and not specific or geared only to the current circumstances.

Institutional and cultural prevention, when it has the perspective of structural change, should never sustain itself only from the point of vertical lines, and defined only from top management, as does the reasoning behind the current system. Without denying the contributions of the political, entrepreneurial, labor, religious and social top management, the guiding principle should be to sustain itself by a series of national agreements with a strong component of popular participation. Institutional and cultural prevention should be good in the short term, but be oriented toward commitments that are for the middle and long-term. It should be based on facts and commitments that are specific and suited to current circumstances, but which transcend all of those.

ABC for Honduras

Honduras has the need to develop Shared Basic Agreements (Translator’s Note: ABC from the Spanish “Acuerdos Basicos Compartidos”). Experts talk about the degradation of society, both of its economic model, as well as that of the environment and political institutions. When one talks about a degraded society, they are referring to a society and a State which in the end are governed by decisions and even by structures that come from transnational organized crime.

Honduran society, trapped as it is between insecurity and impoverishment, corruption and narcotraffic, politicians and violence and police corruption, is a depressed and condemned society. It is necessary to break with the pattern of doing the same thing and placing the leadership in the same position. The country should take this rethinking as a starting point of a consensual acceptance of “This is how we are and the point we have reached”. No one has the ability to put forward a plan for a country on his own account and, even worse, imposing it on everyone else.

Minimum Consensus: the Most for which We Can Hope

An indispensable starting point to initiate a process of proposals that break with the exclusionary political paradigm is the consensual acceptance that the country is so fragile that in the short term, and foreseeably in the middle term, we do not have the capability to putting forward a proposal which looks for “maximums”, simply because the real situation does not offer those possibilities.

The “maximums” that are possible to reach are found in the “minimums” that can provide the bases to initiate an authentic process which moves toward the construction of democracy and a State based on the rule of law. And this is because we have lost the minimum that a society needs of the common good in order to live together in harmony. These lost minimums are what it is necessary to recover as a precondition in order to begin the authentic processes of the building of a democracy and of a real State based on law. These minimums are what ought to be represented in what we are calling the “Honduran ABC”, that is, Common Basic Agreements.

For this reason, there should be an initiative of calling together a group which would figure out the bases, methodology, time line and those responsible for the process. Who would be called together? Perhaps that is the first question to be resolved because a feature of the social deterioration of the institutions is the absence of credibility of the actors, institutions and characters. The convocation and the process should be under the responsibility of persons that involve both the most well recognized national figures that exist and international representatives.

One particular shared point of agreement is that the current government cannot be among the convokers. The churches have lost the base of credibility with which they were able to count traditionally, but they cannot stay on the outside. The entrepreneurs have been scattered and are without common sources of backing, but they also cannot be left out. Miscellaneous groups or the NGOs are so diverse and dispersed that it results in being very difficult to find in them the base for a credible convoker or one that would mobilize others. However, they should not be left out because they are involved in diverse areas of the national life and especially by their involvement in processes that are close to the municipalities and local communities.

Image courtesy of Alboan.

Undoubtedly, it would be necessary to have an international component to the convocation that would be linked to the defense of human rights without discounting official representatives of the United Nations, although with the amount of discredit and lack of confidence which it has acquired.

This international component is indispensable, not only because of the absence of consensus around the internal convokers, but also because any proposal to solve the case of Honduras has to pass through negotiations that involve the international community. Each one of these sectors, as much the popular, political and entrepreneurial as well the ones dealing with territory or themes, should organize their own process of elaboration of the ABC. This would begin with the community assemblies, passing through those of sectors, municipalities and departments, until arriving at national assemblies.

Common Basic Agreements about what?

In an ABC for Honduras, there ought to be included some categories of agreements.

The first should include socio-economic and environmental agreements such as about the tenancy of land and agrarian policy, the protection and management of wealth and natural resources, employment and production, environmental vulnerability, education, health, security of the population, fiscal policy and housing. In short, it is in the line of a new model of development and investments that makes a break with the galloping inequality, the decisive factor creating violence and instability.

The second category would look for socio-political agreements such as those concerning human rights, defense of the communities and of their territory, the rights of ethnic groups, relationships between the sexes, the means of communication, liberty of expression, the right to access information and cultural rights.

Image courtesy of Fe y Alegría Honduras.

The third category would be that dealing with the political, institutional and juridical areas. It has to do with the right to organization and participation in decision making from an institutional point of view that guarantees a representative, participatory and direct democracy, the transformation of the system of justice, the reconfiguration of the National Congress, the Armed Forces, the organisms that act as a control on the State , especially the Supreme Electoral Court and the Law of Elections and Political Organizations, and in general the design of institutions capable of responding to the transformations which are contained in the first two categories.

These categories are not separate unto themselves. Each one has references to the others. The first category contains small agreements with regard to employment and production, which immediately is linked with agreements which need to be established with legislation that regulates employment, as is the case with the Work Code, until there is achieved a minimum agreement which gives work stability to the workers. In the same way, if there is a search for Shared Basic Agreements concerning employment, a link should be established to those relating to the defense of the human right to work of thousands of workers in the whole industry.

Among all these themes it would be necessary to define priorities, in what order to begin dealing with them and the process and mechanisms for their implementation.  An ABC for Honduras of this nature should be oriented to the end of their ratification in a National Constituent Assembly which would draw up a new Political Constitution.

The design of an ABC for Honduras has to be a proposal that unites. This doesn’t mean that everything should be started from zero because there should be taken into account successful experiences which have been realized in some areas, municipalities or organizations within the country. This ABC for Honduras should guarantee that not only does it set social inclusion and participative democracy as an objective, but also that the process itself should be an experience of inclusion and participative democracy. The non-official sectors and members of the opposition are called on to strengthen their own requests and identities, and using their organized capacity to develop their own agreements in order to change them into a force and power at the negotiating table, in order to avoid the imposition of the law of the strongest.

And on what should the Honduran people feed their hopes?

There exist at least five things to nurture hope for the Hondurans: (1) The nourishment of Faith in the God of life. Honduran society is one of believers and they are accustomed to say often when faced with something bad “only God is with us”; (2) The nourishment given by the martyrs and the memory of their ancestors; (3) The nourishment given by communities organized into movements; (4) The nourishment given by the generosity and gratitude of the most humble people; (5) The nourishment given by happiness and fiestas. Even in the most anxious of situations, dance and smiles blossom.

[Cover image courtesy of ERICRadio Progreso]

NGO’s working in the field

Fe y Alegría Honduras

Honduras is one of the countries with the greatest rate of violence in the world. One of its most concerning manifestations is violence against women and girls that can ruin their lives. From 2017, in Entreculturas, along with our social organization Fe y Alegria Honduras, we have been carrying on a project that has as its goal the support for the empowerment of girls and adolescents in an environment of equality and freedom from violence. You can find more information here.

ERIC-Radio Progreso

The Team for Reflection, Investigation and Communication (ERIC) has been working along with Radio Progreso since 1980 in Honduras accompanying the most vulnerable communities in the rural areas to be on guard about the respect for human rights. 

From ERIC-Radio Progreso there has been shared information, investigation and social criticism in a climate marked by a fragile state surrounded by violence, in which the economic interests of the extractive industry have caused a systematic violation of the fundamental rights of communities. You can find more information here.

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Jesuita y defensor de derechos humanos en Honduras. Director de Radio Progreso y del Equipo de Reflexión, Investigación y Comunicación (ERIC), un centro comunitario de derechos humanos.
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