I got up painfully early and took a rapidito to the San Pedro train station. I'm still getting used to the idea of a centralized depot. Outside the train station, I learned that some guy was killed for assaulting a woman, and that a mulatta had stolen the woman in the bottom photo's baby (herself presumably not a mulatta). Seemed like an interesting detail to stick in the title. Should we look at all women of that description (potentially a majority of Honduran women) as potential baby snatchers?
I still had ten minutes to catch the Cotraibal bus to Ceiba, where I would meet Luther Castillo to go visit his hospital. A woman in a long skirt with an overly friendly smile came up to me.
"Do you speak English?" she asked with a strong accent. "Sí," I responded. "I would like to give you something, based on the bible."
I didn't know what to think of this reverse proselytization, but I no, thanked her and ran off to the bus.
The ride was four or five hours, I lost track. We stopped in Tela where I bought a bag of cut mango slices through the bus window—my intestinal luck had been consistently good on the trip so far, and I felt like pressing it. We stopped at one of those roadside establishments with huge bathrooms, long assembly line food service and smaller but formally incorporated tamale stands, tourist tchotchkes, candies and t-shirts aimed at the domestic market. I got fried plantains, a strangely rubbery (microwaved?) fried egg, re-re-refried beans (a Honduran specialty), cream, avocado and tortillas. In a big styrofoam container. It was heavenly.
In front of me and across the aisle sat a couple young Unitedstatesian missionaries. Part way through the trip, they turned around, and in horribly accented Spanish, they asked the people behind them, including me, if they could pay us to use our cell phones. I responded in English, since they seemed to be struggling so badly, that they didn't need to pay me, and handed them my phone. Curiously, the woman whose Spanish was less afflicted of the two kept speaking to me in her atrocious Spanish. Did she not hear my English? They had been speaking English the whole time, so I knew it wasn't a concern with being linguistically inclusive or appropriate. I had overheard one long conversation about affirmative action (they didn't like it) between the two missionaries, one pasty white and the other Korean American. Their t-shirts read
[some series of poor countries populated by dark-skinned people]...Jamaica * East Africa
[something about taking adversity and challenges and]...turning them into
[something mixing capitalist enterprise and evangelical imperialist rhetoric]..and spiritual
...I could only see the right side of the young woman's back.
Website was www.fieldsofgrowthintl.org Looks like I was sitting behind Jesus's Lacrosse team.
When we finally got to Ceiba, I found Luther and a friend of his amidst the small but exuberant crowd waiting for the various passengers.
Dr. Luther Castillo's energy and good humor are truly boundless, which goes only part way toward explaining the incredible impact this young man (I believe he's 32) has had throughout Honduras, and particularly on the North Coast. He is something like a celebrity or a politician, people shaking his hand everywhere he goes. He seemed to know everyone and their mother's name—literally—from Ceiba to Ciriboya and beyond. He greeted his friends, fans and grateful patients, always joking around. These were jokes that coming from someone else might have seemed off color but from him were positively charming and well received.
Luther's friend drove us to the rental car place, where Luther offered the rental agent a vasectomy in return for a good deal (we got the good deal; he turned down the vasectomy). Luther was meticulously careful about documenting the scratches on the car; no matter which insurance you get on the car in Honduras, it's all on you. And he teased the young man who was in charge of wiping down and polishing the car. Last time Luther had been there, an old man had walked in the shop and asked for some water. The window-washing youth had pointed him to the faucet and gone back to his labors. When he looked up, the old man had made off with his bicycle. Even at the moment, according to Luther, this immediately became a great source of amusement to the youth's coworkers, since he'd gotten so duped (and no one had expected someone so old to be a bike thief). And it was a pretty nice bike. The old guy later sold the bike to one of its original owner's friends for a mere 400 lempiras, so the young man eventually got it back (after reimbursing his friend the L.400).
I tried to put the truck on my card, but the rental place took a $1,500 deposit and I only do debit (screw you, credit industry), so Luther had to cover it. Once we finished the paperwork and lengthy inspection, we drove to Luther's Ceiba office, a brightly-painted house, where a young friend of his waited outside to help load the truck. The inside of the office left no doubt as to the ideological alignment of the clinicians and volunteers:
But it went much further than solidarity with Cuba (or, more specifically, the official Cuban ideal of free, universal medical care). The specific focus on Garifuna culture was intended to address longstanding structural violence that manifested through the Honduran government's willful ignorance of the health care and other needs of these and other marginalized coastal and remote citizens.
In the office where the medical supplies (all donated) were stored, a large pile of strangely-shaped aluminum foil-cover cardboard were stacked almost waist-high.
Luther explained to me that these solar stoves were an idea that came up in response to the many back problems- destrucción en la columna vertebral (spinal degradation?), herniated discs, etc., that resulted from Garifuna women carrying large amounts of firewood—100 pounds or so—on their back every day for cooking. At Ciriboya he had seen so many women affected by this practice, and the typical treatment for back pain was anti-inflammatories like ibuprofin for 8 days (and that can have side effects) followed by 15 days of rest. And there's no way you can get a Garifuna woman to rest for 15 days, he told me, not with all the work they have to do. So rather than continuing to prescribe impossible and ineffective treatments, he looked into prevention, and with the help of his friend Bill Camp of the AFL-CIO in Sacramento, acquired a number of solar stoves from an outfit called solar cookers international. Once they had the model, it became clear that they could make them with even less effort with cardboard and aluminum foil. They worked great, he said. Sun is never in short supply, he said, and if you put the bowl of rice to cook in the morning, then go off to do your chores, it'll be perfect in 3 or 4 hours. No fuel, no back pain, problem solved. It had been something of a challenge to get women to adopt the new technology because of the mistaken (according to Luther) belief that wood cooking tasted better.
In the Ceiba office, he told me, he oversaw 20 volunteers from the local nursing school. Luther is a genius at harnessing and juggling free labor. The clinic is a great opportunity for the nursing students to do their required practicum, and along with the med students back from Cuba who eagerly volunteer their vacations to do home visits in remote areas throughout the North Coast (really- I met some of them), the Cuban doctors who come to work in his hospital and throughout the country on a rotating basis for a couple years at a time, and the few international medical brigades that come through with the primary goal of providing healthcare, as opposed to evangelical proselytization.
But Luther is not averse to working with people of any religion—in fact, that's part of what makes him so effective. His passion is so great, and his enthusiasm so infectious, that he seems to be able to get on the exact wavelength of anyone who also believes or wants something very strongly, whether that person is the local mayor, and evangelical pastor leading a large revival, an atheist Cuban doctor, a soldier, a transit policeman, an overconfident and overpaid Canadian microfinance NGO rep, or a militant anthropologist (and these are just a fraction of the interactions I witnessed in the two-day period I spent with him).
Even the Latter-Day Saints donated menstrual pads:
After loading up the whole bed of the pickup with all sort of things—syringes, boxes of disposable gloves (they'd run out at the hospital), medicines, etc., we drove off toward Tocoa. Luther spoke about the challenges of providing free medicine in a commercialized context. Many consider the project as an enemy, he told me. He told me about the norms under which medical centers operated:
Hacen su mapa de posibles clientes. Toda la gente va a ciudades donde creen que hay más tecnología, van de Tocoa a Ceiba, de Ceiba a San Pedro, de San Pedro a Tegucigalpa, de Tegucigalpa a Miami.
They make their maps of potential clients. Everyone goes to the cities where they believe that the technology will be better. They go from Tocoa to Ceiba, from Ceiba to San Pedro, from San Pedro to Tegucigalpa, from Tegucigalpa to Miami.
When Luther set up his free hospital in Ciriboya, he threw a wrench into the works. As remote as Ciriboya is, it's something of a crossroads for people in the whole region. People coming from the Mosquitia, people from Garifuna and Ladino communities all around the region, people from the same mancomunidad had all found they were getting better care for free than what they would have gotten making the extended journey to Tocoa or beyond.
Luther started getting calls from people who ran clinics in Tocoa saying "oye negro tienes que ajustar tus precios más cerca a los nuestros"—"Listen, negro you have to adjust your prices closer to ours." [Side note: it's not necessarily/usually offensive to call someone by their skin color in Honduras.] He noted with a laugh that adjusting his price to something closer would be difficult, since on principle, all services are free. But the clinic owners who viewed him as competition had the potential to cause trouble. The private clinic owners have close (in some cases marital) ties with the Ministry of Health, and had benefited in numerous ways from the coup. And his project is a threat to commercial medicine: "El proyecto es un proyecto de resistencia, es una prueba de que se puede hacer las cosas con muy pocos recursos"—"The project is a project of resistance; it is proof that you can do these things with very few resources."
He spoke to me about the excitement and sense of possibility that existed before the coup, when, through the initiative of Patricia Rodas, he had been appointed vice minister in charge of external cooperation in order to do work with ALBA. Like almost everyone I've spoken with from Mel's government, Luther added the caveat that he didn't agree with many things Mel had done, but that there were opportunities there that had never been there before.
The night of June 27th, Luther had been at the presidential house until very late with Mel, Paty Rodas, and Cesar Ham. And just a few hours later Mel's daughter Pichu called a friend from where she was hiding under the bed while her father was being kidnapped by heavily armed soldiers. That friend then called Luther, Luther called César Ham (who had received all the money for the North Coast vote the night before, and upon hearing of the coup, promptly disappeared for long enough for his disappearance to overshadow that of the money), Andrés Pavón and DEI director Armando Sarmiento, who drove directly to the Toncontin runway to block the plane (he was too late). Luther was among the first of the crowd to form outside the presidential palace, which started small ("pero con las primeras 30 personas bloqueamos los tanques"—"but with the first 30 people we blocked the tanks"). He described the spontaneous mobilization, and just how deeply the golpistas misunderstood it. "Eso no tenía cabeza era acéfalo"—"This thing didn't have a head, it was acephalous." Even among Mel's cabinet and closest allies it was misunderstood. One told Luther, when he called to inform him, not to tell people the coup had taken place. "no digas nada por que la gente no va a salir a votar"—"don't say anything because people are not going to go out to vote."
While Paty was being kidnapped a bit later, Luther was on the phone with her. She kept telling him calma, calma. The Cuban ambassador had been with her when she was abducted, and he hugged her when the soldiers were trying to take her away, so tight, that they had to take him too. But the streets on the way to the airport were lined with the nascent resistance movement, and the Cuban ambassador managed to roll down the window and shout at the top of his lungs "¡me están secuestrando estos hijos de puta!", at which point he was unceremoniously thrown out of the car. Patricia Rodas was then flown out of the country against her will on Miguel Facussé's airplane. In an interview with Facussé's friend and associate Jaime Rosenthal a week later, Rosenthal—who has consistently publically opposed the coup in his personal statements and through his newspaper, El Tiempo—defended Facussé to me, stating that Facussé was a generous man, and was always lending his plane out to all sorts of people without paying attention to what it was used for.
At one of the many highway patrol stops on this road through the endless African Palm plantation spanning hundreds of kilometers, Luther rolled down his window. The policeman, a Ladino, greeted him in Garifuna, and then made small talk in Spanish with Luther (who listened, smiling and laughing, with apparent interest), telling him that he knew all of the OFRANEH leaders in Iriona. As we drove off, Luther rolled up the window and said to me with a wink, "esos cabrones hay que reirse con ellos." He explained how the area had become militarized, "ese retén era tomado por militares, todas esas son tierras de [Miguel] Facussé, bueno son tierras que robó Facussé, son tierras del pueblo"—"this stop was occupied by soldiers, all this is [Miguel] Facussé's land, I mean- it's land that Facussé stole, it is the land of the people."
And when one speaks of Facussé one speaks of narcos. To be fair, I brought this topic up, not Luther. And like most Hondurans, he spoke carefully and indirectly about the topic, pointing to the mounds of circumstancial evidence without making direct links to individuals. Like the many small airstrips in the middle of nowhere, and Tocoa's inexplicable level of development. "La ciudad de Tocoa no produce para que tenga ese desarollo."
We drove past a dead body on the road, the forensic team picking him over with a strong police presence. Luther rolled down the window and began talking with a police officer in Garifuna. The officer laughed and Luther chuckled, then he rolled up the window and we drove off. Luther told me that the officer told him the victim had been someone with many enemies and a reputation for being a thief. "Fue un tipo que robó mucho por aquí."
At another stop, the policeman asked Luther "¿qué llevas?"—"What's in the truck?"
"¿Qué putas llevo?" responded Luther — "¡Medicinas!" ("What the hell do you think's in the truck? Medicine!") He added with a laugh, "Viagra te regalo pero de regreso"—"I'll gift you some Viagra, but on the way back." He switched to Garifuna and chatted loudly with the same officer, who turned out to be his cousin (one of many). Luther told me about how his cousin had been sent to Tegucigalpa to take part in the repression after the coup. They'd see each other in the marches. Once, his cousin went to the safe house where Luther was staying with the intention of playing a joke on him by scaring him. Another terrified resistance member staying in the house fired four rounds at Luther's cousin, who was crouching behind a car suspiciously. The cousin shouted "Hey primo, ¡Soy yo!" and Luther managed to stop the shooting before anyone was hurt.
At yet another stop we were stuck behind this truck for a few minutes.
You can't really read it here, but it was carrying a big old box of "animal semen."
In Tocoa, we stopped at a mostly open-air Garifuna seafood restaurant, and met a family in from Houston, a Garifuna evangelical pastor and his wife back in Honduras to hold their huge annual Garifuna revival meeting, attendees numbering in the thousands. It was to be held the following day, and they were in good spirits. We sat with them and Luther effervescently discussed with the pastor (mostly in Garifuna) ways they could cooperate on various projects, while I sloppily ate the absolute best sopa de mariscos I'd ever tried in my life, getting crab all over myself.
Outside the restaurant, as we left, I took a picture of some of the graffiti from the previous week's FNRP assembly, the one in which Carlos Eduardo Reina brought 30 or so extra delegates, provoking something of a shitstorm.
I was curious about the graffiti. Luther said it was new; the walls had been pretty clean before then. In later discussions with several resistance activists I discovered that the graffiti artists who had come from other towns to write on the walls of Tocoa had put local resistance members in a fair amount of danger; in a drug region that was already so dangerous, so militarized, the resistance movement had managed to achieve a delicate truce with the golpistas. That truce, they told me, had been destroyed by out-of-towners, sampedranos who came in, spraypainting right and left without understanding the local context, without knowing who was a golpista and who was resistance, without recognizing that the dangers were different there, that their "fuck you" had long-term, bad repercussions for local activism. Kind of like so many media activists or summit hoppers from the U.S., Mexico and elsewhere, telling Hondurans (or anyone) how they need to fight the man. Activist imperialism. It's a delicate negotiation, working out solidarity between different groups of people working within a center-periphery framework that is, at its core, profoundly vanguardist. And it's actually been something to which the Frente has given at least lip service; that's one of the main reasons why assemblies have been held in such remote locations as Tocoa. But for many resistance activists around the country, the Tegucigalpa- and San Pedro-centric, hierarchical structure of the FNRP precludes solidarity.
As we drove past the Tocoa hospital on the way to visit a sick nurse friend and colleague of Luther's who worked there he explained to me one of the programs he'd set up with the hospital. Through Luther, several Cuban doctors periodically go to Tocoa to do shifts free of charge to the hospital, providing specialized services that would otherwise be unavailable to hospital patients. In return, the hospital provides surgery services for his patients for free when they need specialized services not available in Ciriboya.
We stopped at a fruit stand and Luther gave his friend some money to buy a bag of fruits, and across the street some juice. "No se puede llegar sin nada a la casa" he explained—"You can't arrive empty-handed to someone's house." "Es la cultura Garifuna."
I asked about a headline I'd remembered seeing about the government deporting large numbers of Cuban cooperantes from Honduras since the coup. I'd thought the doctors had been kicked out, but it turned out I had that part wrong. Luther explained, "los golpistas expulsaron los maestros cubanos porque tenían un programa de alfabetización...muy peligroso enseñar a los pobres a leer y escribir—podrían despertarse"—"The golpistas deported the Cuban teachers because they had a literacy program...it's very dangerous to teach poor people to read and write—they could awaken [i.e., recognize and determine to oppose structures of oppression]."
The young nurse was very nice, and grateful for Luther's visit. She had had a high fever for several days, but was still able to keep up with his ribald jokes. I watched cartoons with Luther's other friend in the front room while they talked about her health and their solidarity projects, and then we said goodbye and drove off toward Limón.
After passing through yet another roadblock, Luther said with a resigned irony, "Sólo revisan a los pobres, a los dueños de ellos, que son los narcos, les dejan pasar todo"—"They only inspect the poor. With their owners- the drug lords, they let everything through."
I remarked again upon the seemingly endless African Palm plantations. "Todo eso es de Facussé, Adriana," Luther told me. "Es para agrocombustible." "All this is Facussé's. It's for biofuel." Once land has been planted with African Palm, Luther explained to me, it's no good for anything else. He told me that Facussé had an airport bordering a property that we would visit the following day, a place called Vallecito. The original owners had retaken (recuperado) Vallecito after a long legal struggle involving international courts in which it was determined that Facussé had illegally taken the land. The struggle had begun on Mayday of 1990, when a teacher named Lombardo, a pivotal figure in all their lives, went back to Vallecito to reclaim the stolen land. Lombardo must have been in his early 20s at the time; he died five or six years ago in his mid-late 30s, far too young. Facussé's small airport had been guarded by the Honduran military, but now, Luther told me, it was protected by sicariato—private paramilitary forces.
Drug planes regularly land on private runways throughout the region (a well-known fact, often reported on in the news). "Le pinten banderas venezolanas a los aviones que vienen de Colombia, es su estrategia" he said, laughing. "They paint Venezuelan flags on the airplanes that come from Colombia. It's their strategy."
Note: transcribing these notes is a challenge, two weeks after the fact. The road had become so bumpy that I can barely make out my handwriting.
We arrived in Limón. It's a beautiful town. As we wound through the streets, Luther spoke continuously on his cell phone, always organizing, always planning.
He told me about the friend of his we were going to visit, a local líder who had been in charge of the cuarta urna on June 28th, 2009. There had been a large turnout in that small, mostly Garifuna town. Despite and in defiance of the coup, the vote was held, and they still had the urns safe and hidden. The vote count: 432 sí, 2 no.
We arrived at his friend's house, Luther parked, jumped out the door, and shouted at the top of his lungs the grammatically nonsensical phrase "¡Fuimonos pues!" and his friend responded from inside "!A escupir afuera!" These phrases were some kind of inside joke that did not cease to be funny throughout the next day as we traveled together, and various requests for explanation (not just from me) only rendered louder shouts of the same and more raucous laughter. Across the street somebody's grandmother shouted at Luther to come over, chiding him, something about how he never visited, and he greeted her with the utterly genuine love and enthusiasm that made him so popular in the first place.
With Luther's friend in the truck (we were now four), we drove ("¡fuimonos pues!") a short distance to another friend's house "¡a escupir afuera!" Luther's friend Euracio came out to greet us, wearing a Clinton/Gore t-shirt. Luther cracked up laughing. "What is this?!" he asking, teasing mercilessly. "¿Cómo vienes a ensuciar este lugar del Ché?" His friend, duly embarrassed, went along with the joke. Luther had introduced me as an anthropologist, and Euracio told me he was afraid of anthropologists. I laughed and told him I didn't study Garifunas, not to worry. He listed off his favorite anthropologists; we spoke also of our admiration for Freire. From his many sagging bookshelves as well, it was clear this was a well-read guy:
I was painfully tired by now, sleep-deprived and fighting with my eyelids to be polite, to participant-observe properly instead of falling asleep and insulting my generous hosts. This has been a consistant problem for me since my first real fieldwork experience, in the Sierra Zongolica de Veracrúz during the first Gulf War. I remember going to quinceañeras in dirt-floor houses, all the old women in their huipiles drinking themselves silly on aguardiente on the side benches while the young people danced until the sun rose, me having a few sips and slapping myself on the face in a futile attempt to not crash before ultimately always caving in and passing out, to the amusement of all present. That was the stage I was at Euracio's house, trying hard to pay attention to the truly fascinating conversation among these amazing Garifuna community organizers about their plans for a better, more just society. Here my notes are almost as sloppy as the ones I'd taken down earlier in the day, not because of a bumpy road—I was comfortably seated in Euracio's living room—but rather because I was willing my right hand to carry out a labor of observation that my mind was no longer capable of.
Lisandro, one of the men present, was an engineer who had graduated from the prestigious Zamorano school, and who was now working full time at the Vallecito project, which was described to me as a radical communitarian anti-capitalist Garifuna project. The project was really impressive, and I'll get to it in more detail in the next post when I describe my actual visit there. Luther explained he was overseeing the development of the health center, another Garifuna friend (a Ph.D.) was working on the educational program—they were planning the first Garifuna university on site. The fact that so many of the members of the community were so highly educated was something Luther emphasized to me to stress the moral commitment involved; here were people who could have gotten high-paying jobs in their fields, and instead had chosen to go back to their community, back to their roots. Lisandro was in charge of production at the small factories on site—he had brought in a box of delicious bagged plantain chips, their first batch. There were also experienced athletes and educators planning sports programs for Garifuna youth.
They had a meeting scheduled in the following days with the INA leadership to demand action be taken regarding their complaint about a portion of the land that had been reappropriated by Facussé following his court loss, via one of his favored methods: dozens of armed mercenaries shooting their way in and placing high barbed wire fences all around the terrain. This particular land theft had cut off all of Vallecito's coastal access. But César Ham, the UD leader and INA director, so hated for his central role in legitimating the coup government, had at the last minute decided he'd rather meet them in Ceiba than go out to Garifuna territory. This deeply offended the land-rights activists, who saw Ham as not caring about their struggles, as being more concerned about his own private security than with justice, as having sold out to Facussé.
Facussé's men, the men in the room told me, had recently shot at people in Farallones, Garifuna fishermen. Facussé is trying to intimidate the Garifunas who stand up to him, they said. His worst fear, they told me, is that the land-rights activists from MUCA (in nearby Bajo Aguán) would come to solidarizarse with the Garifuna land rights activists. And it was happening. They were networking, they were planning radio projects in Ciriboya and elsewhere, they were standing up to the same forces of violence, and they were going to do it together, they said. They mentioned getting support from a recent delegation of La Voz de Los de Abajo, which visited just about all the places I did with Luther, as well as the particularly militant community of Guadalupe Carney.
In Vallecito the lands were in production, Lisandro told me. They had 7 hectares of banana, 50% of it in production, enough fruit for all the communities from Iriona to Limón. And 6 hectares of Yuca, 3 of coco. There was also a large section that Facussé had planted with African Palm before they'd won the land back, so they kept that as is. Each Friday they distributed the harvest in Garifuna communities at low cost, and there was quite a sense of pride in it being Garifuna produce, he said. All present agreed that there was strong community support for the effort throughout the region, adding various anecdotes about how local Garifuna purchasers and vendors prefered their product to non-Garifuna produce. People spend what they have, and buy what is offered. They were surprised, Lisandro said, at the nivel de compromiso—degree of commitment—to Vallecito—the pulpería owners were asking for more product, in response to customer demand. And many people want to work with them too.
Lisandro and his team were also working on value-added processed products, like the plantain chips. In the factory, which Lisandro oversaw, women were the workers. "Las mujeres se relacionan entre si y hacen el trabajo con mayor delicadeza," he explained.
The land they are working is saturated, he said; they need to recover the rest of it. People come from different communities to observe Vallecito's processes, they see it as a model. We are ready to process 50,000 coconuts every 15 days in the factory, he told me, ready for five women to start working there. "Y lo importante es que lo hicimos sin recursos"—"And what's important is that we did it with practically no resources." He noted that it's a different model, that requires a different work ethic. "La gente- están aprendiendo que están trabajando en una empresa que es de ellos"—"The people are learning that they are working in a factory that is their own." This means they work harder, they sacrifice more, because in the end they will share the benefits.
Lisandro had had numerous discussions with other people working in Vallecito, who would sometimes insist that their traditional modes of production were superior to his schooled techniques. In those cases, he would say OK, we'll try both; we'll plant half the field one way, and half the other, and then compare the results. He tried to combine the conocimientos científicos with the conocimientos de los pueblos, seeking a middle ground (buscamos punto medio).
It all sounded pretty idyllic to me, but I was also aware that this meeting was at least in part occuring for my benefit, with the idea that I would help to publicize the work being done in Vallecito. And of course, I am happy to do that, and I'm not impartial; I really, really want them to succeed. But that didn't mean I did not have a lot of questions, even through the haze of my exhaustion. I was particularly interested in the decision-making processes that governed production. The way Lisandro explained it (and he seemed just a little confused about what I was getting at with all my questions), there were certain decisions that were by necessity technical (i.e., it's time to harvest the bananas), others that were taken by representatives, and others that happened on a community-wide level. There is a junta directiva de la fábrica—a factory committee—that makes suggestions about production, but then takes them to the open assembly (asamblea abierta). The committee provides an informe semestral (biannual report), informing the community so that it can vote in the assembly. Todos los miembros de la comunidad son socios—All the members of the community are associates.
It should be noted here that the community of Vallecito is very small- I think they said that there were only 30-something permanent residents, because there was not yet the infrastructure to house and support more. It's a dangerous life, too, surrounded on all sides by Facussé's stolen lands, and Facussé's armed guards.
Although the factories—one brand-new, and the other nearly completed—had not yet made any profits, they had a process in place for that eventuality. "De los ingresos, una vez que la empresa sale adelante, los miembros de la comunidad deben organizarse en pequeños grupos para que se distribuye en un fondo comunitario, no individual"—"With the profits, once the company gets going, the members of the community should organize themselves in small groups to determine how the money will be used as community (not individual) funds." But "right now," he noted, "we don't even have funds to cover production costs" ("Ahorita no tenemos fondos ni para cubrir producción"). They were socially but not economically sustainable, he said. Their available funds would keep them running for only two more months.
Why the economic crisis? "El golpe nos afectó fuertemente"—the coup had profoundly affected the community. This had to do with a small startup loan (or donation—didn't get this straight) they had received from the Inter-American Development Bank (BID). As I understood their explanation, the BID project did not provide for cost fluctuations or extensions based on extraordinary circumstances (el proyecto ante el BID no tiene escalación de costos de construcción de la fábrica, tuvo que ser el año pasado). According to the BID agreement, the factory construction had to be completed by last year, and sales were also to begin last year. But the BID froze the resources after the coup and the project could not continue on schedule. And now the BID has released the funds, but does not want to help with the deficit that resulted from not being able to produce last year ("El BID congeló los recursos y no pudimos seguir. Hoy el BID ha reabierto la ventanilla pero no quiere poner la deficit").
El problema es lo siguiente: ¿Qué sucede si por culpa de la deficit provocada por el 28 de junio se quiebra la fábrica? ¿Cuál es el efecto sobre la comunidad? Los bancos privados tienen interes alto. No tenemos nada en garantía. Del Banco Nacional Agrícola no hay recursos disponible para gente como nosotros.
Here's the problem: What happens if the deficit provoked by the events of June 28th the factory goes bankrupt? What is the effect for the community? Private banks have high interest rates, and we don't have any collateral. The National Agricultural Bank does not provide resources for people like us.
On the way out, I took a few pictures of some of the folks assembled (there were women there too). I tried to get a shot of the Clinton/Gore t-shirt, but they made great theater of covering it up.
Before leaving the town we made another stop at a patient of Luther's. The doctors in Tocoa had told her she would had to get a fantastically expensive operation, and he was outraged. They knew she could get it for free, those damn private doctors were just trying to rip her off. It had been scheduled for the following day, but Luther called it off and arranged her to get the operation at no cost. The family was grateful beyond measure.
I was realizing that getting anywhere with Luther was far more about the journey than the destination. Or maybe, rather, every point on any journey was in and of itself a destination. Every visit was an opportunity for warm embraces, generous offerings of food (to us) and a house call or animated discussion of any number of community organizing projects. Every interaction along the road was about creating community, strengthening bonds, and perhaps most important, radical education for a more just society. I wish I had that kind of energy.
[I write from a dear friend's cabin in Durango, CO. She tells me I should give a shout out to baking chocolate, my biofuel. Thank you, chocolate.]
We finally drove out of Limón toward Ciriboya, back toward the brain-scramblingly rough dirt road that had not existed in Luther's quite recent youth. He told me how as a youth, after every vacation at home he had had to walk 19 hours along the beach to get to the place where he could get the boat to eventually get to Ceiba where he was studying. He did his best to sneak out after dark, when his relatives could not load him down with gifts for their sons and daughters in Ceiba. They usually wanted him to bring things like coconuts. Imagine, carrying a coconut 19 hours walking along the beach!
On the way out of Limón I noticed "MS" graffiti on a wall. I was somewhat surprised, since it had been a while since I'd seen gang tags.
"Y ¿aquí hay Mara Salvatrucha?" I asked. My carmates laughed. "No, it's just kids writing that," one of them said. Luther added "Aquí, eso significa movimiento socialista"—"That means Socialist Movement here." The woman we'd picked up somewhere along the way with her infant child laughed and said "¿ya tenía miedo usted?" "You were afraid, weren't you?" I actually wasn't; I was mostly surprised, but it's easy to confuse surprise for fear in a country where gangs are not imaginable in any way that does not involve terror.
Another hour or two into the night, down the dark, long, winding dirt road, through more African Palm plantations, we made another stop at the small house of a friend of Luther's, a tall young man getting his doctorate at the Catholic University in Tegucigalpa, who had held an important local government position relating to education. He normally stayed in Trujillo, but was staying with his mother for a few days. As I'd become used to, they spoke in Garifuna, every so often switching back to Spanish for my benefit. From what I could make out, it was more plans: plans for community organizing, plans for Vallecito, plans for Garifuna local development and education. I got out of the car to stretch my legs but could barely stand up. Luther's energy left me speechless.
Finally, finally, we arrived in Ciriboya, at the Cuban doctors' house where we'd spend the night. The doctors, two young, beautiful friendly women, greeted us at the doorway, along with a weathered, handsome Cuban man about my age who was the electrical engineer in charge of the Ciriboya hospital's medical equipment. [Was it that thing again, of people doing good being thus attractive? Everyone I'd met during the day had been good-looking] The engineer was also a veterinarian; like so many Cubans, he was humbly overeducated. One of the doctors had been sick for several days and would head off for Tocoa in the early morning hours; they suspected she'd come down with typhoid, just like a third doctor who was already recovering in the city. There was a crazy number of small flying cockroaches everywhere, hundreds of them. The doctors, who stayed up talking with Luther and his friend while the engineer/veterinarian cooked for them and I went to sleep in what looked like an exam room, ignored the flying bugs. In the morning they were all swept away, not a trace.